Embracing weakness

Some twenty odd years ago, I became sick. I felt tired all the time, I could not do my work properly and found it very difficult getting up in the morning. Into this mess stepped a young man, who was training as a student of Mill Hill. He would come in the mornings to help get me up, he would make sure that I had whatever medicines and other things I needed and would often come and sit for a while in the evenings to keep me company – he even read up about my condition to see how he might help me further. At that time, I felt so ashamed of my weakness and prayed desperately for the Lord to take it away – and while I was grateful for the help of that young man, I so wished it was all different! Now, some twenty five years later, my opinion about that time has changed. That young man, who was such a help to me, has now left Mill Hill and followed a different path in life, but the friendship that began during the time of my weakness, is still there and has deepened and matured over the years. I went to see him recently, while I was home on leave, and although I only meet him about once a year, it struck me that our friendship is as though we saw each other every day. So, when I look back at that time of my sickness, I no longer reject the feelings of weakness and helplessness that were mine, but, instead, I remember the deep and abiding friendship that grew out of that time, a friendship that could only have come about because I was weak – and I give thanks for the weakness that was mine. Weakness is something we look down upon and despise in our world and often this works its way into our attitude as Christians – we are frightened of weakness , both physical and spiritual, and reject it, even though we proclaim that the prayers of the sick and weak are powerful in the sight of God. More and more I realise how we need to re-evaluate the place of weakness in our lives, because were there no weakness in our world, no brokenness or damage in our lives, then neither would there be compassion, mercy, or even faith, for we can only find our Saviour in our weakness and failure – not in our strength and success. This does not mean that God sends us pain and sickness, as some seem to think, he does not. Our world and the people in it are more than capable of doing that, but God does reach out to us in our weakness and takes up that pain, brokenness and weakness and brings out of them such miracles of love and care that we can only stand in awe and wonder. On Good Fridays, as celebrant at the ceremonies, I am able to watch those coming up to venerate the cross and I see the love and devotion in their faces as they kiss the cross and hold up their small children to touch the figure of the one who died for us. It shows how God can take the cruelty and hatred of the world and make it the very place where love, compassion – and friendship – are born. There is a time of our lives for us to be strong, to do, to create, but our lives begin in weakness, and in that weakness we begin to know love – first through our parents and others who hold us and care for us in our weakness as babies. The same is also true, for most of us, at the end of our lives – we come to know weakness once more as our strength drains away due to age and sickness and we become reliant on others. A point to ponder is that whereas the things we are most proud of are those we accomplish in the times of our strength and ability, but the things of beauty and gentle joy that will abide forever, are born not in the times of our strength, but in the times of our weakness. Both strength and weakness have a place in our lives, but the part we do not particularly like, our weakness, is usually the more fruitful part – and this is true of both our friendship with God as well of our friendships with those around us. Cardinal Hume said of friendship: “Love between two persons, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected… When two persons love, they experience in a limited manner in this world what will be their unending delight when one with God in the next… To love another is to have entered the area of the richest human experience…” True friendship is born and grows when we are there for the other in their weakness and need and they, in turn, for us. It is being true to someone, when the world sees only failure, and so giving them the courage to stand up and walk again. The deepest part of the friendship I have with my Saviour was born in the times of my weakness, as was my friendship with that now “not so young” man, who came to me in my weakness so many years ago. Diary Some of you have written to ask if things are ok with me, because there has been no blog for some time. That is very kind of you and I thank you for your concern. I am well, but have been on leave and been doing other things too, but I must also admit to hitting a certain “dry period” with my blog. My leave in UK was for just under three weeks and there were many friends and other to see – and I did not get round to them all – and so there was not a lot of time to write. Then, when I came back, I went to West Malaysia to give a week’s retreat for diocesan priests there – and those talks also had to be prepared. However, now I am back and have time to reflect on some of the things that happened during my holidays and persons I met – and as you see from above – the inspiration seems to be beginning to flow again. On the evening of All Souls, I usually walk through the cemetery at St Joseph’s Cathedral to visit the graves of old friends. I usually take some candles with me, so I can light a candle for them and also put a lighted candle on the untended tombs, which I do for them and in memory of my own loved ones whose graves lie far away. Two years ago, I noticed another grave, among the graves of the Religious Sisters, but the nameplate was in such a bad condition that I had great difficulty in reading the names, of which there were several. They had been painted on a piece of tin, but the harsh Sarawak weather had nearly obliterated the names, but I did notice that they were the names of Religious Sisters – sixteen in all – and so, I set myself to discover who they were and after two years, and much letter writing, I have managed. They are the remains of sixteen Religious Sisters interred in that grave; eight of them were the “White Sisters”, the first nuns here in Sarawak, together with one of the first of our local Sisters. The rest are the remains of seven elderly Dutch Sisters, who were transported here from Indonesia, by the Japanese, during the Second World War, and died in the internment camp at Batu Lintang. When I found discovered who they were, I decided to erect a better monument to them. However, on either side of this grave, were two graves belonging to two of the first White Sisters, who came to Sarawak and their tombs were also in a bad condition, so I decided to refurbish all three. I have finally managed it and the new gravestones should be ready by All Souls Day. The cost of it all was RM12.000, (Just over £2,000, for those of you outside Sarawak) and I had just RM750, kindly given by people, when I first thought of the idea. The Cathedral Cemetery Committee added RM5.000, but I was still left with over RM6000 to find, so I borrowed it from the Mill Hill accounts and then mentioned at Mass last Sunday that I was hoping something would happen before I had to hand in my Mill Hill accounts at the end of the year. I am happy to tell you that within days the money came – and my reputation as an accountant (if I ever had one!) has been saved.

