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.  

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Walking with God through pain and suffering and affliction in life.

                                 What it is like to walk with God through pain and suffering

Do we leave our faith behind us when all we seem to have in life is affliction and suffering?

I have not really faced a situation in life where just because I am surrounded by suffering and affliction in life, that I have been tempted to put aside my deep and sincere belief in God and the fundamental truth that I have been created by God to dwell in his love and mercy.  But through some good intentions of friends of mine, I have been given very enlightening books to help me deal with an atheists’ position where simply because life is generally hard and challenging, the urge to put aside one’s belief in a loving God is something that is real.  No, it’s not a temptation for me to deal with, but it’s good to read the dangers that are involved when this temptation seems a very logical thing to do.  

The whole problem of evil in life is broached by unbelievers in a very practical approach in the book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by a leading pastor of a Presbyterian Church in New York City.  I must admit that on my own, I wouldn’t voluntarily pick up this book to purchase and read, especially when I am facing pain and suffering in life, which is what I am facing right now as I await the surgery for my skull replacement after the unfortunate accident on 24 May.  While I am encouraged by my physiotherapist doctors at the hospital to keep my body moving and active by walking and activating my limbs, I find my ability to do so very limited due to my body being assailed by upper respiratory tract infections.  The presence of COVID in the country has also caused the hospital doctors to discourage me from mixing physically with other human beings as I may be opening myself to its infection without even realising it.  In fact, it is because of the presence of COVID in the country that my surgery has been moved twice so far.  It was first supposed to take place in October, but because of the dangers of COVID, it was then moved into the first few days of November.  Last I heard was that the surgeons have discussed that it should be now moved to somewhere near 9 November.  When I hear about the new movement of the date for the surgery, I’ll admit that I was somewhat taken aback.  It does look like the much needed surgery keeps being pushed further and further away.  

Keller grasps the situation at hand by looking at the various arguments against God’s loving providence.  One of them is the evidential argument against God that says that evil and suffering simply make God’s existence improbable.  Skeptics are prone to say that “we can’t prove that there couldn’t be a God, or that there couldn’t be an sufficient reason for allowing evil.  But imagine watching a little child die by degrees - eaten from the outside by cancer.  Evil may not technically disprove the existence of a good and powerful God, it still makes his existence highly unlikely.”

This argument isn’t fundamentally different from what is called the logical argument, which rests on the same premises and has a similar Achilles heel.  If we are not able to prove that God has no morally sufficient reasons for evil, we are unable to assess the level of probability that he has such reasons.  Many people want to insist that we have vantage points from which to evaluate percentages for likelihood is to again forget our limitations of our knowledge.  God is infinite and we are finite.  It would be very difficult for a finite being to figure out the logic of the infinite.  One of the things that Keller says so forcefully is that only an omniscient mind could grasp the complexities of directing a world of free creatures toward provisioned goals, and that certainly many evils seem pointless and unnecessary for us, leaving us simply not in a position to judge.

Isn’t the biblical point that we finite beings are not meant to judge the ways of God?  This is so clearly taught in the letters by St Paul both to the Jews and to the Greeks as well.  But this is a strong temptation for human beings to do when their lives feature instances of suffering and affliction.  

I have not once in my facing of the afflictions and suffering in life doubted or questioned God’s existence and loving providence.  I try my best to write reflections based on my experiences, and I find that it is best to base my writings on my experiences of prayer and meditation.  

One of the most effective and relational dimension of prayer is when I start to pray the Flame of Love rosary.  According to the teachings, for every three Hail Marys one says, one can take 10 souls out of purgatory and into Heaven.  But extend this to 5 decades of the rosary with 53 Hail Marys adding the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be for the pope’s intention, making it 54 Hail Marys or 180 souls going into heaven.  When we don’t just say this alone but join other members saying the same prayers, we each get the benefit f praying 36 triplets (54 Hail Marys).  Together with group we get 72 triples or 720 souls out of purgatory.  Imagine all this in a span of about 30 minutes of prayer.

Praying this routinely is to ba an active part of the Church Militant, which is something that I have always preached at Mass.  The problem is that there are too many Catholics who don’t apply themselves to be active members of the Church Militant.  Rather, there are many Catholics who are taking a very passive position in the Church, hardly fighting the daily struggles and temptations that afflict them in life.  

