Tag Archives: discipline

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.

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Originally posted on Instagram.

Learning by Rote: Creativity and Discipline in Life and Prayer

One day, a home-schooled Anglo-Australian made a rather ill-informed statement on Asian education to his house mate, despite my presence: “Asians can’t be creative because they go through rote learning.”

Interiorly, I thought of all the great poems I was expected to memorise in primary school back in Singapore: immortal lines by Wordsworth, Shelley, Stevenson, Benet – poems which we copied out and illustrated. I can still recite them today, and I still own that cherished personalised poetry book. Then I thought of the poetry I have been composing since I was eight. (One poem garnered a college prize last year.)musicrose

I also thought of a primary school classmate, whom I have not seen for almost two decades. She was a virtuoso pianist, her nimble hands flying over the keys, producing marvellous, magnificent music. She could not have created those magical sounds without hours of persistent practice.

Incidentally, the ubiquitous USB thumb drive was invented by a Singaporean.1 It was also a Singaporean company which invented the mp3 player interface, way before Apple came along with its iPod.2

Recently I attended the annual Spirit in the City conference in Brisbane. Fr. James Grant SSC, the founder of Chaplains Without Borders, remarked upon the high attrition rate of Pentecostal communities. They run on emotion, and they can’t sustain it, he explained, whereas the rate of conversion to Catholicism is slower, but most converts remain for the long haul.

The transmission of the Catholic faith is a combination of rote learning and personal encounter which together bear fruit in true joy and creative love that lasts through the vicissitudes of life. We memorise the devotional prayers of the Holy Rosary, which sustains us in the contemplation of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, deepening our relationship with God by the recollection of salvation history. We memorise the liturgical prayers and actions of the Mass, which conforms us to the Person of Christ through the Holy Eucharist. Without these anchors of a shared prayer life steeped in scripture and tradition, the Church would fragment into individualistic, emotionally-driven sects. At the above-mentioned conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane declared, “The Church is not a sect.” We are Catholic, which is to say, universal.

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From this rich deposit of faith, saints and musicians through the ages have been able to compose exquisite prayers and hymns which we continue to use today, such as Aquinas’ Adoro Te Devote (“Godhead Here in Hiding”) or Tantum Ergo (“Down in adoration falling”). Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Chopin, Palestrina and Vivaldi were inspired to compose sonorous Mass settings which are still being performed in secular concert halls.

Discipline is required for disciples to become truly creative – it is the paradox of saints, that they are at once fully themselves as unique unrepeatable individuals, and fully conformed to Christ, living life to the fullest (John 10:10) in the image and likeness of God the Supreme Creator. Love is creative, and love is the discipline of the Cross. Jesus took His time – 33 years – to grow and mature into a man strong enough to bear the Cross; we too take time to develop habits which mould our characters so that we may bear Christ to others, bringing a breath of Heaven into the most hellish situations. St. Damien of Molokai was thus able to minister to a colony of lepers, dressing ulcers, building a reservoir, homes, furniture and coffins, and digging graves. St. Maximilian Kolbe was thus able to lead condemned Auschwitz prisoners in singing hymns of praise while they starved to death. Love continues to create and renew life even in the face of destruction.

Returning to my original conceit, it is necessary for all students to memorise the alphabet, then master grammar, vocabulary and syntax, and remember phonemes, in order to communicate effectively. It is the discipline of rote learning that enables masterful creativity, whether in literature, music, science or prayer. Just as we may strengthen our bodies through a series of set exercises, so we strengthen our minds and spirits through habitual learning and spiritual exercises. The more we exercise, the easier it becomes to keep doing so; let us then rise to today’s challenges, and carry our crosses together on this narrow path to life eternal, remembering the example and teachings of those who have gone before us, not least God Himself. For it is things we learn by rote, that is, by heart, that we can draw on to fashion into a new expression of love. Only God can create ex nihilo, out of nothing.