God bless,


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Who do you want to be?

When I was a boy of about eleven years old, I got a part-time job delivering newspapers. There were seven or eight lads, like myself, and we were employed by a local newsagent shop, which also sold sweets and cigarettes etc. We boys would hang around the shop and chat while we waited for the paper-rounds to be assembled and marked by the manager. One day, I saw one of the boys quietly slip a packet of cigarettes into his pocket, while the manager was busy marking the papers and then I saw some of the others also take things and the thought came to me to also take something, so I took a packet of cigarettes and no one saw me. However, some days later, when I tried it again, I was seen by the area manager, who happened to be in the shop on that day. He said nothing about it, but the next day he said he wanted to talk to me and took me into his office. To my surprise, he did not scold or threaten to call the police, but he gently told me that he knew some of the other boys stole things and that he had seen me take the cigarettes and then he asked me, “Is that what you want to become?” I do not remember what I said in reply, but that was one of the turning points of my life and that question has remained with me ever since – along with a great gratitude to that man for his kindness and wisdom.

What he was pointing out – and what I am still learning – is that in our every moral action there are, in fact, two choices – or maybe it would be better to say: two consequences of the one choice. The first is the choice to do something either good or bad – or not to do it. But, at a much deeper level, this is also a choice about the type of person I choose to become. Usually, when making the first choice, I am not consciously aware of the deeper effects of that choice, but nevertheless they are there and through my moral choices, I am “moulded” by God into the type of person I want to be.

In our religious instruction, we are taught to examine our conscience, especially when preparing for confession, but sadly, the way we are taught to do this concentrates on our actions – on the things we have done or not done – and, because of this, we often miss out on the opportunity to ask ourselves: “What type of person do I want to be?” This question is a vital part of the spiritual life for our relationship with the Lord is not only about what we do or don’t do, but more importantly it is about the direction of our life – where we are headed!

People often tell me that they wonder what the point of going to confession is, “Because”, they say, “I always confess the same sins”. Because we are taught to concentrate only on our actions, we often do not see that even though we confess the same things over and over again, nevertheless when we say “sorry!”, we are also saying to the Lord – “Even though I have done these things, Lord, and cannot find the strength not to do them, nevertheless it is you whom I choose and you whom I want to be with.” And that is not just an empty wish, for each time I do so, my friendship with the Lord goes down to a deeper and deeper level – and down there wonderful things are happening by the power of the Spirit, things, which at present, I cannot see.

