Tag Archives: suffering

Challenging God

James 4:13-17, Psalm 49, Mark 9:38-40

God cannot be an object of our concepts. We are His creatures, not the other way round. St. James writes: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (Jas 4:14). Indeed, we are nothing; and yet — we all have a purpose on earth: to fulfill God’s Divine plan. The meaning of our lives therefore, is to seek out that purpose with all our hearts. That is why St. James goes on to affirm: “If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that” (Jas 4:15).

Yesterday, I had a session with an angry client who kept questioning God. ‘Why did God let this happen to me?’, ‘Why did God allow this evil to happen?’, ‘Why do bad things only happen to me?’. I think I heard a total of about twenty ‘Whys’ in that short 10 minutes of his ranting.

I fully empathize with everyone and anyone who is suffering. We cannot think when we are overwhelmed emotionally; especially while experiencing such irascible emotions like anger, frustration and pain. However, once we are calm and reasonable; we could look into the ‘Whys’, for they are good questions that deserve good answers.

Of course, Jesus never loses. In all instances when He was challenged, Jesus manifests His divinity powerfully by REVERSING the relationship in which his questioners put on Him (Peter Kreeft).

“Shall we stone the adulteress or not?”— “Let him without sin cast the first stone.”

“Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?”—”Give God what is God’s and Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

“Who is my neighbor?”—”Go and be a neighbor, like the good Samaritan.”

Whenever we try to test Jesus, he tests us. He is the teacher and we are the students, not vice versa. Sometimes, we only need to simply look at our wretched and broken lives to find out what went wrong. Have we truly been walking in Faith and obeying the Commandments of God? Do we thank God secretly for blessings but curse Him when bad things happen to us? Do we live hedonistic lifestyles and then complain when things come crashing down? Areas we should all reflect on today!

___

Originally posted on Instagram. Image: PD-US

Grief into Joy

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn,
while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.
When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived;
but when she has given birth to a child,
she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy
that a child has been born into the world.
So you also are now in anguish.
But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you.
On that day you will not question me about anything.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”
—John 16:20–23

Often we have a tendency to assume—even, sometimes, when we know better—that if we follow Jesus perfectly, we will live a charmed life free of suffering. Thus, when we experience suffering that seems “undeserved,” we become frustrated with God and think that there’s no way we can handle what He’s asking of us.

Christ_in_Gethsemane

But Jesus doesn’t negate the suffering of the Christian life. He acknowledges it fully, saying that if they persecuted Him they will surely persecute us. He tells us we will weep and mourn and grieve while the world rejoices. Yet our pain and suffering are not wasted in His plan of salvation. When we meet Jesus in Heaven, when we see the destination to which He has led us on such a long, winding journey, our hearts will rejoice. We will receive a lasting joy, greater than anything of this world.

We will experience suffering in this life, but through Christ, this suffering becomes a holy calling. We don’t need to put on a happy face and pretend everything is fine—no, this trial is a gift, meant to break and re-form our hearts, making them more like His own. We can embrace our suffering and lean in to it. And we don’t need to spiral into despair, either, for this trial is not the end. A greater joy awaits us, a joy that will eclipse any memory of pain.

piergiorgioOur patron, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, was a joyful, exuberant young man who radiated hope. He loved to have a good time with his friends, sharing inside jokes and enjoying outdoor activities. But at the same time, he did not shy away from suffering. Although he easily could have stayed within the comfortable bubble of wealth provided by his family, he ventured into the poorest parts of his city, undeterred by the noise and smells, to seek those who needed company and support. He saw the beauty in each person he encountered and considered them friends. His passion for the Lord propelled him to serve, and even when he contracted a fatal disease through this service, he embraced this, too, as a gift. His love for Christ emboldened him to face every trial without fear.

Fear not. As Christians, we always have reason for hope. Inspired by the example of Pier Giorgio, may we face our sufferings with boldness and joy, knowing that all our earthly pain will pass away and that the joy to come is worth it all.

We are an Easter people, and hallelujah is our song.
—Pope Saint John Paul II


1. Heinrich Hofmann, Christ in Gethsemane / PD-US
2. Photograph of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and friends

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

The Sanctifying Cross of Marriage

Mark 10:1-12

In this Gospel passage, Jesus talks about Divorce.

