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Friday, February 18, 2011

Can You Spare An Hour?...

"Everything changes, always.  Only God is steady and changeless." - St. Teresa of Avila

Life is indeed a pilgrimage…when we recognize God’s presence – whether we zigzag across the continents visiting great shrines or sacred places or never even cross the state line.  Pilgrimage does not necessarily mean reaching a particular geographical location or destination.  Instead, it refers to us reaching a deeper interior place within our heart.

Every one of us, pilgrims, are all on a journey towards God, whether we know it or not.  We cannot simply rely on ourselves in this journey…we need God as our companion...only He knows the Way, only He shines the Light. 

We are free to decide whether this journey will be about simply surviving the daily challenges of life or becoming a pilgrim on the road to union with our Creator.

“…he went out into a mountain to pray, and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God.” (Luke 6:12, Douay-Rheims)

During His life on earth, Jesus spent the whole night in prayer before He selected the twelve who were to become His disciples.  We can be certain that Jesus spent much time praising and thanking His Father.  We must also take time to thank God for all His blessings upon us each day.

“And rising very early, going out, he went into a desert place: and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35, Douay-Rheims)

Furthermore, Jesus needed His Father’s support before He began each new day.  As pilgrims, we too need the same guidance and support from God, on our pilgrimage through life.

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.  Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will…” (Matthew 11:25-26, NAB)

Jesus constantly prays and He understands His Father’s unique ways of doing things.  The prophet Isaiah also assures us that God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts.  In prayer, we too must be obedient to God's will, God's timing.

Similarly, Jesus also wanted the prayerful support of His friends when He suffered the agony in the garden of Gethsemani. 

His disappointment at their failure to respond at His hour of need is most evident.

“…What? Could you not watch one hour with me?” (Matthew 26:40, Douay-Rheims)

Do you hear that same plea deep within your own heart?  Could you not even stay awake with me for even one hour?

As we journey towards the commencement of Lent, we should make time for prayer and spiritual reflection.  Each day, choose to spend a simple hour in prayer and quietly reading and pondering the Word of God in the holy scriptures.

Abide in God's word (John 15:7), meditate on it (Psalm 1:2) and recite it day and night (Joshua 1:8).

This simple practice can then reach out into our busy lives to help us be a little more calm and mindful of God's presence in everything we do, not do, say, not say and in everyone we encounter…hence, preparing ourselves towards a more meaningful journey towards Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the holy season of Lent.

Today, create some sacred space, take time to talk with God and listen for his voice.  God always hears us when we call.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Experiencing The True Presence...

“Our work…calls for us to see Jesus in everyone. He has told us that He is the hungry one. He is the naked one. He is the thirsty one. He is the one without a home. He is the one who is suffering. These are our treasures…they are Jesus. Each one is Jesus in His distressing disguise.”
– Mother Teresa

As we journey towards Ash Wednesday – the beginning of the holy season of Lent, we ponder and ask ourselves the fundamental question, which we often take for granted.  Very simply, who is Jesus Christ for you?

The world’s academicians are unable to tell us if Jesus Christ was God, historians and scientists cannot analyze the way in which Jesus was both Lord and servant or for that matter, how He was both God and man.

Those who knew Jesus personally, especially His disciples, had to ultimately decide to follow Jesus by faith.  Rational thought and human reasoning can never ever fully explain, let alone allow one to meet the Jesus we know and worship.
 Many of us are familiar with the story of Christmas, celebrated a few weeks back, in December last.  Jesus – born of the Virgin Mary, son of Joseph a simple carpenter; grew to become an obedient son, great teacher, healer and miracle worker; the Word of God made flesh.

His wisdom, values and teachings are revolutionary radical in nature (to human minds, impossible and unacceptable, even incomprehensible, his parables!); He mingles with people whom society at large scorned and despise; tax collectors, fishermen, lepers, Samaritans, prostitutes, traitors, adulteress, the blind, the lame, the dumb, the mute, and the poor, amongst many others.
 Jesus is the Son of Man, incarnate Son of God, second person of the Holy Trinity, King, Servant, Savior, Lamb, High Priest, Rabbi, Light, Friend, and Companion – crucified, died, buried and rose from the dead. Jesus Christ is Divine – He is Lord – Creator of the Universe – Emmanuel, God with us.