Fundamentally, the Christian life is not about doing good actions or avoiding bad ones – but about choice! As one of the earliest Christian catechetical teachings, the Didache, says: “There are two ways – a way of life and a way of death – and you must choose which way to go!” We may not have the power to do all the things we would like to do, but we do have the power to choose, which way we want to go and when we do that, we open ourselves up to the power of God to mould us into his likeness.

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychotherapist, who was sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis, because he was Jewish. He survived three and a half years in the terrible conditions of the camp and when he was released he asked himself why he had survived when so many others did not. The answer he came to was that he did not give up because he knew that his wife would need him, when he got out – for she also had been sent to a camp – and it was his love for her that gave him the courage to face and overcome all the difficulties of his life there. When he was released, he discovered that his wife had not survived, but nevertheless, it was his love for her that has enabled him to live.

He went on further and asked himself, why had not become brutalised in the camp, as many others had done in order to survive. His answer to this question was that this was due to his wife’s love for him. He wanted to be the type of person his wife would be proud of, and because of this he resisted all temptations to survive “at all costs”. Despite the horrific conditions, he chose to become the person his wife would be proud of. Such is the power of love!

Likewise with us! In our life we are faced with the difficult conditions of the world and also with weaknesses and failings in ourselves, but despite them all we can choose, choose who we want to be. It is love that enables us to make that choice – the love we find through our prayer and through all those around us. It is our love for God that makes us go on trying, even though we fail again and again. It is God’s love for us that inspires to want to be someone he would be proud of. Frankl said, “Love undergirds the whole world”. We profess this in our Faith and experience it in our lives.

“Who do you want to become?” – the manager, who asked me that question, did not only know how to sell newspapers, but also knew about the deepest question of the spiritual life!




Last Saturday, I went to give a day of recollection to the Sisters in the local convent here. When Mass began I stood at the altar for the opening prayers and then, when the readings began, I went to sit down in the armed seat provided – but as I did so I felt the wicker seat under me slowly begin to give way. I knew that if I said anything I would disrupt the Mass, so I held myself up with my elbows to prevent my weight resting fully on the wicker seat, which was quite a feat!

I waited till the end of Mass before I said anything, and when they thanked me for the things I do for them – then I asked them to do something for me: “Next time, please give me a chair that will not collapse under me”. They all started to giggle and it took a long, long time, well into lunch before they got over it. So I was right not to say anything, when the chair first began to give way,

I have to go travelling for five days – to Bintulu and to Kota Kinabalu – and then I return to the seminary for a week to give examinations. After that I go to England on leave for three weeks to see my family and friends there. I am looking forward to it. I cannot afford to be there longer than three weeks, because of the College timetable, but I will enjoy the time I have.

God bless,


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“Come with me”

It is said that when a memory comes to us from the past, there is something there for us either to put to rest or to learn from. Recently, a memory came to me of an incident, when I was newly ordained and was asked to supply, for a month, as Chaplain to Wandsworth Jail in London. I would go to the jail each morning, see those prisoners, who wished to talk with the Chaplain, then I would visit first the punishment wing and then the hospital wing. One day, when I went to the hospital wing, one of the warders told me that there was a young Catholic man in the padded cell, who was having a bad reaction to the withdrawal from drugs. They had put him in a straitjacket, he said, and locked him in a padded cell so that he would not hurt himself – and then he added, “It is too dangerous for you to go in, Father, but you can talk to him through the small glass window”. I went to the window and saw him lying on his side on the floor, not looking towards the door, and twitching slightly. I tried talking, but he did not respond, so I left him.

            The next day, the warder told me that the young man was over the attack and that I could go into the cell – “but”, he said, “leave the cell door ajar”. I went in, leaving the door slightly open, as told, and found the young man, whose name I cannot remember, sitting on the floor – because there was no furniture in the cell. He greeted me politely and began to chat, but I was a newly ordained priest and full of my own concerns; all I could think of, at first, was – ‘should I sit on the ground, rather than speak down to him’ and then when I sat down I began to wonder whether I could reach the door in time, if he chose to attack me!! However, slowly, I began to hear what he was saying to me. “For the last two days, Father, I have been in hell”, he said, “All I wanted was to kill myself to escape from the horrors that filled me and surrounded me. However”, he went on, “I have told God that if he will use that pain and suffering to help cure some sick child somewhere, then I am willing to go through it again.”