Growing up I never thought much about the sacredness of married life. My family was pretty much dysfunctional (this MIGHT be an understatement) and I never thought much about the importance of family — in fact I detested it.

I (shamefully) remember asking my mom one birthday — it was my 7th — for her to divorce my dad as my birthday gift. I did not think it would be a problem — after all, when someone is aggressive to you daily, you leave him… right?

To that she gave a response I’ll never forget for the rest of my life: “This is a cross I must carry.”
Honestly, I thought she was mad for wanting to endure this hardship.

On hindsight, that was her living out her vows of marriage and that planted in me a seed of perseverance and faithfulness to God. It was the wisest thing anyone ever said to me.

The Pharisees quoted the mosaic law and questioned why Moses allowed for divorce. But Jesus explained that God’s intention for our state in life — whether married or single — was to be saints.

“Marriage of Mary and Joseph.” From an early 1900s Marriage Certificate.

Being a saint entails that we rely on the power of God to overcome hardship before we rely on the power of man.
Moses had only permitted divorce because of the hardness of their hearts.
Male and female are indissolubly united in one flesh in marriage — a sacred and binding union — until death.

Marriage vows are so sacred, and such exemplars of what it means to love truly — you vow to love unconditionally every single moment of every single day, you vow to give yourself totally for the good of the other person. THAT is true love.

After all, from a Theology of the Body (TOB) lens, our entire faith is based on the idea of God wanting to marry us! He — in the person of Jesus Christ — is the groom and we the Church are His bride; the cross the “nuptial bed”. Just like how Jesus was humble to death  on the cross, couples must learn to adjust in humility for the marriage to grow and experience success. Many failures in marriages are due to:
– lack of humility
– stubbornness
– lack of prayer life

Back to my mom: she may not be educated in theology or the doctrines of the Church. But she is (sure as sure can be) in possession of the Truth and I believe that she is the epitome of what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

Prayers for all my married friends, that you realize that God has called you to be saints in your vocation as married people, and may God grant you the graces to be faithful to the end.

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Mercy, Justice and Grace in “Suits”

Suits is a popular TV show about slick lawyers who are rude, nasty and deceitful while bending, skirting, or straight-up breaking the law and playing interminable office politics, and it may be the last place one would expect lessons in mercy, justice and grace, but as St. Augustine says, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

[Warning: spoilers ahead]

Mike Ross is a bike messenger and drug dealer who was expelled from high school for giving his best friend Trevor the answers to a math test, which his friend sold to a girl who happened to be the dean’s daughter, leading to the dean’s dismissal. While evading the police, Mike stumbles in upon a job interview for law graduates, and is hired by Harvey Spector despite his lack of a law degree, after demonstrating his exceptional eidetic memory and knowledge of the law – Mike had also been making a living sitting the LSATS for other people. This incredible opportunity enables Mike to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer, which was derailed by the incident with Trevor as he had had to give up his acceptance to Harvard law.

To the associates and partners of the firm Pearson Hardman, their jobs are not just jobs, but become their entire purpose for living, their telos and identity. Jessica Pearson tells Harvey that when he joins the firm, he’s joining a family. The lawyers are married to their work, and this theme is played out over and over in hilarious and heartbreaking ways, as the language and norms of courtship are applied to their work relationships. Mike desists from destroying a dodgy opposing lawyer’s career, because that man pleads with him that being a lawyer is who he is, and all he has left after losing his family following the financially calamitous loss of a massive suit.

In more somber tones, Suits also shows how damaging it is to familial bonds when one becomes completely given over to one’s chosen career. Jessica’s husband divorces her, and Harvey’s mother repeatedly cheats on his father, who is often away as a traveling musician.

The show also explores how one’s childhood and family experiences can continue to play out throughout one’s life, especially when one is deeply wounded. Harvey seems to have everything go his way, and appears to be invincible and suave, fixing everything that goes wrong. But he is unable to sustain a romantic relationship, and although he and his secretary Donna have fancied each other for twelve years, he does not allow himself to truly love her and give himself to her. His inability to be vulnerable and trust others is traced back to his mother’s infidelity. We see how the sins of a parent can mar the child for life, damaging his future relationships.

