Friday, December 9, 2022

Receiving the grace of the Sacraments in the Catholic faith.

There are many different forms or kinds of grace that are given to the Catholic in the Holy Catholic Church.  But before we get into the Sacraments of the Church, let us settle a common misconception or misunderstanding of many in the faith.  What is grace? 


Those who are familiar with the Scriptures would remember that St. Paul is known as the “apostle of grace.”  For a start, grace needs to be understood as a gift or a favour from God, but most importantly, it is a undeserved favour given by God.  Through grace, God inclines toward us, giving us gifts that are free and undeserved by sinners.  No one can earn grace or deserve them from God.  It is a demonstration of God’s mercy and love.  It is always free and undeserved.  A very good example of this is the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  God chose Mary as the means through which the world would receive Jesus Christ, the God-Man.  God wanted him to be born of a very humble and pure human woman, and Mary was the one vehicle chosen.  Mary didn’t deserve this choice, but it was a free and undeserved gift by God the Father.  She chose to remain ever-virgin after the birth of her son, and this too was a grace given by God.  Mary continues to live as the Queen of Heaven and Mother of God, even up to this day.  She is completely aware that she has been gifted by God through the free-gift of his unmerited grace, and together with the Apostles, she prayed and waited with the apostles for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit after Jesus was crucified and died on Golgotha. 


Tremendous power is given to us when we participate fully and freely in the seven Sacraments of the Church.  But the key to being beneficiaries of the grace of God is that we must participate in the sacraments fully and freely.  Yet, the one question that one has to consider how we are full and free when it comes to participating in the Sacraments of the Church.  Maybe the first question to be answered is what does grace give us in life?


In his letter to the Corinthians, St Paul says in his second letter to them that God is able to make all grace abound in us, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, we may abound in every good work.  In the same letter, St Paul has Jesus say that “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  So grace, when viewed from these scripture passages, is not only a disposition or an inclination in the nature of God, but is also very importantly a power that works in us to change our capacities for work and suffering and obedience.  


Yet, the very important question is why is it that so many people are not in a state of grace when they bring themselves before the Sacraments of the Church?  It is not an exaggeration to say that most of the Catholics fail to make full and regular use of the grace given in the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession.  There are quite a number of Catholics who do not confess their habitual or mortal sins in regular confession, perhaps out of fear or being recognized by the confessor priest who is ministering to them in the Confession.  I’ve heard it so many times that many Catholics only would go to a priest who doesn’t know them to confess their sins.  While this may give them some degree of freedom and liberation, how many different priests can one go to regularly for Confession, especially in a country as small as Singapore?  Yet, the truth is that if you have the chance to speak to a Catholic who has truly made the very important and beautiful general confession in life, that celebration of the Sacrament had given him or her the greatest experience of being loved so unconditionally by our loving and forgiving God. 


As a priest who hears confession regularly as my ministry, I sometimes ask the question how often the penitent brings himself or herself to the Confessional and regularly is far from the norm.  It does appear that for many penitents, it is they who are the judges of what sin is a mortal sin and makes them unable to receive Holy Communion when at Mass.  But it is the truly humble penitent that admits that they go for Confession every three weeks or every month.  It gives me a certain sadness that so many Catholics seem to have a false notion of being in a state of grace, and it causes me to weekly offer up my abstinence and penances on Fridays for the conversion of many Catholics to come to truly appreciate the gift of being regularly in a state of grace in life.


God the Father has a true Divine desire that every sinful human being becomes as much as possible to be like his Son, Jesus Christ.  Being in a state of grace puts us very close to being like Jesus and living as his disciple.  I don’t believe that great number of Catholics have this divine hunger in them.  We all need the help of God’s grace to live in grace.  May we all muster enough desire in our hearts to pray for the many Catholics who need help to get them out of the rut they may be stuck in so that they too will be honestly reflective of their lives in living a holy and honest Catholic life.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

A habit of daily encounter with God

There are some things that I do as a priest every day that I truly believe helps me in my spiritual journey in life.  Each morning, I have the habit of getting up early slightly before 6am to get ready to celebrate the Eucharist in the study area of my mother’s apartment where I am spending the days of my prolonged Medical Leave given to me by my doctor at the hospital where I received medical treatment when I was injured in an accident whilst I was on my morning exercise routine of walking sometime last May.  The only other person present at the Mass is my mother, and I am grateful that she is willing to get up and be ready to give her fullest attention to glorify God at each day’s Mass.  My giving her the Holy Eucharist at the time of Holy Communion thrills me in indescribable ways.  I see it as my honour and privilege to do this for her, as there is very little possibility of her going to the Church on her own in her frail health, especially since her legs are weak and give her much problem in her mobility.  I am uncertain how she will receive her daily Eucharist after my Medical Leave ends (which could well be soon), and thinking of how I can come to visit her at home to bring her Holy Communion will be a delight for me.

