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Friday, February 25, 2011

Simply Let God Bring You Home...

Today, I simply share the quote from the late Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen, a Catholic priest and writer, born in the Netherlands. 

His quiet reflection continues to be very meaningful and relevant to me...also for our pondering as we journey together towards Lent.

“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God.

I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself.

I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me.

The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?”

The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?”

And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?”

God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.

- Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Choose...Relationship With God...

“God is always waiting to be gracious to you. God comes to show you compassion.”
(Isaiah 30:18)

  As Ash Wednesday continues to creep up on us, and we begin to notice all the ‘purple’ reminders around us, we pause to ponder that love is the most profound emotion known to human beings.

For the people of the world, romantic relationships are the most meaningful element in their lives but for many of us pilgrims, the holy season of Lent also reminds us of the great love of God.  Lent would be a great time to slow down, pause and spend time with God; listening to Him, thanking Him for the specific blessings in your life, including the challenges that you have endured by His grace.

“Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
(John 15:13, Douay-Rheims)

 Is it not a fact that we all come into this world as ‘guests’, as ‘exile’ - constantly striving to find the so-called 'secret' of a successful rapport with everybody and everything we come across, trying to achieve everything with the aim of having a successful life?

In the midst of all these worldly pursuits, we often tend to forget and have no time to ask ourselves, “Do I actually have a personal relationship with my loving Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?”

The words ‘Jesus is Lord’ may come glibly from our lips in prayer, but to actually live out this confession with commitment in this journey through life, is far more difficult and challenging.

“…And no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.”  (1 Corinthians 12:3, NAB)

The 'sacrifices' we make during Lent, although for God, our Creator…also affect others around us and naturally, ourselves too, in our relationship with God.  The actions we take and the choices we make in our spiritual journey through Lent has a multi-pronged effect…whether we are what we were called to be…whether we love more or less…whether we remember to be humble and mindful?

The world today seems to constantly echo with a disconcerting chorus of voices, noises, the result of frustrated and failed relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, siblings, in-laws, friends, colleagues and communities, even between nations!  As a result, individuals become disillusioned with themselves for not being able to relate successfully to their environment…the world they live in…some rebel, fight back whereas others lose hope, become depressed, abandoned, even suicidal.

Thus, the journey through Lent is a very opportune time for us, to learn to become more prayerful, cultivate more awareness of God’s presence and grow more deeply into His grace; committing, building, nurturing and strengthening our relationship with Him.

Prayer is our relationship with God.  If we are striving to live, move and act with an awareness of God’s abiding presence at all times, we are praying.  When we are convinced that every heartbeat is a gift from God, that every hair on our head is counted, we are praying.  This awareness and conviction is prayer. …We cannot be constantly addressing our thoughts and words to God in prayer, but our attitudes and mentality can always be prayerfully God oriented.” Msgr. David E. Rosage

Lent is, most of all, an ideal time to remember that we, in the deepest way, must learn to fully depend on God; to let God come into our lives…to remember who we are…to be vulnerable for Him…to allow God to use us as His humble instrument to reflect His light to a very much darkened world we live in.  To listen to Him daily...

“O, that today you would hear his voice: Harden not your hearts…”  (Psalm 95-7-8)

 God is faithful, He is always waitingwaiting to be gracious to each one of us.  Regardless of how often we have sinned, rejected Him, gave up on Him, God is always waiting to be gracious to each one of us…running to seek us out, to find us, embrace us, forgive us and to bring us back home. On our part, we must learn to be humble and to repent.

“Speak, Lord for your servant is listening”  (1 Samuel 3:9-10)

Our loving God and Father did not create us to be slaves to the secular world, to be bound by its set of worldly man-made rules, as if that is how we should develop a relationship with God.  Through His death on the cross, He has already freed us…saved us.

Hence, as you continue your journey towards Lent, slow down and always choose to balance everything else in your life, with Jesus at the very center…and His Word, His Church and her teachings…balancing the equilibrium.

A committed and self-disciplined journey towards Lent will purify your soul and allow you to simply experience a deeper sense of interior freedom, quiet and solitude.  Lent will then have a more significant meaning and you will surely notice the simple difference on Easter Sunday…simply living life carrying the full hope of the resurrection.

...thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
(Matthew 16:18, Douay-Rheims)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A "Purple" Reminder...Be Awaken!...

Today, we hear of a devastating earthquake, the second in five months, killing innocent people in New Zealand's second-biggest city of Christchurch, partially destroying, amongst other premises in the Diocese, the Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.  This was to be New Zealand's most deadly natural disaster for 80 years.  What sort of an Advent, Christmas, New Year and journey towards Easter will these Kiwi pilgrims experience? 

