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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Royal Wedding...A Reflection...

“Fear not to accept Christ in your daily work. Fear not to accept Him in your “world”. Then this world will be really human.”
Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II did not shy away from modernity…technology.  Instead, he embraced and challenged the secular culture on its own turf…writing books, staged the World Youth Day Rallies across the world, wrote encyclicals like “Evangelium Vitae”.  Be not Afraid…Totus Tuus (totally yours)…signifying his devotion to Mother Mary and his belief she was with him, guiding him, watching over him, as pope, leading the Church; His Bride.  As the saying goes…‘to Jesus, through Mary’.

In the present age of artificial secular successes, chaos, temptations, discrimination, struggles, sex, corruption, injustice, power and information overload, we too, must take time to soothe the mind, balm the heart and feed the soul.

“In some parts of the world voices are being raised against what is seen as domination of the media by so-called Western culture.  Media products are seen as in some way representing values that the West holds dear and, by implication, they supposedly present Christian values.  The truth of the matter may well be that the foremost value they genuinely represent is commercial profit.” (Pope John Paul II, Communication and Technologies)

As humans, we are all born equal, in the image of God, and we must constantly seek spiritual understanding as to how we relate to ourselves, to others and ultimately, to God - the Source of all life.

Regardless of our position, rank, wealth, royalty or personality, we should always live our lives simply and humbly, knowing where we stand before our Creator, finding comfort and guidance in Him alone…being faithful to His teachings.

Of late, we have been swarmed by the media with the hype and fuss of the so-called “royal” wedding between Prince William of Wales (William Arthur Philip Louis) and Miss Catherine Elizabeth Kate Middleton…the protocols, the security, controversial wedding invites, selective guest lists, the ceremony, the jewels, expensive outfits, open carriage, the transformation of a commoner to a woman who will one day be Queen.

We must remember that this was the same media or clan of paparazzi, that sang the same tune at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Di, the same media that stirred up the so-called tragic affair of the Princess of Wales…played up the divorce of the Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York…“commercial profit” reporting, says Pope John Paul II.  Does all this help us transform and become more human in our journey home to our Father in heaven?

Rather than be seduced and drowned by these commercial media glamour and values, we go back, instead, to the first miracle at Cana marking the commencement of Christ's public vocation as the Redeemer - the beginning of the “Hour”, which was finalized with His Passion and Death at Golgotha…ultimately, the joy of the Resurrection in Easter.

This familiar short narrative, as ‘reported’ by St John, tells us that Mother Mary was the first to notice that the wine had run out and intervened; a metaphor of our own human needs today.

“When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”” (John 2:3, NAB)

Traditionally, wine is symbolic of “joy” and having wine run out equates to the challenges all married couples face today - sadness, conflicts, lack of trust, loneliness, unfaithfulness, impatience, financial difficulties, extended families pressure, work stress, inability to have children, infidelity…  What has become of this holy Sacrament of Marriage?

This Gospel reading appropriately reminds us of the value and trust we must place upon the jewel of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s intercession for the joy and unconditional love of all married couples…the everlasting unity, faithfulness, forgiveness, guidance and happiness of all marriages.

“His mother said…, “Do whatever he tells you.”” (John 2:5, NAB)

Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana reaffirms to us today of the sacredness, royalty and prime goodness of the Sacrament of Marriage; a reminder to all married couples to remain faithful and become an effective sign of the presence of Christ in the world today.

We are reminded that marriage is a covenant “by which a man and woman establish between themselves a partnership for the whole of life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1601).

Christians get married like anyone else in the unique cultures where they lived.  Christians must see that the loving union of a husband and wife, in covenant with God, mirrors not only family values but also about God's values.

In this Easter season, we pray for all married couples that this sacrament of union continue to be transformed by Jesus, to reveal more fully the faithful Love of God.

The Second Vatican Council reminds us that the marriage covenant exists not only for the good of the partners and their children, but also for the good of the Church and the good of society at large. (Church in the Modern World, #48)

With this, we also pray for the union of Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton that their love for each other and the fidelity of their commitment, continue to become a sacramental sign and witness of God’s love for the world we live and journey in.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous…not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.”
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NAB)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Read A Book...This Easter

This book presents the spiritual journal of a Trappist monk, Father Basil Pennington, as he travels across the Holy Land.  This was to be Father Basil’s last book before he died in a tragic car accident; the manuscripts of this book were subsequently discovered on his desk.

Father Basil was one of the three original proponents of Centering Prayer, teaching this ancient form of prayer to a world hungry for God - the ‘fruits’ of this centering is most evident throughout his writings.

Join Father Basil as he shares his deep and prayerful experiences visiting the Holy Land, from the hill country of Nazareth and Cana, down to Lake Capernaum and Tabor, through desert shrines and the mystical Qumran, in the holy city of Jerusalem, on Mount Sinai and back to the beginnings of the Christian story, to Bethlehem.

