Monday, 28 September 2020

YOUR PERSONAL CONVERSION STORY MATTERS TO JESUS!

 


September 27 is the Feast Day of St. Vincent de Paul who is known as the Patron Saint of all Catholic Charities. St. Vincent is also the Patron Saint of the Vincentian Congregation of India, the priests who run  Divine Retreat Centre, Kerala, India where I have been serving for over 16 years.


St. Vincent like many saints we read about had a huge personal conversion of his heart for Jesus.  That moment of personal conversion was his inspiration to not only preach the Word of God through popular missions in parishes but also to serve the poor. Like the Samaritan Man, helping the poor was not an option. It was Jesus command to all of us, "Go and do likewise."(Luke 10:37)

The Covid-19 pandemic is a wake-up call to all of us on earth to be kinder and gentler towards one another, and be responsible and caring stewards to all living creatures, to Nature, the environment, waterways, seas, oceans and the ozone layer in the skies.  We, humans, through indifference and greed have plundered our earth with little thought to the long-term damage we contribute to. Every life that God created is precious to Him. The Encyclical, LAUDATO SI by Pope Francis has become  so meaningful to me. It's subtitle is "Common Care For Our Home".  It should be read by every human being and not just Catholics. 

With churches around the world closed during the Season of Lent and the greatest Catholic liturgical week, Holy Week, Catholics around the world were stunned and felt lost. A great blessing is that many Catholics have found the beautiful grace to turn to God, and to be rooted in Christ. The churches may be closed but in this difficult times, many Catholics have access to online Catholic resources. It has opened hearts for many of us to understand the Word of God, the Holy Bible with a deeper love for Jesus. Many Catholics all over the world have reached out to help those who are suffering in their communities regardless of race, religion or creed.

Despite great difficulties here in Kerala due to the pandemic, I have found the special grace of God's Mercy upon all of us in Divine Retreat Centre. It is priceless to be able to  celebrate daily Holy Mass  and to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament. There is an indescribable peace just sitting at the Feet of Jesus. For this alone, I am so thankful to God that I am here.

Fr. Michael Payyapilly V.C.'s homily-"WHAT IS MY ONGOING CONVERSION STORY?", in the YouTube video at the top of this post, penetrated my heart. In fact, I could identify fully with St. Vincent de Paul before his conversion story. Like him, I was only focused on my career, job position and the financial benefits I could attain.  Like St. Vincent, I was obsessed with the comforts in life. It was all about being a success materially on earth.

On Palm Sunday 2020, I found a deep inner peace fill my heart, mind and soul. I had opened up to the Director that I was sitting in front of him not as a volunteer but as a broken person. I was feeling very fragile and fearful for all my family members. I could not help anyone! My ministry which is mainly  overseas-based literally came to a standstill. When I was prayed over, I had the sensation of a huge boulder of heavy weight being lifted up from my shoulders. In that blessed moment, my heart was completely free from personal pains and inner wounds. Yes, even in ministry, we do go through all these - where we are exhausted, burdened  and joy seems to be elusive. 

As I look back now, it was solely due to the prayers of some very dear family and friends, I am now able to have quality reflective time to do intercessory prayers for all who ask me, and in spiritual readings and videos. The Word of God lift us up when we learn to totally surrender our lives unto Jesus' Hands. My favourite novena is the Novena of Surrender. It had no effect on me when I started praying this novena in late January for  four consecutive cycles. Then I noticed  a change in my heart and mind. The few strained  relationships I had here were healed and we are all on good terms as friends. We even have our meals together and pray for each other. There is laughter and joy where before we tried to keep our distance if we could.


How did it happen? It is about remembering my personal conversion story and the love that seemed to burst from my heart for Jesus. All I needed and wanted was to live for Jesus! Nothing else mattered.  Yet as the years went by, my personal conversion experience seemed to take a backseat in the midst of ministry. It is like a spiritual burnout. This pandemic has given me  the much-needed opportunity to deeply root myself in Christ as I write and recall my ongoing faith journey over the years since my 1st Divine retreat experience. I can clearly identify God's Hand upon my life. 

Fr. Michael in his homily challenges each of us to reflect on this heart-piercing question, "In my growth stage, have I forgotten my ongoing conversion story?"  Father further reminded us we should not have growth for the sake of growth. Our faith journey is always an ongoing conversion story.

Only then can my conversion story be my GREATEST love story. Jesus, I love You with All of me. Only in You, I find  Joy and Strength to be detached from this world  and to be deeply rooted in You - my source of Life, my Hope, my Love.

