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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Via Dolorosa 9/14…Jesus Falls the Third Time

We continue to contemplate on our journey with Jesus, who “went out, carrying His Cross, to the place called “the place of the skull”, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha” (John 19:17). I humbly pray that the pondering of these solemn steps of Christ’s journey will quietly speak to your heart.

“Adoramus te, christe, et benedicimus tibi, quia per crucem tuam redemisti mundum.

We adore Thee O Christ, and we praise Thee - Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.”
– The Testament of St. Francis of Assisi – 1182 - 1226

Scripture Reading:

“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8, NAB)

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11, NAB)

“Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf. He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours’.” (Luke 15:29-31, NAB)

Simply Reflect:

Jesus, you continue to painfully walk towards Golgotha.  Each step taking its toll on you as you struggled to support the entire weight of the Cross.

Your breathing was getting heavier and heavier as your lungs suffocate by the lack of oxygen; simply breathless.

Droplets of your precious Blood have washed and blessed the streets of Jerusalem.

How can this sacred city even be known as the holy sanctuary, the abode of peace? Surely there must be a simpler way…

More and more people rushed to follow this ‘procession of death’…the wailing and cries of the women fade away in a distant…reminiscent of the weeping at the death of Lazarus of Bethany, not far away from Jerusalem.

Jesus, the Word made flesh (John 1:14) recalled the Word spoken in the Garden of Eden…and truly, mankind have not learnt.

“What is this that you have done?” (Genesis 3:13, RSV)

The soldiers kept pushing him, the crowd pressing him, screaming, “Crucify him!” (Mark 15:13)…Crucify the imposter!! the King of the Jews, they teased…and insulted Him.

Golgotha beacons.  Soldiers were setting the stage.  Suddenly, His bare feet step on a sharp stone, His knees fails Him, Jesus stumbles and crash to the rough path.  The Cross landed directly on the Son of Man yet again…this time, the most extreme, most severe…Jesus fell again for the third time…

Jesus looked up…only a few more steps uphill…His resting place.  He ponders the words of the psalmists and gathered the last ounce of strength.

“Even now my head is held high above my enemies on every side...” (Psalm 27:6, NAB)

“The LORD is with me; I am not afraid; what can mortals do against me? I shall not die but live and declare the deeds of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:6, 17, NAB)

Jesus gathered the balance of His brutalized body, steadies himself and rise again and crawled the final steps…to Golgotha, carrying the ugly beams of the Cross.  To many of us, it may have just been easier to just lay there, give up and die.

The crowd cheered and clapped him on…some stoning him for fun… The soldiers whipped Him, yet again. He is all alone in this…

“…Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done…” (Matthew 6:10, Douay Rheims)

Quiet Pondering:

As you watched the scene of Jesus collapsing for the third time on the road to Golgotha, simply contemplate on these reflections…in your own life.

Have you ever stood afar watching, like the disciples and the crowd? Do you not share the life of Jesus and His ministry?

Were there times when you fail to speak up for the truth, for Jesus?

Were there times when you betrayed Jesus like Judas did, “…for thirty pieces of silver…” (Matthew 27:3)?

Were there times when you deny Jesus like Peter, “…I do not know what you are talking about!” (Matthew 26:70, NAB)?

Were there times in your life when you lie to Jesus like Judas, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” (Matthew 26:25)?

On acknowledging our shortfalls, our sins, our human condition, would you rather despair like Judas?

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.” (Luke 15:21, NAB)

“…he departed and went off and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5, NAB)

Or repent like Peter, the disciple?

“Peter remembered the word of the Lord…he went out and began to weep bitterly.” (Luke 22:61-62, NAB)

“The Lord…is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NAB)

Jesus, give us strength and help us so that we do not give up easily and allow the cross of our sins put us down in our lives. When we fall, help us to rise again.

“While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20, NAB)

“Prayer, mercy and fasting: These three are one, and they give life to each other.

Fasting is the soul of prayer; mercy is the lifeblood of fasting.  Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated.  If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing.

So if you pray, fast; if fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others.  When you fast, see the fasting of others.

If you hope for mercy, show mercy.  If you look for kindness, show kindness.  If you want to receive, give.”
- St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop (380-450)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lenten Reflection...Hell Exists!

Today, I received news that a loved one of a colleague has passed away.  He has been unwell for a long while so, in a way, God, in His great mercy, granted him and his family time to prepare, to repent, to heal and turn back to God in this Holy Season of Lent.

