On His terms

Luke 22:42 saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

I went to midnight Mass at Holy Cross for Christmas – a tradition that I hope to keep since being baptized in 2013. I realized that the reenactment of the nativity scene has been replayed so many times, that it is easy for us to forget or miss the significance of it.  This year, it hit me during the Homily when the priest mentioned “On His Terms”.

Yes, Jesus came on His terms. Like the people then during His time, we expect the King to come in grand fashion, we expect the Savior to be revered by all, and we expect our God to defeat everything else that goes against us.

But Jesus came on His terms. He came in a manger, not even a room. He came with no special privilege – He had to go through the growing up pains, just like every other human being. He came without crowds cheering or grand fireworks.

As I ponder how our Lord our God came on His own terms, I recall the above verse and realized that we so often want to dictate how we want God to “come on our terms”.  Isn’t it true that we often pray to God for healing, for wealth and for everything else that works in our favor?  We want God to take away that illness, we want God to give us that promotion, and we want God to help us find the “right” one. But what if God doesn’t want to grant healing but instead let the person die? What if God says you are to suffer financial setback? What if His reply, is that you are never meant to be with someone?

The question for me then is, can I accept God (answering my prayers) on His terms?

It is not easy. It is against our human nature.  I mean, how can I be praying to God to let me suffer? Don’t I want God’s blessings and mercy and grace bestowed on me?

Then Luke 22:42 struck me. Jesus’s human nature led him to pray “remove this cup from me” – hence, it is our human nature to want God to grant us blessings instead of sufferings.  But Jesus’s prayer must be read in context, for before he asked for removing the cup from Him, he said “Father, if you are wiling”.  And yes, not my will but yours be done! Father, if you are willing, if it is in your will, if it is in your grand plan for me to learn to grow holier, for me to be cleansed, for me to be purified, then yes, let me suffer.

It is Faith that can lead us to say “yours be done” instead of “grant me my wishes”. And to have that faith is to first have Trust in our Almighty Living God to, even in our darkest hour, be with us to give us strength to go through it.

It is Faith in God that He will never let us down, never leave us, that brings me to say, yes Lord, if it is in your Will that I suffer, then I accept it with full confidence that You will be with me all the way, that I can fall back on You and lean on You.

It is not easy. My intellect can lead me to reflect and contemplate, but I am sure when it happens, it will still be a struggle.

And it is the same with relationships.  I came to realize that when I pray to God to grant me blessings, very often, it stems from my own insecurities. I realize that I must learn not only to accept (God) on His terms, but to empathize and understand why (God) came in the way He did.  I have to first identify and isolate what my desires are, look at them squarely and then ask myself, can I deal with them in such a way that instead of asking the other person (or God) to address or take away these concerns, can I put myself in the other person’s shoes and say, hey, can I accept those terms? Can I look beyond and understand the reasons why? Can I die to myself, and learn to love the other person, on his/her terms?

Very often, relationships fail because of unmet expectations. And expectations come from our own insecurities and desires.  There is a fine line between being able to “die to myself” and being indifferent.  It is not about giving up my own needs or ignoring them.  It is, and so I have grown to realize, to say there are times when I have to set aside my needs first so as to accept the person on his/her terms.  I used to think that it is important to communicate my expectations and my needs, and very often demand a “closure”.  But there are times in life where there can be no closures. Or the “closure” is not important or trivial in comparison to other priorities in life.  It is, again, not about bending backwards and not having my own stand, but to be flexible enough to say, hey, I can see things from your perspective, and perhaps my own insecurities should be my own problem to solve, and not expect you to help me with it.

And so it is the same with our relationship with God, isn’t it?  If God answers the prayer for the cancer patient to be healed, we call it a miracle, but what if God allows the person to die immediately? Do we blame God? Do we say God has not answered our prayers?
Perhaps, in such instances we have to look at it on His terms. God let it happen the way it happened because He has His own reasons – maybe it is for the living to learn to grief and let go? Maybe it is to end the suffering of the patient? Whatever that reason may be, we can only pray to God for the wisdom to understand His Will, and the strength to accept it.

