Monday, August 26, 2013

Limitless are the areas in our lives where God invites us to a life of holiness

Much of our lives are lived in some sort of dichotomy and dualism.  For many of us, we grew up with our parents or caregivers unknowingly indoctrinating us into this kind of either/or world.  While it is in in itself nothing absolutely wrong with this type of life-introductions when we are young and impressionable, and there are certain things that require us to have a strict black/white, right/wrong, often it easily forms the basis of the ways in which many of us approach our faith and religion later on in life.  In the light of a mature spirituality and approach toward our faith, an over-emphasis on right/wrong, and good/bad can lead to some issues which can cause us to become flummoxed and unhinged when our notion of how God should work doesn’t quite square with what we have been told and taught about God – that he is a God of love, and that he is a God of mercy and compassion. 

 One of the comments that came in my previous blog was from a family whom I was very much in close contact with way back in my first parish assignment as a very new priest.  At that time a very young Catholic family, they were very devout in their newfound faith, and I admired how fervent they were in their Christian living.  One thing that raised my eyebrows a little in their comment was that with my illness, this time God got it ‘wrong’.  While I can appreciate their love and concern for me, my inner instincts kicked into full gear when my eyes fell on that line, partly because I realized that while this family expressed their deep concern for me, that statement seemed to have made God out to be much smaller and too ‘contained’.  From a purely human and limited standpoint, when we see natural disasters occur, terrible accidents where a busload of travellers can plunge into a deep ravine killing almost all on board, or someone we know being told of a cancerous tumor growing in a certain part of the body, it is understandable for one to say that ‘God got it wrong’. 

I am wondering if having such a notion that God should only get it ‘right’ comes from our own projections of right/wrong, and good/bad with the way we were formed when we were young and impressionable.  I am almost certain that these imaginings and projections onto God have at its roots our first and fundamental notions of justice, of righteousness and of fairness.  It is when we are given the grace to truly encounter God not as we want to, but as he wants us to encounter him, often through the vicissitudes and strange turns of life, that our notions of God and how strangely he works in and through our very lives open new avenues in the way we walk with God.  This has to be, after all, the heart of what holiness and living a holistic life is all about.  It is as much about religion and formal ways of worship and community integration as it is about finding God (or rather, letting God find us) in the most unexpected and perhaps even mundane and boring times of our lives. 

When we lead a dualistic notion of God and transfer that on to the ways we live our spiritual lives, what becomes most damaging is when we determine when in our lives we should be ‘holy’ or ‘spiritual’ and when we should be ‘worldly’ or ‘unspiritual’.  A crude example of this would be when we are aware of our need to be close to God during our physical time spent in church at liturgy or when we raise our minds to God in prayer in the privacy of our homes.  But when we are out of this ‘mode’, we ‘switch’ God off and resume our other life that we are so used to – our business life, our family life, our crude/vulgar life, in short, that part of life which we shut God out, leaving us ‘comfortable’. 

While it many be acceptable to a certain extent to live this way when we are young and when we start cutting our spiritual teeth, it can become problematic when this is not challenged and pointed out to us by our parents, catechists and even our priests as we physically mature.  I suspect that many do not have this as a maturing process, leaving us with a stilted notion of God, who for all intents and purposes, is not a God of all things, but only in the good, the lovely, and the healthy. 

How does one make that necessary leap in life when one is middle-aged or perhaps even older, and one realizes that one had been stuck with that one-sided notion of God?  Is it a matter of willing it to happen?  Can one just ‘open’ one’s mind to accept in one moment that God is just as powerful and present in illness, in weakness, in failure and in suffering as God is present in good health, joys, strength, success and goodness?  Would that it be.  Rather, the hard truth is that often, we need to learn this the hard way – through our suffering (or that of others which can teach us a thing or two about ourselves), through the woundedness that sometimes love leaves us, and even through death.  Jesus has said so clearly that he is the way, the truth and the life, and that we need to go through him.  That he did not circumvent the pains, suffering and passion that led to his resurrection and ascension gives us clear indication that we too, in our weak and sinful humanity, have to also go through something similar in order to emerge whole on the ‘other side’ of life. 

When grace comes to us in our search for truth and for the God in all things, the lines that separate the ‘holy’ from the ‘ordinary’ become less distinct and clear.  That hug that you give your child, that smile that you give to a fellow human being on the morning commute, that ‘good morning’ that you answer the office phone with to whoever is on the other side of the line, or that generous act of allowing the car in front of you to cut into your lane without his indicator light flashing, become these strange ‘holy’ moments where we never thought God could be present and speaking to us.  This is when our ‘rights’ become much less of a matter than someone’s seeing God in and through our generosity, unexplained patience and seeming weakness.  This is when God becomes truly a God of all things.  This is when we not only encounter God in formal Liturgy in church, but our eyes become open to the world’s liturgy where the world is a grand display of God’s omnipresence. 

