The needs of love

My Aunt Mary was my Dad’s youngest sister. She and her husband, my Uncle Pat, really wanted children, but they never had any, so Aunt Mary decided that she would embrace all the children in the world – both young and old – and she very nearly did! No one ever went away from her house without a little gift of some sort – even if it were only a packet of biscuits – and none of her many nieces and nephews ever celebrated a birthday without receiving a card and/or a little present from Aunt Mary, and as these married and had children of their own, so Aunt Mary’s birthday list got longer and longer. Even when one of her nephews found his way to far distant Borneo, Aunt Mary’s love even reached out there with Christmas and birthday cards, even if they might be a little late in arriving. But, as good as Aunt Mary was at giving gifts, she was not so good at receiving them. She would always say, “Thank you!” nicely, for whatever gift you gave her, but you knew that nearly always that gift would find its way to someone else. When she died and, as her executor, I had to deal with her things, I found her wardrobe filled with many Christmas and birthday gifts received over the years, which had never even been opened!

            Only once, was I really able to show her my love and that was towards the end of her life when she got cancer. Her husband, Uncle Pay, died shortly after she was diagnosed – it seemed as if he did want to live without Aunt Mary around – and so as she neared the end of her life she was alone, apart from the many friends who rallied round. About a month or so before she died, she went away to a hospice for respite care – supposedly for ten days – but six days later, I received a phone call from the hospice saying that she was on her way home, so I had to jump in my car and race the thirty miles to her house – because no one knew she was coming – and I arrived just at the same time as the hospice ambulance. As I helped Aunt Mary into the house, she said she felt very tired would go up to bed and I said I would make her a cup of tea, but when she tried to mount the stairs she could not do so, so I picked her up in my arms – despite her protestations – and carried her up to bed. That remains with me as one of my most precious memories of Aunt Mary, for it was the one time that I was really able to show her my love for her – and I could do so because she needed me.

            I was reminded of that recently, when I read the Gospel story of Mary anointing the Lord’s feet with precious ointment, Jn 12: 1-11. Judas complained that it was a waste of money, but Jesus rebuked him, because he knew that Mary needed to show her love for him, even if the ointment was expensive. For if two people love each other, they have a need to show their love for each other – for true love longs to fill up what is lacking in the beloved – and the same is true between us and God.

            I have a small stained glass panel on the window of my office of Our Lady bending over and smiling at the baby Jesus, whom she is holding on her lap and when I look at it I am reminded of something I heard years ago: that God came to us as a baby, because a baby is helpless and needs demands love and care – and so by coming to us as a baby, God gave us the opportunity to love him. I see the same dynamic at work in the “Stations of the Cross”, when Simon of Cyrene and then Veronica reach out to help to comfort and help the Lord – one to help him carry the cross and the other to wipe his face – they were able to love him in this way because he “needed” their help. I see it also in our Triduum ceremonies of “Watching” on Holy Thursday night and the kissing of the cross on Good Friday. As Phil 2:7 says “He emptied himself” – and I think he did so, so that we could truly love him, for love needs to fill up that which is lacking in the beloved – and at these ceremonies help us to show our love for the loveless one!

            A thought follow on from this. This time before Easter is the time we have traditionally gone to confession. It is a time when we become very much aware of our sins and failings – those things, which seem to separate us from God. How many times have I wholeheartedly wished I were different and did not have such a burden. However, the above thoughts show those sins and failings in a different light, for it is precisely there that we have the opportunity to let the Lord love is as we are. They are that which is lacking in us, a lack which only love can fill; they are the wounds, which only he can heal. The above thoughts show us that our sins and failings are not a barrier to God, but are, in fact the doorway, by which he can enter and if we let him love us as we are, we find not only healing, but also the love and companionship for which we were made.

Diary

I enjoyed my visit to Singapore. I visited Universal Studios and went on some of the rides – just to show there is life in the old dog yet!! I also ordered from the Sisters there a new cassock – that is the long white robe priests wear. And I relaxed. It was very pleasant. However, when I got back, I discovered that the details of my bank card had been used by someone, but how they got them I do not know, because I only used it in an ATM machine. So, when I discovered the loss, I cancelled the card and Standard Chartered are investigating. There are four items amounting to about 3,500 ringgit or 650 pounds. I am hoping that the bank will take responsibility for those purchases, but at the moment they are still in my debit column!

We are fast approaching the end of term. We have a week of revision and then a week of exams, after which I go to Penang to visit our Mill Hill students there. Then I fly on to Chiang Mai, Thailand, to give a retreat, then I fly down to Bali to give another retreat, and then I come back to Sarawak for a Mill Hill meeting in Sibu. After all that I return to Kuching and we begin the next term. You are all supposed to say, “Aaah! Poor Lad!” But then, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it, would I?

