Resentments

I have gout! Nowadays, thank goodness, I am rarely troubled by it, but I remember how, in the past, my right leg would sometimes suddenly seize up and I would find myself able only to hobble, because of the pain. At first, the doctors I went to see about this could not diagnose it; they did not suspect gout, because that usually appears in the joint of the big toe, whereas my toes were pain free. Then, I met a wise old Mill Hill Father, who was also a medical doctor, and he told me that he was sure I had gout and advised me to ask my own doctor to test for this. This I did; gout was diagnosed and, from that time onwards, I have learnt how to deal with it – I take my medicine every day to keep the condition at bay and should I still get a twinge, which does not often happen, I recognise that it will not cure itself, so I take a second medicine and it soon clears up.

There is also such a thing as “spiritual gout” and this also attacks me, now and then, and when it does I “hobble” spiritually. I am referring to “resentments”! These appear when I get hurt by something someone says or does and even though it may be mostly unintentional, it still hurts and I find myself unable to walk in peace with that person – or indeed with myself! The real or imagined slight keeps rising up in my heart, giving me no peace and this is usually made worse by the temptation to “nurse my grudge”! I take it out and touch it and prod it – and the resentment grows even bigger. The way I used to deal with this was the same way I used to deal with my physical gout – I would rest until it seemed to go away, but, like my physical gout, I had not got rid of the condition, I had only pushed it under the surface and should the person who hurt me suddenly appear – even years later – up it would rise again with all the hissing intensity it had at the beginning. However, when that happens now, I know, that like my gout, I need medicine, but the medicine alone is not enough – there are certain things about my condition that I need first to recognise and accept.

The first thing I need to realise is that a “resentment” is a real wound and it is my wound – a hurt that I carry and one that I alone can deal with. It may have been caused by someone else, but it now has very little to do with that person. I am the one in pain; I am the one with the wound and I have to find the way to heal it. We are tempted to imagine that the person who caused it must somehow be involved in the healing, but this is not true. He or she may well have forgotten all about it and even if he does remember he cannot cure it, not even with an apology. I have the wound and I alone am the one who has to take that medicine.

St Luke sees sin as a disease and a disease which not only affects the person who commits the sin, but also the person against whom the sin is committed. If someone wounds me with their words, I usually find that I have become a hate-filled person, with the hate directed against the person who hurt me. That is what a “resentment” is. St Luke goes further and teaches that the medicine for sin is the Holy Spirit; the Spirit and the Spirit alone can heal these inner wounds, for he alone is “the Lord and Giver of Life”. Only when I open myself to the Spirit, are those wounds able to be healed and I am able to find peace.

In Jn 20:22, we read how Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to the apostles “for the forgiveness of sins” – which means the bringing back together in friendship, those who have been divided by sin. Healing only comes when I am willing to take part in this “being bought back together”. But often, when I hear this, my first reaction is: “Why should I forgive him/her, after what was done to me?”, but it just makes sense that I accept this healing for “who is not able to sleep at night?” – not the perpetrator – he/she is fast asleep. I am the one lying awake punching my pillow! I heard it once put this way: “To want to hold on to a resentment, thinking that this somehow punishes the person, who hurt me, is rather like someone, who drinks poison and imagines that his enemy is going to drop dead!” To wish to hold on to a resentment is to drink poison and a poison that will kill me, for the hatred will eventually spread to all parts of my life.

But how do I let the Healer into my life? The Holy Spirit is often described in terms of “wind”, as on the Day of Pentecost: “a great wind filled the house…” Acts: 2:2. Following that analogy, I know that if I wish to let the wind into a room to clear it of foul air, I cannot just open the door, but I also have to open a window, to let the wind blow through the room and bring life-giving clean air. So, also I cannot just invoke the Holy Spirit to heal me, I have to let him pass through me. This we read in the Book of Genesis, “The Spirit moved across the waters…” Gen. 1:2 and life came to be. We also profess it in the Creed: “(the Spirit) proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Spirit must “move” through me to bring me healing. In other words, I have to create a road along which the Spirit can travel through me, Cf Is 40: 3 and I do this by asking a blessing on the person who has injured me!