Just when you thought the revolution in Egypt has ended, deadly unrest and innocent bloodshed has begun in Libya; which is populated with around 80,000+ Catholics. 

Around the world, we observe crude oil prices soaring to a new high, European stock and other stock markets reacting to the mounting Libya worries.

Blatant political corruption schemes, murders, sex crimes, betrayals, racist sentiments, discrimination, suppressed democracy and conspired sodomy charges are being publicly promoted in a South East Asian country; whose state religion is Islam and Catholic pilgrims, a minority.  Where is justice?  Where is peace?  Why the spirit of destruction?  Where is the face of God?

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani? that is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
(Matthew 27:46, Douay-Rheims)

With such distracting ‘noises’ and depressing ‘colors’ from all over the world, how does a simple sojourner on this earth even ‘pretend’ that there is even hope for repentance, healing, renewal and transformation?  What is happening (or not happening) in the world today?  Why is everyone so pre-occupied with everything else, destructing creation and missing or even forgetting the whole point of Lent?  How do people prepare to enter Lent? 

How easily people forget about the consequences of similar human condition expressed in the Old Testament of the Holy Scriptures...

Lent is the holy season where we commit to prepare ourselves to encounter Jesus and His sacrifice by humbly endeavoring to become more Christ-like ourselves. 

This Lenten journey towards transformation is about letting ourselves be filled with God’s presence so that we can be shaped by God’s grace. 

That way, we can love God, others and most importantly, ourselves a little bit more…become better stewards of God’s creation…our planet Earth.

Lent is the period of fasting leading up to the joyful celebration of Easter; recalling Jesus' 40-days of fasting in the wilderness.  Catholic Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends right before the evening Masses of Holy Thursday, although Lenten penance continues through Holy Saturday.  This year 2011, Lent will begin on March 9.  The evening of Holy Thursday begins the Easter Triduum, which spans from Holy Thursday through Good Friday to the Evening Prayer of Easter Day.

Against the backdrop of everything else that is ‘happening’ around the world today, Lent can often be one big mystery.  For some, Lent may be a period of going on a long overdue diet regime; for others, Lent would probably be a time when their Catholic friends wear ashes on their foreheads and eat fish on Fridays.  For the rest, Lent may just come and go without even a blink of an eye!

“Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads...
(Matthew 27:39, NIV)

Whatever the perception may be, the purpose of Lent still remains to be a season of fasting, self-denial, self discipline, Christian spiritual growth, penitence, repentance, conversion, simplicity and transformation.

Lent, which comes from the Germanic word meaning ‘springtime’, can be viewed as a spiritual ‘spring cleaning’; a time for taking spiritual inventory of ourselves and then cleaning out those 'unnecessary baggages' which hinder our community and personal relationship with Jesus Christ and ability to serve Him.  Lent is a time for us to pause and take a sincere honest look within ourselves.

We also notice the symbolic liturgical color of the season – PURPLE (to some, violet). The Lenten ‘purple’ or ‘violet’ is a more somber or solemn blue-violet, contrasting with the lighter purple of Advent, last Christmas.

“The soldiers led him away inside the palace, that is, the praetorium, and assembled the whole cohort.  They clothed him in purple and, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on him.  They began to salute him with, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and kept striking his head with a reed and spitting upon him.  They knelt before him in homage.  And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him out to crucify him.”
(Mark 15:16-20, NAB)

The color 'purple' evokes a mood of solemn simplicity and helps us realize our dependence on a loving and merciful God who has become bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh that saves us; His obedient willingness to die on the cross.  The color 'purple' symbolizes the royal dignity of Jesus Christ, at the same time it is also associated with sorrow, mourning, self-discipline, repentance including the pain and suffering of the crucifixion…leading to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection and sovereignty.

“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged. And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And they struck him repeatedly.  Once more Pilate went out and said to them, "Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no guilt in him."  So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak.  And he said to them, "Behold, the man!"”
(John 19:1-5, NAB)

As we continue our journey towards Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, we should allow the 'purple' color remind us that this is a time for self discipline, a time for giving up something, speaking up against injustice in society, caring for the elderly, marginalized and vulnerable, responding to domestic, national and international disasters.

The message of the color ‘purple’ of Lent is relevant to all of us.  As we embrace this solemn 'purple', we are also reminded that we are all part of one race, the human race, journeying with each other in the same world, a world created by God, that needs looking after all the time; our stewardship.

Thus, if we keep awake and continue to journey prayerfully with perseverance, simplicity and awareness of our true self, we will surely encounter Jesus…come Lent...

