Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The date for the cranioplasty is finally given by the surgeons

It will happen slightly more than a month from the time of this blog post.

Waiting for something to happen to you in life can be a real drag.  I know because I have been waiting for the surgical date for my cranioplasty to be done.  It was moved twice, most likely because of the COVID situation that our island has been experiencing.  The surgeons were not allowing visitors to any hospitalised patients in their wards.  And so the waiting game evolved.  We were waiting for the visitor rules at hospitals to be eased at least a little, to allow just our family members to come to visit us as we recuperate from the surgery to our bodies.  But that date seemed to keep moving further and further away.  However, some things are worth waiting for, even though the waiting time can be agonising.

My surgeon contacted us to inform us that there is a new date for the surgery to my cranium, and it will happen on Thursday 4 January 2022.  They initially suggested 21 December, but that would mean that I would have to spend Christmas in the confines of a hospital, which isn’t something I would want for anybody.  It was when we asked for a shift of the date to sometime in January that they came back with the suggestion of 4 January.  All things considered, we thought it was a good move, though it doesn’t quite sound like a happy new year.  I’ve never received brain plates as a gift for the New Year, so this will be a first one.

What is a cranioplasty?  It is a surgical repair of a bone defect in the skull resulting from a previous operation or injury.  This injury happened in May this year, and the surgeons decided to remove part of my skull to prevent excessive bleeding in the brain.  In the cranioplasty, they will lift the scalp and restore the contour of the skull with a custom contoured graft made from a solid biomaterial that is manufactured in Switzerland.  I’d know what a Swiss-watch feels like when this is over.  

Apparently, three of the uppermost layers of the scalp will be pulled back, and the implant will be inserted in between the bottom layers of the scalp protecting the brain.  

Of course, I will be given a general anaesthetic prior to the surgery, and once I am asleep, the area of the incision is then shaved and prepared with antiseptic, and I will be protected by drapes, leaving only the surgical area exposed.  During the surgery, the cranial bones will be secured with screws, plates or both.

When the bone is in place, and when bleeding is controlled, the team moves the scalp back to its original position and closes the incision with nylon suture.  There may be a small suction drain left in place to help remove any excess fluid.  This drain will be removed in a few days, hence the scheduled stay in hospital being about 5-6 days post surgery.

Most cranioplasty patients spend two to three days in the hospital after surgery.  But the care team will determine that I can get around, shower and dress myself.  I will also most likely get a repeat CT scan of my head.  And if the surgical site looks okay, I will be released and can go home for prolonged rest.  

Post surgery, it will take some time before I fee completely normal.  I will be tired, and rest will be required in the afternoons.  I need to be ready for intermittent headaches, and will schedule appointments for one week and three to four weeks post surgery to have my sutures removed.  I will also need to be prepared for any rehabilitation at the time post surgery.  One of the things I have been prepared for is the need to retch while I am resting, and if I do get into a comatose state, those looking after me may need to call for an ambulance from the hospital so that I can be taken to see the doctor in that state.

I know that what I have written seems to be rather detailed, but the time given to me (which was prolonged) has given me time to do the necessary research to prepare myself for what is to come.  I don’t think I will be more detailed in my blog post, but I do know that there have been masses of people who have prayed for me as I was waiting for the confirmed date for the surgery.  May I ask that your prayers continue until the surgery time comes?  The surgeons will be needing the grace of God’s help in their work on my skull.  Thank you for your kindness and generosity, and I will be offering prayers for all of you who are praying for me.

Friday, November 19, 2021

How the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola helped me

             A reflection on something that I participated in before my priestly ordination.

As an important part of the process of spiritual formation in the seminary, our priestly training included a mandatory retreat of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola.  This silent retreat took place in a House of Spiritual Direction and for those in my year, we had the taste of this spiritual nourishment in an area called the Seven Fountains, which is a place in Chian Mai, Thailand, where many go for retreats, conferences, days of prayer and spiritual direction so that they can find growth in their faith, prayer and in the ability to respond to God in their daily life.  

The Spiritual Exercises came out of the personal experiences of Ignatius of Loyola when he was keen to grow in union with God and when he was learning to discern God’s will.  He kept a spiritual journal to track the spiritual insights he obtained, through which he deepened his spiritual experiences.  He made extensive notes which later became the actual Exercises itself.  

What are the Spiritual Exercises?

It is often said that the Exercises is a series of well-rounded overrate of personal prayer, understanding the spiritual journey, as well as the ministry of companioning others on their spiritual journey.  I am grateful that my companions during the time at this retreat were my very own classmates who are now very active and dynamic priests.  

The Text of the Spiritual Exercises.

The exercises are meant to be led by a retreat director.  Each day’s meet up with the Spiritual Director leads to a colloquy which is an intimate conversation between the exercitant and God the Father, or a conversation between us and Jesus, or between us and Mary or one of the saints.  An important dimension of the exercise is that not all are called to material poverty, but are called to “poverty of spirit”, or spiritual poverty.