The YouTube music video below, LOVELY LORD by PETRA is the prayer I have in my heart every day now. The year 2020 is indeed life-changing - I have rediscovered the love and passion to live for Jesus with all my being. My family and I have grown closer to each other as we have all turned to God praying for each other and with each other through Zoom. We have never been closer as a family despite the oceans that separate us.  In the meantime, there is much love and joy living here in Divine Retreat Centre. It is the family Jesus has gifted me for the past 16 years in India.

"Lovely Lord, I am longing to see You one day face to face."


                

Sunday, 12 April 2020

EASTER 2020 - HOPE IN JESUS LIVES!


"HOLY MOTHER" by Eric Clapton and Luciano Pavarotti


Today is Easter Sunday 2020. An Easter that will never be forgotten for a long time to come. All the churches across the world are silent and empty. However,  our hearts which is a "temple of God" is not empty. In a mysterious way, this Holy Week and Easter has drawn us very much closer to Jesus, our Redeemer. 
All Glory and Praise to God! Easter is all about Hope!


In this pandemic, along with the fear and despair, many of us have realized how important our Christian faith is in our lives.

Despite it all, we have experienced interior joy and a deep soul-searching of what should be most important in our journey here on earth, Yes, it is not  the material things in life. Where are we in our spiritual life? Are we ready for our eternal life in heaven? Have we been good stewards of the earth as per one of the readings during the Easter Vigil mass where God made man the master of all the living animals and plants on land and sea. Each one of us as human beings, have failed in this aspect - towards our fellow human beings and to all of Creation. 


Video Credit: Guardian UK

Through social media, we have seen air and sea pollution clear up so much, that Mount Everest can be seen clearly miles away in North India. We see dolphins swimming and frolicking in waters from Venice in Italy to Cochin, India; a herd of Great Orme mountain goats coming down from the mountains in North Wales; a critically endangered wild civet cat calmly walking the streets of a town in Kerala, India. In fact, today I saw video of a monkey taking a dive from the outside of a condo  a few floors up into  the swimming pool and then swimming leisurely  across the pool. It was amazing!  But it brought a serious question and resolve within my heart - to be a much better human being. I know I can live with a lot less materially and to focus on what should be important - life on earth is temporary. We are pilgrims and our home is Heaven. I need to be more socially and ethically responsible to be a a better steward while on earth.


This Holy Easter, let us rejoice in Jesus who has won Eternal Life for all of humankind. Let us proclaim and live the Victory of the Cross - Jesus our Redeemer.

I received the beautiful YouTube video at the top of the post from my sister in USA a short while ago - "Holy Mother" by Eric Clapton and Luciano Pavarotti. It is the first time I have seen this music video. When Eric Clapton started singing, I felt teary and the moment Luciano Pavarotti started singing until the end, I had painful goosebumps and a great joy well up within my heart.  It made me realize tangibly how the entire Holy Week was about Jesus' greatest gift to us - His Life AND it was also about Mother Mary, our Holy Mother. Her courage, her faith and her total acceptance of God's Will is the shining example to each of us. She was a human being just like you and me. We need to strive to be a "missionary" like Mother Mary - not by being famous and rich and having human power. It is in quiet humility, striving to be totally faithful and courageous to do God's Will at all times. Mother Mary lead us to live  for Jesus with joy and hope! This music video is the inspiration of my Easter 2020 post.


Here is a short prayer to St. Philip Neri, known as the Patron Saint of Joy and 
Apostle of Rome, who was a priest, missionary and founder of the Congregation 
of the Oratory that can help a soul weighed down by the anxieties of the world 
see the joy of the Gospel in a new way.

*********************************************************************************
O holy St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy,
you who trusted Scripture’s promise
that the Lord is always at hand and that
we need not have anxiety about anything,

in your compassion heal our worries and sorrows
and lift the burdens from our hearts.
We come to you as one whose heart swells with
abundant love for God and all creation.

Hear us, we pray, especially in this need
(make your request here).
Keep us safe through your loving intercession,
and may the joy of the Holy Spirit
which filled your heart, St. Philip,
transform our lives and bring us peace.
Amen

  *********************************************************************************
 “The Christian ‘identity card,'” Pope Francis underscored, “is joy, the Gospel’s joy, the joy of having been chosen by Jesus, saved by Jesus, regenerated by Jesus; the joy of that hope that Jesus is waiting for us, the joy that – even with the crosses and sufferings we bear in this life – is expressed in another way, which is peace in the certainty that Jesus accompanies us, is with us.”
Pope Francis
Mass Homily at Casa Santa Maria (23 May 2016)


Friday, 27 March 2020

A TIME TO REDISCOVER THE MEANING AND JOY OF LIFE


Fr Michael Payyapilly V.C., Parish Priest of Holy Family Church, Doveton, Australia leads us in into a soul-searching and anointed Divine Mercy Stations of the Cross YouTube video above. In this Holy Season of Lent when the world is in a great coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and most churches and borders worldwide closed in countrywide lock-down, our hearts need to turn to God for mercy and hope. 