When we begin to live this way, truly limitless are the ways in which our lives can be holy.


  1. Good post, Fr. Luke. Very instructive - especially the last paragraph.

    Yesterday, after mass, my wife said to me, "I was thinking of Fr. Luke during the 2nd reading. (Heb 12:5-7, 11-13). Did you think of him too?" I have to admit, I did. That line, "..for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; He scourges every son he acknowledges" had me pondering over your (ongoing) ordeal. It also brought to mind the reason why a person (such as yourself), can persevere in spite of terrible difficulties in life.

    It is by an unwavering faith and trust in God that this is possible; and this faith and trust is given (by God) to those who sincerely seek it. We can't manufacture it ourselves, try as we may, for such powers are beyond us. Thank you for giving us an example of God's love and grace these past 8 months.

    Btw, I spotted you at Fr. Noel Chin's funeral mass on Saturday. It's really good to see you up and about. Hopefully, the next time I see you, you will be back to your normal (physical) self, hale and hearty and ready to do another 10km! God bless.

  2. Peace be with you, Fr Luke,
    I like what you said about 'the world's liturgy', indeed God turns up everywhere we look, if we but look. I once read this book called Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, & since then, to cultivate an awareness of God in my life, every morning I play a mental 'game' to see how many times I encounter God in my day. Every nite, I will then recall & examine conscience.

    What you said about "truly encountering God not as we want to, but as he wants us to encounter him" also struck me. Often I want to do a,b,c things for the Lord but He says, 'no, you sit & wait', with me straining at the proverbial leash. I know i am not unproductive, but i feel unproductive. I want to encounter Him as a high-performer, He wants me to encounter Him as Father & Lord, He alone determines & designs my utility, He alone is the source & goal of my utility. How does one measure utility in the economy of salvation?

    A prayer which was attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero: "We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted,knowing that they hold future promise. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own."

    an Anthonian

  3. Yes frLuke, "When grace comes to us in our search for truth and for the God in all things,..." God the Father becomes truly present in my life, my everything and when i realized i love Him, really really love Him, the outcome of my prayer does not really matter, and slowly, the specific requests become lesser and lesser and now it's "Thy will be done and please hang on to me, if the going gets though."

    Thanks father, thank you :)


    1. When we trust in God's unconditional love for us, there is no more question of right or wrong, but faith to take on the challenge. Ignatius

  4. Dear Fr. Luke,

    Thank you for this posting - so relevant for our current times!

    The grace given to see God in all things I believe comes from prayerful reflection. Some years ago I attended a silent retreat by Jesuit priest, Fr. David Townsend and was introduced to the "Examen of Consciousness" (Review of the day) which I understand is an important aspect of Ignatian spirituality. This examination is two 15-minute periods of prayer and reflection each day. My attempts (there are fruitful and also dismal days) to follow this examen has given me a greater sensitivity to God in the moment to moment events of my daily life, at work with me and for me, and through me for others, and through others for me. Perhaps it is in the taking of these ordinary moments of our lives with prayerful reflection of each day that helps all of us with developing a greater ease of "seeking and finding God in all things" as St. Ignatius puts it.

    So happy to see you up and about!
    Take care and God bless.

  5. Today’s Gospel reading ( Mt 23:23-26) – about the Pharisees scrupulously washing the outside of cup and dish.......reminds me of how as a fervent newly-baptized Catholic I too viewed holiness as ritual purity and ‘religiousity’ impresses as spirituality – something akin to what you have stated in your post. Holiness seemed intimidating, a necessary duty ( mostly for the priests and religious) that lay persons like us try to ‘put on’ for those special periods of Lent and Advent where one dutifully recites a full rosary a day and goes for Confession fortnightly!

    The “growing years” of faith at retreats and seminars taught me that holiness was not only the absence of sin but a grace, a blessing that God intended for all His children..........a wholeness that enables one to have a right relationship with the living God. It then dawned on me that this call to holiness is a privilege – desirable, for it qualifies one to be “set apart”, to belong to God. (1Peter 1:15-16) And what is even more fascinating is that holiness is lived and experienced in whatever station in life one finds oneself, but there are no known techniques as to how to attain it. It is not a crown to be won and worn but it is what you become with the help of grace.

    So it is that these words of yours “....... the hard truth is that often,...................... through the woundedness that sometimes love leaves us, and even through death............we emerge whole on the ‘other side’ of life” – showed me that holiness is the living of the dying and rising, death and new life in our very ordinary daily lives......finding meaning in tough times as in good times, hope being the eternal spring - for God, through Jesus Christ has “been there” and “done it” Experiencing this rhythm of dying and rising in our own lives and in nature, we become more compassionate for others and develop a greater willingness to reach out to them.

    God bless you, Fr


  6. And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
    And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
    Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

    From "God's Grandeur" by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

    Enjoy this meditation.