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Friday, March 11, 2011

Earthquake & Tsunami Wave in Japan...The World Mourns

Sorrow in Japan...this Lent

As the season of Lent dwells upon us, we are saddened to hear of the largest earthquake and massive tsunami hitting the Pacific Coast of Japan.

The nation that was to be the most prepared and equiped to face such disasters, was suddenly struck with the 7th most powerful earthquake in the world – destruction, chaos, panic, innocent lives lost, homes destroyed, lives torn apart in a heart beat...

Times of disasters are extremely trying for us all. “Lord, have mercy!” Have compassion on your people in Japan as they respond to this sudden tragedy.

Heal the hearts of those who are angered to have lost their loved ones and help them go through this painful ordeal.  May God’s abundant blessings and mercy descend upon His people during this very trying time and bring about goodness we often fail to see.

May the souls of the departed find eternal rest and let perpetual light shine upon them.

As much as we would like to ponder, we will never understand the root of such evil events in this world.  What we know is that God is love.  Therefore, we trust that God does not punish His people with natural disasters. 

Somehow, we doubt and cannot seem to reconcile a loving God with such natural tragedy.

We will never be able to understand the sorrow and mourning of the people in Japan at this moment but we can only pray that God will grant them a new beginning, a new life this Lent.

May the healing and comforting presence of our grieving God be with all the victims in Japan and across the Pacific basin.

We are reminded that life is truly fragile…

"For he is the Lord our God: and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand."
(Psalm 94:7, Douay-Rheims)
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."
(Deutronomy 31:6, NIV)

Thoughts of My Epiphany in Lent...

"The further I advance into solitude, the more clearly I see the goodness of all things."
 - Thomas Merton

I grew up in a poor family, my childhood, no less dull, routine and ‘anti-social’, as most of my friends would deem it.  Never could I afford much as most children do, the birds, insects, the stars and clouds became my source of amusement and companions during my leisure. 

My humble abode, a low-cost house in Transit Quarters (now demolished, no longer exist) faced a green hill and blankly staring at this distant hill became my favorite evening past time; or waste of time.  This small house was home to me.

My feet walked me to school through thick bushes, shrubs, long 'lallangs', muddy paths, bamboo trees and a small stream; rain or shine, I still must pass, even in the dark sometimes.  I often feared the quiet and loneliness, walking through this off beaten path...sometimes, out of this fear, I would simply run straight through.

I lived in a small town facing the sea; many, many years ago, home to Chinese tin miners - Kuantan, they call it, a tropical gateway to the East Coast of Malaysia.

Long walks on the virgin beach, listening to the beatings of the waves, smelling the salty sea breeze, the white sands warm my feet, swaying palms dance to the rhythm, soaking in the blue lagoon...continues to linger in my memory.

This town was also home to the air force base, rendering noisy combat support over the South China Sea; the latter, the source of the harsh monsoon storms, flooding the town.

My growing up years have often been a mystery to me, difficult to comprehend, feeling isolated many a times.  I always thought I never had enough as others did.  I neither had nor recall any Epiphany, or if ever there was one, I never did recognized it, although I am a cradle Catholic and served with absolute commitment as an altar boy in the Catholic Church for many a years; the initial calling having been, by the grace of God, forced upon me by sheer external pressure. 

Looking back, it seems that I allowed myself to be bullied by the seniors, having to serve the sunset mass and other mass that were not "high profile" almost weekly, some in languages that were even foreign to me!

Yes, my childhood life was simply simple, without much to worry about.  Moving to the hustle and bustle of the capital city to further my studies and later on, flying down-under for my tertiary education would form a reflection for another day.

As my adolescence youthful years passed and the middle ages crept up upon me, I somehow took courage and confronted that dreadful ‘silence’ at a retreat session conducted by the late M. Basil Pennington; Centering Prayer, the pilgrims would call it; waste of time, the world would deem it.  Why pay money to sit there doing nothing??  Well, this was to be a most enriching few days for me.