This blessing, however, is not the blessing I would like to give him or her – such as “Lord, make them truly repentant for the horrible things they have done to me. Make them come before me on their knees to beg my forgiveness!” The Holy Spirit cannot travel through such prayers. Nor, should the blessing be the blessing that I think God should give them, for we all create God in our own image and likeness and we imagine that our grievances are also God’s! The blessing that I must give is the blessing the person would ask for themselves – which may be expressed with the words, “May they be happy, joyful and free!” Moreover, these words must be spoken and even if you do not mean a word of them at first, you must say them! I well remember the first time I took this medicine; when I finished the blessing, I looked up to heaven and said, “I think that is the emptiest prayer I have ever said”, but I carried on saying it for the 30 nights I had been told were required and by the end of that time the words had changed my heart, by the power of the Spirit, and the bitter resentment against someone who had hurt me had faded into nothing. I remember that as I realised what had happened to me, I just humbly stood there, almost in tears, as I experienced the tender mercy and peace of God.

To return to my gout: I am grateful to that old Mill Hill Father, who suspected I had gout – his advice enabled me to walk free. Likewise, I am profoundly grateful to the group of recovering drug addicts and alcoholics in a 12 step group, who taught me about the medicine for spiritual gout. Like all medicine, I did not like taking it, but, since then, their advice has enabled me to walk free. They showed me how to let the Holy Spirit, the Healer, into my life and I have passed on these insights to many people, whose lives have been crippled by resentments – and all of us have resentments! The only way to know the truth of these words of mine is to try it yourself. I remember one person, who was in great pain from bitter memories and reluctantly he followed these 30 days of prayer. He came back a month or two later, a changed man said, “It works! You should patent that, you would make a fortune!”

Diary

 

At the beginning of May, I went to Bali to lead a 6 day Retreat cum tour for 32 people from Sarawak. It went very well, for the Karmel, in the hills of Bali, is a wonderful place for peace and prayer. Then, I was supposed to spend a week visiting the people I know in prison – but that turned out to be a disaster. The first prisoner I was due to see was Tan Nguyen, who is now in a prison in Java and a friend of mine made the arrangements for us to fly to the nearest town, stay overnight and then make the rather long journey to the prison the following day. However, on the way to the airport there was a jam due to a lorry breakdown and the tailback was so long we missed the plane. That weekend, unfortunately was a public holidays and every flight was fully booked for the next two days and I returned to the house disappointed. So, I decided instead to visit Scott, a prisoner in the north of Bali, but the next day I had a bad upset tummy and had to cancel. The last one, was Matthew, whom I have regularly visited over the last nine years, but I discovered that the day I was to visit him was the day I had to fly home. So, I saw no one!

I feel especially bad about not getting to see Tan, because I know he was looking forward to it. He has only few visitors, because it is so difficult to get to his prison. He has been in prison for ten years now, having gone in when he was 21. He has managed to clean up his act and would love to have a second chance at life – but he has a full life sentence and unless something happens he will never get out. He hopes to make a legal appeal for his sentence to be reduced to a fixed term, maybe 15 years. That way at least he would have some hope for the future, but appeals in Bali are costly – lawyers etc. cost money and Tan comes from a poor family. He has an appeal fund and if anyone would like to help a little with this, let me know and I will give you the details.

I think my shoulder is now on the mend after massages etc. It does not hurt at night like it has over the last six months. However, I need to be careful. I dropped a pill this morning and it rolled under a cupboard, so I got down on my knees and stretched out for it and – oooooooh! – the pain made me feel a little sick. Ah! The tribulations of old age – it is good that the Office of Readings at this time of the year is taken from the book of Job!

God bless,

Terry

God bless,

Terry

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Rooms for rent!

