Why I Started Taking Angels Seriously

When Majella’s flock gave a session about angels during yesterday’s community session,  I gotta admit: I was pretty skeptical at first.

It’s just that I’ve never really thought about them, y’know? It’s already a struggle to be aware of the presence of God, and the Saints, and the people around me… now I gotta think about my guardian angel too?

It’s a weird thought: I kept picturing this weird, humanoid-shaped sphere of light following me around everywhere I went. I was thinking “This dude needs to get off my case already!

I also couldn’t shake off my inherent skepticism about anything remotely mystical. To me, angels seemed like a convenient figment of human imagination – kinda like Zeus or deities or unicorns. That skepticism was compounded by the fact that I couldn’t see them, and I couldn’t feel their effects in my life.

But on Esther’s recommendation, I went over to formed.org (kinda like a Netflix for Catholics – OYP has a free subscription if you’re interested!), and downloaded the book Angels (and Demons) by Peter Kreeft to read more about these strange beings that we know so little about.

I’m just about a short way through the book, but I’m already intrigued. For example, here are some mind-blowing facts about angels that I took from the introduction:

  1. They really exist. Not just in our minds, or our myths, or our symbols, or our culture. They are just as real as your dog, or your sister, or electricity
  2. They are not cute, cuddly, comfortable, chummy or “cool”. They are fearsome and formidable. They are huge. They are warriors
  3. They’re present, right here, right now, right next to you, reading these words with you. (Lionel: Now that’s a slightly intimidating thought, isn’t it?)
  4. They can literally move the heavens and the earth if God permits them.
  5. There are also evil angels, fallen angels, demons or devils. These too are not myths. Demon possessions and exorcisms are real.
  6. We are on a protected part of a great battlefield between angels and devils, extending to eternity

The last point really made me think.

There’s a great spiritual battle being fought for our souls, even though we can’t see it. The spiritual realm is as real as the physical realm – just because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Can a fish in a fishbowl comprehend the world outside it?

For all we know, maybe our guardian angels saving our lives every day. Maybe we could’ve been possessed by a demon, or succumbed to the devil, and all matter of horrible things… if it weren’t for our formidable, faithful guardian angel.

It made me feel especially ashamed about dismissing the importance of my guardian angel. And the least I could do for him (her?), who has probably been working crazily hard to protect and guide me, is to offer up a simple prayer:

Angel of God, my Guardian dear, to whom His love entrusts me here, ever this day (or night) be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.

Today, take some time to thank God’s for His infinite love, and for sending us such formidable warriors to protect us. It’s awesome to be on His side 😀

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Social MEdia

phones

This scene is, unfortunately, a little too familiar to most of us. Technological devices – especially mobile phones – have taken so much away from us.

 

 

  • Time from families & friends
  • Time from God – ever got distracted at prayer / mass because our phones vibrated?
  • Time from other things that we may need to do – study or work

Yeah yeah…I can almost hear the dismissive tone and eyes rolling. This is a dead topic! Not this “technology is a double edge sword and needs to be used wisely” article again. So this is not going to be that article. This writing will be more about how it creeps into us even when we are not using technology.

Credits: A lot of the topics discussed here has been extracted from Ju’s speech at OYP Nox Gaudii 15 September 2017.

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Credits: GlobalDirective

WORK

This is an essential and critical aspect as much of our time is spent at work. In fact, you should have noticed by now how much research and writings have been dedicated just to understand how millennials work.

Here is a typical example from Forbes.

The first few pointers are as such:

  • Millennials don’t just work for a paycheck ― they want a purpose.
  • Millennials are not pursuing job satisfaction ― they are pursuing development.
  • Millennials don’t want bosses ― they want coaches.
  • It’s not just my job ― it’s my life.
  • … … …

And the list goes on. Actually these are wonderful things. God calls each of us to do meaningful work with a purpose, to develop and to contribute to society. The desires and needs that Millennials have are not new – probably just starting about 5000-4000 BC.

Genesis 2:15 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

Ecclesiastes 9:9b-10 “in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.”

Colossians 3:23-24 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

Certainly we are not saying what Millennials want are not good. The important issue here is how Millennials react when they don’t get what they want?

From a personal stand point, I suffer greatly when I find work stagnated. I crave so much for constant affirmation that I am doing good work, whether is it producing results, getting feedback from happy customers, from a happy boss, getting an increment, getting a promotion…anything. Anything that shows me I’m learning and progressing well. I strongly feel that my day to day purpose at work and happiness is the most fundamental and important thing I need every day at work.

