Jul 22, 2019

God is faithful to those who are faithful

Appearance of Jesus Christ to Maria Magdalena (1835)
by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov. (Source: Wikipedia)

Today is the feast day of St Mary Magdalene.

I totally admire this holy woman, and her love and faithfulness for her friend and master, Jesus. She, like our Mother Mary, is truly the "apostle of apostles" of Christ. She accompanied Jesus until the very end. Even at the tomb, she was so saddened at the disappearance of Jesus' body, whom she laid to rest. When everyone had left, she stayed back in an attempt to find out where and why Jesus' body had been removed.

If any biblical figures could qualify as the "perfect lover", it has to be Mary Magdalene. For truly, she sought him whom her heart loves (Song of Songs 3:2). So it is no wonder why certain Gnostic gospel recorded that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were involved in a romantic relationship! (And how many people have been scandalised by this story!)

While many reflected on how Mary Magdalene was privileged to be the messenger to announce the resurrection of Christ, and thus we too are called to proclaim this Good News through our lives, I drew from this Gospel a different insight.

As a reward for her persistence and her deep, genuine love for Jesus, the Resurrected Lord appeared before her and greeted her. "Mary!" (John 20:16) He even called her by name; that familiar and gentle voice! He did not forget nor let down this faithful woman, whom he knew loved him tremendously. I believe that for Mary Magdalene, the greatest privilege was to be the very first person to have met the Resurrected Lord.

This Gospel account gives me so much hope.

I have often questioned myself. Would my deep desire to see my Beloved Lord face to face, despite my frailty and frequent fall into sin, and my failed daily attempts to die to self, be rewarded with that same reward granted to Mary Magdalene?

I believe God will not disappoint anyone who loves him. He knows that our human love is imperfect. "The Lord knows our weakness, that he is mindful that we are but dust and ashes” (Psalm 102:14). And he "looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). He is faithful to those who are faithful to him.

This is the very hope that keeps me going.

St Mary Magdalene, pray for us, that like you, we too may meet the One whom our hearts loved.

"For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved."

-- St Gregory the Great on St Mary Magdalene

Feb 25, 2019

Reflection on the air

I have no idea since when, the Kuching airport has become quite a nostalgic place for me. It is so familiar, yet at the same time giving me the feeling of sadness. I travel alone most of the time, always with caution, alertness, sometimes with anxiety too, but other times, excitement.

But today, as I made my way to the departure area, I felt my heart sank. As I watched the plane took to the sky, it felt as if I was leaving Kuching behind and would not be back for a long time. Even though I was with a few friends, and we were flying to another town for a short business meeting.

Is death something like the airport too? Like the airport, it is an area souls await to be brought to their final destination? There would be those who are unwilling to leave their loved ones behind, and therefore the feeling of such a heavy heart. There would also be those who are more than ready to leave every earthly thing and look forward to go Home.

If God would give me the chance to choose how I would prefer to die — a sudden painless death (due to accident or in my sleep), or slowly fading away (due to old age), or a painful deterioration (due to sickness) — I wouldn’t know which one to choose.

As I advance in age, and as I bid goodbye to more and more people in funerals, and shared in the sorrow of friends who lost their loved ones, I began to truly realise the brevity of our lives and deeply treasure those who are close to my heart. I have to admit that I am becoming more and more afraid of losing those whom I love. I wish I could keep each and every one of them by my side so that I could care for them all, but I know that in reality, we could rarely get the best of both worlds.

So that brought me to yet another realisation: that death is never about how we are going to die, because it is not up to us. But we can definitely choose how to live our lives, by giving ourselves completely to those whom we love. We can choose to live by dying to ourselves everyday, that when the time finally comes for us to leave for Home, it will not catch us unprepared and unwilling.

To my loved ones, particularly Mom and Dad, and my fiancé Ahmos, I love you all most deeply.

(Penned on 25 February 2019; on the flight to Tawau, Sabah)

Mar 31, 2018

The most painful pain - a reflection on the Passion of Christ

It was with a heavy heart as I followed Jesus along the way of the Cross. From the great agony at the thought of his own death, to his greatest fear coming true - the death on the Cross, the entire journey was a painful experience.

