Thursday, 31 August 2017

Love Letter to Parents - Matters of Faith

Dear parents and parents to be...

Remember that you are parents to your kids, and that you are fully responsible for bringing up your kids not only in worldly matters, but especially also in spiritual matters. There are times you need to double your efforts and make sacrifices to be with your children to share the Word of God. Spending time on the Word of God with your kids is among the many opportunities you have to show your love of God, and your kids to follow your example.

To spare you the anguish and agony of what may come to pass one day, allow me to enlighten you on something which should be addressed early, so that you can take the necessary steps and precautions to rectify it before it happens to you, since prevention is better than cure.

Every once in a while, I visit families in BECs (Basic Ecclesial Communities( and during other occasions. When I visit some families, elderly couples or single parents are sometimes left alone at home by themselves. I enquire them where are their children? The first thing they proudly talk about is the children's achievements and high status or income; and that many of their children stay overseas, some in other cities, some staying in different affluent or high-society areas.

I ask them do they come and visit? They reply that some of their children only come and visit once a month, some during long holidays, some once a year, some rarely, etc.; and the often heard excuse is that their children are so busy with their worldly lives, that they supposingly have little time for anything else (in Hokkien, "Boh Eng" or 忙碌, 没有閑暇時間 in Mandarin - which is translated as busy, no leisure time). Some of these elderly couples even lament that some or even all their children no longer practice their faith, or hardly go to church, or worse still, have abandoned their faith altogether and even joined some other faith, especially due to marriage.

I smile at them and tell them that you have given or even forced your children with all they need or might need to make their worldly life better in the future (tuition, sports, music), and that they spend hours in such activities in order to master them. But how much time do you and your children spend together with God by sharing the Word of God and participating at Sunday mass? They often say that they all have no time to pray family prayer together, or share the Word of God together, or even get involved in various church activities. Tuition, piano, swimming, dancing lessons, and many other worldly activities seem more important, and some parents are so kiasu (scared or don't want to lose), that they even have the audacity to send their children, in some cases children as young as 2 or 3 years old, for language classes, music classes, or some form of mind enrichment class, with hope and expectation that their children would have a head start in life or be one up over others, and as a result, faith-related activities seem to take a back seat.

I tell them that the idea of the "Family that prays together stay together" is very simple... You know very well that spending 5 mins in activities won't help your kids to master them, that's why they spend hours doing so. Then by spending barely 5 mins (or even less) with your kids to know the Word of God, will it help you or your kids to know God and His commands (such as responsibility of parents to kids, kids to parents, how we treat others, and the consequences of neglecting such commands and responsibilities)? Of course not! Since practice makes perfect, not only when it comes to worldly matters, but especially so in spiritual matters.

Many of them acknowledge their mistake, but by then it's too late. In Malay, "Nasi sudah jadi bubur." In English, Ït is no use crying over spilt milk." I pray for them and ask them to pray and ask for forgiveness from God, for pushing their children until they become accustomed to being slaves or subservient to worldly needs, and in doing so neglect their responsibilities as parents towards their children by bringing them up in Godly ways.

So parents... what would you do? REMEMBER; "little things we neglect now, become our biggest downfall in future, and may even mortally wound us spiritually." I find it amusing and baffling that, some parents demand and expect teachers of Religious Education in our Churches to be so dedicated about guiding their kids in Faith, and such parents themselves merely wash their hands off such an important duty. Why can't you parents cast aside your indifference, "tidak apa" or "don't care" attitude, and laziness, and do what you, as primary educators of your children, are supposed and expected to do?

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Self-Denial: Sure or Not

I find it interesting and amusing to observe how some go about practising some form of self-denial, especially when it comes to Fridays, or even the season of Lent. Some seem to think that self-denial merely means that one must abstain from eating meat on Fridays, and they feel very good about themselves for doing so. Some think that self-denial means they must make themselves miserable in different ways, and make all sorts of sacrifices, as if doing such things would appease God. But are these what self-denial is all about? Do we practice self-denial just for the sake of doing it? Are we really practising self-denial, or we actually "gluttons for punishment"?

Now before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I am against self-denial, no I am not. What I am getting at is when we begin to treat self-denial as a form of outward show, or "sandiwara" or "wayang" (Malay words meaning "putting on an act" or "putting on a show"), where we do it merely to get attention, or to appear to be pious or "holy," or even as a form of self-gratification.

So what does self-denial really mean? In Matthew 16:24, Jesus reminds us: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." What Jesus is telling us is that ultimately, all that we are and all that we do must be not to please ourselves, or to drive our own agenda or interests. Instead, we should be denying anything which is sinful, evil, selfish, self-centred, egoistic, making oneself proud or glorifying oneself. We should be following Christ wholeheartedly and enthusiastically, without terms and conditions. Our efforts should be for the good of all, and for the glory of God. "My way" should give way to "God's way" as our motto in life.