One of our older Mill Hill men here, Fr James Meehan, had a slight stroke at the beginning of last week. Physically he seems to be ok, but it has affected his power of speech – he seems to know what he wants to say but often cannot find the words. It has also slightly affected his memory and one of our younger local fathers was a little upset when yesterday he went to visit him and James did not recognise him. I told him, not to be worried, for when I had visited him earlier he had said, “Oh, are you here again!” Jokes aside, please pray for him, He is, or was, a garrulous Scot, who loved to tell stories, so he is finding his affliction very trying.

God bless,

Terry

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Family or Wage-earner?

Some years ago, one of our Mill Hill priests told me a story about his sister, Ann, which I would like to relate to you. Ann came from a large Catholic family where she was one of the older children. When she left school, she trained as a nurse and then married, but when their eldest son was born, they discovered that he had spina bifida, a congenital disorder, which would mean that he would have to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. At first, Ann and her husband were very distressed and this also brought with it spiritual confusion – why had God given her a disabled child? However, after thinking and praying about it she came to the conclusion that of all her brothers and sisters, she was the one best suited to look after a disabled child, because she was a nurse and so she slowly began to see that God had especially entrusted her son to her and her husband – and this was a trust they came to wholeheartedly accept.

            Some years later, Ann met another Catholic mother, whose child had been born with webbed toes, a not unusual complaint. However, this mother was indignant and said, in Ann’s hearing, “How could God have given me a disabled child? I have always gone to Mass and said the rosary. How could God have allowed this to happen to me?” After listening to her, Ann said to her, “First of all, as a nurse, let me assure you that your child’s complaint is very minor, the doctor can just snip the skin between his toes and no one will know the difference. “However”, said Ann to the woman, “I can also assure you that you will never have another disabled child. God entrusted this child into your care and you rejected him. So, I tell you with certainty that he will never trust you with another one!”

            The more I think of Ann’s story, the more I realise what a profound insight was given to Ann of the relationship God is holding out to us. She came to see that God knew that her disabled child was coming into the world, not because he had deliberately disabled him, but because of the brokenness of our world which causes such things to happen. She also saw that God wanted to make sure that the child was wanted, cared for and loved and he turned to Ann for help. She opened her arms to the child, her son, and in so doing she was drawn into God’s love for this child. She thus, experienced what our Faith tells us – that God is healing our broken world, but he needs us, he wants to draw us into that ministry of healing. In other words, he is asking us to become his family, sharing in his care and his work – and as we do so we become loving people – which is how salvation works.

 The Catholic mother, on the other hand, whom Ann met, does not seem to see this invitation to love and serve with God. She is focussed only on herself and her ideas of what will bring happiness. She seems to see her relationship with God as solely concerned with assuring that her ideas of happiness will come to be. She seems to understand her relationship with God as something like a wage-earner – if she does her work, namely her religious duties, then God will pay her by making sure that her life goes smoothly. If she would but pause for a moment and think about this, she should come to realise, by God’s grace, that our religious duties do nothing for God – they are given to us for our benefit, not God’s. But the temptation is always there to imagine that we are somehow “buying” protection by our prayers and religious duties.

            I realise that my explanation of this story is a little too black and white, but I have done this deliberately to show clearly that there are alternative ways in which we can approach our relationship to God. However, I know that in real life, we are not black and white, but are rather shades of grey. There are probably some elements of the wage-earner in all of us, but I hope also there is movement caused by the Holy Spirit as he urges us and moves us, in the depths of our being, to realise our dignity as God’s sons and daughters and become family by taking God’s concerns to heart.        

Maybe Lent is a good time to take stock of ourselves and look to see if there are elements of the wage-earner in us. The best way to do this is by looking at our private prayers, at the way we pray – are we mainly concerned with trying to persuade God to be interested in our concerns – or do we, in our prayers, allow the Holy Spirit to open us to the needs of others, to share in what God is doing in our world? We can do this by asking, who Christ is concerned with in our world – such as the poor, the needy, the lonely, the outsiders etc. If we then begin a Lenten penance of praying regularly for these people – even if we find that we do not really care about them – then we will discover that through these prayers for the needy, our hearts are changing and the care and concern of Christ is becoming rooted in our heart. In other words, we are becoming true family. In other words, “we fake it to make it” for through these prayers, Christ is transforming us by his Spirit into ever more truly family members with him.

Diary

I remember that my Dad used to say that the Lord has promised us “three score years and ten” – which is 70 years – and that anything more is a bonus. He lived to be 71, but I remember that when he reached the age of 70 years, he was an old man, but then he had had a hard life. This memory of my Dad’s word gives me cause to pause, because this coming Monday – 24th March – I shall be 70 myself, but I don’t feel like an old man – even though I have aches etc that I once never knew.  So, it is a good place to pause and look back though – and I am sure I shall do so over the next few days. One thing that strikes me is that I have wanted to be a priest for as long as I remember – and in my early years I thought I knew what type of person I wanted to be and prayed that it would be so – I can only say now that I am profoundly grateful that the Lord ignored those prayers and made me both who I am and also gave me the family and friends I am blessed to have.

