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? 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!


Wednesday, 21 March 2018

LENT 2018: SEARCHING GOD'S PRESENCE IN OUR HEART



Every Season of Lent, many Catholics (me included!) would have some resolutions we tried to practice with prayer and sacrifices. We would give up meat (or our favourite foods), have personal Lent prayer time set aside, do charitable deeds during this holy season and many other Christian acts of love.

20 years ago, after my 1st Divine retreat,  I was a vegetarian the entire Lenten period for many years. The first few years, it was very difficult. I know I had withdrawal symptoms the first two weeks for the first few years as I would get headaches and be grouchy before I adjusted to the  fully vegetarian diet.  However, I realized that it was no longer difficult for me to do that so it no longer seemed like a sacrifice of love during the holy Lenten season. Ten years ago, I was inspired to focus on one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) during each Lenten season. What I found was that usually on Ash Wednesday itself, often I was tested to the limit! However, my goal was that what I tried to practice in Lent would then become part of my daily life. Since then, I try to choose a paragraph from the Bible every Lenten season to help me change my life. Well, I will always be a work-in-progress for Jesus.

What I have learnt in these 20 years during the season of Lent?

In fact, 10 years ago, my Lenten resolutions were actually my new "life resolutions" to try my very best to be "Christ" to others. How would I rate myself in achieving these "life resolutions"? To be honest, I am only human and I do not have a perfect score. But each year, I found it became easier for me. God's Grace is a joy to experience  so we must not give up. What matters is to keep trying.  The most important lesson I learnt during the Lenten season is that in living God's mission, an integral part of my daily life must be to have personal and spiritual discipline, perseverance, worldly detachment and to be open and allow God's Grace to flow through me at all times.



The Holy Season of Lent is a one of the times (besides my personal retreats and year-end) when I try to focus on deep soul-searching at the barriers in my heart and mind. How am I living  with love for Jesus who suffered such agonizing torture and died the most painful Crucifixion and Death on the Cross just to save me - to save each one of us? It will take a heart of stone if you and I continue to choose worldly goals in this temporary world than to accept wholeheartedly  Jesus' Incredible Love. There is no option - you and I must strive to share God's Eternal Glory in Heaven.

Learning to detach ourselves from self-ego is never easy. In prayerful meditation and contemplation, our heart can experience the immensity and unconditional Love of Jesus.  I have personally found it truly helps me to become detached from many worldly needs that used to mean so much to me before. That is the greatest gift each of us will receive. If you and I reach out to Jesus, our Lord is right there in front of us to embrace each of us with love and to guide and lead every one of us into His Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is not just in Heaven after we die. No! it is right here on earth for for the Word of God tells us, "for the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Romans 14:17) Our heart and mind must be attuned to live every moment of our life in righteousness, peace and joy. How can we do this? We need to see each other and all of Creation with the Eyes of God.

The Good Friday service here in Divine Retreat Centre moves me to tears every year - just as it did to me on my second Divine retreat when I was here with family and friends for our first Divine Passover Retreat in 1999 - I wept throughout the service as the Stations of the Cross became a deeply personal God-experience. Everything and everyone seemed sort of blurred except me and a bleeding Jesus with the Cross. I felt great personal pain and grief to know Jesus had to die such a cruel painful death so that I could live for ever. That first Good Friday experience in Divine has left an inedible mark upon my heart which I will never forget. 

When I made my 2009 Holy Land pilgrimage, the memory of my first Divine Passover retreat and the Holy Bible became so alive and real! In fact the Bible was my travel guide. Jesus was really here on earth as a human being like you and me. What an incredible reality! My life and and my love for Jesus ever since my Holy Land pilgrimage cannot be described in words. It was deeply personal and as yet it is difficult for me to share fully my Holy Land pilgrimage experience in words. Every Holy Week in Divine is a very sacred experience for me - where I feel like I am transported back in time to personally experience Jesus' triumphant last journey on Palm Sunday; through the Agony of Jesus and the anxiety and fear of the Apostles on Maundy Thursday; the unbearable pain and suffering of Jesus and Mother Mary and our Mother's heart-breaking grief of Jesus' Death on the Cross on Good Friday; and finally to the unbounded joy of Jesus' Resurrection during the Easter Vigil. 