Apart from the daily Mass, I have been given the privilege of reading several books on spirituality and the priesthood during this time away from the parish.  One of the treasures is a book written by the late Fulton Sheen called “The Priest is not His Own”.  It is of great spiritual input to any priest who is sincere in the taking the path of holiness, and one of the gems that this book speaks about is that the one of the characters of the priesthood is to be like Christ, a “holy victim”, where the priest needs to imitate Christ in His example of sacrifice, offering himself as a victim to make Christ’s Incarnation continually present in the world.  The late Fulton Sheen stresses how in reality very few priests take their victimhood seriously in their daily lives, but instead, find themselves busiest in carrying out their daily duties and schedules, even though they may do so with the admiration and respect of the people they serve.  It is only a truly victim-centred priest who looks forward to being another Christ for the people of his flock, aiding the parish in undergoing the spiritual transformation that is so necessary for the benefit of the people of God.  A priest who is intent of living out the victim-hood called for in the sacerdotal ordination will be able to see himself not only as a celebrant at the Eucharist, but the words that are uttered should even cause him to realise that he isn’t only asked to repeat words of consecration, but to make them mean something in and through his life.  “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood” that are uttered in the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass need to be able to remind the priest that in and through his priesthood, he too is asked to live out the truth that in his service of his people, he too is giving the people his body and blood like the way Christ did on Calvary.  It changes dramatically the way one lives out the daily life of the priest.

Another thing that I have made real and daily is my visit to the Adoration Room in the parish church of my mother, which is the Church of St Ignatius.  There is a beautiful Adoration Room in the parish, and each day there are a few regular parishioners who take the time and trouble to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament housed in the glass covered Monstrance in the room.  I have been quite regular visiting the exposed Sacred Host in the various Adoration Rooms around Singapore, but it was only in the time of my Medical Leave that I have made advances in beholding the Lord in the Adoration Room.  It has turned into a mystical experience that is granted by God and I sense that God is drawing me closer and closer to the Sacred Heart of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  It is undeniably a place of love, and in the Adoration Room one can easily find not just the presence of Jesus, but also the presence of his beloved Mother, who is Our Blessed Mother Mary.  Her will is to draw the parishioners present before her Son to imitate Jesus in the way that he unselfishly gave of himself to death on Calvary, to show how real it was that he loved the Father.  I am certain that the more a priest is entranced by the Divine Love of Christ, the more Christ will be made truly present in and through his words, prayers and actions.  This may have been written about by authors like the late Bishop Sheen, but as long as no one takes time to pour over the written pages and absorb the truth in it, this truth could just end up being something ‘there’ in a book, but without the transfer from word to something real in life, making it such a waste.  

This daily walk to the Church of St Ignatius Adoration Room is something that I endeavour to carry on doing until I am released from my Medical Leave and sent back to live in the parish I was serving at before the accident unfortunately happened.  My daily life will see a change in the parish because my daily visit to see Jesus in the Adoration Room will be a regular affair for me.  It gives my whole day a new spiritual dimension and meaning, and I hope that it will change me into living out my priesthood with a consciousness of the need to imitate Christ as a “holy victim”.  I find that it can be a bit frightening to type these words out   in this blog reflection, but it is a way that I can encourage parishioners to make it their daily habit of visiting Adoration Rooms as part of their spiritual life.

Mystical experiences are varied and they are not as supernatural as many may think they should be.  Personally, for me, these experiences are when the soul is touched by God himself, and where one is reminded that one is truly and divinely loved by God who is love.  Each time I exit from the Adoration Room, I find that I am encouraged to give of myself because Christ displayed such love through his willingness to die for the Father and to give glory to God.  I look at the world with brighter eyes and listen to conversations with a more patient and generous self.  

I sincerely do not think that it is only special priests who are called to offer themselves as a victim in and through their priesthood.  It is a call and a challenge for every priest, no matter the kind of spiritual challenges he may be facing.  I am certain that the spirituality of the entire country’s believers will be greatly improved if there are more and more priests who are willing to live out their victim-hood of their sacerdotal priesthood.  

If you who are reading this reflection are a priest yourself, know that I am praying for you and that your enthusiasm will be on fire.  If you are a lay person, do pray for the priests in your parish that they too will be enamoured by the deep and energising love of Christ for them.  This way, the church in Singapore and in any other part of the world will be transformed, and more and more people will see how real the glory of God is.  

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Our lives will come with afflictions that may challenge our faith and trust in God.

All of us, without exception, want our lives to be lived with a steadiness and calm right to the very end of our earthly existence.  While that is a thought that is nice to have, it isn’t something that can be taken for granted.  Inevitably, there will be challenges to our health and state of life where we may find ourselves questioning if God is indeed there for us and with us throughout our lives.  This is especially so if we have been taught from our youngest years that our lives are cared for by God and that we do not exist without the benefit of having God looking after us.  While that may be true, it doesn’t mean at all that God won’t permit us to suffer pains and afflictions in the course of our lives.  And when those afflictions come, it may make us wonder why it is that God allows such sufferings to happen in our lives, and further, to wonder if he really loves and cares for us as taught.  

In my time since the accident happened to me in May of 2021, the road to recovery has been one that hasn’t been as smooth and free of worries as I had hoped to be.  Yes, I have had my experiences of Leukemia in my past, but that didn’t make me wonder if God had stopped caring for me.  But in this 15 months of ultra slow recovery from the accident, to say that there have been ups and downs is to say the least.  One of my latest experiences of afflictions has been a sudden pain that has struck my right gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and tensor fasciae latae.  I guess it could be summarised by calling it a problem I am facing with my hamstrings.  I have been keeping an account of my thoughts about this affliction, and I noticed that instead of being steadfast in pursuing the therapeutic exercises that I was taught to keep my muscles strong and flexible, I had been pondering why it was that God allowed this to afflict me in my path toward full and functional recovery since the accident.  It’s as if things weren’t bad enough, that I had to be given this new set of afflictions to slow down my full recovery and going back to live in the parish.  

