Aug 4, 2016

A birthday monologue

“Happy birthday, Audrey. I will pray for you at Mass this morning in St Florian Church, Krakow. JPII had served here as vicar of the parish.”
This was the text message I received from a priest who was still in Poland after World Youth Day concluded, complete with a photo of St Florian Church.

St Florian's Church, Krakow
When you’re unable to go to the place you’ve always wanted to visit but friends who went remembered you, especially on your birthday -- if I said it didn’t mean anything to me, I would be lying big time.

Really, I don’t need to describe how touched I was (I still am!). I’m trying very hard to push back those tears. Besides, it’s going to be awkward if I were seen crying in the office!

John Paul II has always been one of the few reasons for my tearing up. I used the tense “has” because we all know that, even though he’s no longer on earth physically, he’s still around through the communion of saints. For that, I’m sure he knows about me and how much I love and miss him.

But there is always this voice, maybe it’s just my alter ego, that has been trying its best to get me to give up on John Paul II.

“He’s dead, so please wake up and give up,” said the voice.

“No way! How can you ask me to forget someone who’s made such a deep impression in me ever since my youth?” I retorted.

“You’re just wasting your time,” said the voice. “Why not lavish your love on someone else? It’s a one-sided love anyway, so it won’t make much difference.”

“I’d rather waste my time on someone I could look up to and learn holiness from; someone who is willing to journey with me, not just as a mentor but also a friend. I cannot find anybody else except JPII!” I reasoned.

Because I know, if I were one of his youth in Poland, he would be more than willing to spend time with me and to coach me, just like what he had done with the youth before he was elected pope.

Because I really want to grow closer to the One whom we both call “Abba, Father”.

For all those who remembered me in Poland, I pray that the good Lord would bless them ever more abundantly.

My darling Saint, kindly intercede for them for their generosity and kindness.

And for the priest who remembered me when he was in Krakow (if you’re reading this – you know who you are), thank you from the bottom of my heart. That's the best birthday gift ever.

Feb 4, 2016

A farewell note for Brother Columba Gleeson, FSC

Brother Columba (left) with two staff of Today's Catholic
We have never met each other (not until about two years ago when we finally did at the launching of your Living Our Faith book), but we became acquainted through emails due to work.

I am not a student of yours (and I silently envied those who were), but you became my teacher through your Signpost column (published in Today's Catholic - it is a great blessing for me to be the first person to read your articles).

I never knew what kind of a person you were, but stories from those who knew you and the many old photos we keep in our Today's Catholic archive gave me reasons to adore and look up to you (Oh, those blue eyes and that smile - I recognised that smile!)

Did you remember our first meeting? Nah, you couldn't possibly have noticed my nervousness. It was the same nervousness when we meet our "idol" for the very first time.

But I remember. 

I remember how I selfishly insisted to walk you back to the Brothers' Quarters after the Mass. I remember you offered to hold my hand, and held it tight, just like a grandfather taking his little granddaughter by the hand. 

My heart melted. I did not know anymore — if it was me holding you to make sure each step you took was steady, or was it you who were holding me, to tell me that "I am here for you."

Perhaps, you read my mind. You knew that my real, unspoken intention was to have some private time with you. And you so generously granted it, sacrificing that 20 minutes or so for me, which could have been the time you planned to spend in reflection and silent prayer as you walked back to the Quarters alone. 

I remember, that entire week (or probably months) whenever that memory of us walking to the Brothers' Quarters came to mind, I longed to see you again. 

Such was the memory I have of you. That one and only precious memory, which I will cherish for ever. Until, God willing, we meet again in Paradise.

Thank you, Brother Columba, for everything you have done. May your beautiful soul rest in God's eternal peace and joy.

Brother Columba Gleeson was the first editor of Today's Catholic (the monthly newspaper by the Archdiocese of Kuching). 

Jun 1, 2015

Evangelisation at its best


Some time in April, I attended the seminar entitled "Dialogue of Salvation: Catholics Called to Evangelise" by Permanent Deacon Dr Sherman Kuek. Something he has said affirmed what has been on my mind all these while: the best way to evangelise is by living an exemplary life according to the Gospel values.

That also reminded me of what my Mom did last November.

I have weird neighbours, and my house is sandwiched between them. They are not in good terms with my family (and with some other neighbours as well) for some ridiculous reasons, which I do not want to go into details here. We tried our best not to have anything to do with them.

Last November, the neighbour on our left lost their senior member of the family. They had wake prayers and Buddhist rituals for almost the whole week before the burial service. My Mom was the first to find out what happened. She decided to pay them a visit and offer condolences. When my Dad refused to go with her, she approached me. I was quite surprised when she told me of her intention.

"We are neighbours," said my Mom. "It is only right that we visit them especially at times like this. Let's just bury the hatchet." I agreed. But at the back of my mind, I had a slightly different agenda. It was such a good opportunity to shame that nasty neighbour, by returning evil with good! To make them feel sorry for what they have done to us. If not now, then when?