The different contemplations of the exercises.

The contemplation on the Incarnation begins with imagining the Trinity looking down from heaven and responding with the Incarnation.  The next or second week sees the exercitant contemplating part two of the Incarnation, which is Mary’s human response.  Tjos explores both the Annunication and Mary’s response.  The third week sees us contemplating the Language of the Cross.  It explores the idea that Jesus’ passion brings us to embrace the world as it really is.  In the fourth and final week of the retreat, we contemplate on how the resurrection brings joy.  The three significant truths rooted in the Resurrection (faith, hope and love) open a window to the grace and virtues of the fourth Week.  What is highlighted are the reasons for our joy when contemplating the Resurrection.

I am not surprised if anyone reading this blog is at this point asking me why I am reflecting on such a spiritual exercise which I took part in before I was ordained a priest.  It is a legitimate question when one takes into consideration that for almost a month now, I have been waiting and feeling anxious about the surgery that my skull needs since the unfortunate accident at the end of May.  

No, I am not returning to the time of the Spiritual Exercises, but I have thumbed through some texts that feature the Exercise itself.  It sent me a great reminder of what I went through back then, and to jettison all that just to anxious about waiting for something to happen does seem like a waste of precious energy and time.

One of the most important things that we came out of the retreat appreciating were the first two degrees of humility according to Ignatian spirituality.  One of the very important things we picked up was the actual contemplation on the Love of God.  This is not a subject that we were taught upfront in the seminary, but because we had the experiences of the different weeks, it helped us to see the fruit that came from the contemplation on the Love of God.  

Do I suggest that anyone who considers himself or herself a keen disciple of Jesus should go for this prayer experience?  I’m not sure I would do that outrightly.  It really depends on whether your Spiritual Director whom you see regularly recommends this for your spiritual advancement.  There are times of contemplation that can be challenging like getting up in the middle of the night to go to the Adoration Room.  These are good, but to a lay person, it can be daunting, especially in a remote place like Chiang Mai.  

The gold that I have gained from the experience has set me in a good place to handle the present stress of waiting and anticipating the surgery that my skull requires.  I’ve come to realise that there is a lot of feeling of displeasure in feeling anxious about waiting, and my mind can utilise the time better in contemplation of things that would benefit my soul and spiritual life.  

It is well known that the human heart is the concern of the Spiritual Exercises.  It nurtures the Spirituality of the Heart of each exercitant.  Perhaps my heart has been stiffened by what I have gone through in life, and this time of being away from all the “action” is where my spiritual training for my heart becomes activated.  

I thank you, dear reader, for reading my reflection this week.  If you think this exercise is for you, perhaps it is something you can bring up to discuss with your Spiritual Director soon.  My prayer goes with you as you may plan to deepen your spiritual life.

Monday, November 15, 2021

When simply waiting is not a futile act in life

A personal reflection on life

Ever since I had the first surgery to my skull due to the unfortunate accident on 24 May this year, I have been in a stance of waiting for the needed second surgery to replace the two parts of my skull that were removed by the surgeons as they believed that the injury would cause terrible things to happen to my head.  Then came the news that the surgeons were waiting for the system to allow at least a few family visitors to their inpatients in the hospital before they scheduled the surgery.  That was sometime in the beginning of October when everything was put on hold for the system to change, and all this while on my side, it was a prolonged period of waiting.  And this waiting was something that was incessant.

I found myself embittered with all this waiting, like as if one was waiting for something to change in life.  I tried so many ways to make myself productive with the waiting, but my daily contemplation and prayer came down to offering my time of waiting for the benefit of souls in need of help.  One of the greatest ways I believed this could be done was to pray for the souls who make up the Church Suffering in Purgatory, where they are being purified from their sinful ways before God grants them the eternal joy of heaven in the Church Triumphant, a place which consists of those who have the beatific vision and are in Heaven.  We make use of the time we have in the Church Militant well when we use our time and resources to pray for those who have left this world’s existence and are still awaiting their purification before their beatific vision granted them by God.

One may think that simple “waiting” in life is a waste of time.  Unless God deems it necessary to grant us a gift of revelation that our departed brothers and sisters have attained their beatific vision, the best we can do in this life is to do the “waiting” with good and charitable acts.  As very few of us human beings do receive such a great gift of revelation by God about the souls who have died before us, we will mainly live with this holy anticipation in our hearts.

I have come to appreciate that this waiting is a great gift from God.  It is not to waste time doing nothing, but it reminds us to use the waiting time productively for the benefit of souls and others.  I do not have anything to support that I have done productive things in my life while waiting for the surgery to happen.  But that report is something that God alone knows, as he reads into my heart.  I may not have any confirmation from God that my prayers and charitable acts have brought great benefits to others, but I do know that inside my heart there is peace.  