This very personal spiritual journal highlights the precious solitary times where Father Basil would sit quietly to reflect, to listen, to practice lectio divina on appropriate Scriptures at each of the sacred pilgrimage site; these reflections forming the context of all his narrations.  He carries along with him, his faithful companion, The Jerusalem Bible, with which he hears, contemplates and translates scriptures, at any point of the pilgrimage, so that the original words speak more directly to the experience of his visit to Cana, Capernaum, including Tabor - the Mount of Transfiguration, the Sea of Galilee, Bethany and the Via Dolorosa – Stations of the Cross in the Holy City of Jerusalem, not forgetting questions he posed to himself as a contemplative monk; with regards to flight delays, the waiting in transit, service at the mosque, the observance of Ramadan, the various sites, including belly dancing!

Father Basil simply writes of his personal encounters with God – the sight, the smell, the taste and the feel of the sacred land.  He shares his ‘awareness’ in the land where the three Abrahamic faiths dwell.  Arriving in Nazareth, he wrote, “We sat in silence for a long time…losing ourselves in reality of the Presence here and now within us…nothing greater we can do with our lives than be another life for the Word, bring his presence and redeeming grace to our lives today.”

The monastic side shared by Father Basil is very down-to-earth, human and ever present to the surroundings.  He always finds the time to read, think, meditate, pray and write.  He also shares honestly of his fears, whether negative or judgmental, his longing and unworthiness, including the quiet times he took to ‘center’.

Through this 170+ pages book, Father Basil models for us the need to give ourselves over completely to God’s will.  In his own words towards the end of this pilgrimage, he writes, “…The only thing that makes sense is to do what God wants of me….”  This last book of Father Basil is a recommended read for the Easter season. It also includes the exclusive funeral homily by Father Thomas Keating.

Books are available from Thriftbooks (free shipping) or

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Remember...We are Easter People...

The 40 days journey through Lent 2011 has passed…the Holy Week, too…all the events of the solemn Triduum behind us…Easter Sunday celebrations over and simply gone…

What now?  We go back to business as usual...back to the grind…back to our own lives…financial worries, unemployment, sickness, terminal diseases, exams, 'Hollywood' marriages, indifferent attitude, laziness, injustice, work stress, suffering, discrimination, character assasination, corruption, etc?  Sucked back into the whirlwind tornado of chaos and noise of the world.

How easy we humans forget…  Are we merely an ‘event’ type of people?  How do we sustain our lives…our journey with the flame and light of Easter?

This seems to be exactly some of the thoughts that are running through my human mind these past few days.

I remember almost a year back when I chose, after much praying and discernment, to take a sabbatical from work (the ridiculous stress!)…and found much needed quality quiet time to reflect on my spiritual interior, read many spiritual literature, spent meaningful time with my family…my elderly mother…but most of all, the time to chart my thoughts here…to listen to myself…to listen to God…to allow Him to disturb me in whichever way He chooses…to find more clarity with my life.

It has not been an easy journey of late…surrendering everything to God…trusting Him…waiting for Him to lead…  Easier said than done; the human condition.  The fact remains that…faith alone does not feed the family…fuel your vehicle…pay for your groceries…  Yet, amidst these so-called realities of life, I still feel a deep sense of calmness and trusting in the Lord…I continue to patiently pray and wait…while searching for a suitable income source...or whichever direction He choose to lead me.  Nevertheless, being human, it can get pretty confusing and rough at times...

Reading Thomas Merton’s reflections today reminded me that Divine strength is not usually given to us until we are aware of our own weaknesses and that too, knowing that the strength received is a purely a gift from God.

My own journey through Lent, the Holy Week and Easter has been especially meaningful this time because I have put myself in this most vulnerable situation; some deem it silly, stupid and ‘such a waste’ to ‘throw’ away what is perceived to be a well-paying job.  I choose to think of it as simply finding enough guts to finally empty myself before Him...awaiting for Him to fill me.

At times, I do find it a mystery of God’s love, to be able to gather the courage and faith to finally stand up for what is right, to preserve my own human dignity, rather than to be enslaved by the seduction of money and worldly corporate politicking…at the expense of others.  The relentless pursuit of this whole 'rat race' or 'career advancement' seem to have just evaporated and overcome by the hunger to have to better relationship with God, at this point in my life.

This Easter, I learnt that the Cross is not merely to know my own suffering – it is to know that I am saved by the suffering of Jesus Christ, to be able to experience that I am saved by Him.  To find true meaning to this short life's journey...towards something much greater at the union with God and in communion with all the saints.

Throughout this past year, I am blessed to have been able to experience and truly appreciate the love and comfort of God, through the words, actions, support and love of my family especially, and friends.

It is only through Jesus that our lives are saved – He is truly the Alpha and the Omega…the beginning and the end.  Spiritually, “no man is ever saved by his own suffering”, adds Merton.

Through the contemplation and blogging of my own thoughts, the Via Dolorosa, the Lenten, Triduum and Easter reflections, I have grown and gained more insight into the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ; growing stronger in union with God.  Life can truly become more meaningful and its journey more worthwhile, if we know our God and come into a relationship with Him.

