Friday, January 13, 2023

Does love really mean never having to say "I'm sorry"?

When I was a young lad, there was a movie that enthralled so many people in the theatres.  I wasn’t taken to watch it by my parents as they said that it was a movie for adults, and in their minds, it was something that I wouldn’t understand.  The movie starred a young Ryan O’Neil and Ali MacGraw, and the title of the movie was just made up of two simple words “Love Story”.  From the movie came a very popular song “Where do I begin?” written by musician Francis Lai, made popular by the crooning voice of Andy Williams. 


When I was older, I made it a point to rent the video so that I would not miss this movie.  It was what many would call schmaltzy (excessively sentimental), and as the title reveals, it was a love story between the two protagonists of Ryan and Ali.  Some things are imparted through movies, and some are rather strange and not even true.  One song that came from another movie named Beaches, was a hit song sung by Bette Midler, and it was named From a Distance.  The jarring verse in that song says that God is watching us from a distance, which is terrible theology.  God isn’t watching us from a distance.  The Incarnation of Jesus is proof that God wasn’t just interested in having a view of the world from heaven, but in the incarnation of Jesus, came to live as a human being in real life, and lived and died to save the world from sin.  In a blog I wrote many years ago, I mentioned how some lyrics convey wrong or bad theology, and I used a line in the song “We are the world”.  That song was sung by many different artistes, and it was Willie Nelson who sang that “God has shown us by turning stone to bread”.  The truth is that God did not turn stone to bread, and in fact, Jesus refused to do that as in his temptation in the dessert, the devil suggested to Jesus that he could ease his hunger by making bread from stone. 


I now return to commenting on something that came from Love Story.  It was something that Jennifer (Ali MacGraw’s character) told Oliver (Ryan O’Neil’s character) during their romantic relationship.  She said “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.  Oliver used this very line when he told his father that Jennifer had passed away from a terminal illness.  If there is one thing that we should never do, it is to believe such lines as truth and use them in our lives in future relationships and conversations.


If there is any truth in this line, it would be that when one truly loves another, one would choose not to do certain things that end up with the person having to apologize for having lived in a certain way.  In fact, the misleading quote from Love Story would instead be “Love means never doing anything that requires you to apologize for having lived a certain way.”  It’s a mouthful, but at least it clarifies things lest things get misconstrued. 


If love means never having to say you’re sorry, it makes the sacrament of reconciliation (or confession) redundant.  God loved the world so much that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, he sent the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins.  All men and women are encouraged to go to the confessional often to make sure that they live in a state of grace.  And this sacrament came about because of God’s love.  In the confessional, penitents are sorry for their sins because they recognize how incredible it was that God showed us so much love that he sent his Son into the world to save it from sin.  If what Jennifer believed was true, the sacrament of reconciliation would not exist.


True love makes sin and an apology for sin erroneous.  Maybe it is because so many people do not equate the confession with the love of God, that many hesitate to go for frequent confession.  In fact, the more often the sacrament of reconciliation is experienced, the more one becomes touched by the truth of God’s incredible love for mankind.  Deep inside of me, I truly believe that constant pondering of God’s love for humankind is a sure way of ensuring that one isn’t bonded to any particular habitual sin that keeps one from being in a state of grace in life. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

The new names that we have been given paves the path of the new life ahead for us.

On the stroke of midnight on Saturday, the world celebrated the end of 2022 and welcomed the new year of 2023.  There is a certain air of expectation and hope in the hearts and minds of so many people all over the world with the approach of a new year.  Many are hoping for a new outlook in life and new hopes in their families and in the area of their jobs.  It’s a given that all things new will give us a better outlook in life and be surrounded by a newness of joy and happiness. 


While this may be something fresh and fills many of us with great expectations, many of us may have forgotten that there was something fresh and new that Christians were all given on the day of their baptism, and this lies in the reception of our baptismal names.  We received our new identities as sons and daughters of God the Father when the Sacrament of Baptism was celebrated.  Most of the time, the names we got were names of saints in the history of the Church, and the hope was that our lives would be patterned after the life of the saints we were named after. 


What caused me to reflect on this was the Gospel text of the Mass on 4 January from the first chapter of John’s gospel, which featured Jesus meeting Andrew and Simon Peter.  He renamed Simon and called him Cephas, which was translated as Rock, and this was because Jesus intended to make him the foundation of His future Church.  From that day on, Simon Peter lived a newness of life, and fulfilled the mission that Jesus gave him with great love and determination. 


Those of us who have been baptized in life do not need to wait for a new year to come to be reminded that we have the inner drive to pursue a mission in life.  It was given to us when the Holy Spirit was given to us in our baptism and our Confirmation.  It would be just an excuse for us to live a sedentary and uncommitted life over and over again.  We have all been given a new mission by Christ himself when God invited us to live a new life of grace in Him in our baptism. 


I’ve heard confession after confession which showed how the penitent was just unwilling to love people like their family members or fellow work mates in their jobs, and try hard as I did, it was just so difficult for them to believe that they really did have it in them if they made a decision to act in love and charity in life.  They would have merely responded to the life of Christ that was given to them at their baptism.  Yet, the reality is that oftentimes, if something is so plain and simple in life, getting that point across to others can be as challenging as climbing a huge and steep obstacle in life. 