When a Catholic is so focused in the active part of fighting evil and sin, one doesn’t fall into a very passive state of the spiritual life.  With so much of the mind focused on prayer and for souls to attain their heavenly end, one hardly gives oneself the permission to be falling into the attitude that God is causing the afflictions and sufferings in life.  Instead of highlighting the negatives or counter arguments for God’s providence, we are maintaining our belief that God has not purposefully caused the pains and struggles in life.  We fight against technically disproving the existence of a personal God, and it makes little sense that things like these are justified in the way that we think.  Doing this is simply wrong.  What we can and should believe is that God doesn’t will such things to happen.  He can and does allow such things to happen in life.

My point of writing this reflection from such a vista is to encourage the many out there to not think about God in a way that causes him to work logically from your point of view.  Remember that God is the infinite and we are just finite.  It is not up to us to control the way God works, nor figure out why he does the things he does.  Each situation that we face in life give us very good reason to look to God in love and to be obedient disciples of Jesus.  

As I pray the day Flame of love rosary, I will offer up the prayers and intercessions for the many souls who are in need of God’s love and mercy.  If you, dear reader, are one of these persons, know that you are in my prayers as well.  Let us pray incessantly for one another as we slowly live out our lives of faith each day before our final judgement comes.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Learning from a Church mystic when life has its fair share of challenges

                                 Following the life of a Church mystic when life has its challenges

What a reading of St Teresa of Avila’s autobiography revealed

I’ve always believed that a person who faces the challenges of living life positively despite having a few other physical challenges can and should learn from the mystical saints who have written autobiographies of their spiritual pursuits.  The Catholic Church has had many saints who supplied her with many of their writings which people with afflictions can abundantly benefit from.  One such saint is Saint Teresa of Avila who 40 years after her death was canonised by Pope Gregory XV, and the University of Salamanca granted her the title Doctor ecclesiae, which is distinct form the papal honour of Doctor of the Church, always conferred posthumously.  This latter title was bestowed upon St Teresa by Pope Paul VI on 27 September 1970, along with Saint Catherine of Sienna, making them the first women to be awarded with the distinction.  Teresa is revered as the Doctor of Prayer.  

Teresa was preoccupied with the ascent of the soul to God in four stages, which she wrote about in her Autobiography.  

The first mystical thought was what she called the Devotion of the Heart, consisting of both mental payer and contemplation.  It helped the soul to withdraw, to be penitent and to proceed to meditate on the passion of the Christ.

The second mystical thought was what Teresa called the Devotion of Peace, where human will is surrendered to God.  There is a cultivation of the virtue of an uplifted awareness granted by God, while other human faculties like memory, reason and imagination can still be subjected to worldly distraction.  Partial distraction can happen, but the prevailing state is one of quietude,

The third mystical thought was Devotion of Union, concerning the absorption-in-God.  Generally, this was seen to be an ecstatic state where reason is also surrendered to God and only the memory and imagination are not used in the surrender.  In this state there is a blissful peace, and a consciousness of being enraptured by the love of God.

Fourthly, the mystical thought was Devotion of Ecstasy, where the consciousness of being in the body disappears.  In this stage, memory and imagination become absorbed in God, as though being intoxicated.  In complete unconscious helplessness, body and spirit dwell in the throes of exquisite pain.  Sometimes, at this level of mystical thought, the ecstatic person causes the body to be lifted into space.  In Teresa’s experience, this state may last as long as half an hour, followed by relaxation of a few hours of swoon-like weakness, where one had been in union with God.  Apparently, the subject awakens from this trance state in tears and it may be regarded as the height of mystical experience for the person.  Reports have it that Teresa was said to have been observed levitating during Mass on several occasions.

When she spoke about these experiences, she said that “contemplative prayer is nothing other than a close sharing between friends, where a person takes precious time to be alone with God whom the person knows loves us”.  

As a reader of such writings and reflections, and having had a rich experience of the reality of physical suffering in life due to my unfortunate accident that happened on 24 May, I must admit that I am enamoured by such writings of personal reflections.  I have dreamt of some of them from time to time while I am convalescing and awaiting my second surgery to my skull to return it to its spherical shape using synthetics such as polyetheretherketone that show a higher primary tear resistance.  But I must admit that I have never been left in any sort of complete unconscious helplessness like the way St Teresa wrote about in explaining her Devotion of Ecstasy.  I do have a yearning for that close relationship with God which St Teresa wrote about when explaining these mystical experiences, but yearning only goes so far.  But in my daily prayer using the Rosary and its meditation on the life of Jesus and Mary, I do try to activate my inner love of God to make the meditations bear fruit in my life,  

I am thankful that the Church has such a rich resource of mystical saints who have written profoundly about their mystical experiences.  People like myself stand to benefit greatly when we go into prayer during times of strife and suffering in life.  And as I prepare to celebrate the memorial of St Teresa of Avila which is observed on Friday, October 15, I will definitely be praying to her for her intercession for me to be drawn closer to God.  And I will be offering up my prayer for the benefit of so many in the world who are in need of the intercessions of the saints.