Many of us are living in nationwide lock-down. It is not easy to do so. Our world as we know it, has come to a standstill. Thousands have died alone and away from loved ones due to this swift pandemic.

The medical frontliners, first responders, and all essential services are working tirelessly to keep the rest of us safe. During this time, let us in this holy Lenten season, make a deep meaningful soul-searching of what is truly important in our lives.

Families and loved ones are now having meals and meaningful conversations while bonding together. There is a break from the rat race as people are working from home. Pollution is clearing; animals are freely walking on the streets and swimming joyfully in the waters. I have seen videos of geese, dolphins frolicking in the Indian harbours and even a very endangered animal walking on an empty street in India.

Personally, I took the time to really enjoy a heavy downpour a few days ago, feeling the breeze in my face, the leaves on the trees looking so refreshed with the raindrops on them, and the sound of the raindrops on the ground. I felt so free and the tensions of being cooped up went away that morning



We have to accept whatever it takes. Makes everyone ponder about the meaning of our lives. We are often too self-absorbed. Looking at the sudden totally unexpected downpour that morning, I actually marvelled about how God brings about the weather changes in our daily lives. It had been so hot and the rain really made me happy especially the cool breeze. (I enjoy rains except the type that brings floods!) 

Rains are a blessing for humankind, oceans, waterfalls, environment, animals and plants. Yet, I have seldom taken few moments to offer thanks and be grateful to God

I decided to start a Gratitude Daily Journal and every morning, afternoon and night, I looked at what had brought me joy - despite being alone in my own company. Things in life i take for granted. Just simple moments in life like waking up at 5.10 a.m. in the morning, alive and well. I am definitely not a morning person!

It is not easy for me. Yesterday, I cried three times as I could not take it being in lock-down for so long since 15 March and extended until late April.. However, I am praying and working on some ideas I have had for a few years but I seem to have never had the time! In this time of great solitude and reflection, life seems to be in a standstill, I am very aware of Jesus' Presence in my life and the things that clutter my life which needs to discarded - physically, mentally and emotionally.

Joining the live-streaming of the touching Divine Mercy Stations of the Cross by Fr. Michael Payyapilly V.C. at the top of the post today, I felt the tension in my heart and mind loosening its grip. It made me realize yet again how much my family and friends mean to me. It is never easy being away from them - something I realized during the Kerala 2018 floods. I have had to cancel my Singapore and Australia trips to be with two of my sisters. I was rather sad as I was really looking forward to be with family. However, I am happy that all my family and loved ones have been safe so far. We have all found strength in our faith as have many millions of Catholics around the world. 

It has taught many of us never to take the daily Holy Eucharist for granted. It has made us realize how much our priests mean to us, "shepherds of the flock" here on earth are so integral in all the important events of our lives. We should pray for our priests every day so that all of us are sustained spiritually, as we are pilgrims on earth. God has sent them to guide us to heaven, our eternal home.


In the stress of the lock-down, nationwide in many countries, it is good to look at our lives and once again find joy in the simple priceless treasures we have taken for granted.

Treasure our families and loved ones - always nurture our relationships! Strengthen the personal touch in our lives. Stop being attached to our mobiles and electronic gadgets. Never take anyone or any aspect of our life for granted. Our life is God's gift to us.

Most of all, we have to realize that the earth is not just for us human beings.   How we have ignored, nature and the animals, all living creatures, the fauna and flora! They are springing to new life. Pollution and waters have cleaned up. It is wake-up time for each of us to learn to live in this world equitably with all of God's Creation. 

Today, besides my loved ones, I take  this moment to thank God for all the priests in the world who are reaching out to us through social media. So that our souls continue to be nourished and fed. We are not alone. 

I take this opportunity to thank Fr. Michael Payyapilly for once again touching our hearts to reach out to Jesus' Mercy and to live in love and hope. 

Let us all live in this world with love, compassion and kindness!

Friday, 24 May 2019

“BE WHO YOU ARE, NOT WHO THE WORLD WANTS YOU TO BE” – Unknown



It has been an enlightening past couple of years as I decided to catch up / reconnect with old friends and colleagues who have made my life brighter since childhood and who I have always had warm and loving memories of.  There comes a point in one's life - at least in mine - when I do not want to have regrets of not taking the time to spend some personal quality time with family and  friends when I can.  Perhaps it is the sudden news of people suddenly no longer in this world with us. We never know when the year started of who will not be with us when the next new year begins.

