Slave to Sin

 

Why would anyone choose to become a slave voluntarily?

However, before I got baptized, I was a slave to smoking, without even realizing it.

When I was smoking, I thought I had “freedom” – the ability to choose what I like to do. Little do I know, by choosing deliberately to smoke, I have became a slave to the addiction.

To be a “slave” is to become “the legal property of another, and forced to obey”.
In this case, smoking has became my “Master” :
–  I get anxious when I was running out of cigarettes; I always made sure that I bought enough to stock up so that I will never be in a situation when I have no more cigarettes to smoke.
– the first thing in the morning when I woke up is to look for cigarettes, and I have to give excuses to go out to look for places to smoke immediately after meals.
– when I travel long distances on the plane, I have to made sure that I have nicotine patches or gums so that I will not have withdrawal symptoms.

I have no freedom. My life is preoccupied of where to buy cigarettes and where I can smoke.  I tell lies and give excuses, just so I can feed my addiction.  I was a slave.

And that is what Sin does to us.

It makes us become slaves.

Whether it is the pursuits of power and pride, or addictions to drugs and lust, we become slaves and serve these Sins as our master instead of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Satan disguises sins so well that we are very often not aware, until we are deeply rooted in slavery:
– that new promotion and more responsibilities rob us of our time with God, and very soon we refuse to give up our job’s demands because it feeds us money and pride;
– that occasional peep at soft-porn is “no big deal” until it becomes a bigger addiction; &
– that self-serving anger is “justified” because “they are in the wrong”, until we hurt all those we want to love.

And it is really on hindsight, now that I have been baptized and understand God’s “Freedom”, that I realized that I have consciously chosen to be a slave previously!!

God’s “Freedom” is to set us free from slavery by obeying His commandments. When we choose to be in God’s light, the darkness can no longer keep us as slaves.

I used to think that how by following a set of rules can give us freedom, especially when Jesus’s standards are set so high (Matthew 5:28)!!

But now I understand:
To be truly “Free” is not to be able to choose what we like, but to be able to choose what is right.
True “Freedom” is to break those chains of bondage of sins, and live in the light.
When we serve the one true Master, we have nothing more to hide.

Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

I am still a sinner. I have not lived in total lightness. In many ways, I am still a slave to sin.  But God has given me the assurance:

1 Corinthians 10:13b “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

And I know that as a pilgrim on earth, it is my lifelong journey to learn to be more Holy, to be more Christ-like, and to be His disciple.

And I have faith, that with God’s grace & mercy, and with you, my fellow brothers & sisters in Christ, I will not be alone in this journey to escape slavery from sin.

Amen.

 

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Guests writers

 

Once in a while

a writer obviously (not a member pops by)

and while I would like to invite the  person to join  us

it seems like the time is not right

space is limited and soon we will have to start a  new blog

so what do we do?

I am not going to  worry about the future at all!

 

QTS Chiangmai 2017 (Part 3)

 

I had set up a routine after day one. My alarm was set at 5.30 am and by 6.00am I would usually reach the reservoir for my morning brief walking and exercises. At 7am I would be back in time for breakfast, followed by the session with the SD. The scripture prayers time would be from 9.30am for 2 hours in the chapel. After 2 hours break was for lunch, spider hunting, laundry or buying of grocery, then, in the afternoon, another 2 hours of praying, reflecting and journaling till 4 pm. My afternoon quiet corner was a balcony on the first floor overlooking the big garden. It has the size of a bed room, a new quiet corner with 4 settees and a coffee table, buffered by a kitchenette. Before bedtime at 10pm, I had the company of the 2 borrowed books which supplemented and catalysed my meditations of each day’s thoughts. It was easy to discipline myself when one is wholly alone without distractions in the veil of silence.

The flow was smooth, easing into the fourth day and I felt like coming out from a layer of darkness into another. The Protestants like to describe themselves as God-fearing people.  Catholics are more prone into calling themselves as sinners and fearful to go for confession.