Friday, October 8, 2021

When walking each day doesn't come without pain and suffering

A blog reflection of mine prior to an important surgery

While I know that any reader of this blog page of mine expects an entry submitted by me to be something that would inspire readership and that it should be something that is positive in its outlook in life, I do realise that this expectation exceeds the reality of my daily living in these days of mine that see me living toward the needed placement of two PEEK plates (which are polyetheretherketone) high-performance semi-crystalline engineering thermoplastic with outstanding chemical resistance, very low moisture uptake, good fire performance and excellent mechanical strength across a broad temperature range with good multi dimensional stability.  My neurosurgeons tending to my skull are trusted in getting the best materials to piece back together my skull which they operated on after my accident that happened on 24 May this year.

After the surgery to remove the two portions of my skull, I had to move temporarily into my mother’s residence to be tended to by her employed housekeeper.  There was little or no way I could survive on my own if I moved back to my priestly residence where I was living alone and there was no helper to provide me assistance which I need.  During the time I was recuperating from the first surgery, I had to go back to the hospital regularly to be treated by a physiotherapist doctor and his team to bring me back to my former fitness level, and when I was at home, I was to try to repeat the taught exercises so that I could gain the strength which I somehow lost with the accident.  

During this time, I developed an Upper Respiratory Tract Infection where I was coughing repeatedly, and the doctors in the hospital was told about this.  This caused them to worry since a patient undergoing serious surgery with this condition could easily come out of it with added problems breathing, and it was in the light of the present serious COVID situation that they are deciding to move the surgery from the initially planned October dates into the start of November.  Each day I am living with a tinge of melancholy and regret that this incident had happened to me when I was out trying to sustain my strength by a simple exercise like taking a brisk walk outside of the parish church I was living in.  Thank God the parish priest was kind enough to replace me that morning as the celebrant of the morning Eucharist, and he had to explain to the parishioners why I was missing at the Mass where I should have been the celebrant.  I am grateful to Fr Paul Ngo from the depths of my heart for being so kind and generous, who even up to this day, shows me support and friendship even though I am unable to be at the parish as I am officially on medical leave until my second surgery is completed.

It is without fail that each day I am feeling somewhat empty inside.  A priest isn’t ordained to just sit at home trying to get by the days unproductively till his needed surgery comes.  I do pray each day, and am incessantly offering up rosary recitations where I am praying for the many who are in need of prayerful support.  I know that many of my parishioners and friends have been praying for me, and this is why I am sustained so well despite the apparently unproductive life I am leading right now.  Many friends have tried to reach me by messages on the phone asking me how I am feeling, and honestly, I find it very challenging to be honest to say that each day toward the surgery is a trial on my patience.  All I often say is that I am doing well and that I am praying each day for them, and they are grateful for this.  But I do know that they too are praying for me, and I use the opportunity to thank them profoundly for their selflessness and generosity of heart.

Is it wrong to feel somewhat despondent with life the way I feel?  I read about many who have struggles in life, but they either don’t feel despondent or are constantly upbeat about life despite what life is giving them.  I must admit that sometimes when I read these reflections, I feel a tinge of regret and sadness that my own life isn’t as positive and upbeat as theirs.  Perhaps they have not gotten in touch with their inner spiritual life and it could be that they do not allow themselves to feel negative about what life is giving them.  I have given up asking God why I have to go through this struggle on my own.  Perhaps it is part of the prayer  in the Lord’s prayer where we pray not to be put to the test by God.  I do realise that all we have in life is given us by God, and not all that we receive from him are things that are outstandingly positive.  This situation that I am in is one such situation, and I need to constantly remind myself to thank God for each day.  While it is a challenge to live so positively, I do know that in the long run, it will benefit me and heighten my spirituality.

If you who are reading this is hearing this personal reflection for the first time, I apologise if it has disappointed you.  I have benefitted from your sustained prayers for me all this while, and I humbly ask that you could continue to pray as you did.  This blog reflection was not meant to be a disappointment, but an honest revelation of how I am feeling each day inside of me.  Hopefully, as the days toward the surgery move on, my approach toward life will change for the better.