As for Mike, he lost his parents in a car crash when he was twelve, and he is unable to forgive the lawyer who convinced his grandmother to accept a settlement. His anger bubbling from this ingrained sense of injustice is a key motivation in his practice of the law; he jumps at chances to defend the underdog. Yet, his anger and ambition also blinds him, and he handles 88 cases despite his lack of qualifications. That is something like an invalidly-ordained priest celebrating the sacraments – everything he touches is invalid. Despite good intentions, when the means are flawed, the consequences can be dire.

In Season 5, this lie blows up in Mike’s face when he is turned in for conspiracy to commit fraud, just after resigning following a soul-searching talk with his old school chaplain, Father Walker. We are on tenterhooks while he navigates the court case – will another incredible stroke of luck save him?

Mike ends up in prison after a self-sacrificial act to save his superiors’ skins, but though things look dire, his presence enables him to work for the freedom of his unjustly-jailed cellmate. It is terrifying to watch Mike deal with the resident murderous big bully, but Harvey continues to have his back, pulling all sorts of strings to get Mike out of jail.

Meanwhile, as Jessica faces the loss of her firm and all she has worked for, her romantic interest Jeff Malone reflects that sometimes God allows unpleasant things to happen, for a greater good. Indeed, this decimation of her firm allows Jessica to reevaluate her priorities in life, opening her mind to the possibility that there may be more to life than work.

Suits provides a nail-biting examination of moral issues and the motivations which drive people to cheat, lie and blackmail while trying to secure that nebulous thing called justice. It is a riveting show which deals honestly with questions of truth and the factors surrounding human relationships, bound by die-hard loyalty but also fractured by pain and fear. When viewed through the prism of divine providence working through the messy lives of humans, it demonstrates how good can eventually be drawn from the consequences of bad choices, although each character pays a price for their misdeeds.

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A Paschal Poem: Christ’s Guests

The Adoration of the Magi Morris & Co. tapestry design by Edward Burne-Jones
The Adoration of the Magi. Morris & Co. tapestry. Design by Edward Burne-Jones

When Love was hid within the crib
Wise men Heaven’s call did heed
Beneath the Star they traveled far
To seek the King of which was writ
That He should come to rule the world.
The Infant’s fingers lightly curled
About His mother’s drooping veil
As the old kings did gently kneel
Amidst the straw, to here adore
The Messiah, and implore
His solemn benediction
Proffering a sweet oblation
Of frankincense for the true God
And purest gold for our one Lord
With myrrh to spice the Sacrifice
They built for Him an edifice
Of profound praise within their hearts
And reluctantly, depart
Holding in sweet memory
The innocent visage of He
Who was to bring
Through suffering
The reign of Peace.

"Why seek ye the living among the dead?" St Luke 24 v5 Painting by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908)
“Why seek ye the living among the dead?”
St Luke 24 v5
Painting by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908)

When Love had sprung from the cold tomb,
The women came to anoint His wounds
Bearing myrrh; their hearts were gold
With sheer courage – they were bold
Enough to brave the guards
If fight they must with their pot-shards
They would not be unduly kept
Away from Him for Whom they wept.
As prayers like incense rose on high
In silence through the darkened sky
They found to their deep dismay
The body gone, the grave forlorn
Who had stolen Him away?
The angels came, in light arrayed
And as the women bowed and prayed
They turned to them, and softly said
Why seek ye the living among the dead?
He is not here, He is risen.
Cease ye now thy sad orisons.
The women rose, and brought the news
To brethren hiding from the Jews
Who did not believe their words
But Peter ran, with John ahead
And stooped to see, with bated breath
If Christ had truly conquered death
No words were needed then, their eyes
Saw He had opened Paradise.

So now we sing, to our God-King,
Let all earth and Heaven ring
He has triumphed evermore!
Let us bow down and adore
The Infant, Man and God in one
The Father’s sole obedient Son
Who for us Life has dearly won
‘Tis Love alone, when all is done
Who will call to us, and we
Should now strive ever to be
Worthy of the price He paid
And deliver ourselves undismayed
Into His presence, and adore
In profound peace forevermore.