I now know more clearly that it is not by my own mere suffering that I earn God’s love.  God did not create suffering and Saints are not made saints by mere suffering alone.

We need to freely choose to make time to build on our own relationship with God, with ourselves, our families and our neighbors in order to be able to know and experience His love on this short journey through life.

Only then will we, as pilgrims, grow in the awareness that suffering, in the here and now, does not really matter…suffering, in fact, destroys what is not important to our relationship with God.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  We carry the hope in us as we are Easter people...continually refined by the Lord...into His image.

This Easter season, I invite you to contemplate and reflect on…what is it that you love most in life?

As for me, myself and I...this journey back home continues with hope...simply and quietly...meeting more companions along the way...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter...The Light Shines Forth...

Imagine this scenario…a person is diagnosed with terminal cancer and is given less than six months to live, another suffers from severe hypertension as a result of work stress…financial difficulties, a family greeted a newborn bundle of joy yet suffering from muscular dystrophy, an elderly parent suffers an acute heart attack, the despised, the marginalized, the outcast, the parent alone in the old folks home, the person who has just lost his or her job…what seems to be the commonality of these tragic and lonely circumstances in a joyful season such as Easter?

For these people, on Easter day, words fail them…hope has abandoned them…they feel Jesus might have forgotten about them.

This perception is compounded by the fact that the commercial and popular Easter message of today carries the familiar images of the Easter egg, the Easter bunny, festive meals, euphoric mumbo jumbo celebrations...  If one googles Easter, images of flowers, chocolates, pastel colors, eggs and bunnies fill the search results.

Churches preach that Easter means there is hope of a silver lining behind every dark cloud…  Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Light has come!  Easter brings meaning only with Jesus being the center of it.  It is only because of Jesus that we have Easter.  If is only because of Jesus that we have life.

For the earlier mentioned people, the empty tomb, the joyful Easter message and the ‘happy ending’ to Lent may not connect so clearly with them; especially given their real life experiences.  To them, they perhaps feel more of the darkness of the tomb, the chill, the cold and abandonment in the tomb, the loneliness and hopelessness.  What then is the true meaning of Easter for us today?

The empty tomb, even the disciples thought that the body has been stolen…the Easter message of the resurrection was not proclaimed in an ever so high profile manner.  Simply reserved and quiet seems to be the way the Easter message is carried.

“Easter brings no escape from suffering and death.  The last enemy is still with us and, in company with Jesus, each individual has to pass through this valley.  For the world there is no escape from injustice, war, grinding poverty, famine and disease.  No magic wand has been waved to banish these things, no divine recipe handed out for their instant solution.

The post-Easter world is still in the hands of frail, confused, sinful people like ourselves who have to use minds and energy to wrestle with its ills.  …The devil, it is said, has received a mortal blow but, dangerous as any wounded beast, still goes about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8)…we may in the light of Easter be enjoying the firstfruits, a foretaste of the harvest, but the harvest itself is not yet come.” (Peter Cornwell, On the River’s Edge, p106)

Easter is hence, a timely reminder for us that death will visit each one of us…death will change life…but never will death end life…  Jesus, we know from Easter, gives us the hope to persevere as pilgrims.

At the end of the day, we should not be overly joyful and complacent, thinking that we are now saved, no matter what we do or say.  We are all still pilgrims travelling along the journey…but, as Christians, we live in hope…only in living out this message of hope that we are saved.  This world remains dark, cold, harsh and lonely, unless we reach out and share this light of Easter…

Just like the church on the eve of this great day, where light from a single Paschal candle makes its way through the darkness,….we must remember that the dark shadows still presses upon us…we must ensure that the flickering candlelight we carry remains burning strong and not become vulnerable to the darkness of the world.

Sharing the light of Christ does not mean simply boasting that we are saved at the expense of others.  We cannot carry the good news unless we empty ourselves of human pride…it means taking a humble stance and with simple and quiet confidence reach out and touch the sick, the elderly, the lonely, the abandoned, the victim, the poor, the differently-abled…and offer them hope in Jesus Christ.

Like the appearance of Jesus on Easter, our free, simple and quiet presence must also offer a sign of assurance and hope to others travelling a similar journey through life; relieving them of fear and despair.

Such hope can affect how others cope with the reality of death here and now.  Our light and presence can comfort them, reassure them, accompany them, love them and give them hope.  We are Easter people and we have been called out of darkness into the marvelous light…this Easter, let us choose to do the same as Jesus in everything we do or say...with everyone we meet.

Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Alleluia!  Let us remind ourselves that the resurrection remains a mystery for all of us…not a single Gospel tells us how this had happened.  What we know is that through Jesus, we can have victory over death.  We are vessels of the living presence of the Risen Christ, bringing hope to many others.  Let us also remind ourselves that Easter would not have been possible without a Good Friday...

From this Easter, we will continue our journey with hope for another 50 days towards Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit…

Meanwhile, let the proclaimation of the hymn of praise, the Exultet your heart.