Monday, October 25, 2010

M&M (Mercy & Mission)

Every now and then, IF we pay CLOSE attention, we will realise how we have been embraced by the gracious and salient visit of God. At least this was what happened to me recently - a surprise reminder from a friend, and a badly needed silence from a retreat. Both experiences allowed me to identify with Sun's reading (Lk 18: 9 - 14) which falls on Mission Sunday in the Catholic Church.

Few months back, I got a surprise message from my friend, Grace, who asked me why I haven't been updating my blog? Usual excuses were given : been busy upgrading from free-lance to full time ministry, haven't got time to blog. But the real problem is this : the failure to go deeper in prayer and be aware of the ever presence (present) of our Lord, Himself. And hence, this blog like my soul, remain choked and overgrown with the thorns/bristles and cares of the world.

But the reminder did NOT stop. Over this weekend, I went for a retreat and was reminded on the precious gift of gratitude. During part of the retreat, I needed to step out to give a session on the New Testament to a particular ministry. Just the week before, this ministry had a talk on the Old Testament by Verbum Dei, a religious order whose mission was to proclaim the Word of God. All the members of that religious order has a bachelor in Sacred Theology and was more than qualified to give the talk. But me - who am I to proclaim His word, what insight can I offer? An overwhelming sense of unworthiness swept over me - why did I even say yes to this session? why did the Lord chose me, of all people? I prayed only to be reminded from the passage of 1 Cor 1:26 - 29

"Consider, brothers, how you were called; not many of you are wise by human standards, not many influential, not many from noble families. No, God chose those who by human standards are fools to shame the wise; he chose those who by human standards are weak to shame the strong, those who by human standards are common and contemptible -- indeed those who count for nothing -- to reduce to nothing all those that do count for something, so that no human being might feel boastful before God."

I can only identified with the tax collector in Sun's reading - "have mercy on me, Lord, a sinner" As I reflected on my experience in the retreat, it slowly melt away to a new sense of awe and humility at the graciousness of our Lord. The session was meant not for the ministry, but for me! It is not the qualified who is chosen but the chosen who is qualified by the Lord. No words can explain the "why me?"s, no efforts could "earn" this qualification. I can only accept this gracious gift of being forgiven and chosen by the Lord, like the tax collector.

And the acceptance of this gift has filled me with insurmontable gratitude, to which the only response can only be that of mission. Like the Psalmist who cannot remain silent, I can only share and proclaim the generosity and unconditional love of our Lord. I am thus grateful to be able to write again in this blog. To all those who have given me insight, reminders and support to this experience, I can only say : "Mer-ci" (thank you in french).

A precious story pictures a mother pleading with Napoleon to spare her condemned son's life. The emperor said the crime was dreadful; justice demanded his life. "Sir," sobbed the mother, "Not justice, but mercy." "He does not deserve mercy," was the answer. "But, sir, if he deserved it, it would not be mercy," said the mother. "Ah yes, how true," said Napoleon. "I will have mercy."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Palm Sunday (Mk 14:1 - 15:47)

St. Paul says in Romans 7,
I do not understand my own behaviour; the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want -- that is what I do. So I find this rule: that for me, where I want to do nothing but good, evil is close at my side. In my inmost self I dearly love God's law, but I see that acting on my body there is a different law which battles against the law in my mind. So I am brought to be a prisoner of that law of sin which lives inside my body.

And I find this statement coming alive so very often in my life! Just the other day, I find myself rushing to catch a train for work. I was behind a guy who was tapping his eZy link card slowly.I let out a sign of impatience only to be greeted by him with "What's your problem?" Since I was in a rush, I didn't want to waste further time arguing with him. I hurried along to catch my train. Soon, I find myself in the train, fighting my dilemma if I shld take out my Christian book for a read. Somehow my action earlier did not quite match my identity as a Christian. I should have been more patient. If someone has witnessed what had happened earlier, what must they have thought of me, and of Christians?

There are many angles to look at today's Gospel (Apr 12). I choose to look at it from the perspective of choices. As I journey through life, it becomes clearer to me that I'm not 100% good or bad all the time. Most likely, I'm a mixture. Within me is a confused bystander who cheered Jesus on his triumphant entry and one who vehemently wants to crucify Him. I behave like Peter who swears to stay with Jesus no matter what happens and yet deny Him at the earliest opportunity to save my skin. How and when can I ever be steadfast to the Lord in my Christian journey?

Looking at the Holy Week event in the light of the Resurrection, reminds me that it was through many bitter denials that the apostles learnt to be steadfast to the Lord. This led to the ultimate sacrificial of their lives than the denial of their faith. There must have been many small "deaths" along the way to lead to this final martyrdom. Making a living in today's corporate world is a sure journey towards Jerusalem (figuratively). Today's Gospel invites me to decide on the choices I make. The consolation that I take with me is that I can start my training with the "small deaths" I make each day (e.g. being more patient with a nasty colleague etc) and even should I fall, I only need to pick myself up. I'm not 100% good or bad all the time. But with practice, I hope to inch towards the goal of 100% for Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~ Gal 2:20

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Grain that dies (Jn 12: 20 - 33)

I do not know when & how it all started or evolved. But it often began with my name follow by "where I am studying, (field of study)" to "where I am working (my designation)". At least this was how I grew up introducing myself since my schooldays right up to the present day. How do you introduce yourself or your friend?

The late Father Basil Pennington in his book, "True Self/False Self" reminds us that our "false" self stems mainly from :
1) What I have
2) What I do
3) How others see me
Or rather, this is how we perceive or construct our identity to be. I found myself nodding my head in agreement when I read this.

Being an introvert, I grew up like all teens, desperately trying to find acceptance and belonging. In searching for this self-identity, I found myself conforming to social norms to dress fashionably - Buy the "latest trend". I recall buying my first $29 Hang Ten sweater at the age of 15. Who cares if the weather is 31ÂșC outside, the important issue here is "how others see me" based on "what I have". Of course, as one would have guessed, I outgrew the brands but not the false self. Soon, I was moving off to Levis, Guess, cK etc. Being in the marketing field, I should only know too well that brands portrays our self-concept, but never the reality. At the heart of it, I want to look good, to be someboday - preferably as hot as the models wearing the brands. But stripping these possessions away, I'm really no different from the person next door.

Today, as we inch nearer to Passion Week, I found myself asking this question : So, who am I (really)? The Gospel today (Mar 29), invites me to die to my false self - an identity founded on the 3 criteria listed above. The questions demands that I get in touch with my BE-ING, without the 3Ps - possessions, performances, and projections.

It amazes me when I reflected this :
If I were to be a bystander in Jesus's time, what would He have seen in me when He walked by? What did He see (in me) that still made Him carry on His journey down Jerusalem & finally to Calvary? There must be something within me that He's dying (excuse the pun) to show me..... Maybe I did not realise the famous brand that I'm wearing - the Jesus Brand.

"The unveiling of who we are can be hard for our contemporary culture to understand because there is the frequent assumption that we have the human right just to decide who we are. Identity is not to be discovered; it can be chosen. One chooses which identity one will have today. Identity is a lifestyle option and it is an infringement of my human rights for anyone not to accept that identity. But the smile of Jesus summons me to an identity that is not constructed but given. For my deepest being is indeed pure gift and in attaining it I discover joy.

~ What is the point of being a Christian? Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP