Category Archives: Life

Friends of the Good Shepherd

Guest post by Estella Young.

I was reflecting on the Gospel of the Found Sheep with my children, when my son asked, “What if the Shepherd lost 99 sheep and only had one left?”

I thought for a bit, and said, “Well, if it’s a big task, maybe he would ask his friends and neighbors to help. Remember how at the end of the story, he asks them to rejoice with him? Since his friends know how much he loves his sheep, they would come help him search for them.”

“Who are Jesus’ friends today?” I asked.

“We are,” my son replied.

So I said to my kids, “We live in a time when many sheep are lost. Since we are friends of Jesus, we should also be helping him look for the lost sheep to bring back to the flock. Let’s take a moment to think about how we can do this.”

Image: PD-US

Duc in Altum

I am getting tired of this never-ending job search. I am also getting tired of constantly feeling judged that I do not have a better job. Many people often think it should be easy for me to get a better job or even a career. I try not to let those judgements get to me but it is difficult when I am so eager to get one myself. My mother was kind enough to point out that people do not understand the entire situation and truly it is none of their business. The fact of the matter is I moved to New York almost a year ago not for a job or a career. I moved simply because God told me to with the promise that He would take care of me and He has kept His promise. More important than a career, He has revealed Himself to me and I have grown closer to Him then I ever thought possible. The Gospel today was all about Peter letting Jesus into his boat.

“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”

Simon said in reply,

“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.” (Luke 5 1-11)

Peter had such faith in Jesus that he listened and obeyed whatever Jesus asked of him, and as a result he not only got a bounty of fish but he became a “fisher of men” and essentially the first Pope. After reading the Gospel, I am left with the question: will I cooperate with Jesus when He gets into my boat? Once Jesus gets into your boat, He will lead you into the depths. “Duc in altum,” as Saint John Paul II said. It will be dangerous but it will be exciting.

If I am honest with myself, my job has been a true “thorn in my side” but Jesus wants me there because it is a crucial part of my journey. It has nothing to do with the actual job; it has everything to do with the people I interact with and the influence we have on one another. Yesterday a regular customer came up to me and said to me, “I love seeing you here, your aura is always glowing. Did you know that?” I was taken off-guard by this comment, especially since I felt like my aura was close to extinguishing at that moment. She opened up to me about how she had been struggling with some health issues and over the past week she had been starting to decrease her medications. She was clearly in a better state of being, she had never talked to me this much before. She said it was a true miracle, she had been plagued by these side effects of all these medications for years and within only a week she is already seeing a difference. She admitted to me that she does not tell many people about her medical history but she felt comfortable with me and knew I would understand her situation. I felt truly honored and humbled that she opened up to me. Just through that one conversation it is clear why the Lord placed me there at that time. The impact that I had on that woman is more valuable than any career or job that I have been wishing that I could have during this time in New York.

While these interactions are wonderful and inspiring, I still leave my job longing for more. I do desire to be more financially independent and have more freedom. My life is dependent on that paycheck and I don’t like living like that. God always provides but sometimes I wish He would let me provide a little for myself. Of course, Jesus has a beautiful sense of humor and has a way of readjusting my perspective. One day while I was on my break at work, I was sitting in the break room and it was around the time all the mid-shift workers were going home. One coworker came down ranting about wanting to be rich. “When you are rich you can do whatever you want.” It is common knowledge that he has a difficult life, he is on the spectrum and the only reason he still has his job at the store is out of pity. I have had an up and down relationship with this coworker but recently I mostly just feel great sadness for him because there is so much he doesn’t understand. He truly believes that all the “great” people were rich. He ended his rant with, “No one who is is poor ever made anything of themselves.” There were some other coworkers also listening to him and all made the the general statement that this statement wasn’t true. I took it a step further and told him, “Jesus was poor and He changed the world.” There was an actual pause after that. I think I took everyone off-guard and I received a lot of quizzical looks. Finally, as if they were brought out of a trance they all agreed, “You’re right, that is the best example.” Too bad the coworker who was ranting was already halfway out the door and I don’t think he heard me. Regardless, it was not only a reality check for my coworkers but also for me. I have chosen to go into the depths with Jesus Christ; it is not meant to be comfortable and I don’t want it to be.

