Custom Search

Saturday, January 15, 2011

We Journey with Companions...the Saints...

Journey on this earth can sometimes be harsh, confusing, bitter, painful, frustrating and lonely. Confronted with these, as travelers, pilgrims, striving to satisfy the hunger of their restlessness for the Almighty, are often seduced or distracted by “noises”.

“Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

We all share in the hope of the resurrection. Whether we are on earth or in heaven, we are all God’s people; in communion, in relationship with God through Jesus Christ – “one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:5).

We are either “fighting or have fought the good fight of faith”. Those pilgrims who have travelled the path and gone ahead of us are already rejoicing in heaven, being united with God, the Father.

These saints in heaven remain in full communion with us who are still journeying the earthly paths.  Like them, St Paul also refers us as fellow “saints”.

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus…” (Ephesians 1:1, KJV)

We know that our journey here is only but a fleeting phase in comparison to our ultimate destination; the kingdom of heaven or eternal life.

Scripture gives us a glimpse of this from the many teachings of Jesus, who also insists that those of God’s people who have passed from this life are not dead. Jesus himself has defeated death!
 Jesus also demonstrated to his disciples Peter, James and John that the “saints” of the Old Covenant are alive when He spoke with Moses and Elijah on the mountain of transfiguration (Mark 9:4).

As pilgrims of Christ, we fear not, as we are not alone in our constant struggle against the distractions of the world, the seduction of the flesh and of course, the temptation of Satan.

We know that we are part of a greater and mighty army, spanning across space and time, led by Jesus, our commander.

For more than 2,000 years, Satan’s core strategy to defeat the pilgrims of the church has always been to divide and isolate us from one another; divide and conquer, it seems.

We, faithful pilgrims know that only Jesus Christ Conquers; in Greek, denoted by “IC XC NI KA”.

The Saints are witnesses that the simple life of faith and Christian perfection is possible. And because we are all members of one body, we support one another by praying for each other. Prayer is the normal way for us, saints on earth, to support each other.

Given this, we can also ask for prayers from the saints already united with the Lord. If the prayers of earthly living saints seem to have special power because of their great faith, how much more powerful and effective are the prayers of those Saints who are already fully united with God in heaven?

The book of Revelations often mentions about the 24 elders – representing all the saints of heaven, gathered round God’s throne in praise. In Revelations 5:8, St John tells us that these elders possessed, “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints”. This gives us a simple but beautiful image of “intercession”.

However, often, there is a worldly misconception that requesting for the intercession of the saints can sometimes lead to abuse – some fellow pilgrims think that such practices can lead to idolatry; worshipping the greatness of man instead of divine God.

The book of Acts 14:8-18, in the case of Paul and Barnabas, reaffirms that the saints themselves forbid anyone to offer them the worship they know is reserved only for God.  St Augustine further reinforces that, “…we venerate the martyrs with the same veneration of love and fellowship that we give to the holy men of God still with us…But the veneration strictly called “worship”…that is, the special homage belonging only to the divinity, is something we give and teach others to give to God alone.”

Though worship may be in the form of prayer, faithful pilgrims understand that not all prayer is worship.

It is respectful for us to honor the great Saints, but we do not worship them.  Just as we can ask our fellow sisters and brothers to pray for us, we can also humbly request the Saints in heaven to pray and intercede to God on our behalf; they do have more effective “connections”.  We remind ourselves that true worship is due to God alone as there is only “one mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5)

The lives of the saints continue to inspire us on this journey - to be obedient, to pray quietly, constantly in our heart and most of all, to live simply.

This journey may be long but its fruits are beyond compare. Travelers and pilgrims have sought these spiritual fruits to bring rest to their hearts for more than 2,000 years. Wherever the pilgrim is, on his or her journey, they can take solace that Jesus, His apostles and their successors, including the heavenly saints will help lead the way …until we arrive at the heavenly kingdom.  Our hope and the ultimate destination of our journey is heaven, to be in union with God.  St Paul reminds us…

For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.” (Romans 14:8)

Our human condition is weak, confused and perplexed by the constant enigmas of life.  That is why God, through Jesus, came to bring light, hope and love into the darkness and coldness of this journey back home.  God has inspired great Saints to achieve incredible feats of faithfulness, unselfishness, obedience and trust.  As such, together with the communion of saints, we take courage that we too are capable, to complete our journey towards the ultimate God.