But here’s the thing. I cannot get this all the time. There are times when a certain deal needs to be worked at and pursued for a longer period of time – say even years. Often times, in the middle of it, I would have lost motivation. I would feel that I’m losing out to my peers and that I’m wasting time when I could be doing something more productive. 

In some ways, in the pursuit of development and contribution, I have lost the ability to have patience and to persevere. Ju gave an insight on how this could have happened. In the world today, we are hardly bored. In a second of having to wait or when we have nothing to do (and unfortunately sometimes even in between a conversation), we turn to our phones. We scroll endlessly for new content and we glimpse at our phones every time there is a notification. We end up being edgey all the time, never being fully present but always looking out for something new.

When we post something on social media, we often times get instant gratification. Regardless if it is contributing to our online profile, generating likes / comments, generating comments for others…the list is endless! Quite unknowingly to most of us, these habits have crept into other parts of our lives. We call it YOLO, turning away from the slow and unfashionable and making the best of our time here on earth. In fact, we have rushed and packed so much that we are losing sight of the actual best things in life.

Gone are the days when we hold a conversation without interruption. Gone are the days when we arrive at an appointment punctually knowing there is no way to cancel or to inform that we are late. Gone are the days when we remember our friends’ birthdays by heart. Gone are the days when we reach out to people in person.

We are so used to the screen that sometimes we even speak more to people over chat than in person! It has trained us to be comfortable in being awkward in real life (if that is even possible). It has trained us to ‘like’ somebody’s depressing post without even speaking to the person.

Social media is probably here to stay, but we can all start by being more aware of how it may eat into the best parts of life. Perhaps next time you suffer some frustration or impatience with something, take some time to offer it up to God and ask Him to gently guide us to do the better thing =)

Mother Mary, Teach us how to say Yes to Jesus

Visiting the Church of the Annunciation in Nazaren, the home of Mother Mary. I can unequivocally say that this has been my favourite site in Israel to date!

We were able to visit this beautiful and majestic Basilica. To be honest, i’ve never been one to enjoy visiting churches. But this one was different.

1) Mary, Mother of us all

Just standing at the outskirts of the church, what went through my mind: This was the site where the history of mankind was written, because of a simple “Yes” 2000 years ago.

There was a deep sense of peace and love as i just looked and prayed to Mother Mary. To intercede for my loved ones and for their conversions. I just sensed the deep love of Mary for them. One that stemmed not from my own heart, but from hers. And i knew Mary was reassuring me that she loved them as their own children and that she would continue to intercede for us.

2) Mary who shows us how to say Yes

We all know the story of how Mary said Yes to the Archangel Gabriel when he told her that she was chosen to be the Mother of Christ. And sometimes, its so easy to simplify it looking at the bible and how it has all ‘played out’

But as we read in scripture (Luke 1), in her humaness, Mary was feeling confused at first when the angel first appeared. Yet the angel said to her “do not be afraid”, and she accepted the will of God, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word’

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I was drawn especially to this image of Mary outside the church that depicted a young looking Mary. And when you look at her hands, you see a disposition of openess to the Lord

And because she was open to God’s call, she has a special place in Jesus heart. Which was why 30 years on, when Jesus started his public ministry and performed his first miracle, at the Wedding of Canna, at the intercession of Mary. And just as she told the servants at Canna all those years ago, Mary wants to tell each of us today “Do whatever he (Jesus) tells you”

So for me, as I look at my life where the Lord is leading me in various aspects of my life. I too ask Mary to pray for me, that i may have the same openess, to say Yes to Jesus 🙂

 

 

O Little Town Of Bethlehem

Underwhelming.

That was the word going through my mind as our tour bus trundled through Bethlehem. We were on our first day of our Israel pilgrimage, and it wasn’t getting off to a good start.

I wasn’t sure what I expected Bethlehem to look like. I had some vague idea in my head, an image similar to what you might find on a typical Christmas postcard: Soft lighting, cobbled streets, whitewashed houses, flaming torches, maybe a donkey or two.

But the scenery that unfolded before my eyes was… underwhelming. Barren sandy streets, dying plants, several sketchy-looking kebab and tailor shops. Not very pretty or picturesque.

This was the birthplace of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Because of some delays at the airport, we were 15 minutes late for Mass. After rushing through Mass, we were unceremoniously hustled out by the priest who looked after the place.

He shoved us out of the way as he packed up his things. Before we could take pictures, he growled, “Please leave… NOW.” Nobody wanted to mess with him.