___

Images: PD-US

#AllforJan: Slovakia mourns a young Catholic journalist

After Laetare Sunday Mass, a fellow parishioner asked me: “Have you heard of the protests in Slovakia? They are the largest since the fall of Communism! 50,000 people marched in the streets of Slovakia on Friday, and 25,000 on March 2, not to mention even more people gathering in cities across Europe. A 27-year-old investigative journalist was killed, along with his fiancée, because he had uncovered links between the Italian mafia and the government.”

Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová were found fatally shot in their new home on February 25, 2018. They were to be married in May.

A funeral Mass was held for the young couple at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Štiavnik, north-western Slovakia, attended by his parents, friends and fellow journalists. Kuciak’s sister Mária Kuciaková said, “Our whole family got a bullet to the heart.”

Former Archbishop of Trnava Monsignor Róbert Bezák C.SS.R. stated: “The murder of a person should not be lost in time. It would be a sign that we are morally broken and that we don’t care at all. But we do care. Janko and Martinka will always remain in our hearts.”

Archbishop Stanislav Zvolenský of Slovakia’s capital Bratislava, who celebrated the funeral Mass, observed: “If the murderer wanted to silence Jan, he managed quite the opposite. Believe that evil won’t win — even if it might seem so now.”

Slovakia is the third most Catholic Slavic country, after Poland and Croatia, with 62% of the populace being Roman Catholic, and 4% Byzantine Catholic. Trnava is known as “parva Roma”, that is, “little Rome”. The first Slovak in Australia was a Jesuit missionary who arrived in 1888. The first recorded Slovak immigrant in the USA was also a missionary, albeit Mennonite.

My fellow parishioner said, “Slovakians are hardworking people, but because of government corruption, they work hard for very little. It is sad to see how living conditions in Slovakia haven’t improved much since the fall of Communism.”

Kuciak’s last, unfinished story also reveals how Italian businessmen with mafia links have been siphoning off European Union funds meant for the development of eastern Slovakia.

A memorial website, https://www.allforjan.com/, has been created for people to express their sorrow and their gratitude for Kuciak’s work uncovering the criminals manipulating Slovakia’s government. On Twitter, the hashtag #AllforJan has been trending, displaying photographs of the crowds who came out in the bitter cold in honor of this young man’s life and death. His fellow journalists have refused to be cowed by his murder, vowing to continue his work.

Two politicians, Viliam Jasaň and Mária Trošková, have taken a leave of absence, and the Minister of Culture, Marek Maďarič, has resigned from his post.

Pope Francis last year publicly acknowledged Italian victims of the mafia, in particular three assassinated judges. He created a new category for sainthood which allows the canonization of those who freely give up their lives for others.

May the terrible sacrifice of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová be the catalyst for real change in their country, freeing it from the grip of organized crime. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.

Dealing with Resentment

I’m one of those people who tend to attract people with problems.

I’d be sitting quietly at a party, or at a church event, and strangers come up and spill their guts about their illnesses, their romantic woes, their family problems, everything. Sometimes, strangers on the Internet do that too!

It feels good to be able to help with a listening ear, but after awhile one can get really overwhelmed and resentful, and wish everyone would just go away and deal with their own problems.

Jesus probably felt something similar when, following his cousin John the Baptist’s death, he retired to an isolated area by boat, only to be followed by crowds on foot. He took pity on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14)

How does one respond when one is overwhelmed?

Firstly, you should listen to your own feelings. Jesus was God, but He didn’t preach and heal non-stop. He took refuge in prayer and silence, resting in His human form and communing with the Father and the Holy Spirit so that He could minister anew. If you don’t recharge, you can’t serve, and you may end up snapping or burning out.

Secondly, it is important to set boundaries. People are not omniscient and they probably don’t know of all the other things on your plate. Sometimes it is also good for them to be declined, so they can actually stop fretting and do something constructive about their problems, or take them in prayer to God Himself.

Thirdly, it really helps to be able to put on the mind of Christ, even though it can be very difficult, and to see the other person as an occasion of grace, not as a pest. It can be extremely hard if they have a mental health issue and contact you every day, but that too is an opportunity to exercise patience and charity, while learning how not to compromise your own daily duties and much-needed rest.

