Dec 28, 2013

Crucifying the baby Jesus

Crucifying a little baby. How cruel can that be?
One of our Jesuit priests posted this photo on his Facebook with the following remark:
"Do you agree with me that crucifying a baby is a bit sick?"
Most of the people who commented agreed with him. Some said it's a piece of rubbish. Others said it shouldn't be put on sale.

But what came to my mind was: if this is sick, then what about abortion?

Another commenter said this:
"There was an Indonesian artist who did something similar (without the cross in the background, and just a plain white ceramic-like baby with smoother over features); it did cause controversy, but it was also supposed to make people think..."
I agree that there's an underlying message in this piece of art.

If this piece of art is controversial, then so is abortion.

What do you think?

Nov 26, 2013

What I learned from Year of Faith

It feels like just last month that the Year of Faith was launched by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. How very fast that ‘last month’ flies. And in these ‘last months’ we are moving fast towards the end of 2013.

Looking back, I realised I didn’t really accomplished anything great in the Year of Faith, sad to say. All the books I planned to finish by the end of 2013 are only half way through. That includes Lumen Fidei, which I enthusiastically awaited and picked up but never got round to finishing it. The most I’ve done was taking a little time reading the column in Today’s Catholic (our archdiocesan newspaper) on the Creed.

Is doing lots of readings and reflections, attending seminars and going for pilgrimages really enough to increase our faith and make us evangelisers? After all, Year of Faith was about learning more about my own faith and helping the others come to know about it (evangelisation and re-evangelisation). Wasn’t it so?

I thought so initially. But after a series of unpleasant experiences I’ve encountered this year, I came to understand many things a little differently.

I learned that no amount of reading would be able to increase my faith. I’m not lacking in ‘head knowledge’. (It’s not difficult at all to search for materials and read more on Christian Faith.) It is not so much about how much I know about the Faith, but how I can feel for others and identify myself with them (i.e. ‘heart knowledge’).

I learned that to evangelise, I must first be re-evangelised. It is not so much about how well I can preach, but how I live my life as a true witness to the Gospel. The most effective way to evangelise is through our own example, for action speaks louder than words.

I learned that when I’m all puffed up with pride, thinking that I know more than others and re-evangelisation is not for me, then I would not be able to grow spiritually because I’m too full of myself.

And I learned that the Church, although an institution, cannot be too institutional. For our main business has nothing to do with money, status, reputation or personal gain, but souls entrusted to us by Christ our Bridegroom. The most effective way to deal with people is by going back to the Gospel values, following the example of Christ.

To me, that is what evangelisation and re-evangelisation is all about. It is recognising that Christ is the centre of everything – our life and work, the church, the world, and acknowledging Him as the very reason we are who we are today – His coheirs of the heavenly Kingdom.

The Year of Faith might have come to an end last Sunday, but our journey of faith continues. I pray that the Lord would touch the hearts of many through the example of our daily living – may we preach by our actions, not by words.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:35, NIV)

Nov 23, 2013

God's prayer houses

I enjoy spending quiet time alone with the Lord. But that doesn't mean I do not have problem in my prayer life. It is just like a battle. When I'm occupied with work and deadlines and hardly have any more time to waste (in prayer), my heart would pine for Him. But after I'm done with the deadlines and have plenty of time to spare, I find myself so lazy that sometimes I would have to really force myself to say the Office. The spirit is willing, the flesh is not! And that, to me, is a real challenge - a battle.

Just as I've been thinking of a strategy to win this battle, the Gospel reading at Mass struck me yesterday. Or rather, this particular verse took all my attention away from the rest of the reading: "My house will be a house of prayer" (Lk 19:46).

More thoughts came during the homily.

According to St Teresa of Avila, the Trinitarian God resides in the centre of our soul (read The Interior Castle authored by her). Her point is supported by St Paul: "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God (1 Cor 6:19-20)?" There are a few other references from the Bible which spoke about God dwelling in us (e.g. Jn 14:15-17, 23). 

