Monday, March 4, 2013

Embracing the Cross in the Body of Christ

I would have to be a most ungrateful person to not acknowledge the hundreds, if not thousands of well-wishers and prayer warriors who have responded so kindly and so generously to my announcement of my illness in last week’s blog.  I thank you for your kindness, your generosity, and your thoughtfulness, and most of all, your faith.  Never in my wildest dream have I ever thought that I would get that many hits on a simple blog like mine.  Not only that, but each comment, each outreach and each precious sharing by a fellow sufferer who poured out his or her life-story brought to light the reality of the body of Christ.  Moreover, I have had prayers literally pouring in from all over the world, from Malaysia, India, the Philippines, Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand, to name but a few.  This too, made the body of Christ an immense reality and an overwhelming one at that.

As I am only just beginning my entry into a deeper and more somber act of suffering in this adventure of the world of cancer, I can only write as a novice is capable of.  I am only beginning to familiarlise myself with the names of the chemicals and toxins that are being pumped mercilessly into my body each day of therapy – unpronounceable names like Granisteron, Cyclophosphamide, Cytarabine and Vincristine, and steroid drugs like Dexamethasone.  I have only just begun to experience the immense discomfit of nausea brought on by Chemo drugs.  But I do realize that I do depend on the drugs for my survival, and perhaps, I have become a chemoholic.

The things that surround me, the feelings that I sometimes feel, and more importantly, what God is telling me at each moment, cannot be written in the words of a veteran sufferer with a ‘been-there, done-that, bought the T-shirt and mug’ approach.  At least not yet.  Not only would that be facetious, it would very much disrespect the many who have walked through a much deeper walk than I have thus far.  I am in awe of veteran folk like young Joshua Ling who commented so insightfully in my previous blog, and who I would highly recommend many to read and to be inspired by.  Believe me, Joshua, your story has touched many of my friends.

But what is very real to me is the fact that so many people are praying.  They assure me that they are doing this, and I am touched and grateful.  Being a theologian in training (albeit one that is somewhat on hiatus at the moment) makes me wonder what the many are indeed praying about.  I am sure many are praying for a complete recovery from my illness.  Many have indeed written and told me that this is what they are praying for.  And this is not wrong, and not at all a bad thing to pray for.  But is this the only thing that we should be praying for when things go ‘awry’ in our lives?  Do spanner in the works of our life plans dictate that our prayers to God beseech him to ‘change his plans to suit ours’?  Does it necessarily mean that God has deemed it fit to ‘punish’ us for our iniquities?  My spirituality doesn’t permit me to believe this, and neither has by education and training, and more importantly, my faith relationship with God.

Please do not get me wrong.  I am not saying that I am ungrateful for prayers of healing and recovery.  We should be praying for goodness in life, for blessings, and for God to be in our lives in such a way that we experience joy, an abundance of goodness and a great outpouring of God’s rich graces.  After all, God does want us to live life and to it to the full.  Yet, the often unfathomable reality is that there is also the irony and even necessity of a suffering that purifies and saves, as witnessed by the prayer that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he prayed that the cup of suffering be taken from him, but if it was the Father’s will, let it be done.

This tussle is something that I find myself struggling with too, not just when I pray, but also when I read the wonderful petitions that come from my friends, loved ones and praying partners in the world.  Jesus did not reject the cross in an outright way, nor did he run to it.  Instead, when we contemplate on it, we will realize that Jesus embraced it with a certain air of temerity, and to do so, didn’t he have to remove something as well?  He had to remove his garments. 

The Church has always associated the tenth station where Jesus was stripped of his garments with our sins of passions and lusts, rightly so.  But when I pondered on how a true and healthy and purifying suffering entails not a rejection but an embrace of the cross, I saw how we too in our lives, need to have certain barriers and ‘garments’ removed before we can have a healthy and healing embrace of our crosses in life.