God sowed the humble seed in my heart. When I was asleep the evil spirit came, sowed obstacles of pride and self-righteousness and made off. The evil spirits seemed to piggyback on the Good Spirits. Wherever the latter go the evil ones are present to cause havoc. This is the reality that the evil ones would lay obstacles to the freedom to respond to God’s love.

The love of God, the soul and sins can be an abstract if one does not believe in God, so it is possible for believers too, without experiencing God. Since my heart had opened up a little, I was keen to search for the Love of God in my heart. Maybe I would find my love for God. Somehow at that moment God’s love appeared so abstract to me. But there was a sense of frustration coupled with a feeling of guilt. I resorted to think that God gave me blessings every day and I was not grateful to visit him every day or thank him or love him by loving his people. Somehow, I was enlightened that love is a verb. As a noun love does not exist by itself, it is always represented by an act, a gift and a feeling. Love is a verb for it is giving voluntarily without any condition attached or expecting a returned favour.

God loves because God only gives. I use the word Charity to replace the word Love. The effect was because I saw that God has everything and is unlimited to give. He doesn’t need anything from us. Everything is created by Him and belongs to Him. The love of God is expressed in creation. We have nothing of our own to give to God except the choices we make. The expression of God’s love is to give and give without any condition. He gave His only Son, Jesus. Through Jesus, who continues to give. He gave us the way to become children of God, the powers to heal, to restore hearing and sight, to walk and to work miracles. Finally, Jesus gave his life to die on the Cross and his Body and Blood as our spiritual food. From the Charity of God, we have Goodness, Gifts, Blessings and Graces. These are free gifts given to us to use them to bear fruits. On our part God wishes that we use these gifts to offer back to Him through the free gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity.

The understanding of sins must orientate to God and the enemies, the evil ones. Sin too does not exist as a noun but represented by the acts of our intention and motive. Sins are offensive actions. God is our Creator, our Master, our Father. We are nothing without him. But we try to do things on our own. God gives and we receive without gratitude and use the gifts to build our own kingdom, to control our own lives. We listen to the evil ones and allow them to influence us. We are not protected without the prayers asking the Holy Spirit to help. What are the motivation behind the effort put in prayers and obedience to God? It is to save our souls from damnation. The evil one recognised Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus did the right thing and did it well to evade the 3 temptations in the desert. The evil one got to leave. As the thoughts flowed on, I saw the words ‘sin’ being replaced with ‘pride’, ‘self-centredness’, ‘selfishness’ and ‘self-righteousness’. I created a vision with my imagination. I saw my heart as the dark cave and I was moving around the edge of that dark hole. The vision continues to flow like a dream without logical details. A long ladder was lowered into the hole and I climbed down. When I reached the bottom I saw a few stacks of my summonses. There were pink ones among the piles. The pink ones are the reminders. The 4 big piles were summons for my offences of pride, self-centredness, selfishness and self-righteousness. At the corner of the bench was a written note, ‘All redeemed’, that Jesus wrote.

Although it was an imagination of illustration, it brought me to copious tears.

As I felt the acceptance of who I was and what were in my possession that I could not see them before, I thanked God with tears of remorse and also felt the joys of freedom with resoluteness  to see to what is important, central and concrete.

From the search of God’s love in my heart, I found myself to truly experience God’s love. In the veil of silence, I could hear God and listen to my heart. Right from beginning I was not looking for a ‘high’ from the retreat nor did I expect a solidly loaded one. I left the retreat with thankfulness and joy, a sense of wonder and in awe at the greatness of God.

 

Laurence

2-9/12/2017

 

 

QTS Chiangmai 2017 (Part 2)

 

I had the same Spiritual director from my last retreat. I did not raise any issue or desire, although there were a few insights and issues which surfaced before the retreat commenced. I believe that the SDs are chosen and I don’t select my SD although I am free to do so. From my experiences I am convinced that to bear good fruits from a directed retreat, obedience to my assigned SD is being obedient to the Holy Spirit. To listen to the Holy Spirit is to hear, to understand and to try to do as directed by the SD. I knew I had to tuck away the 2 books when the retreat proper began, because my past SDs always discouraged me to read my own books, as it might be a distraction, unless that book was strongly recommended by the SD. Besides, I anticipated that my SD, being a Jesuit, would follow closely the steps of St Ignatius’ spiritual exercises. On my first meeting with the SD, after his directives, he added, to my surprise, that I might also grab a book to read. I felt my retreat already started 2 days ago with the permission to use the 2 books I borrowed. Indeed, the contents from the books were like filling the valley and levelling the mountain.