My birthday will be a day like any other, because I have classes to give and other things to do, but later in the week I am going to Singapore for a few days to meet a few friendsi, to eat and drink – even though it is still Lent! – and in this way to thank the Lord for his love and kindness, by relaxing with friends – which shows us who God is.

I have been suffering from a cough for the last week. It is not too bad most of the time, but it has caught me a couple of times during Mass, so much so that yesterday morning I had to ask one of the other priests to take over my duties as the main celebrant at Mass, due to a coughing fit. It began when I gave someone a lift the week before and he was coughing in the car. So, the motto is……. I am not sure!

God bless,

Terry

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Resurrection

Some years ago, I paid a visit to the famous Leprosy hospital at Carville, Louisiana, USA and there learned about a skilled surgeon, who had once worked there. He used to rebuild the hands of those ravaged by leprosy and so enabled many of those, whose fingers had been damaged or destroyed by the disease, to find a new life. However, if he were complimented on his skill, he would reply that the true miracle of these new beginnings came not from the skill of his hands but from the love in his heart. He said, “My skill can give them new hands, but only the love in my heart can give them the courage to use those hands and so find new life”. He knew that when the hands of his patients had been destroyed by leprosy, their self-esteem and ability to build again were also destroyed – not, however, by the disease, but by the hostile attitude of people to those afflicted with this disease. It was his love for his patients and because he believed in them, that they were able to believe in themselves and so begin to live again through the new hands he gave them.

 

            As I think about that story told by the guide at Carville, I realise that I was listening to a story of Resurrection – a story of new life and hope rising out of the destruction of the past – for our faith in Christ’s Resurrection is more than a belief that Jesus rose from the dead on that first Easter Sunday morning and also more than our hope that one day we shall share in his Resurrection. Our Easter Faith proclaims that the Risen Christ is a power now present in our world – not a power that wipes out what has happened, but a power which uses it to bring about something wonderfully new. We see this in the Risen Lord himself – his risen body still carried the marks of the nails in his hands and feet, for they are now part of his new and glorified life. We see this same power at work in the stories of Peter and Paul – Peter’s betrayal was used by Christ to bring about the new Peter – “Peter the Rock” and Paul’s persecution of the Church was turned, by the Lord, into the dedication that made him the Apostle of the Gentiles. Likewise, the doctor’s work at Carville did not take away the damage caused by the leprosy, but when their stumps were changed into workable hands, their hearts must have been so filled with joy at how wonderful it was to have hands – to be able to touch, to create, to caress!

 

            There is, however, something more about resurrection, pointed to by those words of the doctor – people can only use their new life if they are accepted in love by those around them. The doctor’s love enabled his patients to find a new life, even though this was a life still confined to the community of Carville and it would be many years before the attitude of people towards those with leprosy changed enough to allow them to find a new life outside those walls. And this is also true of our resurrection faith – Peter and Paul both had to be accepted by the other disciples in order to enter fully into their new lives as apostles – and we ourselves, when we are raised up by Christ from the dark places of failure into which we find we have fallen, we also need the acceptance and love of those around us to be able to start again.

 

            I have seen such new life and new beginnings come to be in many places and in many people – including myself. I have seen it in Bali, among those young people, who, having been sentenced to life in prison for drug smuggling, have found a new life of service to others. I have seen it in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, in people, whose lives have been wrecked by drugs and alcohol, but who have been drawn into new life and new ways of living, by, as they say “a Power greater than themselves”, but also, they say, by the love and acceptance of others in those groups, who help sustain them in those new beginnings. This is “Resurrection” they are attesting to, not “resuscitation”. This is not a mere going back to the way they were before the tragedy. As I have heard so many say, “In a strange way, I am grateful for having been an addict, for I now have a richer and fuller life than ever I had before my life was wrecked by drugs”.

 

             Resurrection faith is not magic. The power of Christ’s life-giving grace has its own momentum, its own path and its own timetable. It is a long process of gradually learning to entrust oneself to God: of learning to live life with God and for people and, as we do so, we are gradually built into something we never imagined possible. Sometimes this work runs smoothly, sometimes it goes slowly, sometimes it even stops or retreats, but if those in need are to find the courage to persevere, then they need people around them who believe in them, they need us to believe in them. The grace of resurrection needs to be both received and ministered and Christ has drawn us all into being ministers of resurrection. Both the helper as well as the helped equally need resurrection faith; both need to be willing to witness to this resurrection faith, both need to be willing to be surprised by grace, and, if this is done, then reaching out to our brothers and sisters in their time of need will not be a false dawn, but will be the beginning of new life both for them and for those who reach out to them in love!