Let us be who we are, and be that well, so as to honour the Master Worker, whose handiwork we are.
—St. Francis de Sales

How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints!
—C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Images: Pinterest; Allison Totus Tuus Family.

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1 Bernice Tan, “ThumbDrive inventor out to prove he is no one-hit wonder”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 December 2010.

2 Arik Hesseldahl, “Apple Vs. Creative Tech”, Forbes; “Apple pays Creative $100 million in iPod-related lawsuit”, MacTech; Anton Shilov, “Creative Awarded with MP3 Player User Interface Patent”, Xbit Laboratories.

Learning About Self-Donation at the Gym

I was reflecting on my first month of the new year and my resolution/theme of “stronger.” I’ve been going to the gym a lot this month and can see so much physical change in my body, along with emotional and mental change and discipline. But as I was reflecting on all this, my thoughts turned to a young woman I met in a class at the gym. She is 17 weeks pregnant with her third child and is in much better shape than I am; in fact, she barely looks pregnant—she makes me look pregnant! Of course, this sparked conversation among the other young mothers in the class about how she does it, as well as how far some of us still have to go in losing the baby weight and regaining our bodies. This young mother told us that she and her husband always plan a trip 12 weeks out after having a baby to a tropical location so that she has motivation to work out (a.k.a. look good in a swimsuit), that she gets back to the gym as soon as possible after giving birth, and that she doesn’t breastfeed her children because it prevents her from losing weight. She is definitely a very type-A person! But much of what she was saying just didn’t sit well with me. I thought, What am I missing? What do I not understand? The more I thought about why this woman’s statements bothered me, the more one word came up: self-donation.

Now, I am in no way judging this woman as I don’t even know her name, let alone her true motivations or the depths of her heart, but the way she presented herself sparked these revelations within me, and God was certainly using her to do this work in me. That being said, the way this woman presented herself to me seemed to lack an understanding of the beauty of giving up your body for another, the beauty that is using your body for the good of another, and seemed to view pregnancy as an inconvenience and nothing more (although she spoke very beautifully of the babies she has been given, so this is good!). Yes, pregnancy is certainly a physical inconvenience, and using your body for the good of one so tiny instead of getting it back in peak physical condition as soon as possible is also an inconvenience. But this is the way of Christ—a total giving of self for the good of others.

I give myself to my children in so many small ways (and deny myself to them in many of the same instances)—sharing my bed and not getting enough sleep, staying home from the gym because they are sick. In carrying them within me during pregnancy and in trying, ever desperately trying, to breastfeed them. In playing with them or listening to their stories or worries when what I really need is a little quiet time. In making their food and feeding them before I even think of feeding myself. In not worrying what my body looks like as long as it can function to give (while remaining healthy, always shooting for some semblance of balance).

And in what I give up in my body, I gain so much more. I gain children who run to me and embrace me and enthusiastically call me their queen and their love! Children who want to share everything with me because they know that I care for every ounce of their existence. I gain children who want me to run with them and take them on walks and who wrestle with me and get into tickle fights with me. My body may not be back to top physical form and I may never look “good” in a swimsuit, but I have found a new discipline in it, the discipline of knowing how to give up myself, how to turn myself over, how to truly love with every fiber of my body. My desire to get in better shape should not come at the expense of serving my family; rather, it should be directed toward helping me serve them better, and ultimately that means it might not happen in exactly the way I’d like.

I think of that young mother, and I pray for her. Not because I think she is in a desperate way; I pray instead that she already knows this deeper beauty and that she goes even deeper. My prayer for myself is the same. And really, I’m not at all a type-A personality, so maybe I truly just don’t have any idea of how her interior life even begins to go! It matters not; all that matters is that this lady was an avenue of grace for me. When I look upon the Crucifix, I realize that it was not just on the Cross that Christ gave Himself for us in totality, but that He did it throughout His life in every small and big way possible. That is true self-donation: giving all of oneself in every moment of living and in the totality of death. This is my prayer and my plea, to be more like Him, to give more like Him, to love more like Him, to die more like Him.