Custom Search

Saturday, May 14, 2011

St Matthias...A Gift of God...

“…whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord's.” (Romans 14:8, Douay Rheims)

Today, I find it most appropriate to simply reflect on Saint Matthias, who was the first apostle chosen after the crucifixion of Jesus on Golgotha.  By the grace of God, Matthias, out of 120 disciples, became the twelfth Apostle, replacing Judas Iscariot, following the latter’s suicide after betraying Jesus (Acts 1:26).  While the Twelve 'apostles' were 'disciples' (pupil, followers), not all 'disciples' are 'apostles' (disciple on mission).  The feast day of St Matthias is on May 14.

This name also carries a special meaning in my heart because my late father lived by the same name.  In this journey through life, God gifted him to us.  For this, I simply cannot be thankful enough.
Though poor (but he always gave enough) and lacking in higher education (he attended night classes), my dear father would somehow provide more than enough for us, to feed us, to school us, to raise us up in faith and naturally, to always keep us (discipline) on the right path.  His nature was a lot on the calm, quiet side but for me, he remains the simplest and humblest of a companion, one who worked hard, loved us so much more than himself, even to his very last breath.  He was a cradle Catholic and this gift of trusting faith, packaged with a peaceful silence, is the most precious gift given to us.  He passed on peacefully (despite the pains of cancer) back to the Father, more than seven years ago, in the company of prayers, family, priest, bishop and angels.  God has truly been gracious and merciful to his faithful servant.

Now, coming back to St Matthias, at a glance, it seems that he is more like an afterthought, a latecomer of sorts but nevertheless, he was a disciple from the very beginning; from the baptism by John until the Ascension (Acts 1:22).  One hardly ever hears of Matthias in the Gospels or anywhere else in the New Testament.  The name Matthias means “gift of God”.

St. Matthias received the Holy Spirit, in the Upper Room, with the rest of the apostles soon after his appointment as one of the Twelve.  Subsequently, Matthias committed himself with great zeal to the functions of his apostleship; in converting nations to the faith in Jesus Christ.  Some scholars seem uncertain about Matthias’ exact activities following his appointment.

Like the rest of the apostles, Matthias was probably of a simple, quiet, meditative and humble demeanor.  Understanding this simply helps me to better appreciate my late father, perhaps a little too late.  Truly, when a person carries the name of a particular Saint, his or her life then becomes united in imitation of that great Saint and the latter will constantly intercede on your behalf.

God poured out His grace and mercy, through the remaining Eleven, upon Matthias to witness and preach for Christ.  Matthias may also have written an account of his experiences as a disciple.

Unfortunately, this piece of document has been lost to history, except for a fragment quoted by St Clement of Alexandria, “We must combat our flesh, set no value upon it...but rather increase the growth of our soul by faith and knowledge.”

Matthias represented the brightening of the darkness, the gloom, the bridging of an abyss, most of all, the beginning of a new epoch.  Matthias became the source of new joy for the dazed and depressed Eleven following the criminal and corrupted face of Judas and especially the brutal death of their Rabbi and Master, Jesus Christ.

The light of Judas, the traitor had burned out, and it had to be lighted once again by Matthias.  The dead branch of Judas had to be broken away from the living vine of Christ so that Matthias might be grafted in its place.

St Augustine shed light to the great significance that there were exactly twelve apostles.  He found a profound significance in this number, which was highly esteemed as a holy number at that time: three was the holy number of God; four, of the world.  Thus, three times four symbolically signified the work of God in the world and with the world.  The four directions of the world, east, west, north and south were called into the Trinity by baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Medieval Greek historians claim that Matthias was crucified but tradition claims that he suffered martyrdom in present day Ethiopia, where he was stoned, and then beheaded.  His relics were taken to Jerusalem by a devoted follower, Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, when she went to the Holy Land to find the true cross of Christ.  Many believe that she also had a church built to house the remains of Matthias.

St Matthias is the patron saint for carpenters, tailors and against both smallpox and alcoholism.

Today, as we ponder this, let us ask St Matthias to intercede for us and give us humility, loyalty, honesty, detachment and equilibrium in the face of the sufferings and pleasures of life’s journey.