The Church exists in three states - the Church Militant, the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering.  When we are alive in this world, we make up part of the Church Militant where we are fighting against the wiles of the evil one and his ways of tempting us in life, and while we fight his ways, we are being Militant against the ways of the devil.  Then there is the Church Triumphant which is made up of souls in their glorified state of heaven.  And as I mentioned earlier, the Church Suffering is made up of souls that are being purified in Purgatory.  In all three states there exists the communion of saints, where between each aspect of life we are separated by the barrier of death, and we remain united to each other in one Church, and support each other in prayer.

The Catholic Church celebrates the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering or Penitent on two days - All Saints’ Day on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2.   In Lumen Gentium, we are taught that:

The three states of the Church. “When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him.  But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth.  Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is’.”

With such strong teachings of the three states of the Church, any time that we have in this life is never to be thought of as a “waste” of time.  It is a resource to be richly used for the benefit of others who have gone before us.  

Maybe there are some of you who are reading this blog reflection who are also finding it tough to utilise your time well in such ways that others can stand to benefit from your generosity.  May this reflection give you good cause to offer your time so that others can be richly blessed.  

May God continue to bless and surround you with his peace and love.

Friday, November 5, 2021

The challenges that abound in being a contemplative

                      Learning in new ways to appreciate God’s revelation of himself to us.

Thomas Merton was an American Trappist monk who was also known for his writing, being a theologian, a mystic and a poet, as well a a scholar of comparative religion.  I came to know a few notable Trappist priests when I was a seminarian, and they introduced me to his writings back then.  He was a treasure whom I was blessed to know through his writings and thoughts who was known for having had dialogues with prominent Asian spiritual figures like the Dalai Lama, various Thai Buddhist and Vietnamese monks and he traveled rather extensively to be able to meet up with them a he attended international conferences on religion.  

In my few weeks of having had to be on medical leave prior to my skull surgery that is coming up soon, I have been blessed to have received a few very precious spiritual books given by kind and friendly parishioners.  One of them was by Thomas Merton himself, entitled New Seeds of Contemplation.  It was a book that was written by a lady Sue Monk Kidd who first read his book when she first visited the cinder-block monastery where Merton lived for the last few years of his life.  It must have impacted her deeply for her to take on such an onerous task of getting this book reprinted with her own thoughts and reflections.  Would I recommend it easily to others?  After reading it from cover to cover, I would be hesitant because it is facile to say that just reading a book on contemplation would lead anyone to adopt the challenges that face anyone who feels compelled to become contemplative.  Yet, the effect of the book stimulates my own attempts at contemplative prayer each day, purifying my efforts at encountering God’s love and providence in life.  

Distractions abound in everyone’s path toward wanting to truly become a contemplative in life.  One of the things that confuse a newcomer to the the life of a contemplative is that it is all about technique.  Those who have read the book would agree with me that Sue Monk Kidd handles this challenge right from the start of the book.  She makes it clear that the pathway to a contemplative is to not take God as an object of one’s heart and desire.  Contemplative prayer is much less to do with feelings and emotions, thrills and delights than it is to do with encountering God in his goodness and loving providence in life.  One can use sacred scripture to lead one to encountering God through his words, and one of the noted recommendations is to use the Book of Psalms, especially the first 20 chapters which help us to encounter how rich and providential God is to his beloved people.  What Sue Monk Kidd does very well is to instruct any beginner to not attempt to ‘construct’ in his or her mind the ‘kind’ of God he or she would like to encounter.  This, to Kidd, is a needless and rather superfluous exercise especially when there is a trove of richness already there in the Psalms.  

In contemplation, the means is to use the words provided us through Scripture to thread a pathway for our hearts to get to the heart of God.  Once we do that, God can (and does) use the scriptural texts to reach our searching heart without our attempts at God-constructions with our imagination and fantasy.  

It is wise that Kidd has written in some of her later chapters of the book that it might not work to look physically for a contemplative monk to become your spiritual director or leader to bring you to a good experience of contemplation.  This may not always work, as many contemplatives themselves went the hard way to reach the depths of contemplation, as as such, may not be suitable teachers of the craft.  

But after reading the book, it is possible to come to a conclusion that it is good to go to a recommended monk or contemplative to have a heart to heart conversation with him about your needs and what you hope to attain as you learn from him or her.  Do this with an open mind, and try not to only look for the ‘gold’ in seeking someone well known and already accepted by many to be an ‘expert’ on contemplation.  

I would recommend going out to get a copy of this valuable book yourself and get a notebook to write the precious thoughts that come to you as you read its valuable chapters.  This note book will come one very handy when the day comes that you get to have that precious chat with a contemplative who could well be your guide toward knowing and loving the God of our lives.  

Sunday, October 31, 2021

The holiness of Mary is what many of us need to cling on to in our life when there are suffering and challenges in life.

                        Why a reflection on Mary’s blessedness can help us in life.