Almighty Living God, King of Kings, Prince of Peace, our Alpha and Omega, I pray to You to grant me not my wishes, but Your Will be done. I can only ask for Your Grace to let me know in no uncertain terms Your Will, so that it is loud and clear for me to follow. I pray to you to give me that strength to deal with whatever purification You put me through, the faith to accept the outcome on Your terms, and the wisdom to understand those terms.  In Jesus’s most holy name, Amen!

 

 

 

 

What are you after?

Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)

I met up with a dear friend recently and she got promoted recently and work has been hectic. She seems fulfilled, but I saw something deeper and I asked her – “What are you after?”

That is also a question for myself.

I recall another dear friend who cautioned me that I have perhaps at most another 1 or 2 decades of productive work before retirement, and I should be planning for my retirement by making sure I have enough. And then I realized, money is something that I have never been after. Not that I don’t like money, but I always remember the scripture teachings on “giving Caesar what is Caesar’s” and “you cannot serve two masters”. So I am happy with having enough, and in a way, complacent and thereby not accumulating more.

It’s been almost 3 years since I got baptized and it has been an amazing journey thus far. I struggled with trying to match Jesus’ standards of sins and find myself impossible to reach those standards (to lay eyes on a beautiful women is to have committed adultery?! Alas, I am committing adultery every second!).

Then I discovered God’s grace and mercy and understood God never intended me to be perfect overnight. And I move on to the next stage of trying to reconcile my sinful nature with striving to be holy.  I wonder how it is that I fell, I go for confession, and I fell again – so what’s the point having to go for confession?  And then I got reminded of God’s love, that Jesus loves the sinner, which is me.

And then now, this question struck me – “What am I after?”

Am I after money, status or recognition? Is my acting an inner need for fame? Am I so proud that I cannot recognize that I am in need, and that I am a sinner?

And then it struck me – I will fail, because I am a sinner. But God looks at my heart and asks – am I after His Kingdom? Am I a practicing pilgrim on earth, striving to be holier each day? Am I loving my neighbour, as He has loved me?

I now understand that the Saints became Saints by battling the devil each day – some days they might fail, and on mostly others, they win, with the grace and mercy of our Lord and God. And it is not 100% that we are striving; it’s about at the end of the day, we win most of the time.

Having understood this, I can only give thanks to God’s immense love for me.

There are still days that I cannot comprehend how I can be such a hypocrite; on the one hand, I say I love God and in the next moment I am sinning against Him. There are still days I beat myself up for not being able to reach Jesus’ standards. There are still days when I feel like giving up on myself for being such an underserving sinner.

But God quietly whispers into my heart – What are you after?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.

And I pray to our God and our Lord, that by His Grace and Mercy, my heart will always be facing towards His Kingdom. Amen!

Back to my friend who, besides work, is struggling to accept a relationship where the man is several years younger.  I thought I saw in her that her pride is her obstacle. But I reminded myself : who am I to judge? As a dear friend, I know I can share and reflect together with her, but only she herself can find the way. I pray to God that He too can ask my friend the question – What are you after?

And to all my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ reading this – What are you after?

 

 

 

Do I love you, Lord?

 

John 21: 1-19 (Gospel Reading on 10 April 2016)
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?”

Lord, you asked the question not only to Simon son of John, but also to me. And it suddenly dawned upon me, that though I knew how much You love me, I wonder . . .  can I say the same for you?

Lord, your love is divine and unconditional, but the kind of love I experience here on earth falls short. In fact, yours is such a high standard that our lowly human love can’t even hold a candle near.

How do I love you Lord, after suffering so many setbacks? Betrayals, rejections and heartaches.  Love is supposed to bring out the best in our lives. Love is sacrifice, it is about laying down one’s life.  That’s the kind of love you purported, but hardly the kind I experienced.

Lord, why do you set so high a standard? Why do you let us know that there is such an idealistic state of love? If it is to inspire me, I feel more dejected that I can’t reach your standards. Yes, your standards are too high.