            What strikes me now, as that memory comes to me from across the years, is that the young man’s thoughts were not on himself. He was not primarily concerned about the terrible time he had been through, nor was he expressing regret for what had landed him in that prison cell – his crime and drugs – instead, somehow the Lord had touched him, taking him into his love and concern for the sick and the weak. It had obviously been an extremely intimate experience for him and his heart had responded to the invitation of his Lord to help a sick child and so he offered the only thing he had – his suffering.

            I cannot help thinking that had that been me, how different my own reaction would have been. My first thoughts would have been to ask the Lord for mercy for the crimes that had brought me into prison and for the stupidity, which had led me to start taking drugs – but that young man’s thoughts and prayers had gone past those thoughts and were concerned for others, which is a true sign that the Lord had touched him.

            I, like many other Christians, have a rather selfish spirituality; it is centred on myself, my needs and my concerns – and only rarely do I reach out in thought and prayer for those beyond my immediate circle of acquaintances and friends. The Scriptures rebuke me for this, for as 1 John 3ff tells me quite clearly, the only way that I can know that I love God is that I love my brothers and sisters – and, in God’s eyes, there is no one who is not included in this category, for all are the children of God. To accept having boundaries to my spiritual life, which limit my concern for others is just not acceptable.

            We often make the mistake of thinking that our primary spiritual relationship is between God and me and only after that am I called to concern myself with others, for God’s sake. That is not true! The primary invitation from God is not to love him, but to join with him in his love for the world – and in so doing I come to discover that I have been bonded to him in a love and compassion that will last forever. The union I am being invited to is not, fundamentally, the union of two lovers looking at each other and concerned just about themselves, but the union of two friends who together look with love and compassion towards those in need and – hand in hand – reach out to care for them.

            Our prayers will reveal to us, which of these two attitudes are ours – do my prayers reach our beyond myself? Am I being led by the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son” and who wants to take me with him on his mission? Or are my prayers concerned with my own problems and my own needs and the needs of those closest to me? If they are the latter, then I need to change my prayers and begin to make them include those I do not know, do not yet love and do not yet care for. Such prayers may well be a formality at first, that is, prayers which I say without much fervour or meaning, but there is an old saying, “We fake it to make it!”, which means that if I say the words, out of a choice to share with God in his love for the world, then the Holy Spirit will give life and love to those words and I will find myself being drawn ever deeper into the heart and soul of the Trinity.

            It has been over forty years since I met that young man, and if my memory serves me well, I met him only the once, but I now see that he was far further along the way of the Lord than I was – and maybe still am. He seemed to know that Christ was his Saviour – and all the wrong he had done could only be righted by the Saviour and not by his prayers – so having entrusted all this to the Lord and being thus freed from their weight and chains, he had heard the call to love and care for those in need – and had jumped at the chance with an enthusiasm and trust that forty years later I am still trying to emulate.


I have had a rather busy two weeks. I went to Singapore for three days to do one or two things, including a fitting for my cassock, which was too long in the length and the sleeves – I think it made me I look a little like “Dopey” in Snow White and the seven dwarves! I came back on Saturday and then, on Monday, I went off to Sabah to give a “3rd Age spirituality” course to 37 older Sisters there. I returned on Friday, but I find I tire more easily these days, so I was grateful for a rather lazy day on Sunday. Now I have to catch up on student essays and assignments.

I wore sandals when I walked about Singapore – and I do not think they fitted very well, because I ended up with a blister on the ball of my right foot. It is a most awkward spot to have a blister, isn’t it? And for a man with a belly like mine, it is also very difficult to dress!!

I remember Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, who used to be the Master General of the Dominicans, saying once that he got most of his theology, these days, from novels and movies. They are about life, he said, even if they are fiction, and if they are about life then they are also about God! Well, I went to see the movie “Maleficent”, a short while ago, and enjoyed it; and it reminded me of what Fr Timothy said, because there is a great insight into what “true love” actually is – but I will say no more in case you haven’t seen it yet.

