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Friday, February 11, 2011

Valentine's Day Meaning...Celebrate Love!

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, on February 14 to be precise.  This special day of observance is supposedly rooted (but not endorsed) in Catholic history, but the true history of the birth of Valentine’s Day is not very well known.

Much of the material surrounding this Valentine's Day is pure legendary.

Nowadays, Valentine’s Day, has been so much commercialized and generally associated with red & pink colors, hearts, cupid, expensive splurging of gifts, roses, chocolates, candy, sweet cards for the romantically involved or infatuated...not to mention lots n lots of hugs and kisses...

Valentine's Day is more of a secular observance rather than a Christian celebration event.  It is not the feast day of St Valentine.  It is understood that the Catholic Church has actually removed the memorial of St Valentine's feast since the promulgation of the new Roman liturgical calendar back in the year 1969, although his name remains on the list of saints and martyrs.

Nevertheless, it can still be an opportune time for all of us to take a little break on this journey, to specially remember our gift of love and those whom love is shared with.  Let the world take some time off to celebrate love!  Love, not war!

The name given to this special day is supposedly derived from a Roman Catholic priest, Saint Valentine.  Although the Catholic Church recognizes three different martyred saints named Valentine, the story of one emerges as the likely origin of Valentine's Day sometime back in the 14th century.

Nevertheless, Valentine was a simple holy priest who served in Rome during the short reign of Emperor Claudius II.  He believed that marriage was a holy institution and that two people in love should be able to receive that blessing from God.  Hence, Valentine was the friend of lovers in every district of Rome.

However, the Emperor, who reigned from 268 to 270 A.D., discovered that single men made better soldiers.  The Emperor believed that married men were too emotionally, physically and mentally attached to their wives, and were thus, less apt to be good soldiers in his army.  Therefore, he proceeded to set out to build his army by forbidding young men to marry.

However, Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret until Emperor Claudius found out what was happening and imprisoned the priest.  The Emperor offered Valentine an ultimatum: bow to the Roman pagan gods and stop performing these marriages, or die.

In the process somehow, Emperor Claudius took a liking to this prisoner until Valentine even tried to convert the Emperor.  At this point, the Emperor condemned Valentine to be beaten with clubs and stoned, and later on, beheaded.

According to tradition, while Valentine waited in prison for his execution, he corresponded with those under his care by sending letters and love notes to his parishioners.  During this same time, he fell in love with a girl who visited him during his imprisonment.

Ancient sources have it that this was the blind daughter of the jailer.  Hearing of Jesus Christ being the Light of the World, the jailer, also knowing of Valentine's deep devotion to God, pleaded if the priest would heal his child.

By the grace of God, Valentine miraculously restored the girl's sight.  Valentine was also able to convert both father and daughter to Christianity.

Stories have it that Valentine wrote the girl a note on February 14, 269 A.D., the day he was to be beaten and beheaded, and signed it “From your Valentine”.  Thus, the tradition of sending love letters with the now traditional close was born.

Saint Valentine is the patron Saint of love, young people, happy marriages, engaged couples, bee keepers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, lovers, plague and travelers.

More importantly, Valentine’s Day can be an opportune time to remember, ponder and celebrate the gift of love…the many ways God shares His gift of love with us on this pilgrimage through life…and of course our faithful Valentine companion, the Queen of Roses…Blessed Mother Mary.

As we approach this very special day of love and romance, let us not get totally distracted by the hearts, roses, chocolates and love notes - let us also remember to offer this special prayer to Saint Valentine:

“Dear Lord, who art high in the Heavens,

Giver of Love and Passion,

And He who strings the heart’s cords,

Lead the Lovers this day, February ten plus four.

The day during the month of two,

When the date is the perfect number of God

Greater two souls and two hearts.

Some Loves are fleeting,

But that which is built on you will never fail.

So guide the Lovers to know what is to be.

Your truths the Lovers’ mouths should speak,

For Your truth is that which is honest to the heart.

Only this, then, should pass over the red lips of the Lovers.

You art, the Lovers simply a medium.

It is only with True Hearts that You can create a Masterpiece,

So let the Lovers remember that their Soul’s Desire

Is the one for which You light their Fire.

And let it be You who creates the Art of the Lovers;

The art of two into one.”  Amen.

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image.  Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
(Thomas Merton)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

No Words...Just Stillness...Simply Quiet...

Faith...Simply More Precious Than Gold...

The small forgotten 'two-road' town of Raub is situated in west of Pahang Darul Makmur; between the mountain ranges of Benom and Titiwangsa in Malaysia - about 2 hours drive from the capital of Kuala Lumpur, off the highway, along a 2-lane road, twisting and turning through simple remote villages.  The air here is clean, pure and crisp as a result of its 270-odd meter elevation.

Raub became a famous settlement in the early 20th century for its gold mining resource.

It’s colonial past is still evident in the fine old buildings scattered around the town area.

RAGM or the Raub Australian Gold Mine 1889 (later known as the Australian Gold Mining Co, Ltd in 1892) operated the gold mine in Raub until 1961.

This humble town is one of the oldest town in Pahang and old folk’s tale recounts that in the early days, an old man and his two sons discovered gold every time they scooped up the earth in Raub.

Thus, Raub derived its name from the Bahasa Malaysia word, meaning ‘scoop’.  People found that for every tray of sand there was a handful (raub) of gold.