Nevertheless, there has to be one part of that journey that was the most painful for him. He has to endure not just physical pain, but also emotional pain. No matter how excruciating the physical pain was, I feel that the emotional pain superseded his physical pain.

It happened at about noon time, in the presence of Pilate who was eager to let him go. Unfortunately, his fellow Jews, insisted that Pilate should have him crucified. Their reason? "We have no king but Ceaser". For three years, Jesus walked and worked miracles among the people, befriending them, eating with them, teaching them about the Truth and revealing to them who the Father is. And yet, no one stood up to defend him. Worse still, Jesus, who is himself God, the God who made a covenant with them, experienced how his very own people whom he loved rejected him.

What could be more painful than the pain of rejection? When you have given your heart and your love in its totally, but your beloved is blind to your love.

Most of us, if not all, have gone through rejection in one way or another. We know the pain. So does our God. Not merely because he is God, but because he has gone through it himself.

Which part of Christ's suffering do you identify with the most?

Written on 12 July 2017
(Prompted by Fr Jude Chinwenwa CSsR from The Sound of Silence)

Mar 16, 2018

We are not on our own

On my way to work this morning, I had a sudden outburst of dissatisfaction while reflecting on my life so far. I was entertaining the thoughts that it's time for me to live my own life, do what I want to do to make myself happy, to pursue my wildest dreams, to satisfy my own needs, and to hell with pleasing everyone else -- especially my parents and relatives -- whom I've been pleasing all these years and living their lives.

I've been brought up with a very clear awareness that I am not my own. Every decision and action may affect my family and close relatives alike. And almost every kind of matter, be it achievements, failures, sicknesses (small or big), going for vacation, to name just a few, will be made known within the family circle (and outside the circle as well, depending on its 'seriousness'; the more 'serious' it is, the wider news will spread).

One very good example I vividly remember was the time I conveyed to my parents my desire to become a Carmelite nun when I was in my early 20s. It was then that I witnessed the great drama. Wet blankets after wet blankets were piled on me. My mom was totally upset, so much so that she blamed the Carmelite nuns for 'misleading' me. My aunts gave me an entire list of disadvantages of being a cloistered nun and strongly advised me to reconsider. The best actress award went to my grandmother, who, I was told, wept in great disappointment and sorrow upon getting to know about my desire. If I have received such outburst of objections to a mere desire, you could imagine how much weight their opinions and approvals carry ... especially to me, who have always been fearful (maybe I should say, a coward).

I have been alive for 36 years now. So what have I achieved so far? Apparently, not much ... aside from making some out-of-the-ordinary decisions, which my parents frowned upon and totally ignored by me, i.e. giving up a well-paying job to work full time with the archdiocese, going to the canonisation of Pope John Paul II, attending an expensive show by my favourite Hong Kong actor and flying all the way to Kuala Lumpur alone to meet his fans whom I had only met online. Not impressive at all!

We have every right to our own lives, have we not? Isn't this what the world has been constantly telling us to do? So it's perfectly alright should I choose to break free from all kinds of stupid expectations from others and just be myself!

As I settled down behind my desk and logged on to Facebook, a quote I posted two years ago was the first thing I saw. "The responsibility for the sanctity of others... lies with you. You are not on your own. If you stop, you could be holding up or harming so many people!" It has never spoken as loud to me before. 

That brought me back to how my decision to give up my previous job to work for the church inspired two other friends. One of them a Taoist, another a Methodist. Both, upon hearing of my choice to a life of service of God and his people, also gave up their jobs.

My Methodist friend became a Christian missionary to Japan. Despite the trials, loneliness and disapproval from her own family, she persevered. My Taoist friend serves the temple. She lives a simple life, giving tuition to school children. She does not earn much but is never in need. She even gives free tuition to children of poor families.

I still remember how the two of them, particularly my Taoist friend, told me I was their inspiration and model. Little do they know that they have become my inspiration and model today. I admire their courage to venture into the unknown, without counting the cost. In fact, I feel ashamed of myself for allowing fears to weigh me down recently.