Also, when we receive Him in the Eucharist, He becomes present in us. St Therese of Child Jesus on the Eucharist: "It is not to remain in a golden ciborium that He comes down each day from Heaven, but to find another Heaven, the Heaven of our soul in which He takes delight." St Mary Magdalene de Pazzi said something similar, "... if we would only comprehend the fact that while the Eucharistic Species remain within us, Jesus is there and working in us inseparably with the Father and the Holy Spirit and therefore the whole Holy Trinity is there..."

So if God lives in us, then we are His 'houses'!

Going back to the verse (Lk 19:46) "My house will be a house of prayer" — if we are His 'house', then we His children are expected to live a lifestyle of prayer. As He dwells in us, we become His 'house of prayer'.

We usually have the perception that the Carmelite Monastery is the Church's "prayer house" because the nuns dedicated their lives entirely to prayer. More often than not, we forgot that every one of us are called to prayer. Not that our prayers would bring about some huge significant changes to the world and to those whom we are praying for. But through prayer, God draws us to Himself and to experience Him in the most intimate way. St Teresa of Avila wrote that, to experience God, prayer and meditation is the key to enter this castle where He dwells. How 'effective' our prayers are and whether or not He would grant our requests, we just have to leave that to Him with total trust and faith while we continue to persevere in our prayers.

Perseverance. Perhaps, that's the strategy I should adopt.

"Have we not sometimes let all sorts of 'robbers' into our hearts who would steal away our lives of prayer and devotion to God?" (Permanent Deacon Dr Sherman Kuek, OFS @shermankuek, Twitter)

Now, what was the priest saying during the homily??

Mar 18, 2013

Goodbye Pope Benedict, hello Pope Francis

You might be wondering why it has taken me more than a month to pen down my thoughts on the resignation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Just one reason - I dreaded saying goodbye. It is even more so when I've been so used to Benedict XVI. Eight years of pontificate - that is not a short time!

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
But I do have a confession to make. When Benedict XVI was elected Pope, he didn't appeal much to me as I was still grieving the loss of my most beloved John Paul II. Even when I saw him up close during World Youth Day Sydney in 2008, I wasn't really impressed. However, ever since I started working in the media office of the archdiocese about four years ago, I've grown rather fond of Benedict XVI. How can I not? I had to follow him almost everyday, to keep track of what was going on in the HQ - the Vatican. Since then I grew to love him and his teachings gradually.

That sudden announcement of his resignation had definitely shaken me. I still can vividly recall what happened that day. It was the second day of Chinese New Year. My friends and I were visiting another friend when I got a text message, saying that the Pope was resigning. I was having a mild headache then due to the warm weather. But after I received the message and verified that the news wasn't a hoax, my headache worsened - it was so bad that I had to take the painkiller (painkiller is never my favourite unless the pain has gone more than I can bear). Yes, it was THAT bad; I was shocked beyond words and heartbroken. It felt as if I was being disowned by my father!

While my heart wanted so much that he would stay, I knew he just had to go. I was very sad, but at the same time I admired him for his courage to admit that he could no longer carry out the petrine ministry entrusted to him. I believe he made the right decision - not that he was running away from the many scandals that surfaced throughout the years; it was the total opposite. He knew his strength was failing, and if he continued to hold on to the office, he could be the stumbling block of the Church. This humble Servant of God is a great example for all of us, especially for our politicians here in Malaysia as they fight for power among themselves.

Dearest Pope Emeritus Benedict, we can never thank you enough for the sacrifices you've made as the Vicar of Christ, as our shepherd... my shepherd. Seeing you off on 28 February was simply painful. I watched as you gave your final blessing to the crowd at Castel Gandolfo. We saw you turning away and disappearing from our sight... did you hear our hearts breaking? I pray that you will have all the rest you deserved. I'm happy for you too, now that you can live the life you've always wanted. Hopefully you will be writing more books to share your thoughts and reflections with all of us who love to read your writings. You are in our hearts always! We are joining you in your prayers for the Church and for the new Pope, your successor.

Pope Francis - our new Holy Father
I prayed intensely with and for the Cardinals ever since the resignation of Pope Benedict, and I believe many Catholics out there did the same too. I was aware of the St Malachi's prophecy. I read about a group of cardinals since Benedict XVI's time who wanted to have things their way. Not sure how true they were, but whatever I was reading and hearing definitely worried me. I feared the Church - our Church - would fall into the wrong hands.