So high that I am disillusioned. I struggle. I wonder if I can ever love again.

But then again, Lord, you have shown us how to love.

The standards may be high but Lord, you never focus on the end result (it is guaranteed eternal life anyway) but on the process. The process of how we can be more and more Christ-like each day. Yes, Lord. You told me to love others as you love us. You show me unconditional love when I am undeserving. You sacrificed and laid down your life for me.

Lord, if loving someone means wanting to spend time with the person through good and bad times, I wonder aloud how many times I seek your comfort when I am down, and share with you my joy at my happy moments? Do I try to seek you out, know you more and understand you more? Do I seek to please you? Do things that will bring honour, instead of disgrace, to you? Do I seek private moments just to be in your presence?

Lord God, Heavenly King, three times you asked Simon “Do you love me?” and three times Simon answered confidently “Yes!”.  Can I do the same? Am I able to reply confidently and authentically that I love you, Lord?

But then, what’s the alternative? To deny you? To say that after all that you have done for me, I will reject you? NO! There can be only one answer – Yes I love you Lord!

I pray to you oh Lord oh God for the grace to love you, to be able to touch my heart and experience your love, so that I can truly reciprocate your love with my free will. And that is the most precious gift I can bring forth to offer you.

Lord, I seek your grace and mercy to allow me to spend time daily in your presence, to know you more, and to spread your love to others. Look outwards, instead of focusing on my own problems. Live honorably, so that others can see you in my actions. Love abundantly, as you have loved me.

I thank you Lord, for the grace to visit Basilica of Ars, and to come across this beautiful “Act of Love of the Holy Cure D’Ars”

I love you, O my God. My only desire is to love you, until the last breath of my life.
I love you, O infinitely lovable God, and I prefer to die loving you, rather than to live for an instant without you.

I love you, O my God, and I desire only to go to heaven, to have the happiness of loving you perfectly.
I love you, O my God, and my only fear is to go to heal, because one will never have the sweet solace of loving you there.

O my God, if my tongue cannot say at all times that I love you, at least I want my heart to repeat it to you as many times as I breathe.
Ah! Do me the grace: to suffer while loving you, to love you while suffering, and, that when I die; I not only will love you, but experience it in my heart.

I beg you that: the closer I come to my final end, you will increase and perfect my love for you….. Amen!”

Saint Jean Mary Vianney, pray for me.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christ Came into the World

Christ came into the world to ..

17 December marks the beginning of the octave before Christmas, and I was on lector duty for the evening Mass. What strikes me is that Christ came into the world to first and foremost, be in relationship with us. And the message from Archbishop’s reflection is about God asking us to be patient.

And then today, Facebook reminded me of a memory 3 years ago – it is a photo of me at Seven Fountains, Chiang Mai. That silent retreat is what sparked me on my journey to Catholicism, and it was a most amazing conversion experience.

The recent persecution and darkness that engulf me – tore me away from God’s light. And now I know, Christ came into the world, my world, to bring light so that darkness will retreat . . .I know that  this is the beginning, so I shall be patient, and trust in His mercy and His plans.

I am waiting for … …

Lord God, Heavenly Father, You promised me salvation and eternal life, You showed me that there is a new way of living, and You told me that you have my best interests & all I ever need to do is to trust in You.

And hence I am waiting for you to show me the life-line, to show me that there is indeed a better life, a life that is full of joy and peace and love, a life that is sinless. Father, you know that I dare not let go of my old ways, for I am fearful that there is nothing else for me to hold on to. It is like a float that is full of holes – I know it will not help me keep afloat for long, yet, in the absence of any other float in sight, I stubbornly hold on to this float, which I know will bring me down eventually.

Father, I know, at least intellectually, that it is when one door closes, that another door will open. I know that you have reached out to me, and I am the one who refuses to see. I am like the man who fell off the cliff and hanging on to a branch hear your voice gently say “let go”, yet the man refuses, for in the darkness of the night he does not realize that he is only an inch above the ground. Lord, I know these theories, yet to put them into practice, to really let go, seem just too hard.