But on a larger scale of things, it shows that many, if not most of us, can take our health and state of life for granted.  We complain a lot and don’t take it well if things come into our lives that cause us to slow down and examine if the way we are living needs some improvement and steadiness.  Being ungrateful is a simple way of putting this.  No one should be ungrateful in life, but no one is really prepared to accept readily the pains and sufferings that life can present to us.  It is the same for our spiritual lives.  That path of life that is free from moral sins and temptations is never one that one naturally experiences in life.  As long as we are free from one form of mortal sin, there is always the next one to handle in life.  Saints are not people who are only free from temptations in life.  They are people who have fought the battle for moral rectitude well and courageously and have shown by their lives how to overcome the wiles of the devil and his minions.  A positive way of looking at life is to keep a constant contact with God and be always grateful for his care and concern for us, serving him, loving him, and glorifying him every single day of our lives, whether there are afflictions and tests in our lives or not.  This will shape and strengthen our spiritual path of life to get us ready in various ways to face anything that will come in life.  

One good thing to do in life is to never fail to be thankful to God for the blessings we have had in life.  Keeping our eyes on the blessings we have been grateful to receive help us to not be thrown into a tizzy when small afflictions take place in our lives.  There are always things to be grateful for in life, and we will be absent minded when we quickly say that there are no good things in life to be grateful for.  Mindfulness is the keeping of an account of how we have been blessed by God, and ingratitude is a hallmark of how weak and easily afflicted we can be when things come and confuse us, especially when they are unplanned and surprise us easily.

I know that many people have been praying for my quick recovery, and I am thankful for their prayers and their faith.  You who are reading this blog may be one of them, and I thank you for your faith and perseverance.  But I am not being ungrateful for your faith when I have sudden unplanned for afflictions like this sudden pain in my hamstrings.  I had to show up as a celebrant for morning Masses in my parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary last week, and there were days when I was really tempted to use the help of my walking cane but thought that it would be a bit of a distraction for the congregants in the church so I endured the Mass with no aid of the cane.  But I do believe that with time and perseverance, the weakness in the hamstrings will be strengthened and I will overcome the pain.

Let this reflection remind my readers to never take for granted all the goodness and blessings that God has given to his beloved sons and daughters.  There are plenty of things to pray for each day, and if you happen to run out of things to pray for, pray for the grace of gratitude and thankfulness for all the goodness that God has given to you in life.  And may the grace of God be with you until the day when this earthly journey of life ends and God is summoning you to share with the saints and angels the everlasting glory of eternal paradise.  

Thursday, July 21, 2022

What makes a reflective Spirituality in life

It doesn’t necessarily take a spiritual person who answer the question “what is the goal of the spiritual life?”  Most people who are in touch with their thoughts in life would give an answer that says that the spiritual life is all about doing good things in life.  A person who has his eyes fixed on heaven would say something like “the spiritual life helps us to detect God’s presence in the world”, which is not that far from the truth.  But it was my experience in going through 30 days in a Jesuit Retreat Centre in Chiangmai, Thailand, that opened my eyes and heart to the inner core of the spirituality of the Jesuits.  This happened in the middle of my sixth year in the seminary where I was being trained for the Catholic priesthood, and to me, it was an experience of pure gold.  

It is a place that is tranquil and green, so idyllic to be in to be guided on a spiritual journey like an Ignatian 30-day silent retreat.  Those who have pursued such a journey in life would say without hesitation that a place would have to be quiet and remote for it to help one to attain a fruitful end when one decides to pursue good fruit at the end of the retreat.  Of course, a good retreat master would be desired to have in order to be led and directed in the journey of the soul.  This came as a gift to us seminarians who went to that month-long spiritual walk with God.  I believe that Seven Fountains has undergone some renovations since I was there so many years ago, but the people who have returned from there share with me that they loved the place and the experience.  

St Ignatius who wrote The Spiritual Exercises, had a deep and meaningful experience in his search for God in his life.  This book is the foundation of the 30-day Ignatian Retreat, and I don’t intend to ruin the experience of the Retreat for anyone who hasn’t made the retreat himself or herself.  Ultimately, we find out that the dynamic goal of the Spiritual Exercises is to choose.  To choose is to freely unite ourselves with God.  A spiritual person would be deeply interested to join with God in active work in the world.  

God, we are guided to see.  And Ignatian spirituality teaches us to discern the steps that God makes in our lives and in our experience.  The Spiritual Exercises gives us guidance on how to look back on our lives, and to sift through our experiences to see the way that God has been dealing with us over the years.  As Fr Rolheiser once wrote, a great many of us are far too absorbed in efficiency and cannot find time to pray, and this excuse robs us from being in touch with the spiritual experiences in our lives.  The world is mired with too much efficiency and stuff and it ends up making our world an endless search for new and exciting things to look out for.  Those who are internet connected will know that there are an endless number of channels to watch movies, sporting games and variety programmes.  News channels are no longer just the “Nine O’Clock News”, but an endless array of reports bringing the world’s happenings to our homes through the television.  Then there are the magazines that beckon with their glossy covers and distracting reports of sportsmen and celebrities.  After a full day of being stuck in traffic, public transportation, writing endless reports in the office, listening to lectures given to us by our teachers or professors in schools, exhaustive hours of research for our subjects in schools, there is always the attraction of the endless offerings on the internet and the many conversations that we want to be included in by our friends and colleagues.  All these take up our valuable time and they are made up of what the world calls efficiency and productivity.  While they may not be bad in themselves, they can easily rob us from the time that God would want to have us give him in prayer and attention.  This is the task of spirituality.