As a result, I was more interested to follow the books than the materials given by the SD. I was carried away by the next chapter instead of reading and reflecting on the assigned bible texts. It touches on virtues towards others, ‘Justice and Fidelity’ Justice is about treating everyone equally. A virtue of fairness where there is no special treatment or preference. Fidelity is the opposite. The virtue teaches me to treat those to whom I am more closely related – spouse, children, parents, friends, relatives, neighbours, community members with impartial speciality. Justice has no preferences. Fidelity is about preferential treatment. I had embraced the fact that ‘discipline’ is the tool to solve life difficulties; that gave me a turning point in life. I found another tool ‘prudence’ that would help me to figure out the tension between Justice and Fidelity. I saw that prudence would help me to figure out my erroneous way of treating relationships with people who should be in my preferential treatment. Prudence helps to find the reason to act.

Prudence reminded me to do my homework from the SD. Every directed retreat begins with self-knowledge, that is looking back in one aspect of my life, my darkness, my faith, or my  relationship with God, my relationships with neighbours and  this time it appeared that I should be looking into the aspect of my self-esteem pertaining to how I should live with myself and what my internal dialogue was. I was asked to look into my way of life, my wisdom and appreciation of what I had: food, clothing, work, place of residence, companions, knowledge and skills, health and sickness, success and failure. The lists were so ordinary in my everyday living yet upon recollection, it reflected my attachments and detachments, my blessings and gifts, my needs and deprivations, my achievement and failures in life value. The revelation of the detrimental effects from my broken relationship has made me overwhelmingly disappointed with myself. I could feel a stir in my heart with resoluteness but also the equally strong feeling of resistant. But the longing for a soul companion, the needs and deprivation, and when orientated to the Charity of God, to justice, fidelity and self-esteem got the better of me to face the questions squarely. What is important? What is central? What is concrete? What are my sacrifices for greater good and value? What are the treasures of my heart?

I never felt so heavy of heart in such an early part of my 8-day journey with God before. Each day the scripture prayers were pointed directly deep into my heart, that part of my being, my very soul. I had been working around the heart and avoided touching my soul in the heart.  I realised that it was rather hard for me to read any biography of great Saint who strongly emphasised on sins that harm their souls. I could not recognise that my soul indeed is my treasure. For a start, I should look after my soul, who is also the treasure to God. Contemplating at the edges of my heart on my present stage of life, I saw money and businesses, the loving God, my family, brothers and sisters, those things I loved, people who helped me, the pleasure of joy and peace. With a little courage I ventured further into the heart, I saw those I wanted/ didn’t want and those I liked/didn’t like. I saw ugliness and the taints, the blessings and unfulfilled desires. I saw smiles from my blessings and a few drops of tears for my obstinacy and stubbornness too.

What is important, central and concrete is to normalise my marriage relationship once more. The sacrifices are the preservation of joy and peace as a pleasure, the worldly freedom, the satisfactions and the fulfilling enjoyment of personal independence.  Ideally, giving in to the greater good and value, beginning with a new set of teeth, companionship, a home to greater intimacy with family, friends and relatives. What are my treasures? My soul is my treasure. My work and my family are also my treasures. Undeniably, I am a treasure to the living God. When I am lost and found, God justified a celebration. What does my heart want? I want to love God. I want to share with others the love of God. I want to protect myself from the influences of evil spirits. I want spiritual growth. I want to try another business. I want to travel for mission works, to Holy Sites and for overseas retreats. What I previously wanted and received, precisely are gifts and blessings from God’s Charity. What I received by graces are not for me to hold on to but to return back through His way in serving and loving of His people, my neighbours and my communities

 