Originally posted at Kitty in the City.
Image: PD-US

October Synthesis

The month of October opens with the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who is known for having preached “the Little Way”. By reminding us of the biblical teaching on spiritual childhood, St. Thérèse of Lisieux taught us that we should not be afraid of God nor of aspiring to be saints despite our weaknesses, because it is precisely our littleness that attracts God’s mercy and compassion.

The following day, October 2, is the feast of the Guardian Angels – our guides and allies in our quest for sanctity.

Devotees of St. Josemaria Escriva know that it was on the feast of the Guardian Angels that he founded Opus Dei – another reminder of the universal call to sanctity and of the truth that sanctity is an accessible, albeit challenging, goal.

The month ends with the eve of All Saints’ Day, more popularly known as Halloween.

The appropriateness of Catholics celebrating Halloween in the popular manner of doing it is hotly debated. It is hard to give a blanket condemnation or approval of it, however, because people do it in different ways. On one side of the spectrum are those who dabble in the occult on the occasion; on the other side are those who hold saint-themed costume parties. In between are those for whom Halloween is just an occasion for good clean fun, playing dress-up, and perhaps a little bit of spookiness.

My own take is that barring downright sinful activities, the celebration of Halloween is a matter for every Catholic’s prudential judgment. Furthermore, while dabbling in the occult is definitely a no-no, neither are saint-themed costume parties obligatory (though they definitely can be a good catechetical tool), nor should a reasonable degree of spookiness be forbidden.

In fact, just as a morbid fascination for the occult is dangerous, it is equally harmful to ignore the reality of evil as if the saints were born with halos and never had to contend with the dark side of life. It is healthy to remind ourselves that spiritual warfare is a reality. And scattered throughout the month of October are feasts to remind us of what are our weapons in spiritual warfare.

October 1 reminds us of the need for childlike trust in God that St. Thérèse of Lisieux reminded us. October 2 reminds us of the help of the Guardian Angels. The feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4 reminds us of the need to practice poverty and detachment. October 7 reminds us of the power of the Rosary. The feast of St. Teresa of Ávila on Oct. 15 reminds us of the need to develop a life of prayer. The feast of St. Luke the Evangelist on Oct. 18 reminds us to “use the force” of the Gospel. The feast of the apostles Sts. Simon and Jude on Oct. 28 reminds us that all of us are called to be apostles too; apostolate, after all, is also a form of spiritual warfare.

After the last day of October is All Saints’ Day. We have been reminded the whole month of what our goal is in life and how we are to attain it. So we begin a new month reminding us of the reward for our efforts, and renew our resolve to continue working and to fight once more.

Jesus on the Street

Guest post by Catherine Santos.

It’s strange not having anything to do on a Monday, but at the same time I’m so grateful for it because it allows me to have some solid down-time with Jesus!

Today’s thought was inspired by the feast day of one of my favourite Saints, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who said:

“What matters in life is not great deeds, but great love.”

This prompted me to ask myself: “Do my actions match with my heart?”

Mine don’t — not completely and not always. I love helping my family, friends, colleagues and in church. And this is all good and well, but Jesus calls us to love deeper — to go beyond our comfort zone.

I made a quick (and frantic) run to a store last week for last-minute items for a conference starting later that afternoon. Along the way, I noticed this rugged man standing on the street. To be honest, I’ve noticed him for a while but never had the courage to step up and say something. We made eye contact and I gave a smile. “That’s enough right, Jesus?” No. The man says “Hello,” and so I greeted him back. This simple smile and hello lead to an exchange of names and understanding why he stands on the street. This gentleman stands on the street selling magazines as a mode of income, in hope that it will help him build his skills and work experience.

In just 5 minutes, I’ve encountered Jesus: His heart, His hurt and His desire to be loved.

This broke me. I began to tear up at the thought of missed opportunities of making Jesus known to others and my failure to love Him deeper.

This message isn’t anything new, I’m sure many of us know this deep inside. But it can be easy to forget in the world we live.

I pray that we may come to know His love for us more each day and that through it, we may never hesitate to help those in need. Lord, please give me eyes to see the needs and wounds of those hurting around me. Help me not to worry about what others may think and to do everything with a heart that only desires to bring you joy and glory. In times where I don’t know how to help, please give me the ears to hear Your guiding voice so that I can truly give the best care to the person You’ve entrusted to me.
Amen.