The Kerala floods in India on 16 and 17 August 2018 was an "epiphany" moment for me. As the waters rose steadily higher to ten feet swiftly, I was watching it rise with many silent thoughts in my heart and mind - about my life, my aspirations. my heart's passion, and the people who I am grateful for. There are so many who made me laugh, who were there for me when we needed each other's friendship and care, encouragement and the sheer joy of being able to be open and to just be ourselves. 

There is so much in life to be grateful for. I have spent 16 years in the corporate world and 15 years now in full-time mission work. What I have learnt is that what truly matters is that each of us live true to who God created us to be. Many of us were blessed with loving  families and friends from whom we learnt of our life's  and faith values. It is truly a gift of God we should never take for granted.

There are so many rich and famous individuals who seemed to have it all in the world  but who we keep reading in the news that they have chosen to take their own lives. It begs the burning question. Why? Aside from suffering from mental illness, I believe that for many of them they had lost the true moral and ethical compass in their life of who each of them is to God. When we live just for the fame, success, wealth and adulation of the world but not on intrinsic values that can truly bring meaning to our lives, there will always be an emptiness within us. No person or material value on this earth can fill it.

Each of us is created by God. We need a deep spiritual relationship with Him. Our core values should be intrinsic ones which makes each of us strive to live as compassionate, loving, kind and joyful human beings. I have seen people even in full-time ministry who seemed to have lost it over time - the humility and compassion have turned to pride and a certain hardness of heart after being surrounded by people who give them human recognition and worldly fame. That is why no matter what we do in life, it is good to take a sabbatical (if possible) to re-evaluate, and search within our heart and mind some heart-probing questions about our own life as to who we really are in God's eyes and how and why we may have changed. We need to be brutally honest with ourselves.



It is interesting to read about people who have found their true passion or calling late in life. Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe, his first novel at 60. Sir Ralph Fiennes, the world famous senior adventurer had heart surgery, diabetes, frostbite and family bereavement but it did not stop him in his amazing expeditions. Socrates known as one of the founders of Western philosophy started to learn music in his 60s. Physicist, Sir William Crookes, invented the first instruments to study radioactivity when he was 68.  Ann Marie Robertson Moses nicknamed Grandma Moses, a famous American folk artist, only started painting in earnest at the age of 78! What it truly shows is that it is NEVER too late for each  of  us to live with the passion and joy God gives each of us when we respond fully to our mission on earth! 

For me, a life-changing second "epiphany " moment happened last year. I was given a jolt to take a deep prayerful analysis of my life - of a vision and message I have felt stirring deeply in my life for over 21 years when I had my first "epiphany" moment of having a deeper relationship with Jesus. It is difficult to put into words this driving force within me. The best I can explain is that it is like a holy passion God has placed in me to live for Him, as who I am, not as who the world or the people around me expect me to be. So whether we have 20, 40, 58, 65, 75 or 85 years on this earth, it is about being true to ourselves to make a difference on this earth. We do not need to be rich or famous or to compare ourselves with others. It is also not about thinking we are too old to live our call. God qualifies each of us for what His Plan is. It is not only about ministry. Where we are placed by God, that is our mission field. It is about God's Glory being manifested through our life. We can bring joy and make a difference in teaching, volunteering our skills, art, photography, writing, nature conservation, music or praying as an intercessor for the multitude of needs in the world. The list is endless! What each of us can do is add depth and vibrancy to many lives if we are not afraid to live fully the call of our heart.

What is important is that our life is a blessing to others. It is about integrity, love, kindness, compassion and the inner joy that radiates from within us to bring hope and inspire others.


Even if your life seems a failure because some projects or business undertakings have failed or you have been made redundant, you are not a failure. From these difficult and painful life experiences, we learn to become better human beings for we learn empathy and compassion and are more compassionate and kind to people in difficult life situations. It helps us understand that we cannot always control what happens in our lives.  Believe in yourself that you can overcome and start anew with God's Promise - "For I know the plans I have for you, " declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11) Do not let setbacks make you doubt yourself or lose your belief that your are precious to God. As pilgrims on this earth, how we face every situation in our life makes each of us the person we are. It is our choice to live as children of God each day or to live for the worldly transient rewards. It is about the inner joy and hope that comes from God or the happiness and worldly recognition that is transient.