And now, I am waiting for the purification to be over. I am waiting for you to open the other door for me. I am waiting for that life, no matter how difficult and high the standard seems to be, to become real in my life – that I can finally live as you want me to, love as you command me to, and laugh as you desire me to.

Developing the relationship with God, strengthening it, and putting in time and effort in building it.

Analogy of a diamond, which has to go through the pressure and time passage, to turn from carbon to diamond.

Unto us a savior has been born

And so what does that mean to the world? whose world? my world? the rest of the world?

How often do we think that Christ came for the whole world? The world that is foreign to us, a culture totally different, a place I have never been to? And when I think like this, I begin to realize God’s wonder – that His love is so universal, that it does not differentiate. I read today the National Geographic article on Mother Mary, and how the Mexicans revere Mother Mary as part of their identity. And how Mother Mary appeared to an unknown town in Africa and foretold the senseless killing in Rwanda.

Unto us a savior has been born, and “us” is part of the universal church, part of this world, everyone on this earth. “Us” is no longer just me and my loved ones, the country that I live in, the ministries where I serve. And suddenly, my problems and my misery and my sufferings became insignificant in the greater scheme of things. And in comparison, I should really count my blessings.

The man without an email address, one who couldn’t afford a computer, and lost the job application to be an office boy because the interviewer cannot inform him via an email, went on to use whatever gifts he was given and succeeded. I like the story, not only because of the twist, not just on the man’s tenacity, but because it challenges our thinking – We couldn’t imagine living the modern life without an email address, and yet those without, can make do, count their blessings, and truly live the life that epitomizes “unto us a savior has been born”.

Nativity scene – imagine I am the maid servant journeying with Mary and Joseph.

These too shall pass.

And the world says the baby is going to be a King, a Saviour, a Messiah.

There are  anticipations and expectations. The world will change, the oppressed will be saved, the tyrant will be overthrown. My life will become better, because He is going to be born.

But how can that be? When He is going to be born in a manger. How is He even going to grow up? Will He even have enough food for Himself? Who is going to clothe Him? How is He going to learn the scriptures? Who will teach Him?

I don’t know about the world and its expectations of Him. I only know the harshness of life before me. I worry for His upbringing – the real hardships facing us now. The promises, are well, just promises that may or may not come true in the future. But what is facing me now is real.

Yet, looking at Mary and Joseph and sensing their peace and joy, I know this Baby is not going to be just some ordinary baby. Their serenity inspires me to have faith and hope. Yes, I don’t know how this Baby is going to become a King, but somehow, I know deep inside me, that no matter what the hardships facing this Boy, these too shall pass, and in the end, He will triumph.

 

Reconcillation

Dear Lord

To me, the rites of reconciliation means to go for confession, and in confession, we talk about our sins.  Being a non-native English speaker and a newly baptized, the word “reconciliation” is foreign in my whole 40 over years of living.

Yet, I know of this feeling in Mandarin – 不甘心 – and I found out that the English equivalent of this phrase is “unable to reconcile”!

And it dawns upon me, that reconciliation, is God’s asking us to come to terms. Coming to terms with Him, with ourselves, with our situations, and with the people around us.

Oh Lord, Oh Heavenly King, you know my cries.

I have asked you countless nights, what is Your Will? Why do you send people into my life, seemingly to fulfill my needs, but yet you take them away?

I have prayed to you on many a starless night; why have you hidden your face from me? Why play such a great joke on me?

I have begged you, oh Lord, for so many days, to give me what I want but you have your own plans for me.

How could it be we have such a connection, and yet we can’t bring it to the next level?  And I felt that I cannot reconcile with this at all.

Because as much as I believe that things happen for a reason, and perhaps You have sent an angel into my life to help me heal, I was still crying inside asking Why?

And it finally dawns upon me.

That what You required of me is to learn to make peace. Yup, to reconcile is to make peace with God, and with myself. The anger and anxiety dissipates, as soon as I learn to make peace.