Know that as each day passes, I will be offering up rosaries for the many who have been praying incessantly for me, as well as those who have not been doing so.  Everyone stands to benefit from prayers and acts of sacrifices offered up to God on their behalf.  And for those of you who are suffering from COVID, I pray that the medications you have been prescribed will help you to recover soon and that you will be springing back to life with your family members in good time.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

                                                     When the days move so slowly                                                                                                                                    

                                                A blog reflection before my skull surgery

It was meant to happen sometime in September this year, but with the COVID pandemic in a rather uncontrolled way that is happening in our city of Singapore, my surgeons have decided to move the surgery into 2 November instead.  Of course, part of the reason they want to move it is because I have developed an Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in the past few weeks and they are wary that this could complicate matters in my post surgery recovery, whether it is in the hospital or when I am moved back into my mother’s residence.  The doctors held an informative interview with me to find out more details about my coughing from the infection and they decided (with consultation with the senior surgeons at the hospital) that it would be best for me to have successfully emerged from the infection before the prolonged surgery to my cranial section of my head.  I am grateful for this decision though there is admittedly a part of me that wishes that I don’t have to wait until November to come before I can check in to the hospital for the needed surgery.  Right now, the PEEK plates have yet to arrive from Switzerland for my surgery, and there really is no point to rush things.  

It is for this reason that each day before November sees me sitting around in the home where mum lives, and I am often finding myself pondering what I could do to make the time go by quicker and with some degree of productivity.  The writing of this blog on an almost weekly basis does fill my mind, but I do wonder what it is that I can write about that shows that I am using my creativity in a good way.  A good blog that has some structure and form would reveal that I am using my brain in a creative and positive way, and I do pray about what I could write about that will hold the interest of my readers throughout the world.  Apparently so far, the writing has been positive and people from all over the world have reached out to me to thank me for my writing efforts, and I find that I am using the time in a positive way when I am putting together a script for this blog.  I hope that today’s blog is a positive experience for all.

Every day, I occupy my time with prayer, and use it to meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary and its many different joyful, sorrowful, glorious and luminous mysteries.  Each one of them has at least five different aspects of the life of either Mary or Jesus, and they help me in offering up my own sufferings for the benefit of so many in the world who are going through a tough time with the COVID situation - not just here in Singapore, but in so many other countries all over the world.  I keep thinking of the many friends I have who are going through a challenging time in their lives in various ways, and this makes my prayer so meaningful and rich.  I enjoy telling them in messages that I had prayed for them in my daily prayer and their reaction is always so positive and grateful.  I will continue to do this each day before the surgery happens in November.

Each day I celebrate the Eucharist in my mother’s home and I invite her to the Mass.  I spend some part of each day writing my homily script for the next day’s Mass, and in the early morning, I am always positive that the text I use is something uplifting for my mother and anyone who turns up to participate in the Eucharist.  I inevitably bring into the reflection how important it is for us as disciples of Jesus to enter into the pondering of what real wisdom  and understanding of Sacred Scripture is in life, and I try my best to encourage all present to nurture this positively in their lives.  It is something that the Holy Spirit will help us to attain, but we need to truly desire to increase this capacity to live it out in our lives.  

I do find myself wondering why it is that I am suffering in this way in my life at the age of 56, but there is no good reason why I was involved in an accident when I went out for my morning exercise on 24 May 2021.  All I should tell myself is that accidents happen when they do, and God must have his reasons why I sustained such an injury that morning.  I was supposed to go back to the parish the morning after my exercise to celebrate the morning Eucharist, but I do know that my parish priest was informed of my unfortunate situation and ended up in the hospital awaiting the surgery to my skull.  Thankfully, he stepped in to fill the gap I created and it was to the surprise of the parishioners that I was literally thrown out of action in the morning.  I have yet to return to the parish as I am now on medical leave and won’t be back in action until my medical leave ends around the end of November or even in December.  I keep praying for my parishioners who are living their parish lives without me tending to them.  

Right now, I am still unclear as to how I would be able to get a priest to come to bring me Holy Communion when I am in the hospital post surgery, but I will do my best to get some information from the hospital administration staff.  Thankfully, there is a Catholic Church that is within walking distance from the hospital and I do hope that one of their lovely priests can bring me the Sacrament when I need it the most.

If there is one thing that you, dear reader, can pray for me, it would be that I can find a way to have a priest bring me Holy Communion when I am recuperating from the surgery.  I am trying the best to face the surgery with a positive attitude and hope.  I am sure that your prayers will do wonders for me, and I want to thank you for this effort of kindness and love.  

November 2 is always the day when Catholics celebrate All Souls’ Day.  If my surgery does happen on that day, it will be a day when I will be needing the prayers that many will be offering up for souls who have gone to God.