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30,  Douay Rheims)

The holy name Jesus, in Latin Iesus, in Hebrew-Aramaic, YHWH (Yahweh) meaning “God saves”.  The name Christ is the Greek (Christós), translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah” which means “Anointed One”.

The Gospel of St. Mark portrays Jesus as a wonder worker; the Gospel of St. Matthew portrays Him as the kingly Messiah; whereas St. Luke portrays Him as the friend of sinners and outcasts.  The Gospel of St. John presents a theological representation of Jesus as the divine Logos or Word.

In the tabernacle of every Catholic Church throughout the world, this same infinite, eternal, omnipotent and all-loving God/man is truly physically present, through the Blessed Sacrament, just as He was after the Resurrection.  He is always available to us, earthly pilgrims, on our journey towards the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Catholic Church embraces the doctrine of transubstantiation, meaning that Christ is “truly present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity,” though under the appearance of bread or wine.  In other words, Catholics believe that at the Holy Mass, bread and wine truly becomes the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, during the Consecration by the priest. 

The consecrated bread, the Eucharist, in the form of wafers known as hosts, becomes what is known as the Blessed Sacrament.

This presence remains even after the Consecration, so that even after Mass is concluded; the Eucharistic elements still remains Christ's Body and Blood.  The tabernacle serves as a secure place in which to store the Blessed Sacrament for carrying to the sick who cannot participate in Mass, or as a focus for the prayers of those who visit the Church.

By virtue of this, we can enter His physical presence and be as close to Him as the Apostles were during His life.  Whereas they saw Him with their eyes, we too can see Him with the eyes of faith.  We need only to simply enter a Catholic Church and we come to experience the presence of our mighty King, Lord of the Universe who lived as a humble village carpenter, suffered, died and rose again for you and me.

“No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3, NAB).

So, very simply, quietly and humbly…spend time and invite Jesus into your heart…truly experience His Presence and your journey towards Lent will surely become much more meaningful…and your burdens, light.

To Jesus hidden in the Most Blessed Sacrament

I adore You, Lord and Creator,
hidden in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
I adore You for all the works of Your hands,
that reveal to me so much wisdom,
goodness and mercy, O Lord.

You have spread so much beauty over the earth
and it tells me about Your beauty,
even though these beautiful things are
but a faint reflection of You,
incomprehensible Beauty.

And although You have hidden Yourself
and concealed your beauty,
my eye, enlightened by faith, reaches You
and my soul recognizes its Creator,
its Highest Good,
and my heart is completely
immersed in prayer of adoration.

- Saint Faustina Kowalska

St. Hilary once said that “grace depends mostly on perseverance in prayer.”  Just remember that God is never “too busy” to hear from you.  Don’t be “too busy” for Him!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Towards Ash Wednesday...A Reconciliation With God...

Pope John Paul II said, “Love is the Gift of Self.”

“Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

The world’s celebration of Valentine’s Day is over, but people must remember that there are always 364 ‘other’ days in the year for us to continuously express and live out our love to those around us, especially to the One who made us.

Further around the bend of life’s journey, some 3 weeks later, the church will observe Ash Wednesday - the first day of the 40-day Lenten fast; a penitential period for us, pilgrims, to prepare for the joyous celebration of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; Easter.

Rev. Lawrence E. Mick shares with us that, “To prepare well for the day we die, we must die now to sin and rise to new life in Christ.  Being marked with ashes at the beginning of Lent indicates our recognition of the need for deeper conversion of our lives during this season of renewal.”

The ashes used on this solemn day come from the palms that were used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration.  These palms are collected by the church prior to the Ash Wednesday service and blessed using Holy Water and infused with incense.