It doesn’t really matter whether she is the angel sent into my life anymore. And it doesn’t matter that I must make it right this time.

Yes, just because we have failed once, we almost instinctively want to make sure that our next venture will be a successful one. We set up criteria, and screen and take calculated risks, all so to ensure that “the next time it will be right”.

But what is “right” and “successful”?

It dawns upon me that by trying to make sure the “next time is right”, we are putting things into our hands. In other words, I want to be in control.  I am not going to let God, or worse still, I am using God as an excuse – “Oh I pray and discern so this time it must be right”.

However, if I have truly reconciled, truly made peace, then I realize I don’t have to make sure “next time it will be right”.

For if I truly have faith in God, then so what if the next one is still not successful?

Maybe God simply wants me to learn the same lesson twice, in different perspectives?

It is okay to “walk into danger even if I see it”

I thank a good Catholic teacher who prayed with me today and I truly hope God will answer the prayer.

Yet I know, despite all logic, that because of my sinful nature, I do disobey Him sometimes.  I cannot, and will not, use the morally right and sensible yardstick all the time.  Perhaps I have to learn to be willful. Perhaps I have to throw away my logic, my “thinking too much”.  Trust instead the gut feel, the innermost desire. And even if it turns out “wrong” – how wrong can it be in God’s eyes?

Like the prodigal son who did everything “wrong”, yet God is ever ready to take him back.

No. I am not taking our Lord for granted.

Instead, it is this making peace and being reconciled with myself, that says it is okay to take risks. Don’t be judgmental about the situation. Even if on the surface it seems improbable. But trusting God, means having the faith that He will make the improbable, possible.

So my Lord and my God, thank you for teaching me to let go, and yet with a humble heart I am walking into another phase.

I dare not hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel, for I will always remember there was once a wise man who said, the lights at the end of the tunnel could well be the headlights of an oncoming train. I will pray instead, that God will lead me out of the tunnel, and bring me to light.

Reconciliation is to take things in stride. To always believe that God is in control, not me. And most important of all, in the midst of all the chaos and noises, to be able to make peace.

Amen!

 

There was a time

There was a time.

There was a time when people said Singapore won’t make it. But we did.

There was a time when troubles seemed too much for us to take. But we did.

As the nation celebrates her Jubilee birthday, there seems to be an atmosphere of jubilance. So much so, that it is a little choking, a little forced, and a little overwhelming. It is as if, as Singaporeans, we have to soak into this atmosphere, that if we don’t, we aren’t Singaporeans.

There was a time, when I looked forward to National Day Parades. There was a time, I would stand up at attention to sing the National Anthem. There was such a time.

Make no mistake. I am not unpatriotic. I have taken part in National Day Parades before as part of a marching contingent years ago.

But somehow, the NDPs mirror our nation’s progress. Every general who is in charge of the NDP will move on to greater heights. There is a fixed formula about the NDP just so much like the ten-year-series for “O” and “A” levels. If you practise enough, do the same things, you can’t go too wrong. It is the safe route. Emotions will be roused. And when the fireworks come, everyone will leave feeling satisfied. When the party is over, we look forward to the next year’s celebration. Somehow, along the line, we can become complacent. The same expectations. The same fighting over about the fairness of allocation of NDP tickets. The same touting of NDP tickets for sale online.

Along the way, what have we changed? Where is our soul?

As the nation celebrates, there is this nagging lump inside the throat. What happens to all the complaints? Why do the National Parks start charging car parking, just so to keep a small bunch of people from abusing the car parks? What about all those rallying war-cries against the ruling party?

I stopped following the NDP on television years ago. It is predictable. I pity those generals who have to out-perform and out-think the previous years’ parade, yet cannot sway much from the fixed format.

But I know, come Aug 9 2015, it will be different.

As I soak into the celebratory atmosphere, I have to first deal with that nagging lump. No, the Jubilee celebration is not about the ruling party. No, the birthday party is not a way to mask away the difficulties we face in our daily lives. No, the whole long weekend is not, as many cynics would say, a way to buy our votes.