The prayer of a complete healing and a remission from cancer or any other illness or adversity is a good prayer.  It is not a wrong prayer.  It is a faithful prayer.  It is a loving prayer.  It is a prayer of intercession, as we are told to seek, knock, and find.  But if it is a prayer that arm-twists God and doesn’t give him any chance of displaying his greatness in ways beyond our ken, it doesn’t really become a prayer.  It becomes an order, a command and worst of all, it makes us unto God. 

Is it a brazen prayer, a bold prayer and an audacious prayer to ask for also the ability to embrace the cross willingly and lovingly?  Is it too soon to ask for this in a journey towards anyone’s Calvary, especially one that has just been embarked on like mine?  Does not this mean that we will first have to identify our own garments that we have been loath to remove but rather, have spent years and years to acquire and to wear, display and exhibit with pride?  I am afraid it does, and unless I too learn to do this, my embrace of the cross will only be lip service and hardly be something that will help much the sufferings of the body of Christ.


  1. Whatever the care, which breaks thy rest
    Whatever the wish that swells thy breast
    Spread before God that wish, that care
    And change anxiety to prayer.

    We are all turning our anxieties into prayers
    For you Fr Luke. God Loves You

  2. Hi Fr Luke..

    As always.. you are in my prayers as well as many others.. At the same time.. the Church is in the midst of choosing the pope. The selection lies in the hands of the cardinals. We pray that they be inspired and guided by the holy spirit to select the new pope.. that is truly a man of God.. to lead His Church here on earth.. tks

    God's choicest Blessings be upon You!!


  3. Dear Fr Luke,

    This is my prayer: "Dear Lord, I ask you for mercy and love of Fr Luke that you continue to sustain his faith and strength in the face of the pain and suffering that he is going through; that in his suffering he may gain greater compassion, in his sorrow that he may experience closeness with You, and his pain be redemptive. May Fr Luke with Your divine grace never falter in his trust in your goodness and hope in your faithfulness, even in the middle of this suffering. Let him be filled with patience and joy in your presence as he waits for your healing touch."

    PS: "Lord, if it be your will, have mercy on your faithful servant Fr Luke, and let him not suffer too much beyond what he can bear. "

    In Jesus' name I pray.

    Richard Contardo

  4. Amen, Amen to your post Fr Luke.
    May our prayers from all over lift you up in every little way possible for you. Especially when things seem bleak, and you feel like you are all alone. ALWAYS remember that you are not alone in this difficult journey.
    May you cling on to Jesus.


  6. "Across that threshold I had been afraid to cross, things suddenly seemed so very simple. There was but a single vision, God, who was all in all; there was but one will that directed all things, God's will. I had only to see it, to discern it in every circumstance in which I found myself, and let myself be ruled by it. God is in all things, sustains all things, directs all things. To discern this in every situation and circumstance, to see His will in all things, was to accept each circumstance and situation and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust. Nothing could separate me from Him, because He was in all things. No danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me, except the fear of losing sight of Him. The future, hidden as it was, was hidden in His will and therefore acceptable to me no matter what it might bring. The past, with all its failures, was not forgotten; it remained to remind me of the weakness of human nature and the folly of putting any faith in self. But it no longer depressed me. I looked no longer to self to guide me, relied on it no longer in any way, so it could not again fail me. By renouncing, finally and completely, all control of my life and future destiny, I was relieved as a consequence of all responsibility. I was freed thereby from anxiety and worry, from every tension, and could float serenely upon the tide of God's sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul." - from "He Leadth Me" by Walter Ciszek, S.J.

    God bless us with his love and grace. Amen.


  7. Dear Fr Luke,

    I would like to share this story with you. When I read it this morning I thought of you. Here it goes:

    "Just before Christmas one year, a friend was diagnosed with leukemia and was told she must begin chemotherapy immediately. Just a few weeks earlier, Kim had told friends how blessed and content she felt with a loving family, a comfortable home and a new grandson. As she entered the hospital, Kim asked Jesus to make His presence known to her and to stay close.
    The next 7 months of treatments followed by recovery in partial isolation became a season she calls "forced leisure". She says she learned how to slow down, reflect quietly, and rest in God's goodness, love and perfect plan -- regardless of whether or not she would be healed.
    One of God's promise to His people Israel became personal to Kim. "Do not be not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you; his power gives you victory. The Lord will take delight in you, and in his love, he will give you new life. He will sing and be joyful over you." (Zep 3:16-17)
    Kim is in remission after a journey she says changed her life for the better. Now back in her busy routine, she often pauses to recapture the lessons of "forced leisure".
    How important that we -- in good times or times of challenge -- draw near to God's loving heart to hear His voice and place our lives in His hands."