Sound and healthy mariology has always been a part of me for the longest time that I can remember.  Yes, I was born into a Catholic family, and from the earliest time going to weekly catechism lessons in Church and in school, it has been strongly focused that Catholics need to adopt a healthy approach to Mary, rather than to divinise her and raise her to the level of a goddess.  That would be called Mariolotary (a term familiar when one understands the term idolatry where people who are not god somehow attained godliness later on).  

My healthy approach toward good Mariology came with the introduction to the weekly Novena sessions organised by the Redemptorists in Singapore, where each Saturday there would be at least 8 different Novena sessions bringing home to us different aspects of Mariology taken from the Sacred Scriptures.  This has helped me in my development of sound Mariology that I find is most helpful now in my time of recovery since the unfortunate accident that occured to me on May 24 when I was out exercising early in the morning.  The recovery from the accident required of me to undergo a craniotomy which removed two parts of my skull that covered by brain, and I am not awaiting the replacement of two PEEK implants that are coming in from Switzerland where they are manufactured.  I am still in that waiting period for the replacement surgery to be performed, and one of the reasons this second surgery is getting prolonged from happening is because of the rise in COVID cases.  This has caused many hospitals to prohibit visitors to patients in hospitals, and my surgeon believes that I would do better if members of my family are allowed to freely come and visit me once the surgery takes place.

In the meantime, before the surgery happens, I find myself devoting a lot of time in prayer to Our Lady, praying very often the Flame of Love rosary that comes from the diary of Elizabeth Kindkemann.  It was revealed to her by Jesus that this prayer is an instrument in the hands of people.  This prayer as been approved by the Catholic Church in recent decades.  It isn’t all that different from the traditional rosaries that we have grown up praying as Catholics, but there is a strong devotion to the grace of the power of the Flame of Love that extends from the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and part of the Hail Mary includes us seeking Mary’s intercession to extend that flame of love to cover all generations now and when we are at the hour of death.  I find this prayer particularly useful because I have lost several members of my family and this bonds me closer to them as I am praying actively for them in and through this prayer.  

Praying this in the time that I am waiting for the surgery is extremely helpful, and I find that in some ways I am like Mary being used by God for the aid of souls that God has placed in my life.  I don’t want to waste the time I am given right now in my life, and praying for my deceased relations and friends who have gone before me is a very well used portion of time in my life.  

If you need an example of the way the Flame of Love rosary, do go to YouTube and search “Flame of Love Rosary” and you will be given a host of different examples of people who have recorded themselves praying this Rosary.  May you be encouraged to increase your level of Mariology.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Why we should never cease praying for the dead

                            We really are united with the souls who have gone before us.

There is a phrase that we proclaim as Catholics when we pray the Apostles’ Creed where we say that we believe in the communion of saints.  This phrase, when referred to persons, is the spiritual union of the members of the Christian Church, which includes the living and the dead, but excluding those who are the damned.  All the members of the communion of saints are part of a single “mystical body” with Christ as the head.  What is important to note is that each member of this “body” contributes to the good of all and shares in the welfare of all.

The Latin phrase of this term is “communio sanctorum”, where “sanctorum” is understood not just to holy persons, but to holy things, like the blessings that the holy persons share with each other, and this includes their faith, the sacraments and the spiritual graces that they have as members of the Body of Christ.

It is from Paul’s letter to the Romans (12:12-27) that state that in Christ, Christians form a single body.  The term hagios which is translated into English as “saint” can refer to sanctified individual who are called holy as they are consecrated to God.  

We are taught that all members of Christ have communion with Christ and are recipients of all his gifts.  As we all form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others.  This being the case, there also exists a communion of goods in the Church.  It is true that the most important member is Christ, as he is the head.  But Christ’s riches are communicated to all the members through the sacraments.

Persons who are linked within this communion include those who have died and in Hebrews 12:1, are pictured as a cloud of witnesses encompassing Christians on earth.  

In Catholic terms, the communion of saints exists in the three states of the Church, which include the Church Militant (here on earth in this life), the Church Penitent (those souls  undergoing purification in purgatory), and the Church Triumphant ( souls which have attained their heavenly goal after having been purified).  Notice that the damned do not form a part of the communion of saints.

We who are Christians who belong to the Roman Catholic Church seek the intercession of saints in heaven, whose prayers are believed to help their fellow Christians on earth.  

We are all part of the assembly of the saints and are in communion with them.  There is a great movement of fraternal charity which strengthened when we pray for the saints who are awaiting their purification in purgatory.  While we are living, when we have Christian communion with our fellow pilgrims, we are brought closer to Christ.  In the same way, our communion with the saints join us to Christ.  This is remarkable because it is Christ who as the head of the Church, issues all grace to the life of the People of God.  

How do we pray for our deceased relatives of friends?

We can firstly commend their names to almighty God and entrust ourselves to our Creator.

We can also rest in the arms of the Lord who formed us from his heart of love.