Looking back, this was one of the best investment I gifted upon myself for my spiritual life, for my relationship with God, for what truly matters in my life.

Amidst all those centering sessions, little did I know that what actually transpired during those times was a timely awakening of the seed of silence somehow embedded deep within my human being all my life; an encounter with ‘nothingness’ – I have finally come home.  All of a sudden, in the following weeks, all the pieces of my life's jig-saw pieced together...I began to see God's hand in every facet of my life; past and present. 

For this, I have to thank my humble parents for...though poor, they taught me a precious quietness that much of the restless world was searching for.  They conditioned me in the simplicity of life and the poverty of just being.  

My late father was strict but he would never fail to take me for simple rides on his faithful old school, to the river, to nowhere but enjoying each others' presence.  My mother, to me, is the most humble and generous person, trusting everything single decision and thing to God and Mother Mary; she was and still is the best cook ever - feeding both my soul and tummy!  Through both of them, God loved me.
 The later years had me completely drowned in scripture study, retreats and the writings of Trappists monks like Fr Basil and Fr Thomas Keating, especially Thomas Merton, which I never seem to have enough of.  Somehow, even if I did not find him, he (his books) would somehow miraculously find me.  The mystery of the hand of God.

Through my attraction to his writings, I came to understand, with much meaning and clarity, the ‘quiet’, the ‘nothingness’, and ‘silence’ which filled my growing up years; as being sacred and priceless, without which I would never had cultivated this sense of awareness, mindfulness and consciousness.

Now I realize that the blank staring into the faraway hill in front of my what the mystics call ‘contemplation’.  The lens of silence embedded in me has now helped me see the equanimity in all humanity and creation.

This same silence has enabled me to be in a crowded bookshop, yet feeling alone with a book in my hand, wanting to know more of God's love.  This silence has gifted me with the ability to listen to others when no words are yet spoken, transforming fear to courage and darkness into light, mystery to understanding.

The wisdom of Thomas Merton, and many other great Catholic writers, still continue to unveil layers towards the discovery of my true self deep within my being.

My journey continues into the simply quiet of this world as I contemplate more and more of the richness, sacredness and joy of embracing each day and each person I meet along this journey back home to God.

Because of this silence, my life has become more precious, because of this silence, I now begin hear, see and feel God everywhere.

This is my humble epiphany reflection during this day of Lent, from across the miles and today, hovering into my late forties, I continue to share the simple thoughts of my journey, into the world, hoping that this will reflect some light onto someone else's path; a drop of water, hopefully, by the grace of God, sending out small touch lives.

In this holy season Lent, make time to ponder about your life, your growing up God made you to become who you are today.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent...The Journey Begins...

“…Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word…” (Luke 1:38, NAB)

This would not be the usual biblical verse that one would expect to hear on Ash Wednesday, but then, the journey of each one is different, the reflection of each, a gift from God

On this first holy day of Lent 2011, I share the humble musings of my heart.

By the grace of the Holy Spirit, all of these events began with a simple and free ‘fiat’ response spoken by our Mother Mary to the Angel Gabriel and Christ was conceived and born into the world.

‘Fiat’ is a Latin word translating to ‘Let it be done’.

“She uttered her yes ‘in the name of all human nature’”
- St. Thomas Aquinas

 St. Irenaeus in the 2nd Century added that, “Being obedient, she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race”.

Mother Mary was first to kiss the face of the baby Lord Jesus, the holy face of God. 

She mothered, embraced and loved Jesus throughout His growing up years with all her heart, with all her soul. 

Such was the joy, we felt when we experienced Christmas, not so many months ago; Jesus coming into the world.

However, little did Mary know the consequences of this obedient ‘fiat’ to God’s Word. 

Little did she know that her little cherished lamb, would one day be slained as a sacrifice for the salvation of the world.