Witness

Today I witnessed a true and undeniable miracle. A few blogs back I wrote about my experience while waiting to enter the baths in Lourdes, France. I was on a pilgrimage and was visiting the famous Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, which is well known for its healing water that visitors can bathe in. I chose to do it the hopes of receiving some of the healing properties the water possesses, but at the last minute I had a change of heart. A coworker of mine has been struggling with several demons centered around addiction. Before entering the baths I was overcome with the need and desire to pray for her and to enter the baths with the hope that the graces I received would be given to her.

When I returned back to New York the actions of my coworker were unchanged, or so I thought. I continued to lift her up in prayer, but sometimes the rawness of her language made me uncomfortable and I was beginning to wonder if she would ever be open to the healing Mary and the Holy Spirit wanted to give her, until today. Work was slow and I found myself with a lot of free time. Suddenly, this coworker asked if I had time to talk. She had never directly asked me to talk before, so of course I said yes. Evidently, she was dealing with a difficult break-up and she wondered if she had been taken advantage of by this guy she was seeing. After hearing the story it was pretty clear that she had, but that was not the end of the conversation. We talked off and on throughout the rest of the day and she opened up about how she wanted to change her life. She was no longer smoking weed nor seeking out one-night stands and meaningless hook-ups. She was being proactive, making the conscious effort to go to the gym everyday, and cutting ties with bad influences. I was completely awe-stricken. There was an obvious transformation within her.

I dared to go a little deeper and learned her mother is Catholic. Unfortunately, she had negative ties with the Catholic faith because of her mother’s influence. I know there are quite a few crosses that she is carrying and there is much healing that needs to be done. I asked if she knew anything about Saint Thérèse of Lisieux; she didn’t. When I came back from France I brought back a keychain of a rose with Saint Thérèse on it and gave it to my coworker in hopes that it might help in the healing I had prayed for while in the baths at Lourdes. I asked her if she still had the keychain and she said she did. I gave her a little overview of who Saint Thérèse was, and why Saint Thérèse might be able to help her in her pursuit of a better life. I saw genuine hope spark in her eyes. It was a spark that I had never seen before, mainly because before she was severely under the influence of marijuana. She had been in the grip of Satan, allowing her addictions to rule over her, but now there was clarity and it was beautiful. Mary had found a way to touch my coworker’s spirit and transform it. I felt so honored to have the privilege of witnessing it. My coworker is proof of the healing power of Our Lady of Lourdes and that our faith and our prayers can inspire miracles in other’s lives. Bring your prayers and intentions to Mary and Jesus and be persistent, for their mercy will not be outdone.

Originally posted at Kitty in the City.
Image: PD-US

Affliction

Yesterday, I was nursing a very bad migraine which got worse as the day went by. I got off work slightly earlier than usual and went before my Lord and King at the adoration room of St. Joseph’s Church since I was early for class.

In there, I pondered. A lot of things have happened over the past week. It has not been easy to zealously share the faith, listening to people struggling with life and dealing with people who are rejecting the Gospel.

I realized that Christianity is not a sport for weekend warriors. It demands a dedication and consistency that makes time for God and summons the energy to do his will even when difficult. In short, the model Disciple is eager to serve the Lord in season and out.

Christians facing abuse, verbal or otherwise, are not to react in kind, but to invoke the blessings of God on the offender (c.f. Rom 12:4). Humanly speaking, performing an act of kindness in exchange for a blistering insult is counter-intuitive, to say the least.

Yet, this is one of the revolutionary demands of Gospel morality that makes Christians stand out. It is most perfectly exemplified in Jesus Himself, who invoked the Father’s forgiveness on those who crucified Him (Lk 23:34).

I’ve begun to see that the most foundational discipline of a Christian Disciple is serious prayer. Christian solidarity. Prayer, specifically in affliction, emphasizes on the Holy Spirit’s role as intercessor, helper and Paraclete. A Christian must sustain lifelong dialogue with the Lord.

Paul presses believers to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess 5:17) and to make their requests known to God in everything (Phil 4:6). Ultimately, constancy in prayer is a teaching that goes back to Jesus himself (Lk 18:1-8). For me, perhaps now is a time to just take a back seat and indulge in prayer.