  "We are pilgrims, we live in a temporary inn, we are in transit, and this is not our homeland." 
- St Gaspar del Bufalo

Friday, January 14, 2011

Suffering O Suffering...Why?...

"Naked I came forth from my mother's womb, and naked shall I go back again. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!" (Job 1:21, NAB)

"...We accept good things from God; and should we not accept evil?..." (Job 2:10, NAB)

"One of the great paradox of our faith is that God allows us to suffer because of His love for us, not in spite of it.  In biblical times, suffering was thought to be directly related to one’s actions.  ...(I)f someone suffered, it was a punishment for his evil deeds.  The story of Job tells us that this idea is not true.  Job was an upright man who suffered greatly, and according to the book of Job, he did not deserve to suffer.

Suffering is not a punishment that each person receives in direct proportion to his own sins; but rather, it is a result of original sin, something that affects all of humanity without exception.

In His merciful love, God allows this unpleasant part of life, inevitable after Man’s fall, to bring about a greater good.  He uses suffering as a tool to bring us closer to His love.

We often forget that there is great value in suffering.  It strengthens us and purifies us.

It makes us realize our place in the universe, and shows us our dependency on God, and how helpless we really are on our own.

It reminds us of God and draws us closer to Him.  The sad truth is that we often turn to God only when we are in need of something.  We ask Him for help in times of trial and pain, but forget about Him when life is good.

If there was no suffering in life to bring us back to God, we would drift farther and farther from His loving presence.

Suffering often seems to be distributed unevenly - some suffer greatly, almost unbearably, while others seem to lead lives almost entirely free of all suffering. 

But suffering is part of the universal human experience, something we all experience in some form.

We don’t know why God chooses to allow some people to suffer in certain ways, but we do know that He will never put us up against something we cannot handle.  God will give us the grace and strength to overcome whatever trials He sets before us, and if we rely on His love, we will succeed.

In the New Testament, we can see Christ transforming suffering.  It is through His suffering and death that we are saved from sin and death, and by His suffering, He sanctifies and transforms suffering into something holy.

Suffering becomes no longer something to be dreaded, but something to be embraced, something that can heal and purify us.

We can join our sufferings to Christ’s and help participate in His saving work.  Many of the saints understood this, and it helped them overcome indescribable obstacles and trials.

Towards the end of her life, St. Therese of Lisieux’s desire to suffer for Christ became so strong that she described it by saying, “I have come to the point where I cannot suffer, because all suffering has become sweet to me.”

...(W)e too should try to welcome the suffering in our own lives. This does not mean that we should be masochists, seeking pain for its own sake, but rather, that we should embrace the crosses that God gives us to carry, seeing suffering as a gift rather than a burden, an opportunity rather than an obligation. 

We should see suffering as a way to help us on the road to heaven and a chance to follow Christ, as we are reminded by St. Peter, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” (1 Peter 2:21)   (Michelle Bauman, CNA)

Having reflected on all these in the very comfort of our own homes, our heart becomes restless...what must be our response to the real suffering of the world?...our fellow sisters and brothers?...

We must remember who we are...we are all of the same human race, created by God, in His image...all pilgrims...

By virtue of our human conditioning, suffering will remain a great mystery to mankind.  We will never admit that these are consequences of the selfish choices of our own freedom. 

Yet, many a times, what we continue to moan and complain of our own 'suffering'; in the truest sense of the word, nothing!...compared to what the poor, the outcasts, the marginalised, the refugees, the migrants have to experience every second of their lives...where is God for them?...what is life to them?...what would be their journey?...where do they find the face of Christ?...

Their humble saintly lives and cries are in itself the most genuine and sincere prayer to God...theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

"One must not think that a person who is suffering is not praying. He is offering up his sufferings to God, and many a time he is praying much more truly than one who goes away by himself and meditates his head off, and, if he has squeezed out a few tears, thinks that is prayer."

 - St. Teresa of Avila

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Journey to...The Truth

For pilgrims who seek The Truth...

We are...Christ's Letter to the World...