“O Glorious Saint Matthias, in God’s design it fell upon you to take the place of the unfortunate Judas who betrayed his Master. You were selected by the twofold sign of the uprightness of your life and the call of the Holy Spirit. Obtain for us the grace to practice the same uprightness of life and to be called by the same Spirit to wholehearted service of the Church. Then after a life of zeal and good works, let us be ushered into your company in heaven to sing forever the praises of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Friday, May 13, 2011

Life's Journey...Did You Ever Feel Like Crying?

This week, I came into the presence of a friend battling terminal cancer, a little child growing up with Muscular Dystrophy, a couple facing the challenges of infertility and someone losing their only source of employment.  Words cannot describe the pain they are feeling and the tears they shed…neither can I…

I pulled out an old book entitled, “The Pain of Being Human”, written by a Eugene Cullen Kennedy, back in the early 70s.

The author was ordained a Roman Catholic priest back in 1955 and subsequently somehow married a nun sometime in 1977…but we shall not go into that part of the road.  Instead, what I would like to do is to quote a small chapter from this simply brilliant writing on the human condition.

As humans, we experience the pains that come from just being human.  In our journey, we are not inoculated against the aches and struggles as a human being; a child of God.  Pain is experienced we face freedom’s choices and we are not certain what the right course will be, coupled by the uncertainties that are a constant part of our journey.

Tears say a lot but sometimes they are hard to understand.  We can weep for joy as we weep for sorrow; some people weep at almost anything while others hardly ever weep at all.

Tears are a language that everybody speaks, but with different accents and meanings according to the complicated laws of how we have learned to express our emotions.

The French, they say, cry quite freely while Americans shed private tears to express something very deep in their lives.  How can something so wrenching to the soul be described as “having a good cry”?

The truth is, of course, that we have all felt like crying and we know from experience that it can have many meanings.  Tears can be the recourse of children who are on the spot – the defense against adult questioning or accusation which wins them mercy rather than justice in the small missteps of childhood.  These are the tears that must be put away if a person is to move into maturity.

 Sadly enough, there are those who go on weeping the defensive tears of childhood for the rest of their lives whenever they are in difficult circumstances.  These people never understand grown-up tears, the tears that are much more than the sobs of self-pity.

Oh, we can all feel sorry for ourselves at times but if we are relatively mature we can catch our emotions and save ourselves and others from the self-indulgent tears we might otherwise shed.

Tears in the mature person’s life come at very deep moments of sadness and joy, on occasions of separation and reunion, whenever love shows through life.  Tears are above all, a sign that we are alive, that the heart still beats because we care about someone or something enough to cry.

Only the dead or the totally despairing have no tears.  People who live with hope and trust can cry aloud; they are alive and have known the meaning of love.

Some men hide their tear to show their strength; others keep their sorrow secret because weeping seems a source of shame for them; and heavy hearted are those whose eyes are dry because their wound is so deep that they cannot let the hurt out at all.

The loneliest of men are those who have no one in whose presence they feel free to weep, no one whose responding love can redeem them from the sadness that has settled into their souls.

It is a hard thing to cry but it is not a bad thing.  It is a tragic thing to cry alone because this means we have built walls around our lives, walls so high that nobody else can see over them.

Our tears not only express the deep wells of our feelings but they also make us one with all men who have ever loved or tried to reach out in a tender and caring way to anybody else.

Our tears, Dickens said, are “rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.”  Our tears redeem us when they reveal us clearly to another, unshielded from the consequences or risks that are involved in being human.

If we have cried ourselves, we find something of ourselves to give back to the suffering and sorrowful all around us.  We need not move away from them, bidding them to hide their tears because they hurt us so much.

We have gone along the same human path and we understand how, in our grief, the presence of another person can bring a certain wholeness to our sorrow.

We give life when we learn from our own weeping how to give ourselves with gentleness and compassion to the sighs and struggles of other people.

The psalmist was no stranger to weeping and neither was the Lord who cried over Jerusalem and at the death of his friend Lazarus.  St Paul tells us that the whole earth groans and cries out, longing for fulfillment.  Mature tears are signs of the same kind of longing, a kinship with a world as yet unfulfilled.

Our tears tell us that we are alive, that we have roots in the lives of others, and that we have been touched by the warmest of suns, human love.  We should resolve that nobody we love ever has to cry alone.