BE WHO YOU ARE  - for that is God's Loving Plan for you. Our age should never be a barrier - "For nothing will be impossible with God. (Luke 1:37)"

Having met many dear friends, I have been inspired and encouraged by many of them who are making a difference in other people's lives in their own communities and in different countries. They have been doing it for many years humbly and quietly with little publicity. They do it from their heart. Friends from my childhood to the present - Monica, Ben, Amy, Geok Ming, Brendan, Carol, Diana, Caroline, Eva, Paul and Angie, Wilderich and Maria Inez (who returned to her Heavenly home last year) - thank you for inspiring me to have the courage and hope to pursue the "call" in my heart. I have so many other friends who have encouraged me with the positive love and interest they have shown me. It is why I have great hope, despite all the negative news we read and watch daily, that our world is full of "unsung" heroes and saints who are Christ's Light to the world. They have not let obstacles stop them from pursuing the Call of God that there is a purpose each of us are on this earth.They have shared with me that God has opened so many doors which are really "miracles". Money or age do not really matter. It is about trusting God, having a personal relationship with Jesus and having the courage to live each of our lives as who God wants us to be. If He has placed us on this earth, He will bless us to do His Will. Our ultimate reward is in Heaven. So let us heed Jesus' Call and not let worry, despair and have "worldly weeds of stress" overcome us. Let us trust in Jesus' Promise -  "Do not be afraid - I am with you!" (Isaiah 43:5) 

The YouTube music video at the top of the post, "THIS IS OUR TIME" by Planetshakers, is an uplifting song of making our lives become alive in the present time. Let us live our life fully as we are and not wait for a perfect moment some time in the future that may never happen. Every moment matters. Each of us can bring hope and joy to those around us. That is what ultimately counts - who each of us is in God's eyes! 

Will my life make a positive difference in this world? That is ultimately up to me if I am willing to be who I really am. Each of us have a life mission. Let us not be afraid to live the dream and call in our heart!

Monday, 3 December 2018

ADVENT - BE A PILGRIM OF HOPE




What is the Holy Season of Advent? Does it have a spiritual meaning for Catholics? Most of us know that it is the four weeks before Christmas and the start of the new Liturgical Year.

What does it means to each of us personally? During the Holy Season of Lent, we are all called to focus on repentance and turning back to our Lord. What about Advent? Advent is about Hope as we prepare to welcome Jesus into our heart and into our life.

For many Catholics (and I definitely fell in this category before), I never thought much of it as a season of waiting and anticipating the arrival of Jesus into my heart at Christmas - it is a way for all of us to be ready for the Second Coming of Our Lord. I only would remember it was the season of Advent when I saw the Advent candles being lit on the four Sundays before Christmas - three purple candles and a pink candle. However, life just went on as normal. Well not quite! It was time to think about Christmas plans, shopping, presents, loved ones to invite/to visit, setting up the Christmas tree and the Nativity crib.

How should we prepare spiritually during Advent? Is it wrong to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the shopping malls playing Christmas carols and beautiful decorations everywhere and getting ready for Christmas? I do enjoy all these as I can feel the joy of goodwill and wishes of peace and love in the air. But what about our hearts? There has to be a spiritual dimension to the Season of Advent for each of us.



There are  many ways we can prepare spiritually these days.  Through the internet, there are many online Advent prayers, retreats, reflections that we can sign up for on a daily / weekly basis. We can attend an Advent retreat. We can pray and meditate in front of the Blessed Sacrament for at least 30 minutes daily. These are moments of grace to help us reflect upon how ready we are to receive Jesus; how ready are we to share our Saviour's Love to all around us? For me, Advent is a time to reflect on how I try to respond to God's Call in  my life.  Am I being transformed to experience the Gift of Hope despite the difficulties of my life? Do I hold on in faith Jesus is always with me and for me? When our hearts are  sustained by Hope in Jesus, there is a spiritual joy that radiates from within us - a peace and serenity - that others can see despite the sufferings and obstacles we face.  Our faith is on the Victory of Jesus on the Cross. It is this Hope of Christ we need to nurture and let it bloom in our heart and mind.  To be a Christian is to be filled with Hope. The Gift of Hope in Advent leads us to the Joy of Christmas when our hearts gladly welcome the Gift of Everlasting Love - Baby Jesus.

It has taken me many years to understand fully why the Season of Advent is really important in my faith journey and how I need to be transformed  on a daily basis. If I am not a pilgrim of hope on this earth, it is going to be quite an impossible task to be a pilgrim of love and joy too! That is what our mission on earth is - God has a special call for every one of us in all aspects of our life. It is not just when we are serving in a church or mission ministry. It is in our family life as a grandparent, parent, child, sibling; at work as a business owner, investor, manager, employee, working colleague; in ministry as a priest, a religious, a lay leader or volunteer. It is crucial that our service for God is grounded in Jesus - our Hope, our Joy, Our Love.