"Living here below, my Father, wearies me.  Living this life of exile is such a bitter torment to me that I am almost unable to take any more.  The thought that in any instant I could lose Jesus, causes me an anxiety that I cannot explain; only the soul that loves Jesus sincerely could understand it." - St Padre Pio

For 50 years, Padre Pio, an ordinary friar, carried the five wounds of the crucifixion; he was a stigmatist.  During his journey on earth, he was a victim with Christ.  Padre Pio had deep piety; his mind and heart was always centred on Jesus...on Heaven...the heavenly home.

Padre Pio's desire can be explained by Fr Raniero Cantalamessa as follows.  "Padre Pio did not know whether he would be able to persevere in love or avoid displeasing God by growing cold towards Him and becoming unfaithful - this led him to desire the end of his exile, where he would no longer have the opportunity to sin..."

Such is the preciousness of God to the simple Padre Pio.  Reflecting on our own journey, how precious is God, the Creator, in our life? in our actions today?  What exactly is His plan for us?  What is He writing to the world through you?

"For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.  When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you.  When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the LORD..." (Jeremiah 29: 11-14, NAB)

As we, pilgrims, journey on, this new year, we must remember and continuously ponder, in our heart, the words echoed by Mother Teresa,...

"I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world....I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much."

What kind of a letter have we been entrusted with, to others?  How have others then, experienced Christ through us?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Travel the Narrow Eternal Life

"One day, I saw two roads. One was broad, covered with sand and flowers, full of joy, music and all sorts of pleasures. People walked along it, dancing and enjoying themselves. They reached the end of the road without realizing it. And at the end of the road there was a horrible precipice; that is, the abyss of hell. The souls fell blindly into it; as they walked, so they fell. And there numbers were so great that it was impossible to count them.

And I saw the other road, or rather, a path, for it was narrow and strewn with thorns and rocks; and the people who walked along it had tears in their eyes, and all kinds of suffering befell them. Some fell down upon the rocks, but stood up immediately and went on. At the end of the road there was a magnificent garden filled with all sorts of happiness, and all these souls entered there. At the very first instant they forgot all their sufferings."

- Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska

 The journey through this life, along the narrow path, can be challenging and even hopeless at times.  We need someone to walk with us and carry us through…some to lean on, especially during the lowest and saddest times of our life…someone faithful to simply hold our hands…be there for us, during the storms of our life…

"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.  How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few." (Matthew 7:14, NAB)

Monday, January 10, 2011

We Seek...We Search...We Give Praises...

New Seeds of Contemplation
In his much acclaimed book, New Seeds of Contemplation, the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, OCSO (Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance) writes that when we find our true self, we will find God, and when we find God, we will find our true self.  What a paradox!
May I Have This Dance?
Joyce Rupp clarifies in her writing, May I Have This Dance, that, "(m)ost of the time we search without really being aware of what is gnawing at us deep inside.  We search for something called happiness.  We long for a gift named peace.  We search for meaning in our lives, for love, for understanding of ourselves and others, for an acceptance of the ups and downs of the human condition.  Beneath all this longing is the desire for someone or something that feels like home.  ...We may not be consciously aware of our seeking.  We may be living our lives day by day.  The wonder is that while this searching goes on within us, there is also One who keeps seeking us out, calling to us, gently desiring that we find the home within.  ...It is the way of the human spirit.  It is the way life happens."
Our lives must continually give praises to God, our Creator...and as we continue this search, we sing praises to His Name...
Seeking and Finding
I search for God,
elusive, hidden God,
I long to dwell
in the heart of Mystery.
  I search for my true self
more of who I already am,
knowing there's so much
yet to be discovered.
I search for love,
the unconditional love
that enfolds me
and asks to be shared.
I search for vision
in the shadows of my soul,
impatiently awaiting
the moment of lighting.
I search for a quiet heart
amid life's harried schedule;
my soul cries out,
yearning for solitude.
I search for compassion
in a world gone deaf
to the cries of the hurting,
and the pleas of the powerless.
I search for Home,
always for Home,
unaware, of course,
that I am already there.
Joyce Rupp, OSM - Order of Friar Servants of Mary

"...God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord..."  (Philippians 2:9-11, NAB)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

For the Journey Ahead...Fully Trust in God...

"Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls..."  (Jeremiah 6:16, NIV)

Its been almost 10 days into the new year, we are always "on the road"; yes, our life is indeed a journey, filled with crossroads.  Many continue to rush into the new year with celebrations, festive mood, enthusiasm and eagerness, excited about the possibilities for personal growth, career advancement, bonus incentives, success, good health and happiness.  Nevertheless, the unknown path must still be journeyed..

This January, the genesis of the new year, provide us with an opportune time to review our own road maps.  We would be wise to reflect on the places and paths, where our hearts have travelled during the past year - recollecting the places which have blessed us, enriched us and enlivened us, places where there have been roadblocks, detours or sometimes, even dead ends which had ambushed us into anger, loss of hope, an unexpected path or various negative thinking patterns.  Similarly, we must also ponder situations that challenged us, discouraged us, tested us or maybe even tried to destroy us from continuing the journey - as happened to the disciples along the road to Emmaus... (Luke 24:13)

How will the rest of this new year turn out?  Would the year ahead be a long and winding one, bumpy and filled with potholes, detours, dark and hopeless?  Would the year be calling you to take a bit of risks?  Would the year be short and maybe the last?  Would the path be chirpy and bright, filled with prosperity, hope and joy?

Under these circumstances, we must immitate the faith of our forefather, Abraham - obedient and placing all trust in the God who love us all and will continue to shepherd each one of us.  Whether we experience the loss of a well-established job, a family, a loved one, a home or just our healthy well-being, He will carry us through if we but just call upon Him and surrender all our burdens to Him.

As we place our trust in God, we will have the courage to take a few more steps into the unknown and confront whatever events that may or may not surprise us along the way. The only thing certain is that God will be with us along this pilgrimage back home. We can be sure that He will heal us and carry us through whatever bitterness and pains; sustaining us with peace throughout the journey.  God will always give His people His His ways...we just have to place all our trust in Him.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9, NIV)

Take a little time to be simply quiet, to gently take stock, calmly ponder and live more fully in the present moment - refuel and restore your energy for the remaining part of the journey; which is so often distracted by "worldly noise and distractions", sapping us dry - whether at home, at work or with the people we meet.

Here's Psalm 71 for a simple reflection against the backdrop of a very peaceful instrumental...brings back very precious moments for me...a reminder of my late dad...still my faithful companion of peace on this journey...

Psalm 71

In you, LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue and deliver me;
listen to me and save me!

Be my rock and refuge,
my secure stronghold;
for you are my rock and fortress.
My God, rescue me from the power of the wicked,
from the clutches of the violent.

You are my hope, Lord;
my trust, GOD, from my youth.
On you I depend since birth;
from my mother's womb you are my strength;
my hope in you never wavers.

I have become a portent to many,
but you are my strong refuge!
My mouth shall be filled with your praise,
shall sing your glory every day.

Do not cast me aside in my old age;
as my strength fails,
do not forsake me.
For my enemies speak against me;
they watch and plot against me.
They say, "God has abandoned that one Pursue, seize the wretch!
No one will come to the rescue!"

God, do not stand far from me;
my God, hasten to help me.
Bring to a shameful end those who attack me;
Cover with contempt and scorn those who seek my ruin.
I will always hope in you and add to all your praise.

My mouth shall proclaim your just deeds,
day after day your acts of deliverance,
though I cannot number them all.
I will speak of the mighty works of the Lord;
O GOD, I will tell of your singular justice.

God, you have taught me from my youth;
to this day I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
Now that I am old and gray,
do not forsake me, God,
That I may proclaim your might to all generations yet to come,
Your power and justice,
God, to the highest heaven.

You have done great things;
O God, who is your equal?
You have sent me many bitter afflictions,
but once more revive me.

From the watery depths of the earth
once more raise me up.
Restore my honor;
turn and comfort me,
That I may praise you with the lyre for your faithfulness, my God,
And sing to you with the harp,
O Holy One of Israel!

My lips will shout for joy
as I sing your praise;
my soul, too,
which you have redeemed.
Yes, my tongue shall recount your justice day by day.
For those who sought my ruin will have been shamed and disgraced.