Last Sunday, I walked from the seminary to the Carmel, not a long walk, to say Mass and as I came to the corner of the block, which houses both the Archbishop’s house and the Carmel, I noticed a sign saying, “Rooms for rent”. I thought mischievously, “It looks like a vocations’ advert!”, but I knew it referred to houses further down the lane. However, it reminded me of something I read some years ago about God knocking at the door of a house looking for a room. The man who answers the knock says that he does have one small room for rent and God asks to see it. The man shows him the room and God says, “Hmm, I like what I see, but I did want more than just one room.” The man answers, “Well, maybe I could let you have two rooms.” “Fine”, answers God, “I’ll take them, I like what I see, but would you consider letting me share the whole house?” The man replies, “Well, I don’t think I am ready, at the moment, to share more than just two rooms.” God answers, “That’s ok; I’ll take the two rooms and wait until you are ready to share the rest. I like what I see!”

We sometimes think of our relationship with God in terms of black and white – we imagine that either we are with God or we are not, but that is not how it works. Our union with God more like a marriage, except that God is more determined to hold on to us than any marriage partner would be. In a good marriage, we can see how the love between the couples grows over the years – but grows slowly, slowly, until at last in old age we can look at such a couple and see how much they have become “one flesh”. Through good times and bad, through quarrels and new beginnings, through hurts and forgiveness they have learnt to fulfil the promises made on their wedding day and truly become one with each other. So it is with us and God!

A few weeks ago, one of my students wrote an essay for me and in it, he wrote, “When we sin, we turn our back on God”. Sometime ago, I would have just accepted that statement, but this time, it caught me and I stopped and looked at it again and thought, “No! That is not how it works!” There may be a few times in our life when something like that happens, but much more often something else is happening. Most of the time when we become aware that we are in sin – is not that we have turned away from God – but that our sin reveals to us that we had never really turned towards him in the first place, we only thought we had. Most of us are very blind to the true state of our relationship with God, but, the Lord has sent the Holy Spirit as our Advocate and when we are ready for it, the Spirit uses our sin to reveal to us that there are still rooms in our house in which we have not yet let God live. Julian of Norwich, one of my favourite spiritual writers, puts it another way – she says, “In our eyes we do not stand, but in God’s eyes we do not fall!” Meaning – that we were never standing in the first place.

This way of looking at our relationship with God makes much more sense to me than imagining that I can fall in and out of love with God several times a day – love is not like that. It grows up slowly, like a tree, but also dies only slowly, even if we should poison it with constant bitter words and actions. When, through sin, we become aware that we do not love God as much as we would want, this does not mean we have turned against him – it shows us that the road before us is still long, but the Lord has promised we will one day get there. The great saints sometimes seemed to be in great pain when they spoke about their sins, but, I think that this was because they were so close to the Lord that every imperfection showed up more clearly, whereas with me, I suspect there are still whole corridors, in my house, which are dark, dusty and unlived in, but when the Spirit leads me, through some action I have done, to see how dark they are – I feel the pain of separation, not because the Lord has gone, but because I realise that I have never yet let him live in that part of my house.

Such thoughts bring me back to Eastertime, which we are now celebrating, and that great hymn of praise, “The Exultet”, in which the priest or deacon sings: “O happy fault, O truly necessary sin of Adam that brought us to great a Redeemer!” I cannot bring light into those dark places in my heart, but I can open the door to the Light, by owning their darkness. When I become aware that I am a sinner, I try not to look away and hide my head in shame, but I try to look straight at the Lord – and say: “This is me, Lord! I did that, because that is what I am like. But – you are the One I want, you are the Friend I want beside him, you are the One I choose, even though in my weakness I can do nothing to bring you here.” And Scripture assures me that if I do this and, in my weakness and brokenness, lift up my arms to him, he will not turn away from me, for that is the faith that opens the door of my house to the Lord of Life.