This year, I am also catching up on my spiritual reading. The picture above are the books I will be reading until New Year. I was a real bookworm but had stopped doing so when I came to serve in Divine. The recent Kerala floods has given me a big jolt in many ways that are difficult to explain. Thanks to the convenience of Amazon.com, I have decided it is time to read, reflect and be inspired, uplifted and challenged by people who have courageously lived their faith. To believe that I can and should give my all in how I live for Christ.  To look deep within my heart, how am I living for God? In a comfort zone platform or am I willing to answer God's Call with faith and not by sight? It is definitely a matter of trust. Do I trust Jesus to heed His Call? We need to constantly grow in how we serve or live for Jesus. We cannot be like the Dead Sea but we should be like the Indian Ocean - a constant flow of water filled with life and never-ending power of spiritual zeal.

It is important to be open and rejuvenated of new ideas, new vision and new approach to how Jesus wants each of us - you and me - to live our call.  Each of us is special to God who lovingly promised us, "You are precious in my eyes and I love you." (Isaiah 43:4) God has blessed us with our talents and skills. As we start this sacred season of Advent, let us wait upon God's Spirit to enlighten our heart and mind so that we are fully receptive to whatever Jesus has in store for us in our future -  "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelations 22:20)  

The YouTube music video below,"BE BORN IN ME" sung by Francesca Battistelli is a beautiful hymn to prepare us in anticipation for Holy Christmas.


  I wish all my family, friends and readers of this post 
a most blessed and enlightening Advent!






Friday, 10 August 2018

GIVE ME THIS MOUNTAIN- I WILL NOT BE TURNING BACK



Chorus lyrics: GIVE ME THIS MOUNTAIN  (CALEB'S SONG by Graham Kendrick) 

Give me this mountain
I will not be turning back
Give me this mountain
For your glory
Give me this mountain
Jesus’ blood has overcome
So I’m not quitting till it’s done

2018 has been a year of "renewal" for me. It has been a time when I have experienced the loss of my comfort zone in a certain aspect of my ministry and the need to make some decisions in other areas of my personal life. The strange thing was that since I came into full-time ministry, I had always been conscious of not wanting to live for Christ from my heart's perspective of being in a position of "comfort zone". For the  last few years, I felt somewhat restrained to serve as I felt in my heart. The Call of God that I tangibly experienced in Singapore after my first retreat in Divine 20 years ago still remained vivid in me.



Well, to put it mildly, I was praying intensely since August 2017 for God to reveal His Plan for me if it was His Will. I wanted to get out of my "comfort zone" of what I had been doing to what I have always felt deeply in my heart. But was it God's Will for me or was it my will? I was determined to find out.





Jesus granted me a great grace a month after I started intensifying my prayers in November 2017. I had a great desire to experience an Ignatian personal silent directed retreat since 2006. Each year, I was trying to find the time to do so when I was in Malaysia/Singapore on my personal leave. But it was never possible - for some reason, it was always hectic! But this time, I decided that Malaysia/Singapore was too close to my daily life activities. Furthermore, Divine is where I live so it is not easy  to be still and silent in the midst of my ministry here.  I wanted to do what Jesus asks each of us - "Come away by yourselves and rest in a secluded place." (Mark 6:31)   I started checking out the Jesuit Spirituality Centres in Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand. When I read the website of the Seven Fountains Spirituality Centre in Chiangmai, Thailand, my heart just knew. So immediately I sent off an email with the idea to start  my 2018 annual personal leave after Easter with my silent directed Ignatian retreat in April 2018. What was so surprising was that this desire to do so came during a very busy ministry schedule for me. I decided to write on 20 December 2017 and got a swift reply. With that, God was already revealing His Love for me.

Throughout the Lenten season, I had asked Jesus to show me tangible signs for 3 major decisions I had to make in my life. I got all 3 signs during Holy Week. For me, it was rather difficult, as there was deep pain in one of the signs and the way I had to experience it. 