Cameron Highlands and Fraser’s Hill are both located within the Raub district; only about an hour away from the town. Malaysia’s National Park, the Taman Negara is just slightly more than an hour away.

Being embraced by greenery and hills all round, the main economic activity of Raub would be agriculture – fruits especially, distributed to the bigger towns in Malaysia.  The main crops in Raub are durians, rambutans, limes, mangosteens, duku langsat, passion fruits and bananas.

Most of the buildings in Raub town were built during the pre-World War II era.  The Catholic Church of the Annunciation was established back in 1952.  The Catholic community here are simple, serene and peace-loving.

With the development of new expressways and the closure of gold mines, the sleepy town of Raub is almost forgotten.

Nevertheless, it is still a home for many.  For those who have migrated to dwell in the busy city, Raub remains the root of their being; a place they often return for retreat and renewal.  My connection with this humble abode lies with a relative uncle Paul who will almost have journeyed this earth for 95 rich years and still going spiritually strong, hopefully to a century.  Over the years, this pilgrim has experienced faith being planted, nurtured, groomed, nourished, challenged, bloom and passed on to the younger generations.  Ever so gently, the pilgrim knows that the journey still goes on...until the hold on ever so obediently to the faith as handed down by the earlier generations.

The pace of life in this sleepy town actually reduces one’s distractions from the noises of the world; allowing one to simply contemplate diligently on the Word of God, prayerfully hearing His whispers surrounded by the absolute pureness of His Creation, thus satisfying the heart's longing for God - the restlessness within. 

The spiritual fruits of such a pilgrim's journey constantly reminds us that we are all mere humans, carved on the palms of His Hands, made to simply love Him more and others without exception - each day; with complete submission to the will of God.  Accepting the rule of God means radically changing one's order of values.

The Kingdom of God could never be bought-in without suffering; the latter, when viewed in a totally new way, through the lenses of the Word of God, will not prevent us from enjoying His love.  Riches, power, comfort, good times, pride - gold can hinder one from truly seeking the Kingdom of God.

"In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
(1 Peter 1:6-7, NAB)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Religion...Gives Meaning to Life and Hope...

The international media has been swarmed about happenings and distress in Egypt; political transformation, street protests, curfews, disturbances, evacuations.  According to the CIA World Fact Book, Muslims make up 90 percent of the country’s 80 million people, Copts 9 percent and other Christians 1 percent.  These people will sit-in at Tahrir Square till the tyrannical regime collapses and justice restored.

What is not often reported or highlighted by the media is the fact that during such chaotic times of change, Muslims and Christians are united against the Mubarak regime.  Christians started their Sunday Mass in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as Muslim protesters formed a ring around them to protect them during the service.  On the earlier Friday, more than a million Muslims gathered for Friday Prayer in Tahrir Square with Christians forming a ring around their fellow Muslims to protect them during prayers. 

Tahrir Square continues to be a witness of remarkable scenes of inter-religious solidarity in the struggle for freedom and justice.  Christians and Muslims recited in unison the “Our Father” prayer in Tahrir on Sunday, a day intended to commemorate those killed in pro-democracy protests since January 25, 2011.   Joining hands against the regime of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian Muslim and Christian protestors shared funeral prayers in Tahrir Square on Sunday, 6 February, for the victims of brutal government security crackdowns on demonstrations.  Such testimony of religious solidarity and faith within such a massive event, amidst the cries for reformation.  The pilgrims of faith have united themselves on this journey.

As we witness this historical event, many people continue to be troubled in conscience when they think about religion, especially about their own religion and the radical response it calls for.  Strange for some, unsettling for others, indifference to the rest. 

"It is a strange God," said Frank Sheed, a writer and theologian, "who could be loved less by being known more".  Religious thinkers have always tried to find an answer, a single word or an explanation, for God's mysterious action in His world.  They have not yet come up with a final answer - and probably never will.  You are searching for belief in a God who makes sense to you - who is what your own idea of God is.

Questions, doubts, difficulties, hopelessness, depression can be means of strengthening your faith and purifying your spiritual life.  In Egypt, we see that however much people may differ from each other in time or place, they do not differ much from each other in their fundamental need to lead a meaningful life and to give expression to what makes their life meaningful.  Their acts of worship may be so different from each other as night and day - whatever the variations, at the core of it all, at the center of their religious sense, there lies the encounter with the Mystery, the Divine.

Religion is a catch-all term embracing the various ways humans have of giving common expression to what they think life's journey is ultimately all about.  "Man", says a noted American anthropologist, "is unlike other animals, for he is a creature who comprehends things he cannot see and believes in things he cannot comprehend."  Religion deals with a dimension beyond scientific grasp; religion responds to the Mystery of the universe.  Religion is about our relationship with the Infinite.

As Christian pilgrims, we have our own unique set of beliefs about religion; a relationship with God.  Others have theirs.  We should not dismiss our neighbor's religions, for they too are attempting to formulate their own awareness of God as they have come to know Him.  From their different approach, we, too, can humbly learn to see God from a different angle and perhaps, just perhaps, like the people in Egypt, add to our own knowledge of God.  From our tradition too, likewise, we must help others learn.

Whichever spiritual attitude you choose, the world will be at least a little different because of your choice.

"Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.  Because of it the ancients were well attested.  By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible."
(Hebrews 11: 1-3, NAB)