    Will pray and light a candle for you everyday, asking Mother Mary to intercede for you. Take care Fr Luke and FIGHTING!!

    1. Fr. Luke, thank you for continuing to inspire us with your faith and your insights. I pray that the Lord continue to nourish your spirit and comfort you wih His presence at this time in your life. - Carol

  8. Dear Fr Luke,

    May the Holy Spirit guides and leads you as you journey through this life changing situation. I was in the same situation a long time ago, perhaps the same doctors are also managing your case. Just to share an entry in my journal which say "God heals us in many way through miracle or via the doctors and nurses He provides" not forgetting that there is also 'external healing'. With this thought I pray that His will be done and live every moment with a cheerful heart. Of course there are still the moment of anxiety, during this moment I pray the Rosary which bring calm. And as Mary said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word."

    God Bless and May His angels watch over you

  9. Dear Fr. Luke,

    Yes, I too was much taken up with Joshua Ling's testimony. Inspiring indeed!
    If I may quote from Peter Kreeft's recent article:

    "A third shattering realization was that Romans 8:28 was literally true: “In everything God works for good with those who love him.” This is surely the most astonishing verse in the Bible, for it certainly doesn’t look as if all things work for good. What awful things our lives contain! But if God, the all-powerful Creator and Designer and Provider of our lives, is 100 percent love, then it necessarily follows, as the night the day, that everything in his world, from birth to death, from kisses to slaps, from candy to cancer, comes to us out of God’s active or permissive love."

    I was thinking of you when I read this. More and more I get the feeling that all this is part of His master plan, although for the life of me I can't figure it out just yet. Hang in there and God love you!

  10. Dear Fr Luke, thank you for opening your heart with all its fears and hopes to us. In some strange way the cross you bear in this uncharted journey has become a source of hope for many. What is so personal is also so universal as Henri Nouwen once wrote.
    Our Children's Liturgy community is praying and fasting and offering this up for you. We may not have met but we are connected to you Fr Luke.
    May the peace of our loving and gracious Father be always with you.

  11. Dear Father Luke,

    Your blog has inspired and motivated me. Despite your illness, you are still inspiring us in every way.

    I got to know you when I was a parishioner at St Anne's. I had some setbacks years ago and stop attending church altogether. I was upset and angry with God for all the unhappiness and always asking Him the same question --- Why me? I did nothing wrong, I attended church and prayed regularly so I was unable to accept it that God actually allowed such things to happen.

    It was only when I heard about your illness and read your blog that I began to realise how silly I have been. Thanks for sharing. I will press on and I hope you too. Get well soon. Looking forward to your homily again. Do continue writing, I believe all your readers are looking forward to reading your blog.

  12. Dearest Fr Luke,

    Reg and I from ME Singapore, together with the entire ME Singapore Community, are keeping you in our prayers.

    Reg and I are, of course, praying for your speedy recovery, and futher, that you will submit yourself fully to His will, grow in your faith in the process, and be closer to the you that God wants you to be.

    FYI, for the ME D&D on 20 April 2013, the LCL Service Team will be performing songs from the musical that you have blogged about earlier, and we will definitely be dedicating our performance to you. Hey, if possible, we will be most happy if you can come see it for yourself, ok?

    Love Always,
    Foot Hin & Regina

  13. Dear Fr Luke,

    In my darkest days of my mum's unexpected nearing death moments, I shouted to God to return my mum back to me. I questioned why did the unfortunate and unexpected happen to her? And guess what, miraculously, a car drove in front of me with the decal 'You are never alone'. At that moment and thereafter, I knew God is with me (and us) all the time, though we may lack 'battery' or energy to feel His presence / Love at times. I am praying for a miracle to happen for her, but the step towards God is to accept God's plan for us lovingly - and the route to that may not be the best cushioned road envisioned, but it's the 'best' road He has planned for us.