When I arrived at Seven Fountains on 22 April 2018  (after a few days as a tourist in Chiangmai), my heart felt an incredible sense of peace. There was a funny incident just as I arrived at the office after the Sunday Holy Mass in the Seven Fountains chapel. I was thinking, "Here, I am and how great that no one knows me. It is just going to be Jesus and me." Within a minute, a fellow retreatant walked up to me and asked if I was Susan Alexander. I was really surprised  and he then said that he had seen my photo on this blog. Till today, I do not know what his name was because I was speechless at the thought a small photo on my blog could make someone recognize me. I forgot to ask his name! I had a very good nap on my first day and a truly blessed time of personal prayer and meditative reflection after dinner. My laptop was having a rest too and I was off all social media. My physical and mental fatigue was being lifted away and replaced by the blessedness of the stillness of my heart. 


Rev. Fr. Paul Pollock SJ
My Spiritual Director was Rev. Fr. Paul Pollock SJ, Director, Seven Fountains Jesuit Spirituality Centre, Chiangmai, Thailand. At the start of my personal retreat , Fr. Paul asked me to "Eat Well, Sleep Well, Pray Well"The goal of my first day was to pray  as Samuel did  - "Here I am , Lord. Your servant is listening. Speak to me, Lord." (cf 1 Samuel 3:10)  I was asked to read a library book "A Vacation with the Lord" by Rev. Fr. Thomas Greene SJ. In his book, this American priest had written the phrase - "Eat Well. Sleep Well. Pray Well". Fr. Paul wanted me to take my personal retreat as my vacation with the Lord. I was happy to do that! Most of the retreats I have been to were hectic. Just having the silence for 6 days was indescribable. There were about 20 retreatants throughout my stay - when some left, new ones came. We saw each other in the dining hall, But we never spoke to each other as we sat on different tables maintaining our silence. I only made friends with a really lovely Singaporean lady when we shared the taxi to Chiangmai airport and sat beside each other on the flight back to Singapore.  


Every day, I really enjoyed having the time to watch a few friendly rabbits and a male "alpha" turkey and his extended family. He was always looking after his family like a shepherd! I was impressed at its complete dedication. If a turkey could so lovingly care for its family, how much more would God do for each of us?  Seven Fountains is a peaceful refuge although it is in the city. I stayed in the St. Pierre Favre Residence and I immediately loved my room and most of all the St. Pierre Favre chapel in this building. The first Word of God I got as I prayed in this chapel was, "Show me a sign of thy favour, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because thou, LORD, has helped me and comforted me." (Psalm 86:17)   

"Maturity is when you live by your commitments, not by your feelings" by Pastor Rick Warren. I came across this quote which spoke to my heart as I was leaving the chapel on my first night, I asked Jesus for a sign (before I met Fr. Paul the next morning) - to show me a pretty insect with some white colour on it that will flutter around - as a sign that Jesus will be with me every moment of this Ignatian retreat.


I was so joyous the next day! When I opened my room door the next morning, I saw an insect I have never seen before (picture above). It was just outside my room. I had accidentally left  my bible in a chapel in another building so I was in a hurry to get it. As I took a few steps away, this insect started fluttering around my room door. My heart was filled with joy and I thanked Jesus for showing me a tangible sign of His Presence with me. When I came back, the insect was still outside my door. I went in, got my camera and took the photo as a special momento. A few days later, when I showed the photo of the insect to Fr. Paul, he said he had never seen an insect like that before! I thought it looked like a peacock. :) From the start of the retreat, Fr. Paul encouraged me to look for "signs from God". I was quite taken aback when Fr. Paul told me that it would be the way God would always speak to my heart. It was a blessed affirmation for me as I had experienced meaningful signs from God since my first retreat 20 years ago in my faith journey. It was a joy to hear it from my retreat director. Indeed, the greatest grace of this Ignatian retreat was that God showed me tangible signs every day.  


The first two days was enlightening. I had never reflected on Philip and the eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) Yet Fr. Thomas Greene in his book explained about Philip in a way I had never ever thought before. The Apostle Philip's "Total Availability to God". This really made me look deep into my heart - was I totally available to God? Was I willing to let go of the familiar? Was I willing to walk by faith even if I was not sure of my future? It was a difficult third and fourth day. I experienced the pain and hurts in my heart - did I have the perseverance and endurance to trust Jesus was in control of my life? Honestly, it was not easy for me. It was then I realized that I had to let Jesus refresh and renew my heart and spirit so that I can truly live for God with joy. It was important that I surrender my heart mind and soul for a fresh anointing of God's Spirit and Love for me - just as I am.  Only then would I be able to to live with a heart that is totally available for God. At nearly 2.00 a.m. on the fourth day of my retreat, I came across a quote by Billy Graham, "God never takes away something from your life without replacing it with something better." My heart found  a peaceful comfort but I forgot about this quote until I went through my prayer journal to write this post!