 

Diary

 

When I first lived here in Sarawak, forty years ago, I remember that the only time there seemed to be wind was when it was going to rain. I remember once, when I first arrived here, walking down a road with a friend, when I felt a strong wind and heard something like the sound of a train in the distance. My friend said, “Run!” so trusting him I ran, but did not quite get to the house in time and was drenched by the coming rain. Now, however, global warming seems to have changed the weather pattern, for at the moment we are getting cooling breezes almost every day, such a pleasant change from the still, heavy humidity I remember.

 

We only have one Mill Hill Brother still here with us in East Malaysia – Brother Ben, who lives in the mountains of Sabah and has done so for nearly 60 years. Next week he celebrates his Diamond Jubilee and most of us MillHillers are going up the mountain to celebrate with him. Over the years our brothers have done sterling work here in Borneo – from building agricultural stations and orphanages – which Br Ben has done and still does – to building small hydro-electric stations way upriver to bring power to a small mission hospital. Maybe we should write down some of the exploits of this group – a group of usually quiet, but such dedicated men.

 

I have had to change my grass-cutting habits. I used to wear sandals while working, but recently I went to the doctor with a skin complaint on the soles of my feet and was told it was caused by the cut grass. So, I have had to start wearing socks and shoes – and this, together, with some cream for the feet, has healed the complaint. Just as well, with a belly like mine it is difficult to bend down to scratch itchy feet!

 

God bless,

 

Terry

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To see the Far Country

At the end of last year, I performed a wedding, but I was not able to attend the reception, so a few days ago, the bride came to see me, bringing a small gift with which to say thank you. We chatted for a while and I asked her, “Have you divorced yet?” and with a look of horror she answered, “Father Terry, how can you ask such a thing; it is only two months!” I answered, “Well, if you have managed to stay together for two months, then you can manage for the rest of your lives!”

            People often imagine that it is the wedding that makes you a married person – but, in reality, it is not! The wedding gives you a “vision of the Far Country”, helps you see where you want to go and the vows, which the couple exchange, help to strengthen their determination to go there – but the marriage itself only comes to be as, each morning, the couple wakes and chooses for their partner that day – choose to be with them, choose to care for them, chooses to forgive them their failings and begin again. There is a song in the movie ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ which speaks to this:

“If you want your dream to be, take your time go slowly.

Do few things, but do them well, heartfelt work grows purely”

 

The reason that married couples remember their wedding day with photographs etc. and celebrate wedding anniversaries is to remind them of the vision they had when they first began their marriage and to give them the opportunity to renew that choice. It is a basic truth of our living that our life choices can never be made in one go – we are each of us stretched out over a lifetime and the choices of who we want to be are also stretched out over a lifetime and so need to be renewed again and again – hence my remark to that young bride.

 

            I had a similar conversation, about a week ago, when someone asked me whether it was still a mortal sin to miss Mass on a Sunday – something they had learnt as a child. I answered that it was a wrong question, because the question does not take into account what the Sunday observance actually is. I told her that going to Mass on a Sunday was intimately connected with becoming a Christian – in the same way that a wedding is intimately connected with a marriage.

 

            When we are baptised, God asks us through the priest, “Do you want to be a member of my family?” When I answer, “Yes” and am baptised, then I am truly born again as a son or daughter of God and a true brother or sister to all others. This is the meaning of baptism – and should I have been baptised as a baby, then that question is put to me when I am confirmed – and old enough to make the choice for myself. So, baptism can be looked at as “the choice to become a child of God”, in the same way that a wedding is “the choice to become a married person”, but that choice has to be made real day by day, as I choose to live as a son or daughter of God, choose to work with God’s grace as he moulds me more and more as a true member of his family.

 

            However, it is possible to lose sight of this and think of the Christian life as just being concerned about praying for my own needs and fighting against my own weaknesses – and so forget about the needs of and my duties towards my brothers and sisters. This is why we Catholics are called together each week to celebrate the Eucharist, for there I am reminded of what the Christian life is all about. At Mass, I see my family: my brothers and sisters there with me in the church. I see Christ come amongst us, gathering us together and as we receive him in communion, we are given the opportunity to renew our “Yes” – “Yes” I want to be part of your family; “Yes” I will strive to love and care for the members of your family whom I see here with me today; “Yes’, I will work with them to bring your love and compassion to those who have not yet heard your word – so that they also “may be One” (Jn 17:21)

 

            To become a Christian begins with a choice – just as a marriage does – but that choice has to be made real day by day and this is why we have the obligation to gather for Mass, Sunday by Sunday – so that we may see the family we have been invited and chosen to be part of. The Mass gives us a vision of the Far Country we are being led towards by Christ our Lord. There at Mass, we listen to his word, are invited to open our hearts to him in communion – and are able to see our brothers and sisters with whom he is making us into one as his family. To see Mass only as an obligation is to lose the vision and blind us to our great vocation as the children of God.