Reflection : Quieting the soul (Chiangmai 2017)

I was the first to arrive for an 8-day Quieting the Soul retreat 2017 at the Seven Fountain Catholic Spiritual Centre in Chiangmai, Thailand. There were to be 42 of us, and most were here for a 5-day retreat. I reckoned the cooler weather has been pushed forward to January. I have continued to get the warm weather in Chiangmai since 2013. Fortunately, at the retreat centre, the whole atmosphere is always cooler than outside the perimeter. I was hoping for rain and the temperature would drop a few degrees. The trees and the bamboos are growing taller and taller since I first saw them in 2006 when I came here with the Cenacle Sisters for a silent retreat. The greens have casted a shade over the centre, keeping the place cool.

After checking in, I was in time for lunch, my first meal at the centre. I had booked in 2 days before the retreat begun. I needed some time to quieten down.  Being early meant that I could be ready to experience the silence of heart and mind right from day 1 of the retreat proper. If I rush into the retreat unprepared, it might take a day or two to begin in silence.

I went up to the library in the centre to borrow books. The library has a good range of Catholic religious and faith books from a wide range of writers who are mostly the Jesuits. Every year, I came across new titles of new authors. I am fond of books about Saints and books on morality and spirituality. This year I was guided by the Spirit to spot 2 books, one on ‘Inward stillness’ and the other a new cover on ‘Virtues for ordinary Christian’. The latter was light in content, less than 150 pages and easy to read, ideal for me to read at a nearby shopping centre. With a cup of coffee, soon I was so absorbed into the book which presented from a religious angle in defining the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. I felt the Holy Spirit was preparing me in the wilderness a road for the Lord, to clear the way in the desert for our God, and to fill every valley, and to level every mountain. The hills would become a plain, and the rough country would be made smooth.

Faith is defined as going to God the way I ready am, without a made up face, a cover up, without a mask or think of what God wants from me. Faith isn’t an utterance, but rather a deep down belief in God. Faith is the act of seeking to meet God face to face in my freedom and vulnerability. Joy is when I actually have something. Hope is when I do not have something. Hope is the willingness not to give up on my faith, precisely, when I draw no consolation from it. If there is no doubt, no uncertainty or fear, no disturbance, then there is not much need for hope. Hope is a virtue of holding on. While tossed about, while adrift, while unsettled, I find hope the anchor that allows me to stay where I am in faith. Hope is not something I can acquire or develop. Hope like Faith and Charity are gifts from God. I think of Charity as an act of donating to appeal or as a virtue that urges me to help the marginalised. My new understanding is Charity is actually the virtue that unites me to God. Charity is not primarily for others. Charity affects my relationship with God at the core of my being. Charity is more concerned for the heart than with deeds. The reading also likened the lighting up of the 4 candles of Advent: Faith, hope, Joy and Charity as Love.

The silence in the retreat granted me the right to ignore others for a conversation and to have a space to be with myself. I was not obliged to say “Hello” to others, yet I could share common places and activities like Mass and adoration hour. In short, I could isolate myself to a space of my own and spend quiet time with the Lord. The book on ‘Inward stillness’ was a good reminder, calling me to go into the retreat with my heart and not just my mind. Indeed, for all the retreats in the pasts I was not able to get into the heart, the core of my being, the very soul of mine.

I had quit smoking 30 years ago. But there were times I dreamed that I was smoking and I was woken up by my conscience in the middle of the dream and felt very guilty. I had made a promise to Mother Mary that I would never smoke again.

Conscience is the voice of God living in us which urges us to love God, ourselves and our neighbour. After many years, it happened again in my dream and I was so guilt ridden. What disturbed me this time was I had another dream on my first night and I woke up by smoking in my dream, but there wasn’t a sense of guilt. I didn’t feel good about it, for through examining our conscience, we are called to judge our past behaviour as right or wrong. I asked why I didn’t feel the sense of wrong anymore.