I recollect, many years ago, I lost a very, very good friend – a fellow altar boy, a school mate, a family friend, a spiritual companion…  It was the contagious effect of his charismatic spiritual life that the seed of faith was planted in me, during my teenage years.

Because of him, I came to experience and see the that God is ‘alive’, ‘faithful’, works in ‘mysterious’ ways but always knows what is best for each one of us.

Quite appropriately, my friend carried the great name, Peter (my ‘Rock’), a brilliant Monash University civil engineer, a doctorate research author most fascinated with the study of soil and rock mass stability in Australia - geotechnical stability analyses, he calls it.  Peter developed the Generalized Wedge Method (GWM) for analyzing the stability of slopes.

Dr. Peter Giam Siew Kin was simply a cheerful guy and I would always recall his younger days when he would work part time, after school hours, pushing carts of fruits up the slopes of the wet market just to earn some pocket money, aside from rendering home tuition to high school students.

I will always remember him for his honesty, sincerity simplicity and humility, whose rich and active faith in Catholicism, far outweighs his material poverty.  The Lord called him back in a most tragic helicopter crash whilst pursuing his soil research, not long after he got married…

I could never understand why…perhaps, the Lord loved him more…perhaps he was already prepared to enter the Heavens... perhaps, the will of God, Our Father, is something which mankind simply cannot comprehend.

St Peter, the Rock, the first Supreme Pontiff was crucified on Vatican Hill upside down because he declared himself unworthy to die in the same manner as the Lord.

In reality, it does not matter whether I am able to understand the ‘whys’ but perhaps what is more important, for me, is knowing that the Lord, our Source of Life, sent a good friend, Peter into my journey through life (and many others, I am sure) and touched it in a way that allows me (us) to be able to encounter a bit more of God…and for me (us) to spread that touch, that little spark, many, many times others in this journey through life.

People today do not like to talk about ‘death’ and often get even more offended when ‘Hell’ is ever mentioned.  Life is already good, so why talk about Hell?  These days, many people laugh at, question, poke fun, and openly deny the reality of Hell.

“I do not believe in Hell”, “I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, hence no matter what I do, I simply will never ever go to Hell”, “No one has ever returned from beyond the grave to testify that there is a Hell”, “Life is so blessed, so how can there be a place like Hell?”, “Life is to be enjoyed, to be lived fully, why worry about Hell –when, even we will all be dead by then, anyway” and many, many more…lame excuses.

As a result of this secular mindset, many of us today live their lives as if Hell can never exist for them, death always seems so far away, so distant – we carry on in our mad pursuit of materialism, wealth accumulation, power, ranks...we abuse our positions of authority by putting others down, we play God, we live as if life on earth is eternal, as if there is no consequences to whatever we do or not do.

Even in this holy season of Lent, the so-called sacrifices we make may simply be “artificial”, no more than just “scratching the surface” of our souls; only for show.  These 'acts' are performed more to “display” externally to gain public acceptance, rather than to “heal” and 'renew' our own interior soul.  Human beings are such good pretenders.

This Lent, we must realize that deep down, only we ourselves know the “genuineness’ or ‘sincerity’ of such acts, be it fasting, almsgiving, serving or praying; hopefully, we do not become like the Pharisees – trying to cheat ourselves…trying to cheat God.

At the end of the day, Lent is simply about us turning our lives back towards God and becoming His disciple.  Repent!

Unfortunately or fortunately, Hell is the most terrible truth of our faith, of our lives!  It is as certain as our breathing, our heart beat; as it is, the existence of God.  Hell does not simply cease to exist just because one does not believe in it.  This plain truth has been proclaimed many times over in the Gospels and through the rest of Holy Scriptures; God continues to warn His people about Hell.

“I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened.  Then another scroll was opened, the book of life.  The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls.

The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead.  All the dead were judged according to their deeds.  Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire. (This pool of fire is the second death.)  Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the pool of fire.” (Revelations 20:12-15, NAB)

In the parable of poor Lazarus, the rich man was surprised to experience the horrors and the eternity of Hell – it was the consequences of his actions or inactions that he ended up there. Abraham went on to remind the rich man that the people on the earth “have Moses and the prophets” – the scripture, God’s inspired Word, to instruct and warn them, but…

“If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31, NAB)

The Saints too, have much to reveal to us about Hell.  Our dear Lord had Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, a holy nun from Poland, visit Hell in 1936.  Here is simply a small snippet of her awesome account of this horrifying and dreadful place:

“Today, I was led by an angel to the chasms of hell.  It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is!