Diary

It is some time since I have written anything in my blog. I have been experiencing a dry period, a long winter during which I have had no inspiration or desire to write anything. I think it has been closely connected with the sickness and death of my sister-in-law, Mary, with whom I have been close since my brother died, first to comfort her in her loss and then to accompany her as she became sick herself until she finally died just over a month ago. I used to send her an sms each morning when I woke up, for that was the time she was going to sleep, and I would wish her peaceful dreams. The mornings now seem a little empty, but I notice that my winter is slowly giving way to spring, and small flowers of inspiration are beginning to grow again.

We have finished the first term of the seminary – almost – and in ten days I shall be going to Bali to lead the retreat I give each year. I have 33 people from Sarawak and Sabah coming with me this year, so please pray for us.

About six months ago, I slipped in the bathroom and sprained my shoulder and it hurts when I do things like towelling myself after a shower; and it hurts particularly at night, when I lie on my side. I have tried all sorts of remedies and some seem to help, but then it gets worse again. One of the problems is that I do things that aggravate it – like grass-cutting, so I have decided to stop that for a while, but then late last night, I was turning into the Cathedral grounds on my way back to the seminary, but the gate was half-closed and we could not go in because so many cars were coming out. So, grumpy me got out of the car and pulled the other side of the gate open, something the other car owners would probably not have dared do, but the gate was much heavier than I thought and I spend the night nursing my aggravated sprain!

God bless,

Terry

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Treasure your memories

I have, as far as I can remember, always wanted to be a priest, however, the Secondary School I went to was a technical school, which meant that when I left school, at the age of 16, my dream seemed impossible, for being a technical school, my school taught no Latin, and in those days all our Catholic services were in Latin and to be a priest Latin was required. However, somehow I clung on to my dream, even though, at times, I would get very depressed about whether it could ever come to be.

I was in such a depressed state one Saturday morning, when I was about 18 and met, by accident, my Parish Priest. I used to attend Mass on Saturday mornings and as I was walking home, that Saturday, from Mass, my Parish Priest got out of his car and went to enter a house, just as I was passing. I said, “Good morning, Father,” and he looked up and said, “Oh, good morning, Terry” and went on towards the house; I also walked on, but he called me back and said, “Terry, if you ever have thoughts of a religious vocation, you will come and see me, won’t you?” I do not remember what I said in reply, but I do remember that whereas I had been walking 12 inches below the surface of the pavement before he spoke to me, afterwards I was walking 3 feet above! For what he had said showed me that my dream of becoming a priest was still possible, even though I had no Latin.

I have pondered that and similar incidents in my life and resisted the temptation to label them as mere “coincidences” – for how was it that my Parish Priest came along at just that precise moment? Had he arrived thirty seconds earlier or thirty seconds later, that conversation would not have happened, but the fact that he did come along just then made that short conversation possible – a conversation, which, two years later, was to lead me to enter the seminary and become a priest. Because such “coincidences” have had such important consequences, I tuck them away in my memory, for they reveal that it is not so much I who am seeking God, but rather God, who is seeking me. For instance, in my desire to be a priest, I had never thought to ask myself where that “wanting”, which so hurt at times, came from. All my attention was on what I wanted, aggravated by the fact that it seemed it could never come to be. It never occurred to me that this “wanting” was the “The Hound of Heaven” – as Francis Thompson calls God – calling me, chasing me and leading me on until the time was right for things to be able to happen – and when that time did come, he also sent someone to give me the courage to apply to Mill Hill and so began my journey to the priesthood.

The same kind of experience, I now see, has followed me all my life and, is part of my daily attempts to follow the Lord, for I often experience failure in this and have to face up to the fact that the way I want to walk with the Lord is not the way I do walk. However, the Lord sent me someone, a confessor, who helps me see that what is important, in my life, is not the failure, but that I go on trying. He has helped me see that even though I may be consumed with what I want to be – and my failure to become so – I have not been asking, “Where do those desires come from?” The fact that I still want to grow in the love of Christ for the world means that I will one day come there. The frustration I feel comes from looking at the road ahead and knowing that I am not yet there, but the very fact that I want to be there is a promise from the Lord that one day I shall arrive there – for what he calls us to be, he always brings about by his grace and in his own time. The pain of the wanting and the pain of the failure is necessary for without it I would not even try to walk.

