All posts by Nathalie Fernandez

Nathalie Rachel Fernandez loves to engage in conversation (especially with strangers!), go on cheap backpacking trips around South-East Asia and make friends in the most random of places. She teaches General Paper at a junior college and she’s passionate about getting young people to adopt an attitude of gratitude and think about life and why we’re all put here on earth. A Roman Catholic revert, she left the faith in folly and came back home to a loving Father. She is pursuing a Certificate of Theology at the Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore, and falling in love with our Lord more and more each day!

Hidden faith will turn into ruins

Jeremiah 13:1-11

In this reading, God instructed Jeremiah to hide the loincloth in a hole in the rock, and some time later Jeremiah was instructed to retrieve it, only to find it “worthless and of no use”.

The loincloth is the most intimate part of a man’s clothing. And this is a symbol of the people of Israel too — the people of Israel were God’s divinely-elected people, they were close to God’s heart and were called to be intimate with Him.

From this reading, two lessons can be gleaned:
1. When Jeremiah found the loincloth spoilt and good for nothing, it’s akin to when we keep our faith hidden from others — it will be good for nothing too!
2. The story also reminds us if we don’t keep ourselves close to the Lord but hidden away in a hole, we will lose our mission and what we were made to do.

As humans, we are called to give life to others and be gift to others. It is in the chaste giving of ourselves for others that we become fulfilled. If we hide away, we become inward looking, self-centered at end of the day. And we detract from the very missions that the Lord has called us each to embark on.

Let us not forget too that our calling to be instruments of God’s peace and love is not only for ourselves, neither is it merely for those around us, but to the whole world!

We are called to be ambassadors for Christ, and we need to bring those who don’t know Christ to come to know Him through our ordinary lives. That was what Israel was instructed to do — to be a people who will be light to the world!

May we never hide our faith and become good-for-nothings, but instead may we be fearless in the the sharing of our faith so that when others see us, they see Christ.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Image: The Pursuit of  God — Know Your Bible

Christ models for us how to give everything

The narrative this week serves as a wonderful opening because God is asking us a really important question: “Will you give everything up to Me?”

In the following weeks, the Gospels will build up to the climax of Jesus offering Himself in the form of bread of Life for the world (the end of John 6).

What a wonderful end to the chapter and what a beautiful lesson on love: because Jesus models for us the way we should be responding to the people around us and to our Father in Heaven. He knows that we don’t know how to respond to the question set out in the beginning of this chapter and He knows that we don’t know how to love.

So He shows us (by way of His life and sacrifice in the Eucharist) that we must give everything we have — every fiber of our Being. In this way, John bookends the chapter beautifully with an initial question and an answer that God Himself provides.

The real call to Christian discipleship is this. Can we offer everything to God just like how God has given up His life for us?

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Image: PD-US

The Testing of Faith

In these few weeks’ Sunday Gospel readings, we embark on reading the Bread of Life discourse found in John 6.

Last week, we saw Jesus asking Phillip: “Where can we buy some bread to eat?”
Obviously Jesus knew that the Apostles didn’t have enough money, neither did they possess the resources to go and get bread. Jesus knows it all.

Why then did Jesus “test” Phillip? What was He testing?
He was testing Phillip’s faith. He wanted to know if Phillip would believe that Jesus could do the impossible, He wanted to test if Phillip would respond with “Lord, this is all I have — 200 denarii. Take it. All I have is Yours. I know You can work wonders.”

Likewise, Jesus is asking us to do the same. In our lives, Jesus asks us to do something that we obviously don’t have the resources to do. Sometimes He asks us questions that we don’t know the answer to. And most times, we respond in a similar Phillip-fashion and tell God, “I only have this much, how can I do what You’re calling me to do?”

But the real test is this: can we respond to the Lord and tell Him “Lord, I only have so little. But the little I have is Yours. Take it, use it, and make it profitable for Your Kingdom here on earth.”

Are there times in our lives where we are so stricken with fear that we shut ourselves off completely to God? Are there times in our lives where we are like the crowd — we who only turn to God for the miracles and wonders that He can do? We often go to God for what He can give us, but we rarely go to God to offer what we have.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Image: Giovanni Lanfranco, Miracle of the Bread and Fish

The Fig Tree: Our call to bear light to the world.