Many of us Catholics have strong devotion to Mary, so it is good to ask her, the angels and all the saints to welcome them now that they have departed from this life.

We seek the intercession of Christ who went to the Cross for us, to bring our relations and friends the freedom and peace that only heaven can give.

Christ is the good shepherd and we see him to embrace our deceased relations and friends as one of his precious flock.

We pray that God forgive all of their sins, and place them among those he has chosen.

There is a prayer for the departed attributed to St Anne, and it is called the Prayer for the Faithful Departed.  It goes like this:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

Mary our blessed Mother has been known to be an instrument of God’s mercy for those who have a strong devotion to her.  Elizabeth Kindelmann was born in Hungary and baptized about 7 days after her birth.  She was from a poor family, but while her mother was a Catholic, all the children from the family received a Catholic Education.  She ha 12 brothers and sister, and all were twins, except for her who has the 13th child.  And she was the only one to make it through the adult age.  Many of her siblings were victims of the 1919 Spanish Influenza, two died from diphtheria and two were killed in accidents.  Elizabeth’s mother died at a young age, and Elizabeth never knew why.

It was in November 1923, that Elizabeth was sent to Willisau Switzerland to live with the family of an entrepreneur of agricultural machiner.  It was a year later that she went back to Budapest because she loved her mother who was seriously ill and confined to a bed.

The family in Willinsau were considered as her “parents” and they wanted to take her for good to Switzerland.  There was a misunderstanding of the appointment to meet in Switzerland, and it caused her to accomplish her mission in Hungary, where a young Hungarian couple took her back to Budapest.

She worked as a maid a home of notable provincial mother up till June 1926.  She encountered an elderly lady who wanted to pay her to take care of her little garden and in exchange, she would be provided meals.  

It was early on August 1926 when she went to the Church of Perpetual Adoration where she sat on a bench at the park.  In the morning, she went tot he Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus where she slept during the entire Mass.  She was next hired to carry bottles of milk by a dairyman, and part of her work required of her to help to crack nuts into baskets.  She was paid with “fillers” with which she could buy five croissants at the marketplace.  Later, she became a porter at Halles and offered her services to the ladies who went there for shopping.  Through her hardships, she wanted to make God known to others, and she had constantly in mind religious teachings and missions.

When she was fifteen year old, she decided to become a nun at a conrgegation founded by a countess of Oultremont.  There she could contemplate in silence before the Blessed Sacrament, where she filled her heart with God’s love.  She felt deep inside a great desire to become a missionary nun.  

She used to meet an elderly lade when she went for her Perpetual Adoration, and she told this lady of her dreams of becoming a missionary.  This lady gave her the contact of the missionary sisters of Hermina Street who were raising and teaching orphans and who were also conducting missions and sending out missionaries.

She went to speak to the nun in charge of missionaries, and was referred to the ‘Superior’.  She met her and told her how she wanted to go on a mission and make God known to others.  She was told right there that she did not have a true vocation and wanted to become a mum because she was an orphan without a home.

This confused Elizabeth, and it didn’t settle her well.  She reported this to the lady who referred her to the ‘Superior’ and was told to go to their headquarters at a place called Menesi Avenue to seek the Provincial Superior.  

This she did and the Provincial Superior was very kind, relieving Elizabeth.  This Provincial prayed with her.  Both of them went to the chapel, and she witnessed how the Provincial Superior was covering with Jesus.  After a while, she went to Elizabeth, placed her had over hers and said that this is not what God wants.  Instead, God wants something else for her, and has a mission for her that she must accomplish the best she can.

Autumn of 1929 was the turning point of her life.  She was accepted in the Choral of the Church of Christ the King community at Jozsefavors.  The first tenor asked her to marry him.  She was 16 years old at that time, got married, and her husband lived for 30 years more.  From the years of 1931 and 1942, they had six children, and the Angelus and the Rosary were part of their lives.

The nationalisation of 1948 was harsh on them.  On the verge of ruin, she became a waitress at the military academy where she worked for 12 hours a day.  

She had several spiritual encounters and it was in 1962 that she head a specific call from God, where she was told to renounce herself for God has a great mission for her.  She would only be able to do it if she completely renounced herself.  She accepted God’s will and her souls was seized with so much grace she was speechless.

In those communications, she could distinguish the voice of Jesus from the voice of Mary or the angel.

She became the Lord and Mary’s tool, enduring many trials that she overcame with exceptional strength.  

Flame of Love Rosary

She developed the Flame of Love movement, which was inspired by the Blessed Virgin Mary and helps those who wish to participate in the salvation of all humanity under the guidance of the Church.

The mission of the Movement is to evangelise with the Flame of Love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary so that the Love of the Eternal Father and the Sacred Heart of Jesus set all hearts on fire.

In each country where the Movement is established, a National Cooridinator is appointed, insuring a smooth running of the movement in the Country, promoting the spiritual life fo the movement entered on the Holy Eucharist, preserving the purity o the message of the Flame of Love, promoting unity and approving publications.