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

The Crucifix as a Passive Symbol

While doing some research recently, I came across reference to the crucifix as a “passive symbol” by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in its 2011 decision in the Lautsi v. Italy case.

The context was the Grand Chamber’s pronouncement that the Italian law requiring the display of crucifixes in classrooms did not infringe on the rights of parents to ensure that the education of their children is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions. According to the Grand Chamber, the display of the crucifix, unlike compulsory religious instruction or religious oath- taking, did not require action, prayer, or reverence from those who view it. Hence, according to the Grand Chamber, “it cannot be deemed to have an influence on pupils comparable to didactic speech or participation in religious activities.”

(The Grand Chamber gave other reasons for its decision. For a more thorough discussion of the Lautsi case, please see “The Case of Lautsi v. Italy: a Synthesis” by Gregor Puppinck in Issue 3 of the 2012 volume of The BYU Law Review, available online.)

Whether the Grand Chamber realized it or not, the phrase “passive symbol” in relation to the crucifix is rich and deep in meaning. In more ways than one, the crucifix is indeed a passive symbol – although it is passive, like all other symbols it communicates meaning.

The crucifix tells the story of a God Who, out of love for humanity, freely became Man and allowed Himself to suffer the worst cruelty that humanity can think of. On the Cross, Christ rendered Himself powerless. He Who is God deliberately refused to display His omnipotence to a hostile crowd who was daring Him to show that He is Christ by coming down from the cross and saving Himself. Christ passively, albeit freely, suffered and died.

The crucifix shows Christ madly in love with us, yet too helpless to coerce us to respond to His love. He could only hope that the sight of Him nailed to the cross would move us to love Him in return.

This is His way of winning us over, because He wants us to love Him freely and without coercion.  Indeed, we can and do reject His love. With or without realizing it, perhaps the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights was on to something more when it ruled that the mere display of the crucifix “cannot be deemed to have an influence on pupils comparable to didactic speech or participation in religious activities.”

Ironically, perhaps it is precisely the self-effacing love that the crucifix symbolizes that makes some people uncomfortable at the sight of it. For we can be incapable of responding to such love which begs to be repaid with love.

The crucifix depicts the apparent defeat of God and at the same time is powerful proof of His love for us. The sight of a crucifix and the meaning it conveys can be disturbing, consoling, or inspiring.  Christ may be passive on the crucifix, but the sight of Him there does not leave people indifferent.

Because of these, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights correctly referred to the crucifix as a “passive symbol”. The image of a God Who allowed Himself to be treated the way He was treated communicates a lot of meaning.

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.

Dying to Self

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
—John 12:24

IMG_7355Dying to self means letting go of all the attachments that keep us from God; it is a purging of all that is not love. This means loosening our grip on our own plans, our desire for comfort and convenience, our tendencies toward selfishness and sin.

We can try to be the boss of our own lives, or we can give Jesus permission to call the shots. If we let Jesus take control, we will face the Cross, but we will also begin to see everything in our lives through His radiant Light.

Only when we throw ourselves upon God’s providence will we find ourselves—our true selves, who God created us to be. Dying to self is not an act of self-abasement but rather an act of faith—that when we cut away all the clutter we will find goodness underneath, that in the core of our being we will find the presence of God. Indeed, this dying to self is the seed of our salvation.

By abandoning our own agenda, we open our hands to receive the truest desires of our hearts. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and He will give us gifts greater than any of the earthly attachments we cling to.

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.
Featured image: PD-US

In Thanksgiving for Diabetes

Raising his eyes toward his disciples Jesus said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.”
— Luke 6: 20-26

When I was first diagnosed with type one diabetes this passage really resonated with me. The three months I lived with diabetes and didn’t know it were the most difficult times of my life, or so I thought. Upon reflection on those times, I felt blessed and honored that the Lord knew that I could handle such hardship. My body, soul and spirit were abused and battered. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than the turmoil I went through… until now.