“And thy own soul a sword shall pierce...” (Luke 2:35, Douay-Rheims)

Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote in his great book, Life of Christ, “The sword was already coming to Mary before the Cross had come to her Son, for she was already feeling the cutting separation…Jesus grew up as a village carpenter, a maker of wood.  The familiar nails and crossbeams in the shop would later on become the instruments of His own torture; and He would Himself be hammered to a tree.  One wonders why this long preparation for such a brief ministry of three years.”

Throughout His growing up years, Jesus experienced fully the love of His parents Mary (and Joseph).  They probably pampered Him and groomed His spiritual life and in the knowledge of the faith, the scriptures...

By their ever patient loving guidance, His human nature and spiritual maturity grew to perfection. 

Mary, eternally faithful, journeyed with her Son right to the end, at the foot of the old rugged wooden Cross.  

One can imagine her pain, her tears...seeing the flesh of her flesh being scourged, nailed, pierced...her little boy.

“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19, NAB)

The wood that made the cradle for the baby Jesus, the wood that He grew up and played with would has become the heaviest Cross He would have to carry, the Cross that fell on Him 3 times, the Cross that He would be nailed onto for the redemption of all mankind, the Cross drenched with His Precious Blood. 

The sweet embrace of Mary at Christmas has turned into a bitter, painful and bloody one on Good Friday.  The tears of joy has become the tears of sorrow.

As the holy season of Lent begins today, let us remember to live out this ‘fiat’ spirituality of Mary in spiritual communion with the Church and in solidarity with all fellow human beings, as being one creation in the image of God.

This Lent, let us more fully accept Jesus in our heart, mind and body, remembering always to share this same salvation and healing with the rest of the world, too.

Let us not doubt but be faithful in the journey, with Jesus as our companion, through all that life has to offer.  May this Lenten season give us new strength to persevere till the very end when we will meet our Lord.

This Lent, may we always imitate Jesus’ obedience and cry out, “…still, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42, NAB)

This is our faith...this is our hope...


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Desert...An Exodus For Lent

“The desert is a place where the soul encounters God, but it is also a place of extreme desolation – a place of testing, where the soul is flung upon its own resources and therefore upon God. The desert, in this sense, can be any where.”
– Elizabeth Hamilton, The Desert My Dwelling Place: A Study of Charles de Foucauld

 The desert, we know, is an extremely harsh environment – open spaces, dry, barren, extreme hot temperature in the day, cold in the nights, very little rain fall, not a drop of water at many a times, hostile, wild, empty, sandy, a mystery…

Though each desert is different, they are all isolated, lonely and silent.  Quite appropriately, the Arabic word ‘sahara’ translates to desert.  Why would any sane living human being even want to be out here in the wilderness, away from all the comforts of everyday life?

The story of the desert (or wilderness, as it is more often used) has been associated with many people in the Bible – Abraham and Sarah, the long years of the Exodus with Moses, the flight of Elijah, John the Baptist, many, many others and of course, Jesus.

“Filled with the holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days... (Luke 4:1-2, NAB)

Scripture tells us that after being baptized, Jesus prayed and fasted for forty days and nights in the desert; being tempted in the great silence.  Jesus went to the desert wilderness to prepare for the mission of His Father.

In the Old Testament, we read that Moses, too, went to the mountain at Sinai, in the desert, and stayed there 40 days and nights (Exodus 24:18).  Likewise, Prophet Elijah spent 40 days journeying there. (1 Kings 19:8)
 The desert, it seems, has nothing to offer – inviting the abandonment of everything in favor of nothing – surrendering of everything to seek God meet God in our nothingness...just 'being' our simple naked self - stripped of everything that is of the world.

In the biblical days, we read that the desert, for many, was an experience, a place to runaway to, a place to be tempted, to be tested, to discover, to be found, to search, to survive, to seek solitude, to pray.

The Desert Fathers in the early centuries often sought for silence, simplicity and solitude in the deserts – the nature of the landscape, the open spaces allowing them to contemplate God and put Him in priority above everything attachments, no distractions...