So, when all is said and done, we deny ourselves when we follow Christ with trust, hope, joy and gladness, without fearing the cost, danger and suffering, knowing that He will lead us and guide us closer to Him. Are we willing to cast aside our doubts, our desires, our wants and needs, and let Him be our true providence? Not easy, some may say, but with God, nothing is impossible.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Over the years, I have observed how children play and interact. I noticed that, in quite a number of cases, children seem to find it so much easier to forgive and move on. For example, I recall some children playing a game. All of a sudden, a quarrel happens and some children walk off in a huff saying, "Hummph! Don't want to friend you!" The funny thing is, after a short while, these children come back together again to play, as if the quarrel or incident that had just happened, had not occurred in the first place, or that it was nothing or not a big deal.

What happens when adults get into a quarrel or even a fight? Are adults able to forgive and move on just like how children do? Quite likely I observe adults finding it tough or even impossible to forgive and move on. Why is this so? It is precisely because some of us have developed a big ego or swelled-up pride as we grew, and together with prejudice and possibly a "kiasu"or "don't want to lose"attitude, we refuse to apologise when we are in the wrong, or refuse to forgive when others have wronged us. Some of us also may have developed low self-esteem, and think that we are the victim and others are the oppressors, causing some to be unable to forgive.

But what did Jesus teach us about forgiveness? Jesus simply taught us that forgiveness is a two-way street. In the Lord's Prayer, we are reminded: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Jesus even warned us, "Make every effort to reconcile with your adversary while you are on your way to the magistrate. Otherwise, he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and the officer may throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the very last penny." (Luke 12:58-59). Also, we are reminded: "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!" (Matthew 18:21-22). What this means is that we must learn to forgive others, just as we petition God to forgive us. We cannot expect to only receive forgiveness from God or from others, if we ourselves are stubbornly refusing to forgive.

Of course, it is not easy to forgive, especially when the other has hurt us so bad. But if we recall clearly, Jesus, even on the cross, chose to say, "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." Some of us may argue: "But Jesus is God, and surely that makes it easy for Him to forgive!" But we must remember that Jesus is also a man, and even in human limitations and weakness, He chose to show us an example by forgiving, instead of remaining hostile, holding grudges, or even keeping the bitterness inside. Jesus shows us that, like children, the issue at hand is actually not a big deal after all. It is we who make what seems to be a molehill, into mountains.

So the question is... are we willing to set aside our pride, prejudice and ego, and learn to forgive? Or have we become so entrenched with anger, insecurity, hatred and fear, that we become so easily hurt and unforgiving? Why do we allow ourselves to be snared or eaten up by unforgiveness, when God is offering us peace, happiness and freedom when we forgive?

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Judge Not A Book By Its Cover

I sometimes wonder whether some people are aware of the double standards they practice, especially when they deal with different kinds of people. For example, when they are in the presence of a dignitary or some important person, they behave so pleasantly and sweetly. But when they come across a person who appears to be unkempt, or poor, or dressed in a simple manner, how would they behave? Some may look at such persons with suspicion, or have a haughty attitude, or even behave in a rude and demeaning manner towards the other.

For example, if you see a person who appears to be unkempt or dressed in a simple manner entering the church, would you make it a point to greet the person, or even offer some assistance? Or would you think that such a person has no place inside the church, or even think that such a person is is up to no good? Likewise, if you are a salesperson selling branded goods, and you see such a person browsing through such goods, would you offer your services, come what may, or would you ignore such persons, thinking that they are not worth your time, or even watch such a person closely, thinking that such a person could be a thief?

But the reality is, never judge a book by it's cover. The person you are dealing with may not be what he or she seems to be, since there may be more than meets the eye. A person may appear to be unkempt or even dressed in a simple manner, but sometimes such persons may turn out to be far more important or significant than we perceive through our prejudiced and coloured eyes. In fact, the person may even turn out to be Jesus in disguise.

I remember a story an elderly padre shared with me some years back, of a religious sister being posted to some remote parish in a diocese in some part of Africa. When she arrived, she managed to find her way to the remote parish, with help from some natives, whom she viewed with some apprehension. After putting her bags into her room, she went to present herself to the bishop, whose residence was just a walking distance away from the parish. Upon arriving at the bishop's residence, she came across a gardener near the entrance, and said to him: "hey old man, I am here to see the bishop. Where can I find him?" The gardener looked at her and said: "You want to see the bishop? Just go into the house and wait at the living room. He will meet you shortly." The sister went in and waited, and waited. She was getting pretty impatient, when an old-looking man came into the living room, dressed in full regalia, with mitre, staff and ceremonial attire. The sister was shocked to discover that the "old man" she had spoken to, in a rather rough manner, was in fact the bishop, and she felt embarrassed and sheepish. The bishop just grinned and welcomed her to his diocese, and even offered her some tea.

So the question we need to ponder is this... Are we able to treat everyone equally with compassion, dignity, mercy and love? Or have we allowed our pride, ego and prejudice to colour our vision and thoughts? Are we willing to behave truly as brothers and sisters in Christ, or do we choose to remain biased in our attitude and behaviour?

BO and MO during Confession?

Among the many challenges a padre has to put up with when it comes to confession, one which is just as potent and potentially pengsan-able...