On the second day, the day before my actual retreat began I continued reading about the other virtues. The opening statement from the author was that every human act is a moral act. We are moral creatures with a soul each. Moral life is concerned with ordinary life. Morality is not primarily the study of grave action; rather it is the study of human living. Being human is as complicated as finding the right moment to quit cigarettes. Ordinary life is complicated and frustrating because the variety of relationships, tasks and personalities that constitute humanity intersect. In order to handle these complexities, we develop ‘practices ‘. Practices form habits in us to act in a particular way. These regular practices make us who we are. Some practices became deeply ingrained in me on a particular dimension of my life that affects profoundly my relationship with people in my family and in communities. My thought also turned to my struggle to fight against procrastination and the ever failures to cultivate the habit of tidiness. In fact, the more I would tolerate my untidiness and procrastination to cultivate the habit of putting extra effort to tidy up. I enforced practising untidiness and procrastination instead.

 

Merry Christmas: The Child Born in the Manger

 

Vacation Week. Finally I will be heading off for a short trip over the post Christmas week for a much awaited holiday. It is also the best way to spend time with loved ones and most importantly to calibrate my body and mind which is essential towards self-care.

The gospel says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name,  who were born not by natural generation  nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth (John 1: 1-5, 9-14).”

The gospel foreshadows the suffering and rejection that Jesus will eventually face coming into this world. He is the true light despite being born in the cold winter night. It was definitely a difficult time for baby Jesus and his parents Mary and Joseph because there were outside in the cold.

The manger is an endearing scene with the child Jesus inside, innocent and helpless, but the aspect that strikes me the most are that Jesus, Mary and Joseph represent the most blessed Holy Family because they are the testament of love and strength. Joseph did not leave Mary when she was with child despite the gossips that were going around. The Holy Family never gives up on one another and are called to love in the most difficult of times.

We must never be caught up in the commercialization of Christmas which involves gift buying, and lose the meaning of Christmas which is to give more and to reach out to others whom we might not have talked to in awhile. The simplest gestures are often the best presents. Walking down Orchard Road with your loved ones and just engaging in conversations with smiles and laughter to me are good enough because wealth cannot buy moments like these.

This Christmas allowed me to catch up with those important to me and I am grateful for the time spent with them. It is easy to take them for granted sometimes and we should treasure these moments with them because life is so unpredictable and to relive the laughter in this season of giving and sharing.

May we also pray for healing in families this Christmas and for hurts to be forgiven which will help mend ties. Jesus, Mary and Joseph pray for us! Amen. Merry Christmas to everyone and stay safe during the holiday period.

“All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.” 

Written By: Darren Chan Keng Leong

 

Christmas Eve: To Be Blessed Is To Be Happy

 

Battered. As I make my way out of reservist and into the Christmas season, I begin to contemplate the meaning of the Christmas celebration. The thing is peace alludes me as there is always a restlessness that I cannot seem to shake, and it must be due to me instinctively starting to plan for things before it happens. Today is a day where I lost more than I gained but I was reminded in the silence of my heart that to be happy is to be present in that moment and to hold onto that moment in never letting it go.

The gospel says, “The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her (Luke 1:26-38).”

Being obedient in faith, even in suffering and hardship, I find it difficult to fully obey the church’s teachings, but Mary answered the call despite all the challenges ahead of her. By trusting in the Holy Spirit, Mary found peace because she accepted God’s will and favor. This has reminded me to always keep trusting even when the odds are not in our favor or when we are at our lowest.

Nothing is impossible with God as what scripture has said. Mary endured much during her life as a mother and friend when she visited Elizabeth and witnessed the birth, death and resurrection of our Lord and her Son, Jesus. Mary was truly blessed because she remembered that she, being the handmaid of the Lord, trusted in God’s will because she found peace and happiness in her heart.

Many of us might be familiar with the happiness index and it is not the richest countries that are the most happy but the poorest countries. The reason is that the people are contented in living their daily lives with less and in simplicity of living life without the pressures of society or to conform. Indeed, they are truly happy and blessed!

Let us continue to pray that we treasure the happy moments and remain positive in the sad moments. May we also give our reassurance and peace to others who might be not be in the best places in this festive season. Amen.

Written By: Darren Chan Keng Leong