“I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” (Daniel 9:3, NAB)

“…they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matthew 11:21, NAB)

As these ashes are symbolically marked or dabbed on our forehead with the sacred sign of the cross, we are invited and reminded of the prayerful words, "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return." (Genesis 3:19)

It is interesting to note that come the year 2018, the church’s solemn celebration of Ash Wednesday will fall smack on the secular commercial observance of Valentine’s Day; February 14.  Similarly in the years 2024 and 2029, these two contrasting days will coincide…I humbly stand to be corrected.  Ashes, fasting, repentance versus red roses, chocolates, lavish spending – what a paradox we pilgrims will face!

The solemn holy day continues to recall the quiet events that lead to the Passion of Christ whereas in the worldly observance of Valentine's…perhaps, Christ is forgotten all together amidst the distracting noises of the commercialisation and materialism.

The purpose of fasting and self denial during Lent is spiritual focus, self discipline, imitation of Christ, penance, reconciliation and ultimately, conversion – turning around, wholly and completely towards God.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, “Man is dust and to dust he shall return, but he is precious dust in God’s eyes, because God created man for immortality.”

As we journey towards Ash Wednesday, let us always choose to respond “yes” to the One who gives us our existence, to freely love and serve Him…to follow Christ in what we say, feel, think and do; instead of being simply ‘seduced’ and 'enslaved' by the world.

The free and saving love of Jesus Christ…is a love that the world today, cannot understand...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Meaningful Valentine...Simply Let The Journey Begin...

"Run to the mountain;
Shed those scales on your eyes
That hinder you from seeing God"
- Dante, "Purgatoria" The Divine Comedy

The essence of living is that life is simply a journey.  Who knows where journeys really begin?

I remember many who are suffering from terminal illness, seemingly living (or not living) on 'borrowed' time.  When we are so-called 'suffering', we are often much more receptive to change - we feel things more acutely; desperation, some call it.  It is easier to shed the 'scales' from our eyes.  However, when things are perceived to be going well for us, it is natural for many of us to close up...even to the extent of finding it easy to resist God.

Journeying through life involves, more often than not, taking a step into the unknown; into the mysterious dark.  Part of the flawed human condition is that we do sometimes fail.  Failing is part and parcel of our journey through life; as a result of our mistakes, hasty judgments, poor decisions, badly chosen comments...and naturally, our stubborness in doing things our own way.

When we 'fail', we simply get discouraged and drown in regret.  We seldom can see the blessing of failures...which often leads to a greater truth.  We seldom forgive ourselves for how we have failed, we are seldom merciful to ourselves or people we have harmed through our selfich actions.  In the Holy Bible, we encounter many whom Jesus has called - poor people who were flawed and failed in the eyes of the world - ordinary people!

If we deem our journey through life as 'perfect' and we are self reliant on our own 'thinking', resourcing and capabilities, we find that their relationship with God is distant, shallow and superficial.  The world often distracts us into believing that we are 'full' of everything, strong and in control.  When we are "full", we "fool" ourselves into an illusion that we are one class above the rest; a caste higher, more full that one is not receptive of means journeying based on our own terms.

In life, flaws and failures often humbly brings us to our knees.  Similarly, illnesses, heartaches, broken families, poverty and death will do the same.  We lose our will power, our resources to live, to journey...

When one is tempted to feel like the greatest failure in the world, know that God can always be relied on to welcome us, to fill us; we must let God come into our flawed simply accompany us on this journey. 

Your flaws are actually your greatest treasures - like grains of sand in oyster shells that must grate and irritate to become pearls.  Like it or not, such imperfections actually keep our ego in check - a much needed daily reminder of how much we need the grace of God.  By becoming aware of our own weaknesses, we become more compassionate to the inadequacies of others on the same journey.  We are human beings, all the same.

Only we ourselves honestly know whether we have actually begun our journey with God, only we know whether we have shed the 'scales' off the eyes of our hearts; uncling all our worldly clingings. 
One thing certain is that God reaches out to us in the way that God has always reached out to human beings - through our ordinary, simple, flawed lives.

Our pilgrimage journey actually begins when we are empty and awake to the presence of God in every aspect of our flawed lives...

"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.  It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life." 
- Anne Lamott

Let your journey with God begin this Valentine...