Why such devotions are good and necessary

It is because all members of the Catholic Church are considered members of the Communion of Saints that it is good that we pray fervently for the purification of souls after their lives on this earth has ended.  We are carrying out our responsibility to care for the dead.  Each of us must have had relations or friends who have passed away.  What are we doing for them?  Yes, we can and should be offering Masses for their souls, but this Flame of Love rosary is a very active (and daily) act of devotion that we can and should be doing for them.  What we can be encouraged by is the fact that once souls have been purified and reach their heavenly goal, they will not stop praying for us.  We will have a spiritual connection with these purified souls who are basking in God’s glory in heaven.  Our union in the Communion of Saints will only get stronger.  Let us never forget that praying for souls is a mission that we all share as baptized members of the Body of Christ, and this is where the Church Militant can actively help the Church Penitent.  

God bless you for having taken the time to read this blog reflection.  May it change your life positively.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Is weeping all that unChristian when one's life features suffering and affliction?

                         Is weeping unChristian when there is suffering and affliction in life?

A reflection on life when it seems to be filled with affliction and suffering

The Bible does speak about walking through suffering in life.  None of them is a neat precis and sufficient in itself.  Neither are we meant to interpret them as a “series” of discrete “steps” that can and should be followed like a divine recipe.  Instead, we need to appreciate that they overlap and inter-penetrate one another, and they can be followed in different ways.

Ronald Rittger wrote a book “The Reformation of Suffering”. And it traces how Luther and the German Reformers tried to recover a more biblical approach toward suffering.  It was believed by many that the medieval church held that patience under suffering could merit salvation, and it had become a new paganlike stoicism.  Luterans believed that Jesus bore all our punishment for sin, and we do not need to earn Christ’s help and attention but we can be assured that he is indeed lovingly present with us in our affliction.  

It was Rittger who argued that the Lutheran Church seemed to follow one aspect of the medieval church - where they ignored the biblical witness of “lament” as a valid response to troubles and misery in life.  Many of the psalms are called “Psalms of Lament.”  These are cries of distress and cries, and often the psalmist complains about the actions of others, and is troubled by his own thoughts and actions.  

However some of the Psalms are expressions of frustration with God himself.  Psalm 4423 has the line “Rouse yourself!  Why do you sleep, O Lord?” And Psalm 89:49 says “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?”  It is in the Book of Job that cries of lament are written, almost a mirror of the book of Jeremiah. Jer 15:18 says “Why is my pain unending and m wound grievous and incurable?” And to God he says “You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.”

In order that Christians do not doubt the love of Christ, Rittgers minimised the legitimacy of lament.  He says that the early Reformers created a culture in which the expression of doubts or complains are frowned upon.  Many Christians were taught not to weep or cry but to show God their faith through being unflinching in life, and being joyful in accepting God’s will.  Apparently, many Lutheran authors were embarrassed that the book of Job was in the Bible, since questioning God like Job did was deemed a terrible sin.  There was a theologian who explained the book’s inclusion in the Bible by saying that God wanted to show us he could still forgive and have mercy on someone with faith as weak as Job’s.

We need to think about this and consider its truth.  Yes, Job did not exercise his faith as he ought to and in the final chapter he says to God “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6).  But it is true that Job’s outbursts, cries, tears and laments were illegitimate and doesn’t quite square with the biblical text.

In the first chapter, Job first gets the bad news galore - the death of his children, and the loss of his estate, and we are told that Job got up and tore his robe and then “fell to the ground”.  But the author adds “In all this Job sinned not”.  Job behaves in a way that many Christians would consider quite unseemingly, and showing a lack of faith.  Imagine him ripping his garments he was wearing, falling to the ground and crying out.  There seems to be missing the mark of stoic patience.  Yet, the author says “in all this, Job sinned not”.  In the middle of the book, Job was cursing the day he was born and comes close to charging God with injustice by his angry questions.  Yet, God’s final verdict on Job is considered surprisingly positive, where at the end, God turns to Eliphaz, the first of Job’s friends and says among other things that God is angry with Job and his two friends, because he has not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.  Now, take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.  You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.  The result is that Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the Lord told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.

In conclusion, it is good to note that Job’s grief, pain and lament was expressed with great emotion and soaring rhetoric.  Job didn’t make it better praying politely in the end.  Instead, Job was brutally honest with his feelings, and in the end, God ultimately vindicated him.

What such readings can do for one with suffering and affliction unaddressed in life.