    I am praying for you, as well as the many others suffering from illnesses.

    Remember Fr Luke - you are never alone. God has shown himself in many ways that you can ever imagine.

    In God's love

  14. Dear Fr Luke,

    Most glad to see you writting again. Have been waiting most PATIENTLY for your post.

    I am in A-W-E!!! of your most recent post. No words can describe how I feel right now. Or rather, a conflict of emotions overwhelms me...

    We are, and, will most faithfully be praying the rosary for you every night.

    * A struggle at times - LAZINESS sets in. But somehow, through the work of the Holy Spirit, each of us are "edging" each other on FOR YOU. Especially the boys. Like how you always ended your sermon in SIN,... GOD LOVES YOU!

    You are lovingly loved by all!

    Family-of-4, DownUnder.

  15. ‘’Is it a brazen prayer, a bold prayer and an audacious prayer to ask for also the ability to embrace the cross willingly and lovingly? Is it too soon to ask for this in a journey towards anyone’s Calvary, especially one that has just been embarked on like mine? Does not this mean that we will first have to identify our own garments that we have been loath to remove but rather, have spent years and years to acquire and to wear, display and exhibit with pride? I am afraid it does, and unless I too learn to do this, my embrace of the cross will only be lip service and hardly be something that will help much the sufferings of the body of Christ.’’ - I find this sharing interesting.

    No, I don’t believe it is brazen or audacious..........rather it is both a courageous and a lover’s act to pray thus. For the language of love is subtly, yet most poignantly expressed in the desire to submit one’s will to the beloved............ a silent acquiescing in ‘blind’ faith and trust. Not an act of bravado, but rather like what John said, “...perfect love casts out fear.....’’ Fear may still lurk in the background but love reigns supreme. Neither is it ‘’too soon’’ ...........for intensity of love is measured by depth not by time.

    Yes, I agree that the discarding of the garments may pose to be more problematic than the identifying them. For many a times, we really know/know of our garments that need to be removed before we can embrace the cross but some of them have fitted us so well that they seemed to be a ‘’second skin’’ and we feel we would be ‘naked’ without them. So we try to convince ourselves that a thin layer wouldn’t make a difference. Sadly it does, for the pain of ‘cushioned flesh’ against the cross, definitely pales beneath that of the raw agony of flesh pressed against rough wood. Letting go of this last layer would be the litmus test of our love.
    God bless you, Fr


  16. Dear Fr Luke

    God bless you for your faithfulness to Him. Keeping you in my prayer.


  17. Dear Fr Luke

    God has through your unfortunate incidence draw some of us closer to Him. I am one of them.

    I often hear news that some friends have cancer, heart failure, stroke, etc. Such news did not bother me much as I just took it as a matter of fact. But when I heard that you have leukaemia and you have come back to Singapore for treatment, I was shocked and asked "why him?"

    I feel sad that this illness falls on you. As I read your blog, I am inspired by what you have written, your strong faith in God and the words of encouragement which many of your readers have written for you.

    What happens to you has made me realise the importance of prayer and draws me closer to God.

    Every day, I have been praying for you to respond well to your treatment and to regain your good health speedily. I also pray that you will be cured miraculously.

    Many people have been diagnosed with leukaemia too. They have recovered from this illness. Hope such cases is an encouragement to you in this trying moment.

    You always ended your homily with "God loves you."

    God LOVES You too and He will take good care of you.

    A Parishioner from OLSS.

  18. Fr Luke, my prayer to God for you is simply this - that He gives you the strength you need to fight this enemy that has invaded your body. That He gives you comfort with the knowledge that He's with you as you walk down this journey, that you are not alone. And that He gives comfort and strength to your family, who esp need to know that our Loving Father is present with you during this difficult time. Be strong.

    A parishioner from SFX