God bless,


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He waited for me on the way

Some years ago, I lived at Mill Hill in north London, but once a week I would go into downtown London to teach and, on the way, I would usually see several people begging. I had heard stories that some of these were not true beggars and that others were drug addicts and so after thinking about it, I decided that I would not give them money. On one such journey, I remember passing a young man about 20 years old, sitting on the pavement with a handwritten sign saying, “Hungry and homeless”. We made eye contact briefly, as I passed, but I walked on; however, after having turned the corner, I stopped because a thought had come to me: “What if he is genuine – and really hungry and homeless?” So, I turned back to find the young man and give him something, but when I reached the place where he had been sitting – he had gone. I just stood there and in my heart said to the Lord, “Lord, if you want me to help someone, please give me time to prepare – I am not that good at being spontaneous!” He did not answer me – at least not then.

            Recently, I was preparing a homily and the memory of that young man came to mind again and also my words to the Lord – namely that he should forewarn me when he wanted me to help someone. However, this time I heard the Lord answer: “But you had already made up your mind to ignore anyone begging, without considering whether that might be me sitting there – so if you choose to live by such blanket rules, please don’t complain if I let you have your way!” I sat there humbled, for it was true, I had already made up my mind that I was not going to give money to anyone begging – and I had not considered the possibility that I might meet a genuine case and it would be the Lord himself sitting there with his hand out.

            In one of his sermons, St John Chrysostom, a 4th century bishop in what is now modern-day Turkey, scolded the people of his time, who came to church to worship, but ignored the beggars who sat at the doors of the churches. He said, “How can you worship the Lord Christ at the altar, offering gold chalices and beautiful cloths for his house – and then ignore that same Christ as he sits at the door of the church asking for alms?” His words bring home very powerfully a central truth of Catholic Christianity – Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, but he is equally truly present in his people, especially those in need – as he clearly tells us in Mt 25: 31-46. Then why do we stress the one truth, but tend to pass over the other in comparative silence? This has much to do with what happened at the time of the Reformation.

            The Church teaches that Christ really and truly dwells with us in three ways: in the Eucharist, in the listening to the Scriptures and in the community. No one aspect is more important than the others – for all point to the others and imply all the others. However, at the time of the Reformation, the Protestants accepted the presence of Christ in both the community and the Scriptures, but denied his true presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Thus, Catholic catechetics began to stress the true presence in the Blessed Sacrament, because the truth of this teaching was under attack, but spoke only briefly of the presence of Christ in the community and the Scriptures because this was not being challenged. As time passed, the situation normalised and the Protestant threat was not so urgent, but our way of catechetics did not change and so we came to have a rather skewed teaching on the true Presence of Christ, emphasising it in the Blessed Sacrament, but often overlooking it in the Scriptures and the community.

            This has begun to be balanced out, as far as the Scriptures are concerned, over the last fifty years, since the Second Vatican Council, and we now have a much great appreciation of the Scriptures and Christ’s saving presence that comes to us through the Scriptures, but we are still some way from showing a real appreciation of his presence in the community. For instance, our Sunday services are supposed to be gatherings of the Family of God, not just my individual attendance at Mass, but our Masses are often rather cold and impersonal occasions, especially if you are a stranger to a parish. Rarely are we welcomed at the door; often we are left to find our own place to sit and the handshake of peace, which once brought in an element of friendship, has, since the bird flu scare, been reduced, in most churches, to an unsmiling nod of the head.

In our teaching, we emphasise strongly that we must fulfil our Sunday obligation by attending Mass – but we do not teach that Christ is standing there among us, waiting for a friendly smile or a kind word, with the result that he often waits in vain! If we truly believe that “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20) – then we must show it. Protestants are often much better at this than we Catholics and I have heard of Catholics, who have visited their churches and having been received with such warmth, never come back to our larger but often much more impersonal gatherings. The real presence of Christ in the community must not remain just a truth, but must become an experience – but this will only happen when each of us make it so.