The kinds of tortures I saw: the first torture that constitutes hell is the loss of God; the second is perpetual remorse of conscience; the third is that one's condition will never change; the fourth is the fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it – a terrible suffering, since it is a purely spiritual fire, lit by God's anger; the fifth torture is continual darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and, despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own; the sixth torture is the constant company of Satan; the seventh torture is the horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies.

These are the tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings. There are special tortures destined for particular souls.  These are the torments of the senses.

Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned.

There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another.

I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me.  Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin.

I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like.

I, Sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence… The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God.

What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw.  But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell.  When I came to, I could hardly recover from the fright. 

How terribly souls suffer there!  Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners.  I incessantly plead God's mercy upon them.

O my Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, than offend You by the least sin.”

“Indeed the message (St. Faustina) brought is the appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies.” - Pope John Paul II -Divine Mercy Sunday Homily,Sunday, 22 April 2001

This Lent, choose never to deny the existence of Hell.

Simply reflect on the following…

“Then they will answer and say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?”  He will answer them, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”  And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:44-46, NAB)

Therefore, for the remaining weeks of this Holy Season, let us make time to contemplate on this truth, to choose God in our lives, to love others more, to uphold justice, to respect human dignity in all our words and action…while there is still time!

Like Jesus, on the Way of the Cross, we too can claim victory over Hell each everything we say and do.  Choose Jesus...Choose Life!

“God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now he demands that all people everywhere repent because he has established a day on which he will 'judge the world with justice' through a man he has appointed, and he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts of the Apostles 17:30-31, NAB)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Via Dolorosa 8/14…The Women of Jerusalem Weep Over Jesus

In the Fourth Week of Lent, we continue to reflect on our journey with Jesus, Who “went out, carrying His cross, to the place called “the place of the skull”, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha” (John 19:17).  I humbly pray that the contemplation of these solemn steps of Christ’s journey will speak to your heart.

“Adoramus te, christe, et benedicimus tibi, quia per crucem tuam redemisti mundum.

We adore Thee O Christ, and we praise Thee - Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.”

– The Testament of St. Francis of Assisi – 1182 - 1226

Scripture Reading:

“Then God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them…God blessed them…” (Genesis 1:26-28, NAB)

“A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children…” (Luke 23:27-28, NAB)

“He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him nor appearance that would attract us to him.  He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.  Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:2-4, NAB)

Simply Reflect:

O Jesus, you looked up and saw that there are so many people in the crowd, vicious people, curious people, provoking people, hardened people, indifferent people, wailing women, angry men, restless young, old, sad, the poor, passing travelers, even innocent children…the human race…created and blessed by God, the Father, in His very own image.

Is this how Creation return ‘blessings’ the Creator?  Is this how Creation mirrors the image of God? Is this how they pay homage to the Son of Man?

To most of the faceless people in the crowd, Jesus was no different from the two or many other previous thieves condemned to death on Golgotha.

Jesus pondered and remembered His people…some of whom faithfully followed Him during His preaching and healing ministry…in Judea…Galilee… They are only humans…

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34, NAB)

He looked further up and the peak of Golgotha was in close sight.  This narrow, rough and steep ‘procession’ still has a bit more to go.

The Roman executioners became even more brutal and continued flogging, lashing, whipping, cursing and spitting at Jesus…urged on by the crowd of eager spectators.

Jesus, perhaps pondered...I came to preserve redeem life…yet you 'glorify' me with the ultimate destruction of life!

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!” (Matthew 23:37, NAB)

Jesus can barely move any quicker...His steps were heavy…He almost falls again but managed to hold on for the sake of redeeming humanity…for the sake of the will of His Father in Heaven.

“…My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” (Matthew 25:42, NAB)

On witnessing this gruesome scene, the wailing, weeping and crying from some women amongst the crowd grew even louder and louder…piercing the dusty air...filled with compassion…sinfulness, repentance, hopelessness…

“As a woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pains, so were we in your presence, O LORD.” (Isaiah 26:17, NAB)

Jesus managed some words of consolation to them…Weep not, for me…Weep not, for me…but for your children…and your children's children...