St Ignatius begins the retreat with the Principle and Foundation.  Ignatius sees the vision of God’s purpose in creating was to share life with us forever.  Besides, the purpose of the things he created was so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more easily.  Added to that, the goal of the retreat, he tells us, is to choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me than the other things.  The daily examen is a method of reflective prayer that to many appear to be a digression from the real business of the retreat.  

Ignatius wanted his Jesuits to make the examen a daily habit.  But the retreat is not only something that Jesuits can make.  The press of work or illness may often make it impossible for Jesuits to have an extended time of daily prayer.  They can end up saying that they are far too ‘busy’.  It was Ignatius’s insistence that the examen is never omitted from their lives.  Usually, one makes the examen twice a day, once at midday and again before retiring, to pause for a while and review the events of the day in prayerful reflection.  

Ignatius outlined that the examen has five points.  1) be grateful for God’s blessings; 2) ask the help of the Spirit; 3) review the day, looking for times when God has been present and times when you have left him out; 4) express sorrow for sin and ask God for his forgiving love; 5) pray for the grace to be more totally available to God who loves us so totally.  There are many versions of the examen written by Jesuits and others, and they are like successive editions of a great textbook.  

Undoubtedly, the word examen indicates a kind of introspection, and St Ignatius tries to emphasise this point by making his first point of the examen prayer one about gratitude to God.  One Jesuit, Fr David L Flemming, outlined the following examen prayer as follows:

The Examen of Consciousness

A Prayer to God

God, thank you.

I thank you, God, for always being with me, but especially I am grateful that you are with me right now.

God, send your Holy Spirit upon me.

God, let the Holy Spirit enlighten my mind and warm my heart that I may know where and how we have been together this day.

God, let me look at my day.

God, where have I felt your presence, seen your face, heard your word this day?

God, where have I ignored you, run from you, perhaps even rejected you this day?

God, let me be grateful and ask forgiveness.

God, I thank you for the times this day we have been together and worked together.

God, I am sorry for the ways that I have offended you by what I have done or what I did not do.

God, stay close.

God, I ask that you draw me ever closer to you this day and tomorrow.

God, you are the God of my life - thank you.

Yes, sometimes prayer can get formal and abstract.  This Daily Examen keeps us humble and our feet firmly on the ground.  It is reflective in nature, and as we are God’s sons and daughters living in the world that he loves and sustains, we can be assured that he hears our voices in this world of noise and busy-ness.

This examen helps us as we will never run out of things to pray about.  It is like a direction finder for our spiritual lives.  If we wonder what to say to God, having this list of examen reflections is a guide that one never gets tired of.  

All of us need to have a reflective spirituality in life, and this is one definitive list.  If it helps some of your readers of my blog to be so constantly reflective in your prayer, the aim of this blog will have been met.  I know many people have been praying for me, and in turn, I will pray for my readers of this blog.  May you have an endless experience of being loved and cared for by the same God who made you and this world, and may you always grow in your love of God in your lives.  

Monday, July 4, 2022

How does prayer really look like? Are we praying only when things are looking better in the world and for us as well?

This isn’t an original blog reflection on prayer by any means.  I’ve written on this several times in my blog’s existence, and I was thinking hard about what my next entry should be focused on.  Then I came across one of Fr Rolheiser’s blog entries and he entered it on what real prayer looks like.  His main point in the reflection was really about the situations that we are in when we utter God’s name when we don’t know how to deal with what life is presenting to us.  

In his essay, Fr Rolheiser detailed how a Jacques Loew, the founder of the Worker-Priest movement in France, was once working in a factory and saw how his fellow workers were hauling very heaving bags into a truck.  In this situation he sometimes saw how one of the bags would suddenly drop from the hands of the men, and as the bag landed on the ground would burst open and have all its contents spill out, creating a mess.  This was when a mini-blaspheme would escape from the lips of the men.  This made Loew point out that though what was heard was not something that was glorifying God as taught in the Lord’s Prayer, he felt that the men who uttered those phrases was saying a prayer as he was invoking God’s name in real honesty.  I was partly flabbergasted when I read this, and it stayed in my mind as I went through the day after that.  It takes a spiritual man of some depth to have discovered this.

When we were trained on prayer by our catechists, it didn’t include how we ought to be praying when things in life were not so calm and attractive to us.  We were mainly taught that when things were smooth going ons in the world and in our lives, that we ought to be raising our voices to God with great thanksgiving for the blessings we have been receiving.  This isn’t something hard to teach.  It is the imparting of gratitude for the goodness that God has blessed us with, and it is only right.

But what if the opposite is what faces us in life?  What if the news at night is bad news, and in an order that is one after another?  Or what if what happens to us in life isn’t what would consider as calm, goodness and comfort?  What if we accidentally stub our fingers as we make our way around the home or the office, or get stuck in a terrible traffic situation which leaves us late for our appointment?  At these moments, what comes out from our mouths could be described as a mini-blasphemy and even aesthetically offensive, no matter if the person who hears us is a senior convent nun who had been finally professed for several years.  Certainly it is not our aim to take God’s name in vain, but on several levels, just hearing what we uttered could constitute as a sinful act.

But Fr Rolheiser said that many of us take prayer far too seriously for our own sakes.  If we take what is happening to the world around us too seriously, we can lose heart and stop praying.  Fr Rolheiser then said what only a most astute praying person is able to say when he said that prayer is most important and most powerful precisely when we feel it is most hopeless, and when we feel that we are most helpless.