Later on, while shopping at a nearby supermarket for groceries, I paid 8 USD for a bottle of water, a packet of chips, and some gum. I’m pretty sure I got scammed.

Like I said: Underwhelming.

First Impressions Aren’t Everything

But after reflecting about the experience, I realised that maybe Jesus was trying to show me a particular truth about who He really is.

Like many of the ancient Israelites, I had a romanticised vision of what Jesus (and His birthplace) was supposed to look like: Splendid, royal, beautiful, majestic. I expected to be filled with wonder and awe, just like when I’m immersed in beat-thumping P&W music in our modern, sparkling churches.

But today, I remember that God chose this barren, insignificant town to become the Word Incarnate. And not just that, He chose the humblest of places – a manger in a cave – to be born.

Jesus was never about appearances and material splendour. Because when you strip away all the razzle-dazzle, all that’s left remaining is what’s in our hearts.

How Many Times Have We Chased Jesus Away?

It would have been easy to judge the priest who was rude to us. It would have been easy to complain about the poor “customer service” given to us pilgrims who had travelled hundreds of miles to be there.

Yet, as Fr Jude reflected, perhaps that’s what Mary and Joseph experienced in Bethlehem 2000 years ago! When the inns were full, when doors were slammed in their faces, when the world seemed so unkind and heartless and dangerous to a young couple… that’s when Jesus chose to be born.

How many times in our lives have we slammed the door on Jesus? How many times have we rudely told Him to “please leave… NOW” because He didn’t fit our plans?

We’re All A Little Bethlehem Inside 

Maybe we’re all a little Bethlehem inside.

Whenever we disappoint our parents. Whenever we’re hostile to our colleagues. Whenever our sins rear their ugly heads. During those times, we’re certainly not the beautiful, pious selves we envision ourselves to be. In fact, we can be quite… underwhelming.

That’s when we need Jesus the most, and that’s precisely when He invites us to let Him be born in our hearts again.

Because despite its humble appearances, Bethlehem has a royal identity.

Bethlehem was where King David shepherded his flock. Bethlehem was where Jesus chose to enter this world. And Bethlehem is the birthplace for the salvation of all the world.

Jesus could have picked a majestic palace or a splendid mountaintop to be born… But He chose Bethlehem. Today, Jesus is telling you that no matter how “ugly” you may seem to the world, He’s choosing you.

You have a royal identity. Will you let Him come in?

PS: I’m pretty sure Bethlehem is a lot prettier than what I described, but I haven’t actually explored it fully yet. Like I said, first impressions aren’t everything 🙂

Food – Sustenance or Sustainment

Food..Glorious FOOD

Whether thiisssssssssss

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thiiiiiiiiiiiiiis

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or thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiissssssssssssssssss

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Food is a form of sustenance for us. We often consume varieties of it on a daily basis.

It nourishes us, but also add’s variation to our otherwise monotonous day.

In fact, Food helps to regulate mood (and contribute to weight gain)

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PRAYER / REFLECTION

Helps

  1. Clear our mind to focus on important things
  2. Consciously bring God into our thoughts
  3. Develop a healthy habit of opening a dialogue with the Holy Spirit & God

Arguably, it can be said that Prayer/Reflection is a form of “Sustenance” in our spiritual lives.

Sustenance – The act of bearing weight against the structure ( Sir Issac Newton would be so happy that im invoking engineering concepts into Blog posts now)

It helps sustain us daily,weekly in our stressful lives. Balancing Work, Family Commitments, Relationships etc.

In truth, many of our daily routines/experiences do inevitably bear weight/strain on our mental & spiritual well being.

Whether it’s through Taize sessionsWhatsApp Image 2017-09-16 at 20.51.57.jpeg

or adoration, may we always remind ourselves to turn to God 🙂

Let’s talk about God’s will vs my will

How often do you find yourself praying along these lines “God, guide me such that Your will be done and not mine.” Probably plenty and plenty of times.

This comes especially so when you perceive yourself to be making a huge decision. Like a career change, a relationship, parenthood, migrating overseas etc… Then the interesting question comes – at where exactly do we draw the line? How do we know whether a certain decision is needed for us to implore the Holy Spirit to come down and somehow mold our mind suddenly to conform to what God wants us to do?

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Image credits: astieyoung

A lot of us will agree that probably a career change is big enough to enter the ‘discernment and praying’ time. What about starting a new project? What about helping out at a charity organization? What about helping a friend? What about visiting your mother? What about whether to dine out?