            This brings me back to where I started – to that young man sitting on the London pavement asking for money. If I am to meet my Lord on my journey in the many places where he stands waiting, I cannot live by hard and fast rules of “so-called” Christian behaviour. Christ demands that we be on our guard at all times, ready to greet him (Mk 13:26) ready to reach out to him wherever he appears. So, I need to listen again to St John Chrysostom and take his words to heart – I cannot just recognise Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, but then ignore him in the person standing next to me. Moreover, as I discovered on my London journey, Christ will not inform me beforehand where and when he is going to ask for my love – I must stand ready or I will lose a chance to come closer to him, just as I lost the chance with that young man begging on the streets of London.


We are deep into the term at the seminary and this has brought with it extra challenges. We had five new students join us at the beginning of the year and I am having to give them extra classes so they can catch up with what they missed. Then this term, another three students joined us and they also have things in my subject that they have to catch up with. All this has to be done together with me my normal classes – so I am feeling a little bit overworked!

I came back from Sabah by plane last Sunday, after having celebrated a “Sending Mass” for two Mill Hill students who will be going to Africa, and as I boarded I was greeted by the steward – a Catholic, whom I know. He always gives a cheery welcome to the passengers and he did so this time – asking people to raise their hands to indicate whether they were from the State of Sarawak or Sabah. He then announced that the Sarawakians were in the majority! He then proceeded to welcome all to the flight and added, “We are pleased to have Father Terry Burke with us on the flight today – he is our Catholic priest from Kuching” at which I received an applause from the people – for there was a group of Catholics who had been attending a conference in Sabah – and he then added, “Father, I have not been able to get to Sunday Mass today – so I need to go to confession!” At which there was a great cheer from the Catholics aboard – what the others thought of it all I cannot say.

God bless,


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Hello to you all,

                             I came across this piece of writing during the retreat in Chiang Mai. I wrote it over 25 years ago and had forgotten about it. However, as I read it again, it touched a chord in me about how we are led by the Spirit. I thought you might like it, especially as we are now in the middle of the Great Novena to the Holy Spirit.




And so, I came to the river. I knew, I think, that it was there, but I had never really seen it or felt its touch, probably because I was too young to know where to look – until that night in summer. It was still bright when I went to bed, but I was not allowed to stay up until it got dark, for I was still young and the summer evenings in Britain are long.  However, although I went to bed at the required time, it was difficult to sleep while the sky was still so bright and that night I lay there not sleeping and was still awake when I heard my sister pass by my room. She was allowed to stay up later than I, for she was older, and because I was bored, I called out to her and she came into my room and made that night different. She sat down by the side of my bed and began to speak and slowly she began to tell me about the river! 


            You can see the river, she said, when you make the Sign of the Cross. You raise your right hand to your forehead and say, “In the name of the Father“, and then you move your hand to your tummy and say, “and of the Son“, and then you move your hand from the left shoulder to the right and say, “and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” (We said “Ghost” rather than “Spirit” in those days!) I did what she said and suddenly I also began to see the river. It sparkled in the evening sun, and how pretty it looked. My sister began to speak again and said that I would be able to see where it was coming from if I said: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my life and my soul” I then said those words and did begin to see where the river was coming from. My sister then went on with other words, which I now know pointed to where the river is going, but from where I was then, I could not see those parts of the river. My sister soon left and I was left to snuggle down to sleep, but thinking how nice the river was – how gentle, how pleasant to have it running through the garden of one’s life! 


            How long it was before I felt the call of the river to come to it, I do not remember, but I grew up accepting its presence and found it nice to have there, although at times it did seem to bar my way and hinder me a little. For the most part, I accepted that others did not seem to have a river in their life, but that did not make me envious of them, but rather made me feel a little special, for I had my river and I appreciated that it was there. Those with whom I grew up accepted that it ran through my life and whereas they might be curious of it, they asked no questions and just accepted that it was a part of me.


            Slowly, however, the river began to exert its magic over me, calling me softly, so very softly until I began to move towards it. It was seductive, urging me to come ever closer until, at last, I was caught! I was drawn to its banks and there I saw a boat into which I could step, if I so chose. If I stepped in and cast off, it would mean daring what lay beyond the bend, but when I saw the boat I didn’t really think about that at all – all I saw was how seductive the river was as it lay there so temptingly, so cool, so joyful! All I wanted, all I could think of, was how to get into the boat and let the river take me wherever it would.