“…take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children's children.” (Deuteronomy 4:9, NAB)

Quiet Pondering:

As you hear, see and contemplate all these brutal scenes vividly, on the way of the Cross to Golgotha, these ought to make you reflect deeply.  How do you understand all these events?  What is your response to Jesus this Lent?

We continue to hear the stream of echo in our heart...Do not weep for Jesus; instead weep for yourself, your children, your children’s children...

“Yet I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter, had not realized that they were hatching plots against me: “Let us destroy the tree in its vigor; let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will be spoken no more.”” (Jeremiah 12:19, NAB)

“If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” - Saint Augustine


Fourth Week of Lent...With Jesus, We See...

"I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?(John 11: 25-26, NAB)

"Whether you understand it or not, God loves you, is present to you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you." - Thomas Merton

Entering into the Fourth Week of Lent, we remember that life is a gift to us from God, the Father.  Our life is not our own choosing but by God's designing.

Because of this, we continue to carry the hope, at this mid-Lenten point, that everything that happens in our life lies entirely in the assuring hands of God.

"Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?  Even should she forget, I will never forget you.  See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name..." (Isaiah 49: 15-16, NAB)

We must never be afraid to gaze into the eyes of Jesus and acknowledge Him as the source of our life, the bringer of hope, the cause of our joy, the source of our salvation...  Jesus alone can make everything new...Jesus alone forgives our sins.

For the remaining part of Lent, take courage that Jesus will heal any blindness in your heart and restore fully your inner sight to become more aware of God in your life.   Jesus will bring light into the darkness of your heart.  Jesus alone will heal and remove all your burdens and sufferings.

"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth." (Ephesians 5: 8-9, NAB)

"Look at His adorable face. Look at His glazed and sunken eyes. Look at His wounds. Look Jesus in the Face.  There, you will see how He loves us." - St. Therese of Lisieux

Sunday, April 3, 2011

“Ecce Homo”...Behold The Man...

Our journey through Lent, over the last three weeks, has hit the half way milestone; generally marked by the day known as ‘Laetare Sunday’.

It is that Sunday of joy sandwiched into the middle of our forty days of penance.  The word ‘Laetare’ originates from Latin meaning ‘Rejoice!’.

This is a Sunday of Joy! – We are actually halfway to Easter!

Flowers, generally not seen during Lent, makes a return to the altar and the vestment of the clergy turns from the mournful purple to a more joyful and hopeful ‘rose pink’.

This serves as a reminder to us that Easter is approaching and for us to keep persevering with hope for the remaining weeks of Lent.

Before we embark on the journey into the fourth Week of Lent, let us take this opportune moment to ponder and reflect on how we have kept our commitment for this holy season.

Then perhaps, we can take this opportunity to also renew our Lenten resolution, in areas where we have fallen slightly short.

Have we been able to turn away from our worldly distractions and turn God-ward?

“Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.” (Isaiah 35:10, NAB)

Today, let us be encouraged and continue to make progress in our journey daily, through life, towards God.

“Ecce Homo” (In Latin: Behold the Man) is the phrase uttered by Pontius Pilate at the trial of Christ, sending Him on the path to Golgotha.

“So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. And he said to them, ‘Behold, the man!’

When the chief priests and the guards saw him they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’”
(John 19:5-6, NAB)

After having journeyed three weeks this Lent, we ask ourselves, what does “Ecce Homo” mean for me?  Who is this man, Jesus, in my life?  What is my own response to to the cry of “Ecce Homo” today?

Throughout the journey in the past three weeks, we have encountered many characters of the Passion of Christ – Pilate, the Pharisees, the Faces in the Crowd, the Roman Executioners, Simon the Cyrene, Veronica, Mother Mary, the distant Disciples and naturally, Jesus, the man – Who do you relate best with?  Why?

I have endeavored to share my simple layman reflections of the first half of the Stations of the Cross within this web journal.  I pray that each humble sharing will be beneficial to reach out and touch hearts; bringing about the unique message of hope for the holy season.

These reflections are simply my own contemplation of the Passion of Christ, as I myself reflect on each aspect of Jesus’ journey to Golgotha, relating to my many falls carrying the cross of my sins in my own life.

This Lent, prayerfully surrender all your burdens to Jesus and allow Him to touch you, to heal you, to open new paths for you, to lead you home, to transform you...

“Ecce Homo” will then simply draw a joyful response from us which would be similar to disciple Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”...

“What is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?”
– Thomas Merton