I followed the "Smoke Watch" during the Conclave anxiously. Unfortunately, I missed the white smoke and the "Habemus Papam" announcement, but I was just in time to watch the newly elected pope on the balcony as he ended his address and blessed the people. I leapt for joy as I saw this new shepherd of mine. The days that followed were even more exciting. I took every opportunity to follow the online broadcast of his first Mass, his audiences with the cardinals and the media, his Mass at Sant'Anna church and his first Angelus. I not just read about his humility and simplicity, but witnessed it through his speeches and his meetings with the people. Well, it was all because of Pope Francis that I did not have enough sleep for the past few days!!

This is the first time for me to follow the Conclave so closely! Undoubtedly, Pope Francis is the result of my prayer and yours - the prayer of the whole Church. Perhaps, it is our unity in prayer that we come into a communion with each other. Even though we have only seen him on the screen (through live broadcasts) and we do not know him personally, a special bond between us and this shepherd is formed. We already love him although he's just in the office for a few days. Of course, this is just the beginning. We still need to be united in our prayers for the Holy Father so that he is able to carry this heavy responsibility which he accepted from the the hands of the Lord.

Christina Mead of LifeTeen in her post A Father Like Francis said it all - we need Pope Francis not only because we are Catholics, but because we "need a constant reminder how to be like Christ".
Since Pope Francis is a visible sign of Christ's authority on earth, putting our trust in him is to put our trust in the Holy Spirit.

Pope Francis is an authority figure that we can feel safe placing our trust in. I have.

Source: LifeTeen
 And so have I. What about you? :)

Jan 19, 2013

Pondering on the paradoxes of Christ

Initially, I wanted to entitle this post "The Paradox of Christianity", only to find out later that there is another better post with this exact title.

Now, how should I put this? I knew that Christ's teachings are full of paradoxes. I do take them seriously, but have never really sat down and reflected on them. Until that one fine evening last year when the hymn "Lord, We Touch You Today" was sung during the Mass, the chorus stirred my peaceful spirit.

Here's how the chorus goes:
To live is to die, and to laugh is to cry
To live is to love with all our heart
To live is to walk and to talk in your love
And to live, is to sing in your love
(The hymn ends at 2:16. This is the best video I can find on YouTube.)

I've been singing this hymn for at least a thousand times throughout the years and yet, I only realised it that very day that I did not really understand the words of the chorus! Oh dear. What have I been doing all these years?

One of the youth leaders I know used to put it very bluntly that while the world tells us that we should live our lives to the fullest of our ability, Christ tells us that we must die everyday. The world sounds more promising and "life-giving" instead, eh?

It was Jesus who said it, "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it" (Mt 16:25). Putting it in layman's language - if I strive to live and make myself happy and comfortable, I would lose it despite the effort put in; but if I generously give my life away for Christ's sake, I will gain life instead. Isn't that quite confusing and mind-boggling? (Ouch, my brain's hurting!)

What Jesus really meant is that, it is through dying to our self that we may receive life eternal. Therefore, "to live is to die."

Perhaps, if we just think about these paradoxes given by Jesus, they somehow do make some sense.

Without sorrow (to cry), do we know what joy (to laugh) really is?

Without love, is it still worthwhile to live?

Without death on the Cross, would there be Resurrection?

Without lowering ourselves, how can we expect to be lifted up?

Without taking up our own crosses, can we still follow Christ who has never promised us an easy life as a follower of His?

Without the heart of a servant, can a leader identify himself with his/her subordinates and thus lead them effectively?

Without giving away what we have, how can we receive anything when both our hands and hearts are full?

So the list goes on and on...

What a mystery, but our faith is built exactly on these paradoxes of Christ. Lighting Rod said it well, that "Christian paradoxes reveal deeper wisdom. Self sacrifice helps us to better appreciate the gift we have been given, and suffering gives us the opportunity to strengthen our wills and to become more Christlike."

Perhaps - just perhaps - God purposely leaves these mysteries with us to keep us wondering and searching, so that on the day we finally see Him face to face and when these mysteries are unravelled, we would experience that everlasting joy and glory He has promised, which is now far beyond the human minds and hearts can grasp.

"The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness." ~ Pope Benedict XVI