These are also opportunities to lift others up to God in prayer. As Christians, we are our brothers’ keepers. When they get too much for us, one can ask for community help to shoulder the burden, and one should always turn to God in times of dismay. This allows Him to transform us and those whom we meet.

A deep prayer life enables us to be reservoirs of grace, overflowing with the peace of Christ, which can be hard to attain in this busy, distracted world of ours. By being reservoirs, we can face any trouble calmly with ease, knowing that God is present and works everything to good.

_____

Image: PD-US

He Noticed

For so many of us, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the multitudes. In the crowds of people at malls and stores, the workplace and schools, we lose sight of others, and maybe even more so, we ourselves feel truly lost in the crowd.

Jesus was familiar with swarms of people. It was a definitive aspect of His ministry to be frequently surrounded by the people:

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.[1]

But in the midst of that crowd one day, a sick woman, who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, recognized Jesus. She knew He was there, and she did everything in her power not to lose sight of Him: more than that, she wanted to reach out to Him.

For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.”[2]

She did not cry out for attention. She knew her littleness in contrast to all the multitudes of people swarming around Jesus. And yet, in her humble faith, she trusted that God could work a miracle for her if she but touched Him. Would He notice?

And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?”[3]

The woman did not go unnoticed: Jesus sensed her act of faith, though she but reached out and caught the hem of his cloak in her fingers for a moment in time.

And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’”And he looked around to see who had done it.[4]

The disciples are confused: how can Jesus even ask the question ‘Who touched me?’ Probably half the people in the crowd have touched Him as they buzzed excitedly around Him for the past ten minutes alone. Further: why should Jesus care?

And yet, He does care. The others who touched Him did so because they were pressing upon Him in the crowd. The woman, on the other hand, was purposely reaching out in humility and trust. Her loving faith, so hidden to the eyes of the disciples overwhelmed by the masses, draws Jesus to reach out to her who reached out to Him.

But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”[5]

A living faith, however overlooked by the crowds, is never lost on God. The woman trusted in God’s goodness and mercy and reached out to Him. She was rewarded not only with His healing, but also with a return of His loving recognition. Even the Apostles saw nothing special in her simple touch, but Jesus saw her intention.

He noticed.

[1] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version: Second Catholic Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), Mark 5:24.

[2] (Mark 5:28, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

[3] (Mark 5:30, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

[4] (Mark 5:31-32, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

[5] (Mark 5:33-34, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

Movie Review: Mary Magdalene (2018)

A friend and I were given free tickets for a preview of the upcoming film Mary Magdalene.

The visuals were truly exquisite, bringing to life the stark beauty of poor Hebrew dwellings, their dress and cuisine, and the simplicity of life in a fishing village, with the soothing susurration of the waves ever present.

However, I was really disappointed with the lack of true understanding of Mary Magdalene’s role as a disciple of Jesus, and how the film pits her against the apostles. The film has a strong feminist bent while funnily leaving out Jesus’ other female disciples.

We are introduced to Mary as a strong-willed though mild young woman who refuses to marry, despite her father’s attempts to match-make her.

She flees to the synagogue to pray in distress, and is rebuked for bringing dishonor on her family by appearing crazed.

Her stubbornness is interpreted as demonic possession, and she is tricked into an exorcism ritual where she is nearly drowned.

However, she encounters Jesus, who is mobbed by villagers seeking cures. She runs away from home to follow him and his apostles to Jerusalem.

The apostles are portrayed as clueless Jewish patriots who see Jesus as the key to overthrowing the Roman Empire. Judas is portrayed in a sympathetic light, as someone who lost his wife and child to the Romans.

The movie depicts Mary Magdalene as being the only one to understand Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness. At her instigation, he preaches to the women of a town, especially one who is filled with hatred and unforgiveness over another’s rape. This is in contrast to the Scriptures, where Jesus needs no one to prompt Him to approach the Samaritan woman, or to visit Mary and Martha, or to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

Also, Mary Magdalene is shown baptizing women, using a strange formula about being “baptized into the Light.” There is no mention of the Holy Trinity, which is necessary for a valid baptism.

Peter resents Mary’s presence and declares that she will cause division among the apostles. However, he is sent with her to minister to the towns. She tends to the dying, and he realizes that she, more than he, has grasped Jesus’ message of mercy.

