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!

A Lesson on Generosity

Today as I was walking to meet a friend for brunch, I caught myself looking at the elderly men and women selling tissue packets near the train station and I was so overwhelmed with emotion thinking about the relative poverty that my fellow Singaporeans were facing. It was too much for me (someone who actually had money to give away) to deal with… So, I reacted in the only way I knew how: I didn’t give any money, I smiled and walked on, throwing all emotions to the wind.

Two hours later, I found myself with a lost wallet. I immediately went into a “OMG! I could have given the cash to all those who needed it” mood.

So I prayed (with St. Anthony of Padua’s intercession) and said, if I found it, I’ll give the money in my wallet to whoever needed it.

I did find it. A kind staff member at Starbucks Singapore found it and kept it in a safe for me.

And here’s the despicable bit: Seconds after I regained possession of my wallet, I caught myself debating whether or not I should really give the money away.

God, help my poor and stingy soul!
Here you are — the Creator of all things, the Giver of all life, existence Itself — dying for an insignificant person like me every single day especially when I sin against You; and here I am being stingy with the gifts you have given me, the gifts which I have in no way deserved.

I did give the money away. I didn’t need it today. Maybe the person I gave it to needed it more than me.

Back to the emotions I felt in the morning. Walking away didn’t solve anything. God gave me so much and yet I couldn’t share my gifts with others because of the hardness of my heart. I failed to be a good neighbor and I failed to see the dignity of the human person in others.
All I had to do was be the change I wanted to see in the world.

What a humbling experience, and what a lesson on charity.

Hiddenness

I’m going to come clean: I struggle with pride.

The struggle is a constant one and I always catch myself saying to myself “when I become famous…”, “when the world finally sees what I can offer…”

I always clamour after fame and recognition. I get upset when I don’t receive praise. It’s embarrassing, but that’s my biggest struggle.

I struggle so much with being ordinary because I feel that I can do more than whatever I am doing now. But that’s just stupid thinking – it’s in doing the ordinary well that I become extraordinary.

In my daily life, I feel like I’m HIDDEN from the world, from praise and recognition. But hiddenness is such an important aspect of the spiritual life because it keeps us focused on God.

Henri Nouwen society’s reflection on 14 Aug came in the mail and it spoke to me:

“In hiddenness we do not receive human acclamation, admiration, support, or encouragement. In hiddenness we have to go to God with our sorrows and joys and trust that God will give us what we most need.

In our society we are inclined to avoid hiddenness. We want to be seen and acknowledged. We want to be useful to others and influence the course of events. But as we become visible and popular, we quickly grow dependent on people and their responses and easily lose touch with God, the true source of our being. Hiddenness is the place of purification. In hiddenness we find our true selves.”

Lord, help me to realize that the praise of man will never fulfill me. Give me the strength to cling on to You in our little hidden space.

 

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.
Image: PD-US

Studying Theology

I’ve had some people come up to me and ask:
“What do you study in theology?
“Do you just study the Bible?”

Believe me, I had all these questions too before I embarked on any sort of theological study.

So allow me to clear the air. It’s not just about studying the Bible. It’s more than that. For sure, the Bible is a key source — for it is God’s Word revealed to us, it is His way of communicating to us mere mortals, to help us continually grow in love with God.

The (i) Holy Bible, in addition to (ii) Sacred Tradition, (iii) our reason, and (iv) our human experience (4 loci/sources of mediation between theologian and God) all function to help us in relating to God.

The job of a theologian is this: To articulate the true meaning of God as revealed to us through different eras, social milieu, contexts.

The revelation of God is not to be seen as a mere historical revelation, but one that is continuing today and very much alive in the presence of the Church.

For those of you desiring to embark on any sort of theological study, do not be afraid! If God brings you to it (He has, after all, planted some seed of desire in you!), He will bring you through it.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.
Image: PD-US

Humility and Gratitude

An ex-student has been so gracious as to keep me in the loop about her successes. She’s a particularly bright and hardworking girl. And I never thought what small messages like that could do for me — I felt so proud of her.

What more would our Heavenly Father in heaven feel if we thanked Him and kept Him in the loop about our successes in life?

I thought, what exactly about this ex-student won my heart? She was humble; never conceited. Even when she was so smart, she listened to whatever I had to teach — she knew she could always learn something.

As the saying goes, students often teach the teachers more so than the other way round!

Prayers today for everyone — that we may always be humble in all we say and do.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.
Image: PD-US

Choices

People who know me know I hate making choices. I use my job as a convenient excuse. You see, I teach. And every second of every day in school I am making decisions in and outside of the classroom. I’m kind of done when it comes to deciding about stuff in my day to day living.

(FYI, it really is that bad, I once cried when a friend asked me to decide where I had wanted to meet for dinner.)

I saw this quote and it resonated with me:

“Choice was dangerous: you had to forgo all other possibilities when you chose.”

So maybe it’s not my job; maybe it’s me. I AM THE ONE WHO IS AFRAID.

I met a friend for dinner yesterday and it slowly became apparent that she too probably felt the same way.
But as a third party, I could see that either choice would do her good, and either choice would bring glory to God.

Then, it hit me…

The fact we have choice (and actually have to make choices) is God’s love for us. The fact that we don’t get “dictated” by God means He made us human and not robots.

Humanity — which entails free will, by virtue of the powers of our rational soul — is God’s greatest gift to us.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.
Image: PD-US

No Fear in Love

Today, my community did an exegesis of John 20-21.

What struck me the most is found in John 20:21 and 21:3.

When Jesus appeared to His disciples (who were hiding in fear, locked up in the upper room), He said “Peace be with you”.
These words were uttered to the very disciples who betrayed Him through denial; who fled the cross. Jesus didn’t reprimand them, neither did He bring up anything about the past. He simply said: “Peace be with you.”

This brings me so much hope. It is a prefigurement of Heaven. When we see Jesus face to face, I know that He will say “Peace be with you”.

Indeed, peace drives out fear. And in the past month of struggling, I’ve come to realize that peace cannot be attained until we surrender everything to Jesus — to simply say to Jesus “This is all I have, it’s not much. But take them. All I have is Yours.”

It is in the surrender to God and the vulnerability of our very selves that His love can penetrate our souls. Jesus can do nothing if our hearts are closed to His will. Often, I wonder: how do I know what is God’s will for my life? I’ve come to understand through experience that it’s probably the thing that brings most peace in your heart. You’ll know it when you feel it.

Back to the story of Jesus appearing to His disciples. After that encounter with Christ, they allowed the love and mercy of God to penetrate their hearts, and the very next day they were no longer fearful and stuck in that room; they went about their day and went fishing (Jn 21:3).

Indeed, God is love and He is the bringer of peace. Love indeed drives out all fear, only if we allow our hearts to be open and vulnerable and receive the peace that God has promised to us.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Image: PD-US

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.