            How to step into the boat? I did not know! But, I was fascinated with the dream of getting into the boat and all through my latter school days I played with that dream. I would try it on at night, although not always with joy! Sometimes, as I would be going to sleep, a picture of the boat would come to me as I lay trying to sleep. It would be disturbing and I would try to forget it but it would keep coming back – urging, urging me to get into it. I would say that I wanted to sleep, but the thought would come again and a picture of the river would rise so powerfully that finally I would slip over the side of the bed, kneel on the cold floor and so enter the boat as I knelt and said my night prayers. Then for the rest of the night I would sleep in the boat, gently rocked by the breeze, the so gentle breeze that flowed across the river. 




May was a busy month. There was a retreat cum tour in Thailand – and we were rocked twice by earth tremors, which was quite exciting! Then, I flew to Bali for another retreat cum tour – but, this time, without the earth moving – although two of our people were quite shaken by something that happened. Let me tell you about it.


At the Carmel Retreat Centre, we were having lunch one day and I was opposite one of the men in the group. He was chatting away quite animatedly and I finished my meal long before he did. Normally, I would have stayed while my companion finished eating, but something urged me to leave him – so I made an excuse and left. By that time, no one else was in the room – all had finished – but one of the group came back for something and when she saw the man alone she began chatting with him – the first time she had done so.


This woman had been adopted as a child and whereas she knew a little about the family she had been adopted from, she thought they were all dead and that she was alone in the world. However, as the two chatted they were drawn to share more and more of their story with each other and the woman discovered that she was, in fact, sitting and talking to her uncle! It had a profound effect on both of them.


Thus, does the river draw us into places unthought of!


After the Bali retreat, I spend a few more days there, visiting people, including the prison. I stayed about 40 minutes, for it was so crowded and hot that I couldn’t stay longer. The next day, I had a streaming cold – which I think I must have picked up in prison. This developed into bronchitis, which only now am I getting over. However, I should be better by the time the students arrive back on Thursday – at least I hope I shall.


Two Mill Hill students – one from Sarawak and one from Sabah – are setting out tomorrow to go to the Philippines to begin their formal studies for the priesthood. They have dared to step into the boat – their names are Christian and Freadzeno – please pray for them.


The Dayaks in Sarawak are celebrating “Gawai Dayak” today – Dayak New Year – So, to you all:


“Gerai Nyamai, gayu guru, senang lantang, panjai umor nguan menoa”!


God bless,



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The power of Resurrection

Thirty or forty years ago, in another part of Sarawak, there lived a young man by the name of Thomas. Thomas did very well at his schooling, passing all his exams up to and including form six and his future looked bright – he would have probably been chosen to go on to University and then many careers would have been open to him. However, for several years, leading up to the time of his form six exam, Thomas had increasingly been afflicted by ill health. His feet and legs became swollen and rashes appeared on his body, but his doctors were unable to diagnose the sickness, until just about the time the form six results came out when they told Thomas that he had leprosy.

            Those were the days before a cure for leprosy had been found and people were very frightened of the disease and Thomas found that his friends no longer wanted to mix with him. Then he was told that he would have to go away to the Leprosy Hospital in Kuching, the RCMB, and a police escort was provided to make sure he got there. He was taken to Miri, the town from where he would take a boat and from there the journey to Kuching took three or four days. Thomas was left alone in the bowels of the ship, during that time, unable to move very much because his legs were so swollen and the only time people came near him was when they gave him his food – which they pushed at him and got out as quickly as possible. Thomas told me that he felt sure he was going to Kuching to die and as he lay there alone in the bowels of that ship his thoughts were very bitter – all the hopes of his youth were gone, destroyed by the leprosy and the fear and prejudice of those around him.