Mother Mary meets them as they enter Jerusalem. Far from the beautiful and stately Mary portrayed by Maia Morgenstern in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), she looks crabby and restless. She sharply states to Mary Magdalene, indicating Jesus, “You love him, don’t you?” Mary Magdalene is then depicted lying down near Jesus, his one companion in his distress as he approaches his death.

Jesus is also shown breaking down in tears before entering Jerusalem, while Mary Magdalene comforts him, cradling his head in her lap. It is a poignant reminder of God making Himself vulnerable in His humanity, and that we can comfort Him by doing reparation for sins. Yet, all this intimacy between Mary Magdalene and Jesus in the end does a disservice to the Gospel, where Jesus pursues His earthly mission as both God and man, the Anointed One with the strength to resist temptations alone in the desert.

The movie also omits the true friendship Christ enjoyed with the apostles, particularly St. John the Beloved, who stayed with Him to the bitter end and was entrusted with His mother’s care. Instead, after the Resurrection, Mary and Peter are again depicted at odds, with Mary Magdalene pledging to carry Jesus’ message despite the corrupted message she feels Peter and the apostles will pass on in forming a church. Yet, Scripture records that Peter was the one who stood by Jesus when others deserted Him over the Eucharist.

Oddly enough, the movie ends with references to the very Church built on the rock of Peter (Matthew 16:18); yet, again, it distorts the message of the Catholic Church. It notes Pope Gregory the Great as wrongly conflating St. Mary Magdalene with the penitent prostitute, and claims that because the Vatican has recognized her as the Apostle to the Apostles, that means she is equal to the apostles.

“Apostle” is simply Greek for “messenger”, and yes, Mary Magdalene brought news of Christ’s resurrection to the Apostles, so she was the messenger to the messengers of the Gospel, the messengers ordained by Christ to preach and to forgive sins with His authority (Matthew 18:18). All this hype about “equality” is a tone-deaf rendering of the roles of both men and women in the Church, which are different though complementary.

By denying St. Mary Magdalene‘s identity as a penitent, the film has omitted the awesome wonder of God’s grace working through a repentant sinner to bring the Good News that Christ conquered sin and death.

In the end, the 2018 film Mary Magdalene may be remembered for its beautiful cinematography, but it fails to deliver the salvific truth of the Gospel as ministered through the seven Sacraments instituted by Christ. The Gospel is not just about human charity and forgiveness or equality between men and women. It encompasses God’s great design for human salvation from the time of the Fall to the present day, and the movie very disappointingly lost His plot.

(Also, they forgot the donkey when Jesus made His entry into Jerusalem, foretold in Zechariah 9:9.)

An Indonesian Miracle of Muslim-Catholic Friendship

One of my friends was a Buddhist when she and her family narrowly escaped being raped or killed by riots against the Chinese in the May 1998 riots of Indonesia, which saw over 1000 murdered. She told me about the miraculous survival of a Catholic family living in the vicinity. They tied a rosary to their gate and hid in the house, praying fervently. The rioters looted and burned the homes on either side of their property, but passed by their house as if they could not see it.

My friend escaped to New Zealand to build a new life in safety. After much heartache and struggle to find a job so that she could remain in the country, she knelt before the crucifix in a cathedral, begging God for help. The very next day, her last possible day before she had to leave the country, someone helped her carry her suitcase up the stairs of a hotel, and when he heard of her dire situation, he mentioned that he was the manager and in search of an accountant – which just so happened to be her profession.

Tensions are still high in parts of Indonesia, and Christian clergy are advised not to wear even a cross. Hence it is remarkable to see how a young Muslim lady recently sang a beautiful Ave Maria at her dear friend’s funeral. Indonesia has a policy of assimilation where Chinese have to take on Malay surnames, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the races, when individuals happen to have similar skin tones. People of different religions grow up cheek by jowl in this populous nation of over 260 million souls, and it is always heartening to see acts of friendship and love bridging racial and religious divides.

You can watch the video here.

_____

Image: PD-US

The Beggar on the Bus

One afternoon, I was on a bus to the city when a disheveled young man boarded the bus. He was in gray pajamas, barefoot, and looked like he hadn’t had a shower in awhile.

“Can I please get on? I only need 60 more cents,” he begged the driver.