It was indeed a gem that I stumbled upon in the book by Timothy Keller “Walking with God though pain and suffering”.  I consider it a gem because it doesn’t forbid a believer in God who also loves God from weeping when things go awry in life.  This extraction from the Book of Jon is very lifting when one drifts into the imagining that life is just dark and all of shadows.  It’s not that it gives anyone license to shake their fists at God and to ask him “why me?” Even Job does this in a stoic way.  Yet, he is not condemned for his reaction.  I am not saying that we should all shake our fists at God when our lives have afflictions and sufferings aplenty.  If you think that this kind of behaviour expresses how you feel about God inside, take this as Job’s license for you to do this, possibly so that in the end you feel more positive about life and God, though in the end it is very necessary that we give God the opportunity to use the darkness our lives are in to shape us in a better way.

It isn’t common to get counselling from spiritual advisors that it is ok for us to go and weep near the Altar of God in church.  Yet, here in this book Timothy Keller gives not just the permission but the encouragement to do so.  But you may not want to go to a Church to go up to the sanctuary to weep to God.  You can however do that in the very safety and comfort of your own Altar at home or right in the confines of your bedroom.  I pray that after reading this reflection, you will gather the strength and energy to do this and have a better grasp of the pain and affliction that your life may be experiencing.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Where is God when my life features suffering and affliction?

A reflection on the reality of suffering in life

I have to admit that I have been asked, in a rather upfront way sometimes, whether I get angry with God for my current state of physical impairment and which is the result of an unfortunate accident that occured back on 24 May this year when I was struck by a driver who was driving his vehicle on the road I was exercising on.  

Even when I reflect on that question right now, I am not able to summon enough honesty to say that I have that part of me that is truly angry with God for inflicting this on me.  We don’t have to be philosophers to come to the conclusion that whether we live rightly or wrongly, whether we are disciples of Jesus or not, bad things that cause sufferings to us will still come to us in life.  And it will not reflect well on us if we come to the sorry conclusion that it is because we have lived a “wrong” or “unjust” life, that we are in the state of suffering and affliction our lives are in.  Just look around and realise that even in the face of natural disasters like the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and following Tsunami, there were 227,898 people who lost their lives in the flooding that occured.  It is too simple to say that all those nearly 230,000 people lived lives that were “wrong” or “unjust” leading them to be killed in the unfortunate way they died.  It would be too easy to just say that God wasn’t with them in their pain and suffering.  That would be too easy and not true as far as God’s justice is concerned.  

Does God get touched or moved when lives are lost in this world?  I think we only need to look at Sacred Scripture to get some evidence that God isn’t unmoved when lives are lost.  One distinct passage is from John chapter 11, where Jesus physically encounters his friend Lazarus who died.  The text makes it clear that Jesus was “once more deeply moved” or that “he groaned in himself”.  Was Jesus getting too emotional at human death?  In the Greek, the gospel writer meant to say that Jesus “bellowed with anger”.  It is an emotional gem because it reveals what was going on inside of the Son of God who came to rescue creation from the absurdity of death and its emptiness.  Here in this episode, Jesus comes face to face with death when a good friend of his is breathing no longer.  Jesus knew at that time that he was going to change the grieving and mourning into whoops of joy and wonder when he raises Lazarus from the dead.  

Why is he furious?  Jesus was brought to confront how unnatural the evil of death is and Jesus burned with rage against how oppressive death is toward all men.  Jesus allowed fury at the reality of death to affect his decomposition of person and to display his being perturbed.

We need to be clear that part of God’s plan was for Jesus to put a positive end even to death, and to put behind death him who has the power of death in human lives, which is he whom Jesus came to destroy.  John Calvin was clear that though tears filled his eyes, Jesus’ soul is held by rage and he advanced toward the tomb of Lazarus like “a champion who prepares for conflict”.  What is really uncovered is the heart of Jesus as he wins for us our salvation.  Of course the final straw still hadn’t been drawn, because that would happen when Jesus himself carries the Cross up to Calvary to face his own being put to death.  In this incident of Jesus confronting the pain of the death of Lazarus, we are shown how Jesus felt for us in our oppression in life and what he does to gain our redemption.

When I read something like this in my present situation, I am greatly encouraged because I know that God really is with me no matter how I may be feeling in life.  It empowers me to fully believe that God hasn’t left me alone in my affliction ad that he does care for my despite the fact that I am right now still not able to fully exercise my Priestly Ordination in Liturgy as yet.  I am looking forward to the day when my surgeons tell me that it is truly ok for me to return to the parish to live and work as an ordained priest and to serve the people I am sent to.  

It is good to remember that Jesus is truly furious at evil, death and suffering in all its forms and that he has never been mad at God the Father for what human beings experience through all of them.  Jesus’ great mission on this earth as a human being was to take evil on and to end it.  Evil, is however, deeply set in the human heart and if Christ had come to destroy it everywhere he found it, he would have to destroy us as well.  Jesus’ true power was displayed when he went in weakens to the cross on Calvary so as to pay for our sins, and the ultimate will be his return to wipe out all evil without having to judge us as well.  We musn’t forget that he will be able to receive us because he bore our judgement himself on Calvary.