What if God’s will was for me to dine out and I cooked instead?! Did I just sin?!!!

 

Jokes aside, of course I’m not discounting a planned discernment period where we pray and ask God to help us in our decision making. That in itself is fantastic! But we also need to recognize that we don’t stop to remember most of the time. How often do we include God in our daily decisions that mold us as a person much more than the infrequent big stuff in our lives.

Perhaps instead of falling to our knees to beg and expect signs from God only during the big decisions, we should start by practicing great love and wisdom in doing the little things in our lives. Only when we have grown our heart to be closer to Jesus’ heart, can we then be more loving and wise to discern the big decisions properly.

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.”

Luke 16:10

I became more aware of it when I saw how people go into a ‘discernment period’ of whether to attend Treasure Retreat. Then before they knew it, the registration has closed (first come first served basis). “God’s will” they say. Then I would think in my mind “HA! Procrastination more like it!” and this is the typical scenario of me pointing a finger at others with 4 back at myself.

I have also been misusing “God’s will” for things that I do not have the heart for! I’ll give you a concrete example.

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Image credits: Dilbert

This year, many people asked me to sign up for Conversion Experience Retreat (CER). My typical response to them is that I signed up for the first run this year, but I didn’t get in (balloting system). Subsequently, I have no more leave to sign up.

“God’s will”, I said.

A lot of my friends are very kind to me and tell me perhaps God is telling me it isn’t time yet. But I know in my heart that the main reason why I am unable to attend CER this year is because it isn’t a priority for me. If in fact it is a priority, I would have ensured that I have enough leave before I splurged it on holidays.

Hence, instead of just being a sleeping Dilbert (chosen as I consider myself to have a similar job as him) and waiting for ‘God’s decision’ to plop down on me, I hope to be more aware of my own heart and faith in making decisions – whether big or small.

 

 

“Not your usual” Session

Change of Plans!?

Our community had an initial activity of conducting a session at Choice House with Migrant Workers. Due to some unforseen circumstances, the workers were unable to be present

So Session cancelled la?

Well one amazing thing about community is the willingness for individuals to step up
aka HELPS

The Outreach team pulled together and came up with a mini prayer session for migrant workers + a personal sharing by Kim (Enquirer) on her outreach efforts with CWS (Catholic Welfare Services)

Why Pray for Migrant Workers?

Seeing how life itself is complicated enough, i’ve often asked myself why bother to pray for others when our own lives are seemingly complexed enough

Like any good student – I googled about it

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What does our Teaching advocate?

TLDR: In the interest of time and eye power – We’re called on as Catholics to promote & uphold the dignity of a fellow human being (catholic or non-catholic_

The act of reaching out to someone is a sign of love towards a fellow Child of God

How do I go about it?

Simple acts of kindness 🙂
The act of greeting/reaching out to the cleaners at the Hawker or your office. A smile makes their day

Even a “Hi, how’s your day going” approach goes a long way 😉

 

 

 

Outreach

Perhaps one would have felt a plethora of emotions when told that our community adopting an evangelistic approach

Apprehension..?

Excitement…?

Fear..?

evangelism

By now, the idea of sharing our own experiences with God within the OYP community isn’t really daunting

What about with a stranger? Much less someone who isn’t local

Not sure how much content you remembered from Fr R. Barron’s video about Evangelli Gaudium

It feels like we are unprepared for this Saturday’s outreach. Truth is, our hearts are never 100% ready for God , nor are we fully prepared to do his Will

HAVE FAITH

That’s what WE are called to practice. Just like Peter when he walked on water towardss Jesus.

May we allow the Lord & and The Spirit to lead us through this Saturday’s session

PS: FAREWELL VAL!! We will miss you 🙂

Community is not for everybody

After being actively involved in a Catholic community for about 2.5 years, I sometimes feel like I know community through and through and yet at other times I feel like I know nothing at all.

But what amazes me is how much my life has been changed because of community. Many a times now instead of speaking about the weather or food or work (oh the endless whining about work!), I often catch myself now having full dinner conversations all about God or community. Almost like God, community has been a topic where everybody has an idea or opinion of what it should be and everybody sees it with a perspective of their own experience and expectation.

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Credits: theodysseyonline.com

Below is just one topic that I find discussed quite extensively and an important one especially for those discerning community.