These days, amidst the busy-ness of the contemporary world, the metaphor of the desert can be, for us, a feeling of inner emptiness or void that comes from being cut-off from God’s presence – too many distracting noises from the everyday life.  However, this same desert can, if we so choose, be a place of self discovery for us this Lent.

The desert will demand from us, endurance, during the times of struggle, testing, simplicity, self abandonment, quiet prayer, emptiness, reliance on God – putting God first in our life.  The desert, according to Pope Benedict XVI is a test of faith.

“Yesterday, you understood a little; today, you understand better; tomorrow, you will understand better still: the light of God is growing in you.” – St Augustine of Hippo

As we undertake the fundamental decision to begin this journey through the holy season of Lent, with Ash Wednesday, let us not to be afraid.

Instead let us dare to renew ourselves with the experiences of the desert within us – seeking such isolation as a means of abandoning ourselves completely to God – gaining our courage, deepening our faith and developing the sensitivity to hearing the voice of God again – trusting God with our life again – encountering our God in love cross this desert with be found and embraced by Jesus, our good shepherd.

“From the moment Christ went out into the desert to be tempted, the loneliness, the temptation and the hunger of every man and woman became the loneliness, the temptation and the hunger of Christ”
– Thomas Merton

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Simply Praising Jesus...For Salvation

Truly, without Jesus, we would all be nothing...without Him, there would be no life, no meaning, no love. 

Praying that Jesus will fill us all each day with all His love and grace as we gently journey towards Lent, in a day or two.

Help us be more compassionate, help us love a little bit more, especially our children, spouse, a little bit more patient, forgiving...  Give us the grace to be better children, parents, friends, neighbor...  Heal and renew our relationship with the ever loving God.

Thank you Jesus for loving us unconditionally!

Absence from the “A” word…More of the “F” word…

“The gates of Jerusalem shall sing hymns of gladness, and all her houses shall cry out, “Alleluia! Blessed be God who has raised you up! May he be blessed for all ages!” For in you they shall praise his holy name forever…” (Tobit 13:18, NAB)

Lent will begin this coming Ash Wednesday, March 9 and will go on until Holy Thursday when the Easter Triduum begins.  During this season of Lent, we prepare ourselves through the self-examination of our lives and build stronger, our relationship with God.

In this season, the Church refrains from singing the “Alleluia” in liturgy.  This simple practice aims to remind us of our need for self-denial and repentance; awaiting in hopeful anticipation of praising it fully at Easter – with shouts of “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!”

Easter bears witness to the empty tomb, without which, our faith would have been truly in vain.

“…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.”
(1 Corinthians 15:17, NAB)

 The word “Alleluia” is a compound word made up from several different words.  It is derived from the Hebrew word ‘Hallel’ which means ‘to praise in song’.

The letter ‘u’ denotes the second person plural, while ‘Yah’ is an abbreviation for the name of God, a shortened form of YHWH, the name for the Creator ‘Yahweh’’; the Lord God.

Hence, the Latin ‘Alleluia’ equals the Hebrew ‘Hallelu-Yah’ equals ‘Praise Yah(weh)’.

Alleluia’ becomes our richest exclamation of praise to God.

The absence of this “A” (lleluia) word during Lent must deliberately remind us of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

It reminds us that, without Good Friday, there would not have been an Easter.  It reminds us that, without Easter, we are merely dust, destined to return to dust.  Missing “Alleluia” during this holy time and recollecting the Passion of Christ and the Kingdom coming is precisely what the season of Lent is all about; our salvation.

Knowing this then, our spiritual journey through Lent this year can become more meaningful.

By the way, “Fasting is a good form of penance and self denial during the entire season of Lent.  Not that we are asked to fast from all forms of food throughout these 40 days! 

Fasting can be in many other forms to show God how sorry we are for our sins and how much we love Him more than anything else in this world – reading, studying and reflecting on scriptures, attending the Stations of the Cross, practicing self control, refrain from saying the four-letter-word, praying the rosary, watching less TV, reading the lives of the Saints and many others.

What will you choose this Lent?