I was truly blessed with the spiritual guidance of Fr. Paul. It is never easy for me to share what is deep in my heart. One reason is in the retreat centre, every one is so busy with their ministries, we often only shared with Jesus in our personal prayer time. Often, a lot of time goes by and then it is just kept inside my heart. To be able to be totally open and share anything that came from prayers and heart-provoking reflection during this 6-day retreat with Fr. Paul was truly liberating. I felt Jesus' Love, Joy and Acceptance radiating from Fr. Paul during our daily half hour morning sessions.  When I did make the major decisions and shared it with Fr. Paul during my last session, I was humbled when Father said that I had made a very difficult decision but it was a sign that I was spiritually mature. What truly touched my heart was that Fr. Paul said that he would pray for me every day as my ministry was not easy nor the decision that I had made  - but it was the right decision. 

I spent three months doing what Jesus lovingly blessed me with - a wonderful, rest-filled and joyful time with my siblings, friends and loved ones in Melbourne, Singapore, Bali and Kuala Lumpur. Of course it began with my personal time with Jesus in Chiangmai, Thailand. My soul, mind and body were refreshed by all the rest, joy and love. A very painful year-long ankle injury was nearly fully healed. I had lots of quiet time to pray and reflect too. Praise God!




CHIANGMAI, THAILAND

Please click on the photos to view normal size

Thai & Akhla Cooking Class
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
An Ethical Happy Elephant Home Sanctuary

An Ethical Happy Elephant Home Sanctuary





Wat Phra Singh Temple
Sacred Heart Cathedral











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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Guy, Kathy & Chilli

Dog -Friendly Getaway at Countrywide Cottages




Chilli - my holiday companion
My 1st Absract Oil Painting















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BALI, INDONESIA
A great Bali vacation! with Rosie & Max




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KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
A short visit and my birthday in KL!
Carol & Jen - laughter as always


My birthday cake

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SINGAPORE

Rosie, my nephew Max & niece Laura - caught up before she flew back to USA 

Last but not least - a GREAT evening with high school SES Kluang classmates!! 

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What Fr. Michael Payyapilly V.C. - Director of Tabor Divine Retreat Centre, Mumbai, India shared in the Called...Gifted...Sent Forth Retreat last week, spoke volumes to me in affirming the decisions I made. Fr. Michael, said "No one should disturb the sacredness of another person's ministry." Indeed these words struck a chord deep within my heart and it was yet again a clear sign for me in this retreat that the decision I had made in April was spiritually right. I realized that when I cannot carry out a certain aspect of my ministry fully, it is Jesus asking me to let go. It is being "totally available to God" as Phillip the Apostle. He did not question when Jesus  brought him to the eunuch  to explain the Word of God NOR did he  resist when Jesus whizzed him away immediately after he had done so! Phillip was ready to do whatever our Lord wanted of him. What a beautiful grace to possess! It is what I am praying for now.  Jesus knows the Plan He has for me. Until I let go, I will not be able to follow His Call with joy and zeal for what lies ahead for me. Indeed, I will now move forward by taking the action to let go and let God!


My identity is not tied to what I do in ministry for our Lord. None of our "heavenly" identity is tied to the job/career or ministry we hold. It is important and sought after in the world but when each of us reach Heaven's Gate for our "eternal life", that is the least important aspect that St. Peter would want to know in order to let us in! I have to trust completely in Jesus when He leads me out of my comfort zone, to let go and to wait upon Him for what God has in store for me. I find it difficult but I am "working" on it - waiting upon God. Actually, there is so much to be done within the ministry and in life for Christ - having a waiting heart strengthens one's spiritual discipline as St. Paul beautifully explained about Love in (1 Corinthians 13:7) - "It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." 

At the end of my Ignatian retreat, Fr. Paul encouraged me to write a book. I am not ready to write my second book yet. A number of close friends have been encouraging me to write another book for a number of years, and I will do so - in God's Time!

The YouTube music video above of the touching hymn "GIVE ME THE MOUNTAIN (CALEB'S SONG) by Graham Kendrick spoke to my heart when I heard it for the first time a few days ago. Hence, my inspiration to write this blogpost. I hope it is the start for me to once again write my monthly post with the Joy of the Lord as my strength! I give thanks to God for my family and dear friends who had prayed for me as I took this three months to have "a vacation with the Lord". It is important to live life with an "attitude of gratitude" - something a friend had sent me yesterday!


"Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I  do, 
forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead."
(Philippians 3:13)


This post is dedicated to Fr. Paul Pollock SJ for joyously guiding me to always
love and live for Christ with openness of heart! God bless you abundantly, Fr. Paul!