            The RCBM sent one of their patients, a man named James, to meet Thomas and bring him to the hospital. James was himself a leper and had been at the RCBM for many years. He knew the bitterness of Thomas’ experience for when he himself had contracted leprosy, years before, he had been arrested and taken by armed guard to the boat that would transport him to the hospital – and his pain was increased because his wife and children had refused to go with him. Thomas told me years later, that he still clearly remembered the moment that the door to the place where he lay opened and there stood James with a smile on his face. He also remembered James’ words, “Come on, old fellow, up you get, we’ll have you well again in no time!” Thomas said that it was like the sun suddenly coming out – suddenly there was hope again, maybe all was not lost, maybe he would not die. It was the beginning of new life for Thomas – it was “Resurrection”!

     Thomas spent the next two years or so in the hospital wing of the RCBM and as his health improved he began to take on various jobs around the hospital and eventually he rose to become the Warden of the hospital. In 1984, a cure was found for leprosy and the patients began to move out of the RCBM village, which had been their refuge for so many years and so also Thomas, who, by that time, had married and had two children. He became a man of influence in his parish, a man of great compassion and kindness, a man who always carried with him, I felt, a certain peace and gentleness.

     This story of Thomas and James is a story of “Resurrection”, for our belief in Resurrection is not just the belief that Jesus rose from the dead two thousand years ago, nor is it just the belief that Jesus is truly alive and present with us today. Resurrection is also a power at work in our world, a power that shines into the darkness of people’s lives through the words and actions of people like James. It lifts them out of despair and leads them into hope and new life. It does not destroy the past and make it disappear, but uses it to create the door to a new future. You can see that in the Gospel John 20: 19-21, when the risen Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room. It says that he “showed them the nail wounds in his hands and his feet” – those wounds are not left behind – they are now part of his glory, part of his resurrection. We see what this means in the same passage, when the Lord speaks to Thomas, who had refused to believe that Jesus had risen, when first told of it by the disciples. Jesus came and spoke directly to Thomas, but with kindness, not condemnation. Thomas answered by falling to his knees and saying, “My Lord and God!” Such a deep response of faith and love could only be made because Thomas had first rejected that Christ had risen. In the same way, my friend Thomas’ experience of darkness on his journey to Kuching enabled him to receive his new life with a joy and gratitude that would last him the rest of his life.

It is Christ who brings us that new life of resurrection – but it is you and I who minister it. Through our words and actions, through our attitude to those in trouble, despair and darkness – never mind whether that be of their own making or the making of someone else – wherever there is darkness, we can bring the light that Thomas says he saw when James entered his cabin. But, we can also turn our backs on such people in fear or self-righteous condemnation and in so doing bang the door even more tightly closed. The trouble with that is, that when the day comes – as come it must – when I myself need to find the light, I will discover that it is behind the door I myself slammed shut – lying there together in the darkness with Thomas.


I have almost finished the preparations for the two retreats I shall be giving over the next week or two – one in Thailand and one in Bali. So I find myself with a little bit of time to write this blog. However, all my work is not over yet – I still have to examine the poor students – ten minute oral exams – and I remember from my own time as a student just how long those ten minutes can be.

This is the weekend of the canonisation of the two Popes – John XXIII and John Paul II, which I watched on TV. I still remember well the impact John XXIII made when he became pope. Suddenly there was a new vision of what Christianity could be – he was a resurrection man, of the type I write of above. I was reminded in an email today of one of the many stories about him. He once visited some children in a hospital and asked one little boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy answered, “A policeman or the Pope” Pope John answered him, “I would become a policeman, if I were you. Anyone can become pope – even me!”

I am being chased by the makers of the tooth implant, who made the tooth that is now resting in my jaw. I have paid RM1500 already, but they want another RM4000 – about 700 pounds. I do not object to paying it – but they will not send me a proper bill. I get telephone calls asking me to send the money to a certain bank account, which I refuse to do without a proper bill. They have called me two times already, but still have not sent me a proper invoice.

         Last blog, I forgot to wish you all God’s Easter blessings, so I do now. May you feel that “resurrection life” in you and may you pass it to all whom you meet.

God bless,


Ps. “Thank you” to those who offered to help bring me my cassock. Things so often get list in the post.  

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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.


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,


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