The gospel reading about Jesus cursing the fig tree befuddles me at best, leaves me disoriented at worst.

WHY DID JESUS CURSE THE FIG TREE?!?
“Poor tree”, we chime in.

But let’s not look at this too literally. Mark was careful to mention that the tree was alive (healthy) but not bearing fruit. But really… who can blame it? It wasn’t the season for figs!

However, look carefully: the before-and-after of the fig tree serves as bookends to the cleansing of the Temple in Mark’s gospel. This juxtaposition is a clue.

Could it be that the fig tree is a representation of Israel — a chosen people called to be a light to the world?
In the eyes of God, Israel MUST produce fruit, in season and out of season — only because of the extraordinary grace that was given to them!

Cleansing of the Temple, El Greco (1591)
Cleansing of the Temple, El Greco (1591)

Shortly after Jesus cursed this fruitless fig tree, He went in to clean out the Temple. A real BOSS Jesus was, for it was not the job of a nobody to chase people out of the Temple; that was the High Priest’s job!

Similarly, we called to be healthy trees and produce fruit regardless of our circumstance. But are we (Temples of the H.S.) plagued with sin just like how the Temple was a messy marketplace that made no room for worshiping God?
Do we know what is holding us back from producing fruit all year round?
Do we blame our circumstances (the season of life) that we are in and say: “It’s a really rough time in my life, how can I possibly bear fruit?”

In many ways, we’ve been given the grace to bear fruit all year round. We have access to the sacraments and the sacramental grace that the Eucharist provides us every day!

When was the last time you allowed Jesus — the real boss! — into your holy temple (your soul and body!) to clean you out?
When was the last time you went for Confession?
Or Communion?

Let us remember that God wants to be with us, and that when we cooperate with His graces, we too can bear fruit and be a light for others even in our sufferings, because God is the source of all things good.

He will use us even when we’re “out-of-season”; all we’ve to do is to let Jesus IN to clean us OUT so that we can bear fruit!

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.
Images: PD-US

On Useless Pursuits: A Reflection on Prayer

People usually ask me “Oh, what did you major in at university?”
“Linguistics”, I reply shyly most times; for I know it’s a pretty useless degree. It isn’t very pragmatic for earning a living, very unlike the engineering and and the practical sciences.

But on hindsight, it’s precisely that it’s useless that makes it the “highest” pursuit in a way.

Many of us are slaves to doing something because there is something we want to achieve. I work because I need money. I need money because I need to feed my family. I need to feed my family because I want them to be happy and healthy… because I love them.

Put this way: the ‘highest’ cause in the above chain is love. I love them because I love them.

Precisely the fact this love free from the expectation that it will serve some higher cause that makes it the highest cause.
It is these ‘useless’ pursuits that are the higher cause.

The Sisters of Cottolengo at prayer. Photo by Rachel Zamarron

It’s so much alike our prayer life. As Henri Nouwen once said that prayer is a “USELESS” pursuit. Wait, what? Exactly that. In his book, The Only Necessary Thing, Nouwen beautifully expresses that:

“Prayer is not being busy with God instead of being busy with other things. Prayer is primarily a useless hour… Prayer is primarily to do nothing in the presence of God. It is to be NOT USEFUL and so to remind myself that if anything important in life happens, it is God who does it. So when I go into the day, I go with the conviction that God is the one who brings fruits to my work, and I do not have to act as though I am in control of things.”

And very much so if we think about it, prayer is the HIGHEST pursuit in our lives precisely because it doesn’t serve anything, it is not subordinate to an end; it is an end in itself.

We pray not to request for some healing, neither do we pray because we have to finish those novenas or simply out of guilt… Nothing about prayer is DOING, it really is just about BEING. We pray because we’re created out of love to participate in God’s Being… We pray because that’s what we were created to do.

We are human BE-ings after all, not human doings.

Such is the wonderful fact that the liturgy demonstrates: it unites art and reality in a supernatural childhood before God… [Worship] has one thing in common with the play of the child and the life of art — it has no purpose, but is full of profound meaning. It is not work, but play. To be at play, or to fashion a work of art in God’s sight — not to create, but to exist — such is the essence of the liturgy. From this is derived its sublime mingling of profound earnestness and divine joyfulness.
Fr. Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

The Eucharist

The Eucharist is the summit of Christian life and worship.