Getting diagnosed with diabetes was only the tip of the iceberg; enduring the reality of living with a chronic illness was nothing compared to what I have gone through in New York. Yesterday marked my one year anniversary of living in New York. It is hard to believe I made it to a year, it does not feel like a year but at the same time it feels like a lifetime. I am not the person I was when I boarded that plane to New York a year ago. The person I was a year ago was truly a hollow shell, surviving life without any idea of who she was, with no purpose and no passion for anything and most of all no hope.

Throughout this year I became poor, hungry, and I wept almost every day but through these pains the Lord blessed me and restored my life. “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven” (Luke 6: 20-26). I have found new meaning in the Beatitudes. When I read them while struggling with diabetes, I read them without hope or joy and believed in them as a promise of happiness after death in Heaven. Today, I read them with new eyes and I can see that the Lord has blessed me with His Kingdom already. I was stripped of everything, all the comforts of home and what did I have left? I had Jesus Christ. All I have and all I want is Him. I can see the Kingdom of Heaven through the sorrows of this world. With a renewed spirit, I praise God for giving me diabetes, because that pain prepared me for the pure agony I would have to go through in New York. I can see the mastery of the Lord’s divine plan for without, lessons I learned managing diabetes I would never have survived in New York.

Originally posted at Kitty in the City.
Image: PD-US

Tasting

Guest post by Dan Lai.

During a conference, we participated in a chocolate tasting session. The facilitator emphasized that tasting is not eating.

We first have to use our eyes to appreciate the generic and minor differences in each white, milk and dark chocolate, with different recipes and contents of milk, fats and cocoa.

Then we touch it, rub it and get a sense of its melting rate. We attempt to bend it to understand the texture and elasticity.

Next, we bring it to the side of our ears and we break it. We hear the different sounds each type of chocolate makes upon breaking.

We then bring a small piece towards our noses and cup it with the other palm. We sniff a few times and allow the aroma of the chocolate to enter into our noses.

Finally, we pinch our noses and take a bite. We allow it to break and melt further on our tongues. We start to feel a sense of sweetness or bitterness before we let go of our noses. At this moment, the full flavor and aroma of the chocolate fills our sense of smell and taste. Hence, the tasting and savoring of chocolate is a slow and pleasurable process, if we do it the right way.

It should be the same or even with more passion, with the celebration of the Holy Mass! We first use our eyes to register the liturgical color of the altar and we look upon the crucifix at the center, a symbol of ultimate sacrificial love. We gaze at the stained glasses, statues of the holy saints, stations of the cross and portraits of our Blessed Mother affirming that we are in the house of God and we are accompanied by the whole community of angels and saints.

We touch the holy water upon entry and make the sign of the cross in the name of the Holy Trinity. We decide at that time to leave what’s bothering us in the secular world, and remind ourselves of our true identity as the children of God, baptized and sanctified. We bring to our memory the core of our belief that God is one yet with three persons in perfect unity.

We kneel before the Lord. As we pray, we quieten our hearts, so that we can hear Him. We listen to His gentle assurance of His love and mercy. There may be music being played. We allow the melody to channel the spirit of forgiveness, patience and courage into our hearts. We sing the entrance hymn, Gloria, responsorial psalm, Alleluia, offertory hymn, communion and thanksgiving hymn loudly and fervently as a response to the gifts the Lord has given to us in His Word and in the Eucharist.

If there has been incense being burnt, we smell the aroma of God’s love and we witness the incense going up to heaven, symbolizing our prayers going up. We breathe in the Spirit that God wants to give us.

We go then before the Lord, with a contrite and humble heart. We convince ourselves that we are not worthy at all for His ultimate sacrifice, but we recognize that His love is larger than anything else, even death and sin. We receive Him into our body. Through that, we become in communion with all who receive Him, and we form the body of the Church with Christ as our head. We seek to be more like Him since it is no longer we who live, but He who lives in us.

So like the chocolate that has been prepared for us, the church is filled with signs and symbols, supported by the service of fellow believers in the choir or at the altar. If we fail to extract the full richness of it and allow it to transform us, it has been because we have not been “tasting” it but merely “eating” it.

“The deceased ‘tasted with faith’ the eternal banquet in heaven during their earthly pilgrimage in the sacrament of the Eucharist.”
— Pope St John Paul II, homily, 11/11/2004

This reflection was originally posted in the Facebook group “Catholics in Singapore“.
Image: PD-US

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