 

Community is not for everybody

Yes, this is definitely true. But this is also not the important question. The real question is how can community (or the lack of one) help you grow closer to God? Typically when one discerns to leave community (or a conscious decision not to join one), we should reflect on the reason for pull or push factors. If the reason to leave or not join one is a pull factor, that is, you see the good in a community but there is an even greater good that you are attracted to to grow in faith, then YES! go with joy and gratitude!

However, if the reason is a push factor, that is, you perceive something negative in community and it compels you to leave, it could be a bit trickier. On one hand, we cannot discount the fact that some communities or an aspect of it can be particularly toxic to some people. Communities are after all made up of people and people can hurt people. But if one finds himself/herself jumping from community to community or avoiding community in general, then perhaps some self-reflection may prove valuable.

At the same time, when we start loving communities, it is also important not to start treating community as your god. Community is NOT God.

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

There are many dangers of treating community as God.

  • Creating unrealistic expectations to conform to YOUR idea of community
  • Limiting your growth as a Christian only with the formation / sharing in community
  • Scoping your understanding and idea of Christians to only members in your community
  • Forgetting that Jesus’ coming was to save everybody – not just the members of your community

 

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It is of course very natural to have a special fondness for people we journey so closely with every week. After all, these are people who we have opened ourselves to, laughed and cried together and treated like family. After weeks, months or even years of learning and risking to trust them, we wish to hold on so tightly to these friendships and safe spaces that we have created. We may feel that we no longer want to open to trust anybody else again.

However, we cannot let this make us forget that our ultimate comforter and trust should be in God. May we always be filled with gratitude and joy for what God has given us, and yet be open to trust where God plans to lead us.

What’s Your Treasure?

There are three things that every human being yearns for.

Every single person, regardless of whether they are Christians or Buddhists or Muslims or atheists, spends their whole life searching for these three things. We will spend countless hours working for them. We will travel across the world for them. We will spend all our money on them. Some people might even kill for them.

Can you guess what they are?

Take a second to make a mental list in your head.

Okay here are the answers (according to what I learnt at RCIA haha):

Love

We all want to love and to be loved. Even the most selfish, bitter and angry person in the world wants to be loved. That’s why we start families and make friends and join communities.

That’s why so many people are addicted to Facebook Likes and pornography. That’s why we work like crazy to become rich because we believe that it will buy us love.

Truth

Even though we’re surrounded by lies and illusions, we have a strong innate desire to find out the objective truth about ourselves and the world we live in.

That’s why we engage in scientific research and read books and watch documentaries. That’s why so many people become lawyers and researchers and journalists.

That’s also why so many people are drawn to religion – to answer the fundamental question: Is there a God? Is there a sense to this life and all of this chaos around us?

Beauty

This last one is a little hard to guess, but deep down inside, we’re also searching for beauty.

That’s why we’re drawn to art and music and poetry and dance. That’s why we’re driven to create works of art – to express the beauty in our hearts and in our imagination.

That’s why we travel across the world to experience a magnificent cathedral or gaze at a beautiful mountain landscape.

Where Does That Lead Us?

Now, pop quiz: Let’s say we had all the resources and all the answers in the world. Let’s say that we’ve spent our life searching for love and truth and beauty in their purest and ultimate forms. Where would that eventually lead us to?

The answer: God.

For God is the Ultimate Love, the Ultimate Truth, and the Ultimate Beauty. Nothing else in this world could ever fulfil these deep longings besides the One True God.

Why do you think we long for these things in the first place? Why aren’t we like a dog or a monkey, who just gets by surviving and eating and reproducing?

We desire for love and truth and beauty because God put those desires within us. Unlike the animals, we were made in His image. And like an artist, God put a little bit of Himself within us.

The Treasure That Money Can’t Buy

I was reflecting on this concept when I was reading today’s Gospel on the treasure hidden in the field:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

I used to wonder: How do we accept that God is our Treasure? What kind of Treasure is this, and how does it compare to something immediate and concrete, like money or status?

Yet, thousands of martyrs have endured torture and given up their lives for this Treasure. Our priests and religious have renounced everything they had to follow Christ. Tens of thousands of people today still risk their lives and persecution to celebrate Mass.

If this Treasure is just an illusion, then these people are probably the stupidest people in the world. Why would you sacrifice so much for something that isn’t real?

But maybe there really IS something here.

If we realise that this Treasure is the Ultimate Love, the Ultimate Truth and the Ultimate Beauty that we are all yearning for, then these sacrifices start to make sense.

Lord, grant us the wisdom to sacrifice our worldly treasures in exchange for You: the real Treasure of our hearts. Amen!

Image credit: talkingplant