 

Diary

 

Last Friday, four young men from East Malaysia began their studies to become Mill Hill Missionaries – the Society I belong to. Mill Hill first came to East Malaysia in 1881 and were the only Catholic priests here until the 1960s, when some local men became priests. Over the last forty years, many of them were expelled and so we concentrated on recruiting young men as local priests. However, in 2010, it was decided that if anyone wanted to follow a missionary vocation – then we would accept them. I must admit that I was not expecting very much to happen, even though I was asked to be the coordinator. However, six months later, a young man heard me talk about Mill Hill and pursued me until I accepted him as a candidate. He was followed by three others and now this year another four have begun their studies. So now we have eight East Malaysians training to become Mill Hill priests. Strange, a few years ago, we thought we were going to die out in Malaysia, but suddenly “A shoot has sprung from the stump of Jesse!” (Is. 11:1) – and now I have to find the money to train them!

 

The year’s calendar is filling up very quickly. I am due to lead two groups on Retreat in May – both from Sarawak. One is going to Chiang Mai in Thailand and the other to Bali. Both are now over-subscribed – but whether it is the destination or my leading of the Retreat that is the attraction, I am not sure!!

 

We have a new priest at St Peter’s, Father Francis from the Diocese of Penang. He also is a grass-cutter, but far more assiduous than I – even though he is five years older, 75; he is out every day cutting, whereas I only manage three or four days a week. Fortunately, there seems to be more than enough grass that needs to be cut – or we might end up fighting – a new meaning to the phrase: “turf wars!” 

 

God bless,

 

Terry

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Small acts of kindness

I remember once sitting in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, when a young woman was brought in. She was in a bad state – she was shaking, her nose was running, her clothes were dirty and her hair unkempt. She had come because her two children had been taken away from her that day, due to her drinking, and she was desperate for help. However, despite the state she was in, those around her did not pull away in alarm or disgust, but actually moved closer to her, encouraging her and telling her that she was welcome. They gave her a cup of tea and helped her hold it, when her shaking hands threatened to spill it, and, at the end of the meeting, several people came up to her encouraging her to come back again. She did come back and each time she looked a little better – cleaner and healthier because she had stopped drinking and begun to eat properly. Then, after a couple of months, when she had begun to feel comfortable in the meetings, she was led into the next stage of her recovery. She was encouraged to perform little acts of service, such as coming early to help set out the chairs, make the tea or coffee for people coming to the meeting, or stay behind afterwards to help wash up and help put away the chairs – for these little acts of service are not just kind things to do, but are an essential part of the recovery process, because they strike at the very heart of addiction.

Addiction of any sort, be that alcohol, other drugs, gambling etc., is essentially an act of selfishness, whereby a person is drawn deeper and deeper into being concerned only about their own wants and desires – no matter what the cost to themselves or to others. Thus, even though someone may have managed to stop taking the drug, the deep-rooted selfishness, of which the addiction is an expression, remains – ever ready to drag them back down again – so if a person is to recover then this whole direction of selfishness in their lives has to be reversed. This process of reversal is begun by doing small acts of selflessness – such as making the tea or coffee or washing up afterwards. It is a process that leads us out of ourselves into kindness for others – the kindness which was shown to that young woman, when she first entered the room, the kindness that was seen in the concern that she should come back and the kindness, which, if she lets it grow in her, will lead her into recovery.

Kindness is the opposite of selfishness; it is the antidote of all addiction, all selfishness and indeed all sin – for sin, in its heart, is an act of selfishness. Sin is where others are put second to my own wants and desires; it is an attitude that the only thing that matters is that I get what I want. So, fundamentally, sin is an attitude, not just an action and even if, by God’s grace, I manage to stop the action, the attitude will still be there, unless this is attacked by little acts of kindness, until the direction of my life is gradually changed from focussing on me and my needs to being directed towards the love and service of others.

This understanding can be seen in the Catholic teaching on reconciliation, but it is often overlooked in practice, for we tend to concentrate on expressing sorrow for the sinful acts we have committed and overlook that the root of these lies in an attitude of selfishness – and this also needs to be tackled, if we are to move into newness of life. We come close to this in the case of stealing – for we know we have to return or make good what we have stolen, but, even here, we often tend to concentrate more on the “thing” to be restored and not the change in our attitude, which led us to take the object in the first place.