But we have to remember that being in a state of grace helps tremendously in our pursuit of holiness in life.  This being in a state of grace is the gift of God that comes to us whenever with deep faith and conviction go to a confessor priest to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation or confession.  I often recommend the penitents avail themselves to the Sacrament of Reconciliation about once a month.  This would be particularly recommended to penitents who have a very clear struggle with a particular sin that afflicts them on a regular basis.


What could be helpful to my readers is that they make it a point to do a little research to rediscover the life history of the saint whose names they were given at their baptism.  Doing this can help them chart the course of the life that they aspire to lead as they pass from day to day in 2023.  Rediscover what it is that God is calling you to fulfil in life each day. 


There is no sadder life than to live aimlessly without a clear notion of the kind of sanctity that God wills for one in life.  Calling to mind the dignity that our baptism gave us helps us to live life with a new and holy aim.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Receiving the grace of the Sacraments in the Catholic faith.

There are many different forms or kinds of grace that are given to the Catholic in the Holy Catholic Church.  But before we get into the Sacraments of the Church, let us settle a common misconception or misunderstanding of many in the faith.  What is grace? 


Those who are familiar with the Scriptures would remember that St. Paul is known as the “apostle of grace.”  For a start, grace needs to be understood as a gift or a favour from God, but most importantly, it is a undeserved favour given by God.  Through grace, God inclines toward us, giving us gifts that are free and undeserved by sinners.  No one can earn grace or deserve them from God.  It is a demonstration of God’s mercy and love.  It is always free and undeserved.  A very good example of this is the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  God chose Mary as the means through which the world would receive Jesus Christ, the God-Man.  God wanted him to be born of a very humble and pure human woman, and Mary was the one vehicle chosen.  Mary didn’t deserve this choice, but it was a free and undeserved gift by God the Father.  She chose to remain ever-virgin after the birth of her son, and this too was a grace given by God.  Mary continues to live as the Queen of Heaven and Mother of God, even up to this day.  She is completely aware that she has been gifted by God through the free-gift of his unmerited grace, and together with the Apostles, she prayed and waited with the apostles for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit after Jesus was crucified and died on Golgotha. 


Tremendous power is given to us when we participate fully and freely in the seven Sacraments of the Church.  But the key to being beneficiaries of the grace of God is that we must participate in the sacraments fully and freely.  Yet, the one question that one has to consider how we are full and free when it comes to participating in the Sacraments of the Church.  Maybe the first question to be answered is what does grace give us in life?


In his letter to the Corinthians, St Paul says in his second letter to them that God is able to make all grace abound in us, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, we may abound in every good work.  In the same letter, St Paul has Jesus say that “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  So grace, when viewed from these scripture passages, is not only a disposition or an inclination in the nature of God, but is also very importantly a power that works in us to change our capacities for work and suffering and obedience.  


Yet, the very important question is why is it that so many people are not in a state of grace when they bring themselves before the Sacraments of the Church?  It is not an exaggeration to say that most of the Catholics fail to make full and regular use of the grace given in the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession.  There are quite a number of Catholics who do not confess their habitual or mortal sins in regular confession, perhaps out of fear or being recognized by the confessor priest who is ministering to them in the Confession.  I’ve heard it so many times that many Catholics only would go to a priest who doesn’t know them to confess their sins.  While this may give them some degree of freedom and liberation, how many different priests can one go to regularly for Confession, especially in a country as small as Singapore?  Yet, the truth is that if you have the chance to speak to a Catholic who has truly made the very important and beautiful general confession in life, that celebration of the Sacrament had given him or her the greatest experience of being loved so unconditionally by our loving and forgiving God. 


As a priest who hears confession regularly as my ministry, I sometimes ask the question how often the penitent brings himself or herself to the Confessional and regularly is far from the norm.  It does appear that for many penitents, it is they who are the judges of what sin is a mortal sin and makes them unable to receive Holy Communion when at Mass.  But it is the truly humble penitent that admits that they go for Confession every three weeks or every month.  It gives me a certain sadness that so many Catholics seem to have a false notion of being in a state of grace, and it causes me to weekly offer up my abstinence and penances on Fridays for the conversion of many Catholics to come to truly appreciate the gift of being regularly in a state of grace in life.


