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.