According to the theology of St Luke, sin is a “disease” and needs to be tackled as a disease – which means not just dealing with the symptoms of the sickness, but also getting to grips with the underlying virus, which is causing the symptoms. This is why, in the Church Document on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the “how” of the sacrament there is a similarity to the practice of Alcoholics Anonymous. The priest is told that he should warmly welcome the penitent – and that this is not just a nice thing to do, but is actually part of the healing process that takes place in the sacrament. Then, when it comes to the giving of penance, it says that it should fit that which the person has confessed and should, in some way, be “medicine” to tackle the sinfulness in the person. Sometimes, it is difficult to find something appropriate, but it should always be an act of kindness towards someone – for the Holy Spirit uses small acts of kindness to move us away from the selfishness that has damaged us and others and towards the selflessness, compassion and mercy that we see in the face of God.

Last summer, I was in Rome for the Mill Hill 65+ course and in the dining room of the convent, where we were staying, there was an elderly sister, who had one of the kindest smiles I have seen for a long time. It was a smile that could only have been formed gradually over the years through many small acts of kindness towards others. I was reminded of her smile last Sunday as I read the Book of Malachi (3:1-4), which says that the Lord, when he comes among us, will “refine us like gold and silver”. That sister showed that work of the Lord – and also showed that the spiritual life is not just avoiding wrong-doing, but is being moulded into godliness – into being kind.

Some years ago now, at “Freshers’ Day” at the University in Reading, where I worked, a smartly dressed, young woman came up to me to say hello. She told me that she had just registered for a degree course, which she would do part-time, so as to be able to care for her two children. She was, of course, the same young woman I had seen led into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous a few years before. I told her how happy I was to see her and as she left I marvelled at the power of God’s grace to be found in small acts of kindness!

Diary

Well, it is back to work. The seminary opened again this week with some students from West Malaysia for the first time. So, we have a larger number of seminarians and a greater mixture in ages as well – we have a sprinkling of guys in their 40s – so it should be an interesting year!

I have been out cutting grass again – and enjoying the exercise, but I seem to be getting more aches and pains than I used to have. Maybe it is just getting used to things again after a month or so of doing other things, but it could also be due to the passing of time – for next month I shall reach the age of 70 – which my Dad used to refer to as the number of years the Lord has promised us, and maintained that anything more was a bonus.

I attended the vocations’ Seminar in Sabah, last month, where one hundred and forty young men had come to get to know more about priesthood. I was invited to talk to them about the missionary priesthood, which I did in my broken Malay and to make up for any possible lack of understanding I taught them a song and dance – which left me quite puffed! Afterwards, however, one lad told me that helped him realise that I was human! Maybe, now I think of it, my aches and pains are also a result of that dance – or at least some of them.

God bless,

Terry

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Moved by the Spirit

A few weeks before Christmas, I was moved to write to a retired Mill Hill Father, Father Ton Putman, who had been ordained in 1951 and appointed to Sabah, North Borneo – or the Diocese of Jesselton, as it was then called. He worked there until the early 1970s, when the Government decided to cancel the work permits of the Mill Hill priests in Sabah, in an attempt, it is thought, to wipe out Christianity. Father Ton, however, did not obey the order quietly and took to the hills, in order to show his people that he would not willingly leave them. After a few weeks, however, he was caught by the police and, with several other Mill Hill Fathers, imprisoned before being expelled from the country. The, then, Bishop of the Diocese remembers visiting them in prison and finding them, he says, all very joyful and full of the Spirit – and when they were taken to the airport, by the authorities, to be deported, they insisted on marching to the plane in white cassocks and with their red Mill Hill sashes a-flying!

 

After a period of recuperation in Europe, Father Ton wanted to return to South East Asia and so he accepted an appointment to Indonesia, where he continued his missionary outreach for a further 37 years – first in Pontianak, Indonesian Borneo, and then, when men of his age usually look for an easier style of life, he volunteered to work in Indonesian Papua, one of the physically toughest missions there is, and there he happily remained until 2010, when ill health forced him to return to Holland.

 

I remember meeting him twice, first in the 1970s, when he crept over the border to Kuching from Indonesia – he was blacklisted by Malaysia at the time – to spend a few days R & R with us and we gave him a bottle of whisky and a salami sausage to carry back with him. I met him again, when I lived in Bali and he came and spent a night with me. I remember that we chatted long into the night and I learnt much more about his life. When I think of him now, I am reminded of that passage in the Book of Genesis 6:3, which says, “In those days there were giants in the land!