I am grateful to my parents for having brought me up with the awareness that is very much in-line with the Gospel (though they had no idea about it): we are not on our own. Truly, our actions, decisions, our beliefs and behaviours affect others, directly and indirectly. Since this is so, all the more we need to make sure that our will is always in tune with God's, allowing him to make use of us for his own purpose and glory, even when there is suffering.

Back to the question that has disturbed me this morning. It is rightly so that I should live my life to the fullest and disregard the feelings** of my loved ones, but it has to be in complete conformity with God's will and the values of the Gospel.

Had I given in to my parents' displeasure on my decision to work for the diocese eight years ago, my two friends would not have been who they are today.

I once shared with a colleague, who is a counsellor, my dilemma of whether I should take my parents' feelings into account when I make decisions about my life, she asked a thought-provoking question, "Are you responsible for other people's feelings?" before adding, "You are old enough to make your own decisions and to take responsibility of it."

Feb 16, 2018

Learning to trust amidst the pain

It is the first day of Chinese New Year (CNY) 2018.

Beautiful Chinese New Year decorations adorned the windows and the sides of the church. Shades of red added to the vibrancy and warmth of that familiar inner court where worship takes place.

Those familiar faces with their family members settling down comfortably in their favourite, usual pews. Occasionally, some heads turned, exchanging smiles, handshakes and warm wishes. Beautiful people of God.

The crowd was unexpectedly massive. The attendance for CNY thanksgiving Mass in this parish seems to increase every year. A very good sign indeed.

I nestled myself at the last row of the pew just behind the choir. Thank God I did not have to be "out-standing".

As I people-watched, my heart sank. This entire scene is way too familiar.

No, it is not a feeling of deja vu.

It was the very same scenario on New Year's Day thanksgiving Mass, 1 January 2018. The only difference is probably the colour red.

I have never felt so lonely. My family, like any other years - but I do not remember since when, prefer to stay at home and prepare food for relatives and visitors.

I totally understand my parents, wishing to give the best to our visitors. But just one hour, I remember telling my parents. It all boils down to your priority, I said. Of course, a prophet is never well received in his own household.

Or perhaps, the many hardships that befell my family beginning last year has dampened their spirits and jeopardised their belief in God. Or, could it be me? I must have been a very bad example in the practice of virtues. I believe that it is the latter, which lead to the former. Then shame on me for calling myself a "prophet"!

I used to be very proud of my family. My dad a warden cum extraordinary minister of the Holy Communion. My mom a warden. My brother an altar server. Myself... the busybody running here and there, helping in whichever area my help was needed right there and then. Although we did not have the practice of praying together at home, we still attended Mass together in the same parish church. I couldn't ask for more!

Today, everything changed when one trial after another hit the family. My parents resigned from the ministries and are now parish-hopping (attending different parish church every week). My brother... I do not even know if he even fulfills the Sunday obligations.

I am the only one who stays on in the parish; with one hand grabbing the thin rope that still holds my family together, while clinging on to God with the best of my ability with another. That fragile rope leaves my hand with blisters and cuts. I do not dare to make any move, albeit small, for one wrong move might just break the rope. On the other hand, I depend heavily on the strength drawn from daily Eucharist and prayer, praying that all the merits and blessings could be transferred to my family.

I really wish St Monica would just show herself in my dream and share with me how she managed to get through those difficult long years of praying for her wayward son, St Augustine.

My only hope is to see my family returning to God and seeking his will, amidst all these trials.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of goodwill..." It is the most painful Gloria ever. Having to keep those tears inside the eyes while singing a hymn of gratitude with a very heavy-laden and wounded heart is far from being easy.

That uncertainty in front and having totally no control over the future is just scary. Despite the pain and the most uncertain future ahead, I choose to trust and depend on God every single day.

If you could feel the pain I am going through, kindly say a little prayer for me and my family, for I do not know how long these trials would last, and how much longer can I hold on!

What a way to begin the New Year. This might be just the beginning of many more hardships to come. It could also be a new challenge God has thrown my way. Whatever it will be, I pray that God's will be done, not mine.