God will provide us with all that is necessary for us to complete our sacred journey...each journey having its own special pattern.  This pattern, designed by God, aims to bring out our deeper, hidden but real self, which is the goal of our journey of growth through life; sometimes, as we know through our experiences, accompanied by lots of tears.  Jesus wishes to accompany us on this journey…He has assured us that the home is God’s house, a mansion with many rooms.

...Continue to be patient…be gentle…be compassionate…to anyone struggling to make it to home.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Silent Lamp...Radiating Light to the World

“Saint or no saint, what can this monk possibly have to say to me… After all, monks live a unique kind of life. They are cut off from most of the kind of experiences that make up my life. What light can a monk possibly shed on my journey?” – William Shannon, Silent Lamp

This biography, intimately written by a Merton scholar and a priest, is possibly the best book about Thomas Merton ever written; depicting to the reader, unique insights and intimate knowledge of a highly gifted Catholic monk.

The author reveals that despite the Trappists’ cloistered life way of life, monks are not as different from the rest of us as we often suppose.  The pages of this book shows that the same human needs, longings, searchings, frustrations, ecstasies, sorrows and alienation can be found as much in a monastery as outside.

William Shannon shares with us, that while monks may have chosen a special way of living in the world, they have not opted out of the human condition.  The title of the book resonates with the name of Merton in Chinese, meaning “Silent Lamp”, a testimony of what Thomas Merton has become for thousands, if not millions of people throughout the world; providing spiritual direction embodied in his writings – more than 50 books and 4,000 letters and poetry.

Within this book, the reader will encounter the chronological evolution of Merton’s contemplative spirituality, with silence as its core – the inner journey, the life of the Spirit; how Merton’s writing influence goes beyond Roman Catholicism, beyond Christianity and reaching out to touch many who share none of his religious beliefs.  Every page shares with us the story of a person recognizing and actualizing the gifts he received, gifts that are sometimes burdensome; imposing responsibilities that weigh heavily on the human spirit to bring them to full bloom.

 For almost half his life, Merton lived without any clearly definable religious faith; born in 1915, only found the Roman Catholic Church in 1938, discovered monasticism three years later, remained a monk to the very end, where his journey comes to an abrupt end in a most unexpected and mysterious way at the Oriental Hotel, in Bangkok, 1968.

Very briefly, the fifteen chapters reveals to us eight chronologies in the life of Merton from years 1911 to 1968, his father who seemingly did little to communicate ‘faith’, his fears of a life without meaning or purpose, his favorite books, his prayer life, his drinking and womanizing years, his struggles with illusions, his desire to enter a monastery and become a priest, why he chose the Cistercians of the Strict Observances, his vulnerability, fears and continuous dialogue with life, his writings, censorship of his books and how he enriched his faith by expanding it to other religious traditions.

This highly engaging 300+ pager reflective biography reveals to us that Thomas Merton is fully “Catholic” in the best sense of the word and that certain happenings in life are necessary “for a fuller flowering of God’s grace.”

For me, the reading of this biography has been a humbling and an enlightening experience.  In fact, I will definitely read it again to get an even richer insight.

This definitive book about Merton can be purchased from either Thriftbooks (free shipping in US) or at a ridiculously cheap price.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Our Humanity…Need God's Healing…

As human beings, we continue to search endlessly for identity…for meaning…for hope.  Our journey through life…our search…our struggles are never easy…it is fraught with many obstacles…many pitfalls…many illusions that tend to camouflage reality…many veils that hinder us from seeing…from understanding…the truth.

Today and everyday, we continue to read of such ‘hope-less’ headlines making the ‘so-called’ news headlines from around the world…

• Boasts on the raid and brutal killing of Osama bin Laden
• Continuing Muslim-Christian clashes in Cairo
• President Obama losing no sleep over the raid and killing of Bin Laden
• “Buy-elections” in Malaysia
• Endless heavy fighting in Libya
• Building of a large rare earth refinery plant in Malaysia
• Sectarian clashes in Egypt over the alleged conversion of an Egyptian Christian woman to Islam
• Gunmen attacks in Afghanistan
• Brutal and explosive murder of a Mongolian model beauty
• Government-controlled media inciting and provoking hatred, religious disharmony and heaping odium on Christians in Malaysia
• Continuous vows around the world to avenge the death of Bin Laden
• Political character assassination via manufacture of pornography in Malaysia
• Bombing and killing of security forces in Thailand
• The rise of a “new McCarthyism” in Malaysia, etc, etc

It is somewhat sickening to be bombarded daily with these.  Is there no good news?  Such promotion of violence destructs the very continued existence of the human race, our world community.  Violence such as these destroys and humiliates the very dignity of every human being.  These so-called ideals, promoted by some selfish and corrupted politicians are seen as the most pitiful sham for them to remain or cling on to power.