 

I am not sure why I was prompted to write to him just before Christmas. I had never written to him before, but I just felt a strong desire to tell him about the parish in Sabah where he had worked for many years. So I wrote, telling him that they still remembered him, even though it was 40 years since he had worked there, and they had named their new Church Hall after him – “Father Ton Putman Hall”. I also told him that there was a young man from that parish, who was training to become a Mill Hill Missionary and was now beginning his third year of formation. A week or so later, I received an email from the Rector of the Mill Hill Retirement House in Holland telling me that Father Ton was too weak to reply himself, but he wanted to thank me for the news and that he had been delighted to learn that a young man from his former parish was now taking on his mantle as a Mill Hill Missionary. Ten days later, Father Ton died.

 

When I heard of his death, I sat pondering as to what had moved me to write to him just before his death – although, at the time, I did not know he was dying – and I am sure that I see the finger of the Lord there. I don’t know why he needed to hear my news at that time and I don’t need to know, but I am sure that the Lord wanted him to know and I am happy that I was the means the Lord used to reach out to him.

 

I was pondering this again, yesterday, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. When Jesus went down into the waters of the Jordan to be baptised by John, it was something like an ordination service – the Lord dedicated himself to the love and service of mankind. In his baptism, he joined himself to us in a bond that cannot be broken and, in the same way, when we are baptised, we are dedicated to him, in his love and service for mankind, also in a bond that cannot be broken. Thus, our baptism is something that has to be affirmed by us over and over again. In some ways, it is rather like the wedding, when husband and wife dedicate themselves to each other – but that dedication has to be renewed over and over again, in good times and in bad, if the full “one-flesh” of husband and wife is to come to be. Likewise our “baptismal giving of ourselves” has to be affirmed again and again, in good times and in bad, and in my experience that is done most powerfully in my weakness and failure, for then I am able to say most clearly: “even though I have made a mess of things – you are still the one I want to be with”.

 

Different people affirm their dedication to the Lord in different ways and at different times, but no matter how we do it, what we are doing is giving ourselves to be his hands and feet, his voice and ears, his heart – the place where the Lord can reach out and comfort people in their need. I don’t know in what way Father Ton needed to be comforted, but I believe that in some way he did and I am deeply touched that the Lord used me to reach out to him.

 

Diary

 

I am just getting over my third batch of cold or flu or whatever it is. I had a viral cold when I went home to England; I received another when someone sneezed as they were wishing me a Happy Christmas; and I seem to have caught another on the plane back to Malaysia. They may, however, have been just phases of the one cold that ebbed and flowed with the winter rain and cold. Now, thankfully, I am beginning to feel some energy again – hence this blog after a silence of some time.

 

My sister-in-law, Mary, was supposed to come with me for a holiday, when I returned – the first time since my brother died, nearly two years ago, that she had ventured out. However, she was taken ill and after a time in hospital she has been diagnosed as having some form of cancer in her sinuses. Please remember her in your prayers – and her two sons – and all those who are facing such terrible illnesses. I still hope that once day, after her treatment, she will still be able to come here for a holiday.

 

We had a Mill Hill Assembly in Sibu last week at which 17 members were present, including our six seminarians. Our rebirth as part of the East Malaysian Catholic scene is quite astonishing. Just a few years ago we were on the point of extinction here due to visa restrictions – that is after 133 years of working in this part of Borneo. However, the Sarawak Government began giving visas again to our priests and also, in 2010, God began calling Malaysian men to join us as Mill Hill Missionaries. I am reminded of the passage from Isaiah 11:1 “A shoot shall spring from the stock of Jesse”!

 

The students here in Kuching are still on holiday – and so the need for me to cut some grass is more urgent – but, apart from that, this is not a free month for me by any means. This coming weekend I go to Sabah for a vocations’ seminar in the mountains of Bundu Tuhan. Then, the following weekend, I go to Miri for the ordination of their new bishop, who was our Rector here at St Peter’s. I, then, go straight from there to Bali to visit the prison, to meet and pray with friends  and lastly, to visit my dentist – but more of that, I am sure, when I write next!

 

Happy New Year to you all – may you also be moved by the Spirit throughout this year of grace.

 

God bless,

Terry

 

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To stand in awe before your God

My moving to Bali in 2006 was at a time of my life, when certain effects of old age began to be felt – in particular, teeth! Within 3 months of my arrival, three of my teeth collapsed, necessitating a visit to the dentist. The dentist who removed the remnants of the teeth also recommended a visit to the head of the practice, who specialised in implants. I was hesitant about this, because I knew they were expensive, but I went and, sure enough, was told that they would cost me US$6000. I told the dentist that I could not afford that as I was a priest and he then said, “Oh you are a priest! Then I will give a discount – US$2000”. I thanked him and left, having decided that I would have to find some other way of eating my food, for, even with a discount, US$2000 was too much for teeth. Three weeks later, the dentist was at Mass and astonished to see me there, “You didn’t tell me you were a Catholic priest!” he said, “I thought you were Anglican. In that case”, he added, “just pay me for what I use”. So began my friendship with him and over the following three years, I got to know him very well as he did more and more work on my mouth – and when I asked him for the bill, he told me that Jesus had already paid it!