When I was 11, I heard a priest telling me this:

“You are what you eat, and the more you partake of the Blessed Sacrament, the more you grow in God’s goodness.”

Of course I never understood it back then, but I used to get all excited because there would be fun, games and food every time the Feast of Corpus Christi drew near — my parish had her feast day on Corpus Christi because it’s called the Church of the Blessed Sacrament. The excitement I had as a kid growing up towards this feast day was merely for superficial reasons.

But if I come to think about it, for some strange reason I was always drawn to the Mass as a kid and would always sit down in front of the Blessed Sacrament in adoration whenever I had time. I don’t even remember why, but I just did. For a period of time, I did leave the Church (I wasn’t always faithful) but even when I left the Church, it was the Eucharist that drew me back.

I don’t think these are mere coincidences, and everyone’s got something that REALLY connects them with the faith. For some it’s a special devotion to Mother Mary, for some it’s a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For me it has to be the Eucharist.

I am simply grateful.

A priest once said in his homily, and I will never forget this for the rest of my life:

“The greatest love story ever told lies in a white piece of consecrated bread.”*

God is love. And by taking on humanity, dying for us and asking us to participate in His Being by His presence in the Eucharist, it is God saying: “Be with Me; commune with Me. I would rather die than spend an eternity without you.”

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

* paraphrased from Abp. Fulton Sheen.

How Do You Know There’s a God?

Often I get asked a few questions:
How do you know there’s a God?
How do you know that Christianity is the right religion?

Faith, of course. But never without reason.

As children, when we see something, we intuitively always inquire about its origins and inner workings.

Where did this table come from? Who made it?Earth
Where did the book come from? How is it made?
How come the telly can switch on with a flick of the button?

It seems reasonable that a child asks such questions. It is after all in our nature to be drawn towards the truth.
Imagine a parent now tells the child that the answer to the above questions is: “Chance”.
Stupid parent at best, lazy parent at worst.

Somehow… when it comes to the biggest questions of the world: “How did the world come to be?”… We seem to be content with the answer “it just happened by CHANCE.”

ABSURDITY? Perhaps.

Quoting Pope St. John Paul II (General Audience of Wed, 10 July 1985) because he has expressed it so concisely:

“To speak of chance for a universe which presents such a complex organization in its elements, and such a marvelous finality in its life would be equivalent to giving up the search for an explanation of the world as it appears to us. In fact, this would be equivalent to admitting effects without a cause. It would be an abdication of human intelligence which would thus refuse to think, to seek a solution for its problems.”

Prayers today for people who find it hard to even conceive of a day where they might believe that there is a creator of this world.

Fides Quaerens Intellectum, faith seeking understanding.

May God grant you the grace to believe so that you may understand.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Belonging to Christ — Salt of the Earth

Mark 9:41-50

In this Gospel passage there is seemingly a huge disjuncture between the 1st and 2nd half of the Gospel, but dig deeper and you will find a gem.

In the first half of the Gospel, we see that Jesus says:

“If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.”

The keywords here are “who belong to Christ”.

What does it mean to BELONG TO CHRIST? It means that our whole life is about Jesus: every thought word and deed draws others to Jesus and allows Jesus to shine!

So what does all this have to do with cutting off your hands and being salt of the earth, as seen in the second half of the Gospel?

The answer lies in these two ideas:
1. Turning away from sin
2. Rooting our identity in Christ

Everything that stops us from belonging to Christ must be removed. If we are the obstacle, then we are better off dead (being thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around you pretty much equates to death). If we are living a life of sin that causes scandal, or living a wayward life that draws us and others away from God, we need to STOP.

Jesus appears harsh by telling us to cut off the body part that causes us to sin. Let’s look deeper.

Are we willing to cut off whatever draws us away from Christ?
We ARE the salt of the earth. If salt loses its saltiness, it’s worthless. If we lose our identity in Christ, it renders us useless.

NEWSFLASH: We didn’t need to exist! We were created for a reason and purpose — we are created by God for God, in His image and likeness.

Fulfilling the will of God will help us to live a life of peace. It will never be a peace that the world can give. Nay, they will persecute and condemn, claiming us to be holy.

