Monday, May 17, 2010

The battle within

The Church Fathers of old used to say in a rather simplistic way that inside of each of us, there lays two minds and two hearts. Some of them even went on to say that there are also two selves inside each of us. Not that we are schizophrenic in a bad way, but that there lies a great struggle deep within and each day, we will find a ‘battle’ going on between the two selves.

In just one moment last week, right in front of me was what I just described. I was waiting to cross the road at the zebra crossing when I saw a man holding on to his little daughter’s hand ensuring that she would not run onto the road. This he did with his right hand. But it was what was in his left hand that was somewhat incongruous. In his left hand was a half-burnt cigarette.

The incongruity to me was more amusing than it was glaring. The man was clearly very caring for his daughter’s safety and life. But on the other hand (literally) he was holding on to what is proven to be something that is toxic to life – not just for him, but also for all who breathe in second hand smoke coming from the act of smoking nicotine.

While I am not a smoker, and will never be one, this column is not meant to upbraid anyone who is smoker. I convinced that with so much written about the negative effects of smoking, most smokers actually do know that what they are doing is simply not beneficial to their health. Whether they are doing anything about this is a personal struggle. It is the incongruence of what I saw that set me thinking about what the Church Fathers said about that two-selves struggle that many of us are grappling with in our lives.

We in the Christian faith say often that Jesus saves us. But this statement has so many dimensions that if we don’t pause often to think about it, it becomes a cheap throwaway phrase that doesn’t impact our lives very much in a real way. One of the ways that Jesus ‘saves’ us is by revealing to us that within each of us, we have the life of God. And the more we respond to this godliness by our life-actions, we become fully alive in God. But he doesn’t mean that God forces us. In fact, the more we freely choose to respond to the divine inside of us, the more we grow that godly mind; that godly heart within.

But aren’t we all an admixture of that divine image, as well as the broken person that struggles with a propensity to sin? That’s what the Church Fathers meant. Sometimes, we find ourselves choosing to go against our right reason, truth and right conscience. That is when we give in to our self-centered leanings and ‘go for it’, as the current lingo likes to put it.

But in reality, it’s not as clear as that, is it? The truth is that we all struggle, and for most of us, a lot of the time, we are like that man whom I saw across the street at the zebra crossing. We want to do good and we want to live out our divine calling, which is imaged in that man holding tightly to his daughter’s hand. But at the same time, aren’t many of us also holding on to our various cigarettes and sending out second-hand smoke to those who are around us, harming us as well as those we love? Especially when we do this with hardly a smidgen of reflection about the choices that we make?

Conversion is never a one-time event. We would be na├»ve to think that a baptism, or a RCIA journey is enough to make us immediately ready for heaven. It is a process, and within that process lies the discovery that the struggle, the choosing, the reflection has to continue. Our life becomes then that canvass on which we draw big – from that huge, generous and selfless mind and heart. Or conversely, we can be fearful and draw small squiggles – from that little, selfish and small-hearted mind and heart.

Just to realize that our lives are that juggling and struggling between the two selves is a step to conversion.


  1. Hi Fr Luke
    I just came to know your blog after reading the recent Catholic News article on World communications day. I remember your many sermons given at St Anne's, IHM and how I was enlightened by many of your deep insights.

    Just to say that juggling and struggling is also part of my business life as much as it is in trying to lead a more consistent prayer life. If not for the grace of God and his unconditional love, we would be quite lost. If not for his protection and forgiveness, we would be in deep trouble somewhere in prison or in sickness of many kinds.

    I am glad that God gave me the gift of the Catholic Church and many priests like yourself in Singapore. May more people come to appreciate and pray for our "fathers" in faith that we may not get lost again.

    Many thanks for being our priest! Amen.

  2. Fr Luke,
    I picked up a book I had bought on the Examen process and found it very useful (I hadn't done Examen in months!) — it centainly helped me to sleep soundly for the first time in months! I now plan to sort out the struggle within myself each day by asking: (1) What am I most grateful for today (I examine the answer and then say a prayer of thanksgiving for having been given that grace). (2) What am I east grateful for today (I examine the answer and pray to God for the grace to be able to see the lesson that I believe is behind most unsettling events in our lives. I end the session with a prayer of thanks. That's one way to deal with struggles... Mary

  3. Dear Fr Luke,

    Reading your article brings me to my many personal struggles. One of these would be battling God.

    Choosing good over evil is is battling the devil. This was why my RCIA journey was a wonderful experience. I knew I was fighting the devil and God was on my side. It was such a boost to my ego.

    Living with God is a totally new ball game. There is no devil to fight nor blame. Boy, my ego fought with God so many times because I refused to be a little more loving, giving and forgiving. It was such a bruise to my ego.

    I suppose the good news is that God humbles me each time I fight with me. And with each humiliation, he gives me a bigger canvass to draw on because now, I can see further.

    God bless,

  4. Hey Fr Luke!

    I *just* found out about your blog! So slow right... Anyway it really is a great substitute for your monthly homilies at IHM (which I quite miss).

    This reflection brings to mind the whole mysterium inquitatis concept, which is really quite scary. Oh well. We'll try our best to run the good race.

    Take care, Father!