My memories help me here also, for they not only show me how the Lord has always been – calling me, urging me and helping me along the road, but they also show me where I have come from. When I “remember” the past, I realise with wonder that I can now do things that, at one time, were beyond me. In this way, I no longer feel shame in my heart at my failures – although I do painfully still recognise that they are failures – for I now know that these desires, frustrated though they may be at the moment, are the voice of the Lord pointing out the next section of the journey and holding out his hand to journey together with me. They are, thus, the promise of that which Julian of Norwich expresses as: “All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well.

Diary

I have had a busy time since I last wrote a blog – and that is also why I have not written for a while. I went to Bali for Christmas and visited the Jail, where amongst others I met Andrew, who, unless a miracle happens, will be executed in the next week or two. Please pray for him and his family. I also took Matthew, about whom I have written before, a lot of English Readers, for the small school he runs inside the prison.

Then I received news from my nephew that my sister-in-law, Mary, my late brother’s wife, was dying. So, just after Christmas I took a plane home and then on to Ireland to see her. When I first saw her, she seemed very close to death, but after the anointing she seems to recover slightly and we had a lovely week or so together before I had to come back. She phoned me last Sunday to say that the cancer had begun to grow again, but that she is good in herself and is ready to go – even looking forward to go and meet her husband – when the Lord sees fit to call her. Please pray also for her, for all the dying and also all their families, who can only stand and watch.

When I came back, I went to Sabah for a vocations’ seminar. There were about a hundred lads there and fourteen were chosen to enter seminary formation, but I caught no fish for Mill Hill, my own Missionary Society. I told a Religious Sister about that and she said, “Later!” and sure enough last week a young man phoned me from Sabah and said that he would like to join Mill Hill.

So, now the College has started again and we have 22 students – the top three years being out on pastoral assignments this term. So, I have enough to keep me busy. On top of this, I have begun organising the next Bali Retreat cum Tour, which will be from 8th – 14th May. I have six applicants already.

God bless,

Terry

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And the Christ Child smiled on the Western Front

On Christmas Eve, 1914, as darkness fell over the trenches of the Western Front during the First World War, a German soldier began to sing a Christmas carol and soon he was joined by others. Then, slowly, those on the Allied side also began to sing, until one or two soldiers found the courage to get out of the trenches and go towards the other side exchanging Christmas greetings. This was the famous “Christmas unofficial truce” and it lasted for the whole of Christmas Day. During this time both sides helped each other recover and bury their dead and they also exchanged gifts, with one group even engaging in a friendly football match in the “no man’s land” between the two opposing trenches. This period of peace did not last long and soon the Army High Command on both sides began ordering their men to cease fraternising with the enemy and begin once more to try to kill them. That short day of peace and brotherhood, however, remains a historical fact and shows how the Gospel of Christ is able to bring peace and friendship even into the most unlikely of places – albeit for only a short time. It thus gives to us all a glimpse of the power of the Gospel of Christ, if only it is given the chance.

I have seen that same power at work here in East Malaysia. When I say Mass I look out at the congregation and see it is made up of people from many different races, communities and ages. I see people, who once would have considered each other as enemies, now regard each other as family, and while we still have a long way to go as family, we can see, even now, what Christ is doing among us – making us family. Of all our Christian Feasts, maybe Christmas is the one that brings us to see this most clearly – particularly in the warmth with which we greet and smile at each other. In this way, our Christian customs and traditions can sometimes reveal the Gospel more clearly than can doctrine!

