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??