The driver demurred, probably adhering to company policy.

Being one of the nearest passengers, I rose and fished out the necessary change.

The man sat down. “Thanks,” he said. I decided to start a conversation with him.

He told me that he had no siblings, his mother was overseas, and his father refused to talk to him.

As we neared the next bus-stop, a disheveled lady came up. “Here, have this,” she insisted, pressing ten dollars into his hand. “I’ve been there before, mate. Use it for whatever you like. Look out for me on the streets. I just have to report to the cop shop now!”

Of all the people on the bus, that impoverished lady was the most generous. She was able to see past the grime to the face of a person in need of love. She identified with his situation and did what she could to alleviate his privation.

May we learn from her example and find the face of Christ in the lowliest-looking people we meet.

Please keep Chris and Carla in your prayers.

_____

Image: PD-US

Romantic Thoughts for Ash Wednesday

Terminate torment

Of love unsatisfied

The greater torment

Of love satisfied.”

— T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

Can Catholics celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, considering that Ash Wednesday this year falls on the same date? Is the feast of love compatible with the beginning of Lent? When the obligation to do penance conflicts with the convention of romance, which of the two should give way?

Because of our natural aversion to self-inflicted suffering and the contemporary view of love that equates it with pleasure, many of us may have initially reacted that no, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday do not mix; that the Church’s regulations on fasting and abstinence would spoil this year’s Valentine’s Day; that this year, we must choose one or the other. Some have proposed, as a practical solution, that Valentine’s Day be celebrated the day before – on what is traditionally known as Mardi Gras – or the day after.

But must it be this way?

It is an age-old tactic of the devil to exaggerate the hardship entailed by our obligations towards God. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent twisted God’s command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and asked Eve if God prohibited them from eating of any tree in the garden. The devil continues using this tactic to today; thus, for example, we rebel against reasonable guidelines against wearing short skirts and low necklines in church because we perceive these guidelines as requiring us to wrap ourselves in sheets.

The same goes true with the mandatory fasting and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday, and warnings against celebrating Valentine’s Day in a sinful fashion. With regard to the former, it is difficult, to be sure, as I can attest from my struggle to practice portion control on ordinary days. But we tend to exaggerate the hardship it entails. We forget that 1) nothing prohibits us from making the allowed full meal for the day a special one, and 2) non-meat dishes can be delicious.

As for the latter, why must we equate celebrating Valentine’s Day with sinful activities?  Why must we assume that certain prohibited activities are the only ways we can celebrate our love – especially our romantic love – on Valentine’s Day?

We forget that Valentine’s Day was – and still is – a Catholic feast; that love – including romantic love – is something of God.  It is true that this year, liturgically speaking, Ash Wednesday takes precedence over the feast of St. Valentine. There’s nothing wrong, too, with scheduling a Valentine’s Day celebration the day before or the day after Ash Wednesday this year. But neither is there any reason we cannot, within the limits imposed by the mandatory forms of penance, celebrate our love on Valentine’s Day this year.

In fact, this year is a good opportunity for us Catholics to reclaim Valentine’s Day, to use it as an occasion to remind the world what love really is. As we take our allowed full one meal on that day in special seafood grills or sushi bars with our dates, perhaps after going to the church together to have ashes imposed on our foreheads or after having spent time together in a wholesome yet no less wonderful way (which we are supposed to do anyway on any other time of the year), we are showing to the world what we have always known and which the world has forgotten: love is all about joyful sacrifice. As we enter the Lenten season together with our dates, we remind ourselves and others that suffering is the touchstone of love, that the point of penance is not to perform arduous feats of self-denial but to love God and others better, and that with love, suffering is turned into joy.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, and Lent culminates in the commemoration of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. History tells us that in the year AD 136, the Roman emperor Hadrian — in efforts to obliterate Christianity — built a temple to Venus, the pagan goddess of love, on the site of the crucifixion of Christ. It took great efforts two centuries later to uncover the True Cross beneath the ruins of the temple to Venus.

This Valentine’s Day, and hopefully on every Valentine’s Day after, we can bear witness to the true meaning of love after its supplanting for centuries by a perverted understanding of it. Let us show by our example of joyful sacrifice that we know how to truly love.

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Image: PD-US