I have a small tin Christmas crib, which was given me some years ago by a Mexican friend of mine, and last week, I took it out of its wrappings and set it up. It is very small, and now rather rusty, but it still tells the story. When I had erected it, I just sat and looked at it and as I gazed I saw how everyone in the scene were bringing gifts to the Christ Child – what a contrast to the secular picture of Father Christmas, who is welcomed because he brings gifts – although there is a custom in some places to leave a glass of milk and a biscuit for him.

As I sat there, I saw that to come before the Christ Child, I need to bring something and, I saw, that I need not be ashamed of my gift, whatever it is – if I have gold, that is acceptable, as was the gift of Balthazar, one of the kings; but, if I have only a bit of bread and cheese, as probably brought the shepherds did, that also is acceptable. Standing before the Child, who had nothing, I need not be ashamed of who I am – or am not – and if I dare to stand there as I am I will receive what the Christmas song says the little drummer boy received – “he smiled at me!” Christ smiles at me, not because of what I bring, not because of what I can do, but because I am who I am – and in that smile I know that I am of infinite value, as are all those others around me.

The Christ Child smiled that Christmas Eve one hundred years ago this month and the soldiers looked across the trenches at each other and no longer saw what the enemy were, but who they were – people just like themselves – and they went out to greet each other as friends. That is did not last long, does not matter. What is important is that it did happen – and the smiles of Christmas tell us that it will happen again, until one day there will be no more men of vested interest to demand that we start killing each other again.

“Glory to God in the Highest and peace to people of good will”

Diary

The College is quiet! The peace of Christmas hangs over all, for the students have gone home and soon, tomorrow morning, I shall be going to Bali for a week. I was ticking off last night the work I needed to take with me – but, in the middle of my evening shower, I thought, “No! I am going on holiday! The work can wait till I come back!” And so it shall.

I have just been visited by some friends from the days when I was a young priest in Mukah. One of them was a dental nurse and her presence today brought to mind the time when we had a small group of Catholic nurses who used to meet together. One of them “took a shine to me” as the saying goes, and kept turning up at the Fathers’ House, when I was there by myself, with a chicken tied to her handlebars – insisting that she wanted to cook it for me so that we could eat it together. I ran! Fortunately, a week later, she was transferred – but that was not my doing. As we chatted, I recalled that story and the friends said that I should record all those stories in a book. Maybe!

Having got eight young men, who have expressed a wish to become Mill Hill Missionaries, I now have to find a way to train them. Amazingly, the smile of the Christ Child happened and people began to ask if they could help contribute towards their studies, so I am starting up a “Mill Hill Family” group to help join us in our missionary work.

God bless and Happy Christmas,

Terry

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Mother-Love

Some years ago, I read a story in which the mother of a large family of ten or twelve children met the Pope. They talked for a while about her family and then he asked her, “Which of your children do you love the most?” and she answered, “The one who is in trouble!” That answer has remained with me and has come to symbolise the heart of true ‘mother-love’ – for true mother-love is always life-giving, always reaching out to the one most in need of new life. I also remember feeling something similar, when reading once about the mother of a hardened criminal, who had just been sentenced to life imprisonment. She was asked what she felt about her son after the sentence had been passed and she answered, “But he’s a good boy really.” Our first reaction would probably be to dismiss such a remark, thinking she is blinding herself to reality. But – is she? Or, are mother’s able to see something about those they love that the rest of us find very difficult, if not impossible, to see?

When we look at a person with a critical, condemning eye, we see only who they are and what they have done and in so doing, we reduce that person to “a thing”, an object that has a past but no future. This is what the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre called “the hateful stare” – something that destroys a person’s humanity and all hope of redemption or salvation. However, when someone, such as a mother, looks at one she loves, she knows who they are and what they have done – but she also sees what that person can become. She knows that the one she loves is not only someone with a history, but also a person with a future – but it takes the eyes of love to see that. This is why we say that only God can truly forgive, for only God can truly look at us with eyes of love.