God the Father has a true Divine desire that every sinful human being becomes as much as possible to be like his Son, Jesus Christ.  Being in a state of grace puts us very close to being like Jesus and living as his disciple.  I don’t believe that great number of Catholics have this divine hunger in them.  We all need the help of God’s grace to live in grace.  May we all muster enough desire in our hearts to pray for the many Catholics who need help to get them out of the rut they may be stuck in so that they too will be honestly reflective of their lives in living a holy and honest Catholic life.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

A habit of daily encounter with God

There are some things that I do as a priest every day that I truly believe helps me in my spiritual journey in life.  Each morning, I have the habit of getting up early slightly before 6am to get ready to celebrate the Eucharist in the study area of my mother’s apartment where I am spending the days of my prolonged Medical Leave given to me by my doctor at the hospital where I received medical treatment when I was injured in an accident whilst I was on my morning exercise routine of walking sometime last May.  The only other person present at the Mass is my mother, and I am grateful that she is willing to get up and be ready to give her fullest attention to glorify God at each day’s Mass.  My giving her the Holy Eucharist at the time of Holy Communion thrills me in indescribable ways.  I see it as my honour and privilege to do this for her, as there is very little possibility of her going to the Church on her own in her frail health, especially since her legs are weak and give her much problem in her mobility.  I am uncertain how she will receive her daily Eucharist after my Medical Leave ends (which could well be soon), and thinking of how I can come to visit her at home to bring her Holy Communion will be a delight for me.

Apart from the daily Mass, I have been given the privilege of reading several books on spirituality and the priesthood during this time away from the parish.  One of the treasures is a book written by the late Fulton Sheen called “The Priest is not His Own”.  It is of great spiritual input to any priest who is sincere in the taking the path of holiness, and one of the gems that this book speaks about is that the one of the characters of the priesthood is to be like Christ, a “holy victim”, where the priest needs to imitate Christ in His example of sacrifice, offering himself as a victim to make Christ’s Incarnation continually present in the world.  The late Fulton Sheen stresses how in reality very few priests take their victimhood seriously in their daily lives, but instead, find themselves busiest in carrying out their daily duties and schedules, even though they may do so with the admiration and respect of the people they serve.  It is only a truly victim-centred priest who looks forward to being another Christ for the people of his flock, aiding the parish in undergoing the spiritual transformation that is so necessary for the benefit of the people of God.  A priest who is intent of living out the victim-hood called for in the sacerdotal ordination will be able to see himself not only as a celebrant at the Eucharist, but the words that are uttered should even cause him to realise that he isn’t only asked to repeat words of consecration, but to make them mean something in and through his life.  “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood” that are uttered in the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass need to be able to remind the priest that in and through his priesthood, he too is asked to live out the truth that in his service of his people, he too is giving the people his body and blood like the way Christ did on Calvary.  It changes dramatically the way one lives out the daily life of the priest.

Another thing that I have made real and daily is my visit to the Adoration Room in the parish church of my mother, which is the Church of St Ignatius.  There is a beautiful Adoration Room in the parish, and each day there are a few regular parishioners who take the time and trouble to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament housed in the glass covered Monstrance in the room.  I have been quite regular visiting the exposed Sacred Host in the various Adoration Rooms around Singapore, but it was only in the time of my Medical Leave that I have made advances in beholding the Lord in the Adoration Room.  It has turned into a mystical experience that is granted by God and I sense that God is drawing me closer and closer to the Sacred Heart of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  It is undeniably a place of love, and in the Adoration Room one can easily find not just the presence of Jesus, but also the presence of his beloved Mother, who is Our Blessed Mother Mary.  Her will is to draw the parishioners present before her Son to imitate Jesus in the way that he unselfishly gave of himself to death on Calvary, to show how real it was that he loved the Father.  I am certain that the more a priest is entranced by the Divine Love of Christ, the more Christ will be made truly present in and through his words, prayers and actions.  This may have been written about by authors like the late Bishop Sheen, but as long as no one takes time to pour over the written pages and absorb the truth in it, this truth could just end up being something ‘there’ in a book, but without the transfer from word to something real in life, making it such a waste.  

This daily walk to the Church of St Ignatius Adoration Room is something that I endeavour to carry on doing until I am released from my Medical Leave and sent back to live in the parish I was serving at before the accident unfortunately happened.  My daily life will see a change in the parish because my daily visit to see Jesus in the Adoration Room will be a regular affair for me.  It gives my whole day a new spiritual dimension and meaning, and I hope that it will change me into living out my priesthood with a consciousness of the need to imitate Christ as a “holy victim”.  I find that it can be a bit frightening to type these words out   in this blog reflection, but it is a way that I can encourage parishioners to make it their daily habit of visiting Adoration Rooms as part of their spiritual life.

Mystical experiences are varied and they are not as supernatural as many may think they should be.  Personally, for me, these experiences are when the soul is touched by God himself, and where one is reminded that one is truly and divinely loved by God who is love.  Each time I exit from the Adoration Room, I find that I am encouraged to give of myself because Christ displayed such love through his willingness to die for the Father and to give glory to God.  I look at the world with brighter eyes and listen to conversations with a more patient and generous self.  

I sincerely do not think that it is only special priests who are called to offer themselves as a victim in and through their priesthood.  It is a call and a challenge for every priest, no matter the kind of spiritual challenges he may be facing.  I am certain that the spirituality of the entire country’s believers will be greatly improved if there are more and more priests who are willing to live out their victim-hood of their sacerdotal priesthood.  

If you who are reading this reflection are a priest yourself, know that I am praying for you and that your enthusiasm will be on fire.  If you are a lay person, do pray for the priests in your parish that they too will be enamoured by the deep and energising love of Christ for them.  This way, the church in Singapore and in any other part of the world will be transformed, and more and more people will see how real the glory of God is.