God’s peace is offered to us daily. We can only do that by being the salt of the earth, by belonging to God, and by doing God’s will.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

At the Foot of the Cross

As I looked upon the cross today, I asked myself: would I have stood at the foot of the cross?

St. John Resting on Jesus, Sacro Speco Monastery at Subiaco, Fresco

A friend once asked me, if I could be anyone at the passion scene, who would I be?

In a heartbeat, I said I want to be like St. John.

He was at the cross, bound by a deep love for Christ. Even when the the world deserted him, even when all his disciples and supposed friends left him, he was there. He didn’t care that the world would think he was crazy for standing up for Christ.

He knew (and possessed a very deep understanding as to) who Christ was, and if we read the entire gospel of John, it is self-evident that John knew the divinity of Christ from the beginning.

I want to be like John, he saw the Truth of the Word, the Logos made flesh from the beginning.

He saw the Truth in everything Christ did. He saw everything (always) in relation to Christ, and therein lies true Wisdom: To love Christ and to order everything in your life in relation to Christ, our ultimate end.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Loving Poorly

Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

I love poorly. Every single moment. Especially when I fail to think about God in going about my daily life.

Do I initiate conversation with my parents, with whom I fell out 15 years ago? What if they start harassing me again with the past? I’ve taken so long to heal from the hurts, and what if they hurt me again?

Do I smile at people around me? What if they start to think that it’s an “open invitation” and then they start being creepy and stalk me?

Do I give that poor man some money for a meal? Do I buy him a meal? What if he demands more and more? 

I really like what Henri Nouwen has to say about forgiveness. I have failed my family, the lonely and neglected, and the poor and hungry around me. I need to love better.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.
Image: PD-US

What is it you want to change?

In our world today, we believe what we’re told. We’re not skinny enough, not fair enough, not tall or muscular enough.

I’ve fallen into the trap before. I skipped many meals in my teenage years in a bid to look better.
I did get skinnier, but all I got were lustful looks from the opposite gender.

I saw this quote from St. Catherine of Siena and it was a good reminder that we should strive to love ourselves the way God would love us:

What is it you want to change?
Your hair, your face, your body? Why?
For God is in love with all those things
and He might weep when they are gone.

I do not deny that we are our bodies, for that would deny the gift that God to us.

I also am not saying that we swing to the other extreme and say that we are ONLY our bodies — for that would deny the unique soul that God has given us.

Humans are a hylomorphic (body AND soul) composition and we need to acknowledge both.

When eternity is our reference point, everything that happens here is actually very little.

May we keep that in mind and remember that the Lord loves us exactly for who we are (provided we try our best to be the best versions of ourselves!) (but even when we fail to take care of ourselves, He still loves us.)

Prayers for all those struggling with body image issues, I love you.
God loves you.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Image: PD-US

The Treasure of Sin?

Some of us (me definitely included) fall into despair sometimes when we believe that we are too damned.

"The confession" by Pietro Longhi, ca. 1750
The Confession, Pietro Longhi, ca. 1750

We detest sin — as we all should! — but we detest sin not because we desire the good, but we detest it out of frustration, out of a belief that God might not forgive us again.

Peter Kreeft in his book Three Philosophies of Life talks about the Treasure of Sin and he has basically given me hope again!

Wait. What?! Sin? A treasure? Yes, read on.

“But we are all philosophers, unless we are animals. Men live not just in the present but also in the future. We live by hope. Our hearts are a beat ahead of our feet. Half of us is already in the future; we meet ourselves coming at us from up ahead. Our lives are like an arc stretching out to us from the future into the present. Our hopes and ideals move our present lives. Animals’ lives are like an arc coming to them out of their past; they are determined by their past. They are pushed; we are pulled. They are forced; we are free. They are only instinct, heredity, and environment; we are more; we are persons.

The determinists, from Marx and Freud to Skinner, who deny this fact, insult us infinitely more than any preacher who shouts sin and damnation at us. It is a great compliment to call a man a sinner. Only a free man can be a sinner. The determinists mean to steal from us the great treasure of sin. They deny us our freedom, and therefore our hope, our ability to live not just from our determined past but also from our undetermined future.”

— Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life, p. 29

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.