There is no other place I want to experience Holy Week than in Divine Retreat Centre for the annual Passover Retreat. One of the blessings of serving in a retreat centre is the prayerful and deeply anointed atmosphere during important liturgical celebrations. The Divine Annual Passion Play reinforces why Holy Week is the holiest and most important Church celebration in the Catholic liturgical calendar.

Pictorial music video of Holy Week  2017 in Divine Retreat Centre

Wherever you are during Holy Week, make this week holy and meaningful. Set aside all the worldly distractions and turn your heart and mind to Jesus. Immerse yourself in prayer, meditate on the Word of God, and do acts of love. Start with those nearest to you - an elderly neighbour, a sick child, a lonely person or a colleague you find hard to get along. Get out of your comfort zone. Reach out with your heart. 

It is time to detach ourselves from social media, the television, and even unnecessary socializing. Celebrate daily Holy Mass, spend time in the Presence of Jesus in the church's Adoration Room, in your home in front of a crucifix and a lighted candle and with silent prayers in your heart as you go about your daily life. Imagine yourself being present during the Stations of the Cross. In prayer, your holy imagination will help you place your heart in the Heart of our Crucified Lord. When our heart is in Jesus, our eyes will learn to "see each other" with His Loving and Merciful Eyes. We will be able to make the difficult changes in how we live - from selfish love to agape love.  The truth will enlighten us - we are all God's Children!

A great example in the Bible is the Samaritan Woman at the Well (Gospel of John Chapter 4). She is the first missionary and she did it in her own hometown! But first her heart was transformed and then she proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah to her whole village. That is how each one of us must choose to live our lives - as missionaries in our own home, our neighbourhood, workplace, parish or wherever God chooses to send us. Why? it is because when we were baptized, each of us was entrusted with a mission from God. We need to experience the Presence of Jesus in every moment of our life and to see God in everyone around us.

The touching YouTube music video at the top of the post is "WE ARE ALL GOD's CHILDREN" by Jamie Rivera. It was the official theme song for the 2015 Apostolic Visit of Pope Francis to  the Philippines.  



If every one us, Catholics, strive to make the places we live on this earth part of the Kingdom of God, we can change the world. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Let's begin today!


Wednesday, 27 September 2017

2017 RETREAT REFLECTION: SURRENDER - LET ME GIVE IT ALL AWAY




Have your ever pondered about your life and the path that has led you to where you are today? This year I took a 3-month break during which I was on personal leave as well as on ministry initiatives out of India. At the start of this year, I really felt I needed some time away from the mission to introspect and discern - am I living my Call as God is asking of me in my heart after 13 years or am I now in a comfort zone whilst serving in this mission?

As I get older, I realize how fragile and precious life is -When I was in my 20s' and 30s', I probably thought I was invincible then - I never even thought of dying. I dreamt of what and how I would live my life. Well, the reality is God had a very different plan.  I am not afraid of death. What I do care deeply about is how to live my faith in action and not just by intention. 

I began writing about my annual retreat experience on this blog since 2012. My retreat this year was from 30 July to 04 August 2017 -  Divine's annual CALLED...GIFTED...SENT FORTH 2017  Retreat for Spiritual Leadership Formation of Priests, Religious & Lay Leaders in Ministry.

The first mass homily by Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C., Director of Divine Retreat Centre, Kerala, India hammered a key point into all the retreatants. I know because a number of them actually had the same soul searching question as me at the start of our retreat. Fr. Augustine emphasized the one quality of a leader is to be committed. We need to have a total (absolute) commitment to the Lord. In case, you are thinking , "Well, I am not a leader. I do not hold any position in any lay ministry", and it is not applicable to you, you would need to change your mindset! We are not talking about the secular world. In our life as a Christian, each of us is born with a mission for God. What is more, Jesus exemplified "servant leadership". We are called to give glory to God in every aspect of our daily living. It is not about a ministry, recognition, position or reward on earth.