We went over. They were obviously surprised to see us. While I shook hands with the other family members, Mom went straight to the wife of the deceased and hugged her. I was shocked beyond words. After all the nasty remarks and selfishness towards my family all these years, my Mom could still HUG her?! Her wet eyes proved that she was moved by my Mom.

To me, my Mom is a woman of simple faith. She doesn't know much of what the Church really teaches and anything along that line. But what she did last November truly put her daughter (who always thought she's the most knowledgeable one in the family in matters pertaining to faith) to shame! Mom went there to show her love; I went there to show off!

I believe Mom's profound act of love and mercy has brought that neighbour of ours to an encounter with Christ Jesus.

While knowledge in Apologetics and theology are necessary when we introduce Christ to others [evangelisation], our conduct and daily living speak much louder. "Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17 ESV). I knew this long time ago! But this "head-knowledge" really needs to go to the heart and be translated into action.

I thank the Lord for such humbling experience. Being knowledgeable and having a better understanding of the faith apparently did not take me very far in my journey of perfection... more work is needed!

Jan 9, 2015

How to be humble: a guideline to love

I was clearing photos from my Whatsapp - just as we need to do spring cleaning to our homes (and perhaps, offices), I clean up the photos in my phone for extra storage - and this one caught my attention.  I thought these 10 points are pretty practical.

  1. Listen without interrupting (Prov 18).
  2. Speak without accusing (James 1:19).
  3. Give without sparing (Prov 21:26).
  4. Pray without ceasing (Col 1:9).
  5. Answer without arguing (Prov 17:1).
  6. Share without pretending (Eph 4:15).
  7. Enjoy without complaint (Phil 2:14).
  8. Trust without wavering (1 Cor 13:7).
  9. Forgive without pushing (Col 3:13).

Reading them from top to bottom (you may read from bottom to top as well), I realised these are not just "rules of thumb" of how to love, but more of how to be humble.

It is not difficult to make a list of how we can prove our love for God by loving our neighbours. But humility is one tough case. When you think that you're humble, right there and then you're not being humble. 

Talking about being humble, I need to learn it more than anybody else.

Praying that in 2015, I could at least pick up 5 out of the 10 points and turn them into habits.

May 31, 2014

Learning to let go on the feast of Ascension

Jesus ascending to heaven. Painting by John
Singleton Copley (source: Wikipedia)
Have you ever had this fantasy, where Jesus still walks the Earth today – physically, in person? And have you ever imagined the ways you might take just to meet Him? Or, what would you do or say if you chanced upon Him on the street one day? Or maybe, have you ever wished that He did not go back to the Father at all?

My answer is a big ‘Yes’ to all of the questions above.

Why not? Even though I am well aware that Christ is still with us today, in the most personal way, I still need someone with skin, whom I could look up to and learn from. Whose voice I could hear vividly; whose hands I could hold; to whom I could write to for advice... well you know, all along that line. In short, I just want Him to be present physically. Here. On earth. Where I can see Him.

Perhaps, that is why the Feast of Ascension has never been my favourite. Yes, I knew its importance - it was merely a head-knowledge and never heart-knowledge. I imagined myself being with the Apostles, witnessing Him being taken up to Heaven. He said He would be with the Apostles until the end of time, which sounded convincing and the Apostles were hopeful. But wait, who's the Holy Spirit? How long do we have to wait? How can we recognise him? No wonder some of them doubted (Mt 28:17).

I have been questioning the Lord, “What is there to celebrate? You left Your Apostles to fend for themselves!”

The passing of John Paul II changed all that. Oh wait, maybe it was the Canonisation I attended that changed that.

As I mourned the absence of John Paul, a very good friend said this to me: “It is better that he goes back to the Father. Unless he goes back, he would never get to know you. And now that he is a saint, you can be sure that he hears you. You’ve got an intercessor and a friend in Heaven! Is it not better that way?”

This Ascension, I asked the Lord a different set of questions.

If You were physically present in the world today, would I have experienced You the way I did – most intimate and personally? Would I even have the opportunity to meet You face to face, when millions of people fight their way towards You, just like what's been happening at the Vatican with Pope Francis (and particularly at the Canonisation of JPII and John XXIII!)? Could You even reach out to people individually, far and wide, without the coming of the Holy Spirit? Could the Church grow to what she is today?

How crucial it is that Jesus goes back to the Father! How crucial it is that the Holy Spirit is sent!

This year, it is a different Ascension for me. I learned to let go of that sorrow of losing John Paul II. Perhaps, this very reflection also prepares me for the many “letting-go” (and detachment) I have to make in the future, be it people or materials.

It is by letting go that we enable God to give us something even better.

I shall not let Pentecost pass me by this time!

**The popular "Let It Go" song playing in the background**