This is what being genuine is all about.  If you think about it, it is not often that when we turn on the news at night, all that is reported is primarily about the goodness and charity that is shared and experienced in many parts of this world.  And aren’t we all supposed to be channels through which God’s love and goodness can flow to the whole world?

It could be that we are filling our hearts and minds only with one aspect of God’s power - the power of health, wealth, politics and economics.  For us, God is only good when we have hope.  While it isn’t wrong, it is a far too narrow way to look at God’s power of his Divine love.  So if the news is good, we have hope.  But if we don’t have hope, why then do we pray?

When we pray though the world looks negative, we are emphasising the strength and the promise of God.  There are worse things that can happen to us than when things fall all over the floor when the bags drop on the floor.  The bags could also drop on our feet and injure out toes too.  When those things happen to us, things coming out of our mouths could be much morse than mini-expletives.

Let’s be honest - there will be moments in our lives when things aren’t looking good for us or for the world.  It is then that prayer is not only necessary, but utterly important.  Sometimes we do feel helpless, but prayer at these times show a real honest that is inside of us.  Prayer in tough times is a reminder to always seek God’s presence and power in life.

I felt very drawn to this reflection from Fr Rolheiser because I noticed that it was primarily in moments of prayer and adoration that I was more fully in touch with God’s presence in my life.  It has been slightly over a year since my accident while exercising and I have not attained that state of being fully recovered and restored to good health, and I am constantly seeking evidence that things are back on an even keel for me.  But that moment and those ideal conditions have still not been given to me, and I find it often that I am raising my eyes toward heaven and ask God the perennial question “why me?”  With Fr Rolheiser’s reflection, this prayer now changes to a more sensible “what is it, Lord, that you want of me in this situation that you have allowed me to undergo in life?”

It is a very real prayer and it comes from the depths of my heart.  I am not, and should not be, waiting for things to become fine and dandy before my prayer becomes real, heartfelt and relevant.

Of course, I do know that there are many friends and parishioners who have been praying or me to get better and recover fully after my trial, and to be restored back to parish life and ministry in work.  Your prayers mean so much to me, and have done me a whole lot of good.  Please know that thanksgiving rises from my heart to God whenever I think of the many who are still praying avidly for me.  I will be praying for God to bless you in your lives.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Prayer - it is much more than our conversation with God.

Today I celebrate my 21st Anniversary of my Ordination to the Priesthood.  It was back on 20 June 2001 that Archbishop Gregory Yong celebrated the Mass where I got ordained into the priesthood, and present there were a huge number of friends and parishioners who I had encountered in my weekly encounters with them when I was posted to their parishes as part of my priestly training and exposure.  

One of the things which I often stress in my spiritual exhortations to parishioners is that prayer in the spiritual life is something that is utterly important.  I do not doubt that parishioners know of the importance of prayer, but what many of them fail to understand is that prayer is not just us human beings lifting our minds and hearts to God and telling God what it is that we need from him.  Sure, it is undoubted that that forms a distinctive part of prayer, but it is not the only part.  The other part is how we listen to God communicating to us, either during the moments that we pray, or time that is outside of what we would call formal prayer.  That second part of prayer, which is God’s communication to us, is also what forms prayer.  God can remind us, enlighten us, and strengthen our resolve to live a life that glorifies God.  

A person who is in special need for grace from God could be receiving spiritual aid from God throughout the day, and when it does happen, it may not occur to him or her that the aid that is being given to him or her by the doctor or caregiver is aid that is in fact coming from the grace of God.  Many of you who read my blog may know that in May of last year I encountered an accident when I was out doing my morning exercise walk when I was hit by a motorist as I was crossing a pedestrian crossing at a traffic junction.  The doctor who tended to me in the hospital was very caring in making sure that I recover well from the accident, and it was in January this year that I received the necessary cranioplasty surgery where part of my skull was replaced after two parts of the skull were removed post accident.  

It is now June of this year, and though the trauma of the accident and surgery due to the accident have passed the one year mark, my overall alertness and awareness is still not fully recovered.  My prayer each day isn’t just the Eucharist that I celebrate in the morning in my mother’s residence where I am spending the days in my extended medial leave from parish presence.  That forms a major part of my prayer.  What fills the rest of my day is when I raise my awareness of how God is responding to my plea to him for his divine help to get me to a better reformed and strengthened way of living.  True, sometimes I forget that God is helping me in my post surgery recovery, and I can imagine that this period of time is just myself going through the daily grind of physical recovery and strengthening by my own will.  When I catch myself thinking this way, I am filled with remorse as I have turned away from the need to raise my attention to thank heaven for having been cared for in a supernatural way.  

Prayer of course, is more than just something that a person does by himself.  I have come across many friends and former parishioners who have heard of my accident and surgery, and have reassured me that they had been praying for me and for my speedy recovery.  In this way, prayer is something that is also aided by the loving and caring friends and neighbours whom I have come to know.  Seen in this way, prayer is more than a solo-action.  It is a team effort where the community one knows and shares one’s life with forms a praying effort that is more than something that one does alone.  Each day, part of my prayer is to thank God for these well meaning and generous people that are part of my life.  