In the history of humanity, we have read about nuclear arms race between the superpowers of the world, apartheid in Africa, military rule in Burma, hundreds and thousands of American troops in Vietnam, restrictions of non-Muslim religious forms of worship in Malaysia, alleged “terrorist” attacks on the twin towers, abusive use of the no-longer-relevant Internal Security Act in Malaysia and many parts of the world…bombs dropped on defenseless Asian villages, bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki…destroying, disfiguring young children, innocent people…all these, for what?  What sort of a journey are these so-called ‘leaders’ in the world promoting today?  What sort of corrupt values?

There are many nations like the United States, Malaysia, Middle East, Thailand, Australia, China, Pakistan, Africa, even Britain, who claim to be fighting for religious truth, justice, freedom, equality and other values of the spirit but what do we actually see?

Countries such as these and the rest of the world, in general, are in a state of corrupt madness, chaos and selfish desperation. Nothing has fact, it has gotten worst over the ages!

A Trappist monk, the late Thomas Merton, sometime ago, has this to say about the exploits in Vietnam…

“Vietnam seems to have become an extension of our old western frontier, complete with enemies of another “inferior” race.  This is a real “new frontier” that enables us to continue the cowboys-and-indians game which seems to be part and parcel of our national identity.  What a pity that so many innocent people have to pay with their lives for our obsessive fantasies”.

It is a fact that this statement is still so relevant for us today.  There are still so many countries and governments around the world today who blatantly persecute “inferior” and “innocent” people with their political “game” of violence; whether physical, spiritual or emotional – destroying human dignity, curbing human freedom.

From the simple and quiet Mohandas Gandhi, we can learn a lot about non-violence.  Gandhi, a model of integrity which we simply cannot afford to ignore, echoes the contemplative spirit of India.  Gandhi’s motivation has always been spiritual and religious.

In fact, Gandhi too, learnt a lot from Jesus’ words quoted in the Sermon on the Mount.  To Gandhi, political freedom, without the spiritual freedom of the individual person that flows from authentic human unity, held no meaning at all for him.

“When the practice of ahimsa becomes universal, God will reign on earth as He does in heaven” – Mohandas Gandhi (ahimsa is a Sanskrit word for “nonviolence”.  Himsa means injury or harm or violence; the privative a- negates that meaning.)

Despite these persecutions and subtle abuse of powers, many of us choose to be quiet and indifferent.  What can I do?

Should the oppressed or persecuted write or speak out against violence of political war - whatever the inner conscience seems to dictate?  Or should these people maintain a discreet monastic silence, bury their head in the ground, as if all is ok...and just pray for a better tomorrow?

We have seen that the Christian spirituality is not one that is withdrawn from the world…we have a mission in the world.  Transformed Christians, wherever they may be, must commit themselves to the pursuit of justice and the truth.

“We may never succeed in this campaign, but whether we succeed or not, the duty is evident.  It is the great Christian task of our time.  Everything else is secondary, for the survival of the human race itself depends upon it.

We have to make ourselves heard. …Christians have a grave responsibility to protest clearly and forcibly against the trends that lead inevitably to crimes which the Church deplores and condemns.   Ambiguity, hesitation and compromise are no longer permissible.

…We have still time to do something about it, but the time is rapidly running out.  …The great issues that face us are the defense of man, the defense of truth, the defense of justice.” (Thomas Merton)

This mad world of today seems to love promoting violence and only understands love as mainly sentimental love....or love of of power.

As Christian pilgrims, we know that love is much more than that…“love comes from within and goes out to the other, not because of the lovableness in that person’s actions, but because one sees a human dignity, the very image of God, that even violence and evil cannot erase.  It is the love Jesus spoke of when he called his followers to love, not only the neighbor, but the enemy and those who persecute them” (William H Shannon)

In this mad age of aggression, do you allow such endless noise and distractions to affect your journey?  What will the future be like for our children?  What is your response to help heal the world today?

Do not just HOPE for change, VOTE for change!  Vote for a better world today!  Bring back the good news...

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
– Mohandas Gandhi