            Some three years later, I moved to Kuching and after some time suffered another broken tooth and was advised to go to the Government clinic for an implant, which I did, but it cost me over £1,000 sterling. So later, when another tooth became loose, I decided that I would just have to live with gaps in my teeth, but I did whisper to the Lord that it was a pity I did not still live in Bali – but I was shy to go to visit my Bali dentist again – just to get treatment.

            So, that was the situation last May, when I took a group of people from Kuching  to Bali for a retreat. On a Sunday morning, the last day of the retreat, I finished Mass and went outside and as I did so, someone called out to me, “Father Terry!” I looked and who should be sitting there but my Bali friend and dentist. I did not recognise him at first because he was in cycling gear and looked so much slimmer than I remembered, but he told me that some three years previously before, he had decided that he was overweight and so had taken up cycling. He told me that he usually cycled up to the retreat house on a Sunday morning for exercise and his driver would then come and collect him – that morning, his driver was late, he said, but he was glad if that meant we could meet again. We chatted for a while and then he asked me, “How are your teeth” and I replied, “Funny you should say that….!” and told him about my wobbly tooth. He told me to see him before I left and he would tell his secretary to give me an early appointment, so I did – and he extracted the tooth and popped in an implant. Next month, January, I go back to Bali have the crown fitted.

            Now, the reason I’m telling you this long and complicated story about my teeth is to ask your opinion – “was that a chance meeting with my dentist or was it the finger of God working for my good?” I believe, on the basis of many similar experiences, that it was God, gently moving things together for my benefit. “Coincidences”, I believe, are another term for the gentle workings of God. However, if this was so, then it meant that the Lord must have started preparing for my meeting with my friend, long, long before my need of a dentist had come about. In fact it must have begun three years ago, when my dentist began to think that he needed to lose weight and so had the idea of taking up cycling – and moreover decided to cycle up to that retreat house every Sunday morning – where, “coincidently” I would meet him and so get the dental treatment I needed. But is it possible that God would go to so much trouble just for my teeth? I have pondered this and decided, “Yes, he would!” But such a conclusion leaves me in awe and wonder at the love that my God must have for me; I am astonished at the concern and care that would lead him to make all those arrangements long before I ever whispered a word about it to him.

            If you go into the Scriptures of your own life – those many stories of your own living with God – you will find that the same is true of every blessing that God has given you – that for it truly to have been the work of God, then he must have been working on it long, long before you ever asked for help or even had need of such help. Such a meditation can only lead to the position when you stand before God in awe and say, “Who is this God, who does such wonders for love of me?”

            At this time of the year, the readings tell us that this is the time “to repent – for the Kingdom of God is close at hand” Many people understand the word “Repent!” to mean “stop doing bad things and start doing good ones”, but where does Christ enter into this? I believe the word “Repent!” must mean something much deeper than just stop being a bad boy or girl. It is a call, I believe, to look at the scriptures of your own life-story and realise who is the one who is holding out his hand to us, asking us to walk with him. The call to repent is about coming to a new vision of the world and our life in that world. It is about becoming aware of our vocation and our mission as the partner of the One who has come among us. This can only really come about from a sense of awe and wonder about who it is who has drawn so close to us. The Scriptures, and especially the prophets and the psalms, speak of the majesty of God as seen in nature and they do so to inculcate in the people that sense of awe and wonder necessary to be a true partner of God.

            “the depths of the oceans and the heights of the mountains are his

To him belongs the sea for he made it and the dry land made by his hand”

 

I too have been led to a sense of awe and wonder at the majesty and beauty of the Lord, when I look at nature, but for the same effect nowadays, I have only to look at my teeth.

Diary

I have just finished giving a six day retreat in Sabah for the local Sisters there. There were over 90 following the retreat and over 80 asked to talk privately with me – so I was rather tired when I finished. However, they seemed to enjoy it and so did I. One problem on the retreat was water, because their water tank was not large enough for the number of people staying in the house. So, the first morning I got up at 5.45am – for 6.30am prayer – and found that I had to do with a shower as there was no water. The sisters explained to me the problem, so the next morning I started my shower at 5.30 and was able to shower, partly! When I was covered in soap, the water ran out. So, the mornings after that I got up earlier still and also filled a bucket before I started to shower vjust in case…..

I shall be away in UK from 17th Dec – 1st Jan. I still have two weeks of my leave owing me, so I thought it would be nice to have Christmas with my family – something I have not done for several years.

So, to you all, wherever you may be:

All blessings on you and yours for Christmas,

may you know the nearness and love of our God

and take his outstretched hand

as we walk together into the New Year of Grace.

 

God bless,

Terry

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