In the human way of thinking, attaining 21 years of being or doing anything isn’t a small achievement.  A human reaching 21 years of age is when one reaches adulthood.  I look back at my life as a priest of God for 21 years, and I am filled with gratitude and am truly touched that God has allowed me to serve him and his people for 21 years, despite that some of the years were filled with illness and physical weakness.  I choose to not let those ‘down’ times to tell me that the priesthood is not a time that is exempt from suffering or tensions.  In fact, I have come to learn that these are the very precious experiences of the Cross which all of us are given by God, no matter whether we are ordained or otherwise.  Carrying the cross with elan and grace is an understandable challenge for many who are only interested in doing things that are commendable by others in life.  Jesus’ walk with the patibulum or the crossbar on the Via Dolorosa was not something that Jesus enjoyed doing, but it was definitely something that he did with love - love for humanity and his brothers and sisters.  If the cross you may be carrying in life is a burden and difficult, bear this in mind and do what is unthinkable - thank God for the cross that you carry and you will end up not dragging the cross but carrying it with the grace of God.

To all my friends and parishioners who have been praying for me in the years of my priesthood, I want to say a very big and heartfelt thank you for your charity and generosity.  May God continue to bless you each day as you live your days leading up to the day when it is your time to face the judgment of Jesus before we enter into our sharing the the everlasting joy of heaven.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Carrying the crosses in life with great Christian dignity.

 I’ve come across quite a lot of different people since my accident in May of last year, and in so many of the encounters, I have been told that I have inspired them in life.  Sometimes, I do get the chance to ask them how I have managed to inspire them, and they explain in no uncertain terms that it is by the way that I have been positive in my approach towards life when things in my life don’t seem to be something that gives me the reason to smile and to speak about life in such a positive way.  I see many of them struggling to open up in explaining why they find me an inspiration, and deep inside of me, I can understand why this is such a challenge.  Generally, people do not openly tell others about why they are an inspiration to them.  But what they are telling me is that crosses in life are generally not something that would cause others to be positive in life. I can understand this.  

I have read quite a number of spiritual books, both before I was ordained a priest in 2001, and in my days since the ordination to the priesthood.  Some of these were given to me by parishioners and friends who themselves found the books to be a great help in their spiritual lives.  I think I have made references to one of the books written by the late Cardinal Basil Hume called The Mystery of the Cross.  It’s a simply written book, with numerous references to his own spiritual readings that he made in life.  One of the enlightening chapters in this book is one that is called The Role of the Cross, where the late Cardinal expounded on the reality of the cross in life, and how a Mother Superior responded to one of her community who was grumbling about the cross she had to carry.  Apparently, this Mother Superior told the nun: “Don’t drag your cross, carry it.”  I truly appreciate that the late Cardinal wrote that there is a lot of wisdom in that.

I suppose it is true that when we are dealt with what we deem to be crosses in life, we could end up dragging it wherever we go, and it will show in the way that we complain about them, or aren’t even able to thank God for the cross in our lives.  If we are honest about it, we may even openly tell others that their prayer life seems to be manifested with petitions to God that he take the cross away in life, when we could pray in a better way to ask that God give us the positivity to carry the cross with a certain elan that gives us the strength to imitate the way Jesus Christ himself carried the Cross up to the top of Mount Calvary.  The late Cardinal wrote that it is important to reflect on how we face up to the cross in our lives.  We train for it in Lent when we impose some self-denial or sacrifice on ourselves.  The phrase “giving up something for Lent” sums up the attitude of cross carrying, and it can easily end up sounding negative.  

However, this is done in order to help us to turn to God in prayer, to focus our minds on him and raise our hearts in desire for him.  One of the things that has helped me to carry my cross well in life is the belief that whatever happens to me in life is allowed by God in order that I can draw closer to him.  Ultimately, there is one thing that God wants: that we should be close to him, and that he should be close to us.  Cross carrying with a positivity helps me to attain that holy end, while dragging my cross doesn’t.

Perhaps this is why I now find myself hesitating to give an answer to my parishioners or friends who openly ask me in public how I am feeling in life.  Sometimes I pause and then respond that in life, when we are faced with a trauma and are trying to get to the point of full recovery, the journey in that path upwards is one that is not just long but arduous.  But I try to put on a smile (even through the fact that I am often wearing a breathing mask during the encounter) and the strange thing is that the person senses that I am in a positive state even though things are challenging for me.  

I have many aspirations in life, and one of them is that I want to be a source of inspiration to the people God puts in my life.  I find my prayer life to be now filled with prayers of thanks and gratitude to God for the crosses that I have been blessed to carry in life.  My intention is to not waste the opportunities I have been given to carry the crosses well, with a positive attitude and a smile of calm and tranquility on my face while doing it.  I realise that with this kind of positive attitude, the cross carrying in Lent not only loses its challenge, but is also something that helps the darkness of Lent to be something that is very meaningful.  

So I want to thank the many people and parishioners who have told me in no uncertain terms that they have been praying for me in my time of recuperation since the accident happened in May of last year.  You know who you are.  Your prayers have been my strength and support, and know that I am praying daily that God will bless you as you journey with me in your selfless and generous way.  God bless you richly in life.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Being patient is required when being a patient in life

A second blog reflection for May 2022

Many, if not most of us, can be patients in our lives.  We can get ill, mishaps may happen to us, parts of our bodies may get weakened due to infections and we may also get infected by afflictions just by being exposed to the general public without putting on the recommended personal protection devices like masks and keeping our distance from the people outside of our homes.  When we do get infected or ill in these ways, every human being has the hope that the infection will be fought by getting medical care and treatment, and that it will be soon that the body will recover from the infection and become stronger.  No one likes being weakened by illness or infections, and quite often, the recovery process is not as simple as just getting the right amount of drugs or treatment.  The truth is that it not only takes care and dedication, but that it does require the virtue of patience, which is something that may be lacking in many people.  