It would be good if one day I will be able to share this truth in a presentation where my parishioners will be present.  It’s a truth that I would want all disciples of Christ to truly understand and accept it in their hearts, simply because no one in life is completely free from sufferings and afflictions.  It is a liberating truth that all disciples need to hear spoken with conviction.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

How the theology of Exitus-Reditus helps us in our prayer life.


How God sanctifies work for the world

There is a strong connection in the three devotions spread in the Catholic Church - Marian Consecration, Divine Mercy and The Flame of Love rosary devotion.  They have to do with the two most powerful spiritual weapons that we have today.  These powers exist in Divine Mercy and Marian Consecration.  Perhaps you who are reading this blog entry have not considered prayer as weapons that the Church uses to confront the powers of Satan.  

A question that is good to start contemplating the power of God is to first ask “what is mercy?”  The power of the love that is present in the Holy Trinity is not mercy per se, because mercy is when love encounters suffering and unloveableness.  Mercy is when the love of God overflows outside of itself - it  then becomes an act of mercy.  This makes God’s first great act of mercy to be CREATION because the greatest evil of all the evils (think abortion, contraception, murder etc) there is in the world is NOT TO EXIST.  Creation is therefore a great act of mercy.  To not want to exist is to deny creation’s purpose and rationale.  It would be a tragedy for anyone to personally want to cease of live maybe because life appears to be simply challenging and full of suffering.  

In the seminary, we are taught much about mercy and God’s great act of creation, and it can be summarised in one concept which was what was taught by the great St Thomas Aquinas.  Catholic theology can be summed up by looking at it as a circle, and these can be put into two words.  These two are latin terms of EXITUS- REDITUS (all comes from God and all goes back to God in the end).  St Thomas’ Summa Theologica is based on that one concept.  When seen this way, it is undoubted that Creation which is something God first did in life, comes from God (EXITUS).  In the Trinity, all three persons in God share a great gift of life.  God the Father is the person in the Trinity and he created.  And it took Adam and Eve all about 10 minutes to “mess the football” that was created.  When we are unsure about what life is about and live in ways that can be considered sinful and self-centered, we “fumble the football”.  After Adam and Eve fumbled the football in creation, the second great act of mercy is REDEMPTION.  

In the second great act of mercy, the second person of the Trinity comes down and redeems us.  Redemption is the second great act of Mercy of the Holy Trinity.  But it is not all of mankind that is redeemed, because we need to be SANCTIFIED FIRST.  Jesus comes down to humanity and his intention is to sanctify it.  And in the third act of Mercy, it is when the Holy Spirit comes from the Trinity and returns us to the Father for all eternity.  But for this to happen, we have to be sanctified.  In the East, it is called divinization.  St Thomas Aquinas called it sanctification.  This third part of God’s mercy is the power of the Holy Spirit which we pray for each time we pray for our deceased brothers and sisters.  We are praying that they are prepared (or preparing) to enter into eternal life.  This power is the Flame of Love which is what we are praying when we say those prayers of the Flame of Love rosary.   When we pray with such fervour for our departed brothers and sisters, it is a great act of love in salvation history, and we are appealing to the love that flows from the heart of Mary.  

We need to remember that Salvation history culminates in the love that comes from our hearts for others.  We are summoning the power that came from Jesus Christ’s great act of love that happened on the Cross to him where he gave himself for the sanctification of sinners worldwide.  Jesus rose from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit.  As we pray devotions like the Flame of Love, there is a pleading that we are making to God to have the REDITUS happen to our loved ones (or even those who have not loved us), seeking the return of God’s creation to where creation first came from (God’s very self) for all eternity.  There is an immense power of love that is captured in the title Flame of Love.  We are usable by God when we offer our love for others who are in need of God’s mercy for them.  If we don’t think we are usable by God, pride is speaking from our hearts.

For this to happen well, it is necessary that we are personally sanctified or made holy.  Sanctification happens whenever we partake of Sacraments of forgiveness and healing like going for Confession where we receive the Priest’s Prayer of Absolution over us sinners showing us that we are forgiven by God for having confessed our sins.  Perhaps this is where there is a lack of consistent seeking of personal sanctification in Catholics everywhere.  Our wanting mercy for others who have gone before us requires of us to want to live sanctified lives consistently and constantly.  Yes, priests can preach about this need, but we don’t hear such preachings constantly.  We don’t even have friends who remind us to live sanctified lives, or tell us good reasons why we should strive to live lives that are holy.  I have benefited from listening to a sharing by an American priest who was invited to speak to the laity at a Church in the United States who summed it up so well and succinctly, giving me an inner desire to live this way not just for myself, but for others in my life.

It is hoped that my sharing of this aspect of spirituality makes my readers hunger for sanctification in life and become regulars at going for Sacramental Confession as Catholics.  And know that as I pray the Flame of Love rosary, I will be offering up my prayers for those who have been praying for me and for my upcoming surgery which will take place near the middle of November.