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.
(The Apocalypse Of Saint John 1:8, Douay-Rheims)

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Price of Salvation...Not 'Free'

“Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never forsake you or abandon you.'” 
(Hebrews 13:6, NAB)
If you have ever tried to Google for the word “Free”, you will receive about 7,170,000,000 results. It is interesting to note that if one were to just add on “Grace” the results would reduce significantly to about 68,500,000. Thereafter, if we bring “God” into the whole equation, the results will shrink down to only 8,000,000!  Now, if “Faith” were to be planted in, Google produces about 1,950,000 results. The price of “Commitment” will cause everything to go down even further to about 266,000 results and in this season of Lent, “Repentance” would result in the whole search humbling down to a mere 53,900!!  Interesting statistics, fascinating trend...

But what has this interesting Google discovery got to do with our journey towards Lent?  Let me attempt to simply illustrate my thoughts for today.
In life, as we already know too well, there are lots and lots of ‘free’ stuff around us, tempting us, seducing us, crying out for our attention, wanting a piece of our limited time – things, tasks, shortcuts, remedies, relationships, distractions, etc, etc.  A materialistic attitude is a gross obstacle to the spiritual life.  The philosophy of materialism makes man a 'little God'.  There is simply no place for God in this kind of mentality.

Well, grace is also ‘free’ and very simply it is the love given freely by God to all of us, His creation.  There is really nothing that we can do to merit grace, because it is a gift from the God who made us; gifts are free!   Let us ponder a little bit more on this term ‘free’.

In dull economic terms, ‘free’ technically does not exist in the domain of money; one of the reasons that ‘free’ is sometimes such a difficult concept to grasp – its something we cannot count with our fingers!  Very simply, ‘free’ has no cost or price attached (so it seems) and it is basically nothingness – something which gets consumers like us terribly excited, influencing our choices, distracting our focus.

Nevertheless, it is reasonable for us to sometimes associate ‘free’ with diminished quality – just because there isn’t a price attached to it; we tend to value it less, take it for granted, and without a second thought, waste it.  Generally, we do not care as much about things we do not have to pay for; we take free stuff because it is there, not because we want it.

Could this be a possible reason then as to why 'cradle' Catholics (who never had to pay any price at infant stage) are perceived to be less passionate and actively committed about their faith, then say, 'born-again' Catholics (who are transformed by the workings of God's grace during baptism)?  Food for thought!

Thus, charging a 'price' can encourage a much more responsible and committed behavior; consumers become more careful not to lose it.  The downside of this – when a certain cost or price is imposed, the participation decreases radically; as depicted from the earlier metaphor of the Google search results.  Coincidently, quite an interesting similarity observed!

As such, fellow pilgrims, faith is simply our personal act of response to the free gift of grace, which is always at the initiative of God who reveals himself to us.  God gives each one of us sufficient grace and free-dom to overcome the challenges in this journey through life, even when it sometimes seem like we are constantly struggling.
 It is when we are weakest that we are the strongest because that is precisely when God's power can be made perfect in us. 

We observed that many people, when things get so bad, seemingly hopeless and burdensome in their lives, tend to fall down on their knees in tears and beg God to fix things now; put things right immediately.

Our commitment to the former response is our acknowledgment of God as the loving Father, over our own limited mortal strength.  This is the beginning of our relationship with God; also the beginning of the end of our human pride - repentance.  We repent and surrender ourselves before the Lord of life in order that He may come, take control and transform our lives from within.

Conversely, the pride-ridden and self-proclaimed ‘strong’, who constantly boast of being in full control of their worldly affairs by virtue of their own competency, abilities and actions, would find it tremendously challenging to respond with such a spirit of radical discipleship; their hearts having been hardened by the cruel ways of the world.

To illustrate further, when soil is loose, it imediately absorbs drops of rain to be nourished and enriched.  However, if the same rain falls on a rock (our harden heart), it bounces off.  Similarly, one of the prerequisites of learning how to swim is to relax in the water.  As we relax, we discover how buoyant the water is and how much it supports us.

“...without me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:5, NAB)

As we journey on towards Lent, we come to realize that there must initially be a first step, on our part, towards making the commitment to repent, turn God-ward and acknowledge our need for God.  God cannot work in us as powerfully if we choose to be self-reliant, doubt Him and not want to take notice of His free grace continuously showered upon us. 

Today, simply take the first step to humbly acknowledge Jesus, the Son of God, who laid down His life, and paid the price of our salvation...the agony, the sorrow, the conspiracy, the humiliation, the mocking, the scourging, the crucifixion on a cross - the cruelest form of torture devised by 'free' man - the slow death over six agonizing hours.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  (1 Corinthians 3:16, NAB)

Therefore, wake up and freely choose to bring yourselves before the Lord and permit Him to act in you.  If God seems far away, whom do you think has moved?  Well, God obviously did not...