These days, when I happen to bump into people outside of the home, it doesn’t take long before these people ask me in no uncertain terms “So, Fr Luke, how are you getting on now that it has been x number of months since your unfortunate accident whilst exercising?”   The reality is that the recuperation path toward wholeness and wellness is something that I find rather daunting, unnerving and disconcerting.  But it is also true that I struggle when trying to put it across to the person who asks me that question about my health.  I find myself trying in many ways to bring it across to the person the truth that coming to the point in life where we can safely say that we are out of the woods and are on the road to full recovery is a thing that I have achieved.  The fact is that I am still not 100% recovered and can say for a fact that the worst is now behind me.  The time since the accident that happened to me is now almost a year, but I am still not fully in the clear, with quite a few parts of my body that are giving my doctors the inability to tell me that I am now in a recovered state.  But I am grateful for the fact that most of the people I speak to in these situations end up being grateful to me for being clear about my struggle with my physical weakness and constant feeling of tiredness in life.  Some of them have even told me that I am a good model for them when they themselves undergo any kind of similar suffering in life.  

In my life as a priest, I am often asked for advice about how to deal with challenges that humans face in life.  Telling people truth in ways that moves hearts and changes life in others isn’t a matter of articulating in words of phrases that has truth in them.  It is another thing to impress a person, move a heart and mind, and ends up helping the listener to understand himself more deeply, in a way that it brings true admiration.  But what is needed rather is to live life in such a way that the listener changes his or her habits, stops an addiction in life, stops fearing and decides that to still live in an angered way is a true way of becoming a saint.

I have come to see that part of the way our lives need to convey this truth is by being seen with a certain joy that comes from our countenance when we meet people.  When they see that we have a certain joy that can be read when they see our faces light up when speaking about our lives is a dynamic part of us that wants to be a source of light in the lives of so many others.  

When we are ill or in a state of recovery, we are easily called being patients.  A synonym sounding like that word is when a person isn’t in a rush to get out of that state of illness, and it requires of the human person to be patient, even when being a patient.  Some lessons take a long time to impart its truth to us in life, and to me, this long process toward full recovery has brought the difference out so clearly to me - between being patient in life, and how to be a patient patient.  I have learnt that it is indeed a long a slow process for one to come out of being a patient of an illness, to saying that my waiting time is over.  I pray that I will take home with me important points in my struggle with patience so that I can truly be useful to my parishioners who come to me seeking guidance and advice when faced with challenges that take time.

Once again, I want to express my sincere thanks to many of my friends and well-wishers who have prayed with and for me since my accident last May, and are still praying for me on a very regular basis.  I will be praying for all of you and sending you the blessings and graces that only God can give.  

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The recovery path after an accident.

A long delayed reflection from me.

Admittedly, it has been quite a while since my last blog entry.  I encountered an accident while out doing my rather long-distance walks in May last year, and a car hit me causing a head injury to my skull.  I was sent to the hospital and the doctors decided that after a medical examination of my injury, that two parts of my skull had to be removed for the injury to heal properly.  This left two parts of my skull that needed to be replaced, and it was decided that the two plates would be made in Switzerland, and through a cranioplasty operation, the parts of my head which had parts removed would be replaced by the metal plates.  That surgery had to be delayed till early January this year, and I am now about four months post cranioplasty surgery.  The recovery from the surgery has had its up and down moments, but I am still not quite out of the woods and am still in my medical leave.  

While I am grateful that the surgery went well without a hitch, I have experienced a few physical difficulties in living as normally as I would like.  Parts of the injury had damaged my hearing on my left ear, and I am constantly feeling a diminished hearing on that side of my head.  I had an ENT doctor look at my hearing and he recommended that I purchase and use a hearing aid on that ear.  I followed the instructions, and am now in active use of my hearing aid, that allows the volume of sound to be heightened, giving me a better sense of confidence on that side of my ears.  I found the placement of the hearing aid to be rather troublesome, but I also realise that being used to such aids takes time.  I am slowly getting used to it, and often, I take along with me the box which the hearing aid came with, to allow me to remove and house the aid in a safe place when I feel that the hearing aid can be done without.  I haven’t really used the housing box all that often, but carrying it around gives me a sense of confidence.

I keep telling myself that I need to get used to using the hearing aid when seeing people, as this will come in handy when I minister to the faithful as a confessor priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I certainly wouldn’t want to hear the wrong things when guiding the people in their spiritual lives, and it would be a tragedy if I think they are saying things that they really are not saying.  My getting used to wearing and working with the hearing aid attached to my ear is something that I need to do now, so that when my priestly duties returns, I will feel more confident and able to aid them as their priest.

I have also realised that having diminished hearing does impact negatively how loudly I speak to a group of people.  Some kind people have pointed out that without the hearing aid, I tend to talk in a very loud way, and part of the reason is because it allows me to hear myself speaking.  Wearing and using the hearing aid helps me to overcome this fear of not being heard, and this is one good reason for me to get used to wearing the aid in my everyday life now.