This retreat, a fundamental change which began during my 3-months of personal prayer and discernment, took root in my heart. It was about Total Surrender. I do not know about others but for me, I have to be seeking inner peace in my heart and mind to trust Jesus totally. It is about praying constantly and waiting upon God. That requires patience.  I have found very helpful a Jesuit-inspired practice to examine my heart, "What would Jesus do if He was in my shoes?" I Iearnt this during a previous annual retreat by a Jesuit retreat director, Fr. Rex Pai SJ.  It has really helped me in my faith journey. Yes, I have locked myself in my office and asked myself this question at the trying moments I have had! 


I actually pondered deeply if I wanted to serve full-time in ministry - if I still had the zeal and fire in my heart to give my ALL for Jesus. I did a lot of soul-searching on how I have responded to the initial Call of God after my 1st Divine retreat in 1998 - six years before I was asked to serve full-time in India. The vision and words I saw and heard so clearly remains a vivid personal God-experience. I still have my prayer journal of that time of grace and the incredible inner joy as I felt my heart leap within me as I responded with a "YES" to serve here. It was totally out of the blue. However, as I went back on my prayer journal, it was very clear that Our Lord was preparing me. It was just that I was like young Samuel and I did not "recognize" the Voice of God. (cf. 1 Samuel 3:10)  Looking back, I know I was given the great grace to begin to surrender my life to Jesus - to give up my career and the life I was used to and take a leap of faith into the unknown. 

To live for Jesus is about a continuous surrender of our will so that ultimately it is all about doing God's Will. As St. Paul so wisely said. "He must increase; I must decrease." (John 3:30)  Such a short sentence but how deep the meaning of this Word of God is! Total surrender and obedience is the key to total commitment to God. It is not just a "eureka"  moment when suddenly we are breezing through life doing God's Will. 

It is only when I truly seek to surrender all aspects of my life for God's Will to be done that I can give my ALL to Jesus. It is being able to really trust to leave it all in the Hands of God even if I do not know what the future holds. To surrender means to let go of my desire to have control of important areas of my life, to not dwell on my worries and anxieties and to really put myself in Jesus' Hands. Mother Mary exemplified total surrender  - "Here I am. Lord, your handmaid. Let it be done to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38) It is a prayer I say before I receive Holy Communion ever since my 1st retreat in 1998. As the years go by, I gain a deeper insight into the richness and depth of this prayer of Mother Mary. She clearly teaches every Catholic how to live according to God's Will.  

After my annual retreat, I was inspired to do the 33 Days to Morning Glory - a Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration. I do not know why it took me so long to do this as I had this booklet for nearly 2 years. It opened my heart to how much Mother Mary exemplified a Christ-centred life. Mother Mary lived a hidden life. Yet at all the important moments, it was Mother Mary who showed great courage and faith in her steadfast trust in God. She was there for Jesus and she was with the Apostles in prayer during Pentecost.  Most importantly, Jesus has given His Mother to each of us. "Behold,  your mother." (John 19:27)

When I surrender my life to do His Will, I can count on Jesus to take care of me. It is an assurance to every Christian as we live God's Plan for each of us.


The quote above by Erma Bombeck always struck a deep chord within me. It is my hope I can say this at the gates of heaven one day! I pray for God's Grace to give all that is within me away for the Glory of His Name. 

The YouTube music video at the top of this post, "GIVE IT ALL WAY" by Sidewalk Prophets definitely reflects what I felt was the deep personal God-experience during this year's retreat for me. Some of my ministry initiatives may seem overwhelming currently. But I gained a clear revelation during this retreat. I still have a deep passion and conviction to give all that is in me away for Christ. 

"For nothing will be  impossible with God."
(Luke 1:37)