Yes, there are hiccups along our nation building. But who has not made any mistakes?   We can have different views, but bear in mind, this celebration is about our identity, and our thanksgiving.

Our identity, for this is our homeland, it’s here where we belong. I was born here, I grew up here, and my family and ties are here. I have been through National Service, and if my country is at stake, I know I will pick up the rifle when duty calls.

Our thanksgiving, for it is here that I am allowed to practise my Catholic faith freely, and proclaim it freely. Thanksgiving for staying in a relatively safe, clean and corrupt-free country. Thanksgiving, for this is where I know it’s home.

So on this day, as we are bombarded with images of SG50 and patriotic songs, it is okay to feel tears swell up in the eyes. It is okay to feel emotional and proud. It is okay, to say “I am Singaporean, and I am proud of it”.

For this celebration is regardless of race, religion or politics. It is about our common destiny, our dreams and our goals. It is not mass hysteria or mass hypnotism. Just like the spontaneity displayed in March this year, it is about the same human values we all treasure as fellow Singaporeans – a deep respect for integrity, passion and self-sacrifice. A display of solidarity and unity. A compassionate and selfless heart that goes: we are here together, it is okay for as long as we can, and we will look out for each other.

As the nation celebrates, we remember that you and I, the little ones, make up a nation. So this celebration is not a pompous display of our achievements, but a humbling reminder that we have made it this far, together. No matter what our race, language or religion, we have come together to build our dreams. This is where I won’t be alone, for this is where I know it’s home.

There was a time when I would ignore most parts of  the NDP. But I won’t miss it tonight. For we will stand together and hear the lion roar. We are a nation strong and free forevermore. We are, Singapore.

Happy birthday, Singapore!

For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

2 Corinthians 12:10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

On first look, the verse is almost an oxymoron – How can one be weak and strong at the same time?

It has been an amazing journey thus far since I became a Catholic almost two years ago. And it has been exactly one year since I attended the Conversion Experience Retreat #41.

Looking back, I realized that God placed me in weaknesses, so that I can struggle and emerge stronger.

The “strong” is not success. It is not a “strong” that is in comparison to others – that I am strong while you are weak.  It is definitely not something that we can boast about.

Instead, this “strong” would not come about, if we have not gone through “weak” first.

To me, being “weak” is like having a wound at the most obvious place on my body, somewhere say in the palm of my hand, so that I can look at it every day, and be reminded that I am a sinner. That I carry wounds, wounds that only God can heal. That the fact that the wounds remain, means I need God’s grace and mercy.

My wounds are my sins. They are a constant reminder that I live only by God’s grace and mercy.

How then can I be strong?

It is precisely because I am living in sin, living with my wounds, that I have to constantly pray and seek God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy.  And I am strengthened, bit by bit, by keeping myself within God’s presence.  The devil will turn me away from God, the devil will tell me lies that I am not worthy and the devil will tempt me.  But my wounds, the constant pain, will force me to focus on what is most important – daily prayers to be in His presence.

I have become stronger, though it is not what I seek.

I have become stronger, though it is not what I boast about.

I have become stronger, though it is not what I dare enjoy.

It is God’s will  for me to remain in my wounds, and therefore I long to imitate Saint Paul who  dares to say that he “delights in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties”

Because it is when I am weak, that I am fully alive. That I know that it is not by own strength that I can overcome sins, but I must be totally dependent on God.

For what will be the opposite? That I live in luxuries and very soon I will forget that I need God!!

I become strong, not for my sake, but because God wants to build up my faith.

I become strong, so that I can become God’s instrument.

I become strong, but never strong enough to leave my weaknesses behind.

Oh God, oh Heavenly King, oh our Father in Heaven, teach me to embrace weaknesses; let me know that I can never be strong enough for I will always be dependent on Your Grace & Mercy and show me that my struggles can bring honour and glory to Your Kingdom.

Amen!