While I am recovering at my mother’s home while on Medical Leave, I celebrate daily Mass at home in the study, and it gives mum the ability to be at Mass every day.  Mum isn’t physically able to walk alone to the parish for daily Mass, so this is a good arrangement for her.  I’ve noticed that without the hearing aid in place in the left ear, I sometimes tend to reduce my volume at Mass to almost being a mumble.  If I get used to this, I may end up mumbling as a Celebrant at the Mass in Church when I get back to normal duties in the Parish.  I am thankful that I have an inner zeal to celebrate a daily Mass at home, and there have hardly been days when I decided to stay in my bed and not get up early at 6am to get ready for the Eucharist which normally starts at about 6:45am.  I have the Holy Spirit to thank for this zeal for the Mass.

I am also very thankful for the service of the Universalis app on the iPad because it allows me access to the daily Morning Office prayers, and those of the Terce, Sext and Evening Prayer as well.  I would be very lost without Universalis, and it has kept me on track to being regular in my daily Divine Office prayers.  

One thing that I keep forgetting to do is to be thankful for the work that the Hearing Aid has been helping me to do.  Instead, what I feel I have done is to feel sorry for myself that I am now living life with a diminished level of hearing in one of my ears.  It’s a sign of being ungrateful, which is something that can be quite sad.  If using the aid makes me aware of the need to rely on the technology to elevate my hearing, it will also help me to become a more useful and better priest to my parishioners.  I believe that the Holy Spirit has opened me up to this truth which I have been keeping away from.  

Many of my blog readers have reached out to me and asked why I hadn’t written my reflections for such a long time, but part of the reason was because I was nursing a regret deep inside of me for having been in that accident in May of last year.  Wrongly, I felt that staying away from the blog would help me to come to a state of life where I no longer am living in a negative state of mind.  I hope this blog entry will change things for me.

I have also been told repeatedly by friends and parishioners that they have been praying for my recovery incessantly.  For this I am deeply grateful, and I too, have been praying for them very regularly, as well as offering up Masses for them.  

My spiritual readings have taught me many things, and one of the things that I recall is that the Word of God is alive and active.  My being sustained all these months by the love and truth of God bears witness to how alive the Word of God is.  The strange thing is that even though one of my ears has diminished hearing, both my eyes are opened to the love, truth and value that God’s Word has in and through Scripture.  

One of the books that have opened my eyes is the late Cardinal Basil Hume’s book The Mystery of the Cross.  It has helped me tide through the dark moments in my medical leave, and I believe it will help me in my catechesis of adults and teenagers in the parish.  If you, my reader, have not come across the late Cardinal Hume’s book, I would advice you to get a copy of it for yourself.  Good spiritual guides in life are hard to come by and many don’t look for them in their lives.  A good spiritual book is just as effective, especially one which is written in a short and succinct style.  

May God keep your eyes and ears opened to the truth of his love and mercy.  And let us keep praying for one another.  God bless!

Fr Luke


Sunday, January 2, 2022

When something anticipated for materialises - my long-awaited for surgery takes place on Tuesday.

 In our lives, there will come a time when something we have long waited for happens.  For something exciting like a vacation to a faraway place, the waiting can be something comparable to anguish.  But there are other things that aren’t comparable to a vacation, and their arrival in our lives can be likened to a relief and even to our saying “finally” to ourselves.     Those of you who have been following the past few blog posts would know that I have been waiting anxiously for the cranioplasty for my skull to take place, and for various reasons, the date for the surgery had been postponed several times.  Part of the reason had been the materialising of the COVID illness, both in Singapore and in our neighbouring countries.  But the waiting is finally coming to a close as the date for the surgery has been confirmed for 4 January 2022, which is next week.  

Some of you are wondering how this makes me feel.  I am very relieved that it’s finally happening after all the waiting.  Yes, it is a serious surgery, but I am not nervous about it at all.  I have full confidence in the skills and talents of my surgeons, and on Tuesday, I will be checking into the hospital with great relief.  I have had surgery before, and coming out of the anaesthesia isn’t always the same.  I do pray for a smooth operation, and I know that many of my parishioners and friends have been praying for me all this while.  I am so grateful for their care and concern, and I am hoping that their prayers for me will continue on Tuesday when the surgeons start their work on my skull.  

The result of the cranioplasty will see an improvement of the look of my head, and I am hoping that the side effects of the surgery will not see me suffering from headaches and similar pains.  But if they do come, I shall take it as part of the whole surgical procedure.  

I have been doing some reading up on a procedure like cranioplasty, and I have learnt that after undergoing such a procedure, a patient would often require to stay in the hospital for between five to seven days. I have arranged for Holy Communion to be brought to me by some caring friends and parishioners during the hospital stay.  I have also learnt that fatigue is a common side effect, but this should subside within the first few weeks.  The common risks associated with a cranioplasty include infection, blood clot formation, seizures and even a stroke.  I do pray that my experienced surgeons will lessen the chance of my developing complications after undergoing the cranioplasty.

I am rather unsure about how I will physically recover after the surgery though.  I know that the path ahead can be rather touch and go, but I also do know that when I have a positive attitude of confidence and determination, the recovery will not be that much of a challenge.  I know for a fact that my parishioners are waiting to see me back in the active role of being their priest in Church, and I am hoping that I will be able to be back in action by the time January comes to a close.  

If you have spent time reading this blog entry has been active in praying for my recovery from the accident, I want to say a big thank you for your charity, kindness and love.  I would like to ask humbly for you to continue praying for my recovery post surgery and look forward to seeing you when my parish life returns.  This waiting process has been formative for me, and it has also helped me spiritually.  

Till I am able to function as a priest in the parish, I bid you God’s love and blessings.