This Season of Advent, that we have just entered, is very much the season of “Mother-Love”, as epitomized by Our Lady. The writings of the ancient prophets, that we read during this season, recognise that the People of Israel have become a selfish and greedy people – but they are also readings of hope for they see what the People can become by God’s grace – and, as such, they proclaim God’s ‘Mother-Love’ for his People. This is an aspect of God that we often overlook, for we conceive of God in terms of our own image and likeness and thus see him as a condemning God – a stern father-figure. The presence of Our Lady, however, at Christmas, balances that picture, for, at this time, she is not only a model of faith for us, but, in giving us her Son, she is also an “Icon” of God, who “gave his Son for the life of the world” (John 3:16) and so reveals that God is both Father and Mother.

This motherly aspect of God is also seen through the Gospels. They are full of examples of how Christ does not condemn sinners, but looks on them with love and by so doing gives them life. The story of Zaccheus (Lk 19:11-27) and the woman taken in adultery, (John 8: 1–11), are but two wonderful examples of this. Christ does not imply that what they have done is unimportant, on the contrary, but he looks at those two, and others, as they are – persons capable of becoming so much more than what they have done – and his loving regard sets them free from the chains of their accusers and opens the doorway to new life. These stories not only show the character of God’s love for us, but also present us with a challenge in our relations with others, for the Lord calls us to become one with him in bringing this life-giving “mother-love” to those among whom we live – however, it is so easy to let this commandment of the Lord slip by us unheeded.

When we examine our way of life, we tend to concentrate on whether we have been faithful to our religious duties – our prayers and attendance at Mass etc. – but we pass over “gossiping”, for instance, very lightly – giving only little weight to its importance. And yet, it is precisely here, in our relations with others, that we affirm or deny our discipleship of the Lord, for “to gossip” about someone is to use “the hateful stare”, to identify them with what they have done – and refuse to look on them with the eyes of God’s mother-love. Christ calls us to be, with him, life-givers in this our world, but when we gossip we become not life-givers, but life-takers – we kill those he commanded us to love!

Diary

We are coming to the end of the term and the academic year. Lectures are over and the students are coming and booking time-slots for their oral exams. I finished marking all the essays, during I the retreat I gave in Mukah last week – so there is a little lull before the storm of oral exams – when the students answer questions rather than sit a written exam (This doesn’t mean that I have become a dentist! – “Oral”!)

(I have become very wary of telling British-style jokes, based on word-play, for sometimes people just stare at me uncomprehendingly and then I have to explain what I think is funny about what I have just said!!)

I shall be going to Bali on 18th Dec and stay there until 26th Dec, when I shall return here to Kuching. I am looking forward to it, although it is usually wet, humid and crowded in Bali at this time of the year – but the opportunity to meet old friends again will be a great Christmas present.

When I get back, we shall have a reunion/recollection day, on 27th Dec., for those who went on the Chiang Mai Retreat last May.

God bless,

Terry

And if I do not get to write to you again before Christmas:

All God’s Blessings on you this Christmas

And peace in the New Year to all of the world

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The Penitent One

In 1984, my Malaysian visa expired and I had to leave the country. On top of this, but unknown to me at the time, I had been developing liver trouble and this eventually turned into hepatitis. The result was that, shortly after arriving back in England, I found myself in hospital for a month. During that stay in hospital, I discovered how important the liver is, for not only is it the medicine box of the body, it also greatly influences our moods – and my mood was black! I knew that my time in Malaysia was over, but I did not know where I would be going or what I would be doing; all I could do was look to the past and mourn for what I had lost. I was poison to myself and to all those around me and the one who bore the brunt of all this was my Mum. She had to put up with my bad temper, sharp tongue and the silent periods I would sink into – but put up with it she did and it was greatly due to her long-suffering patience and love that I eventually began to emerge from the black hole where I had lost myself.

I was in hospital for 28 days and in a single room so did not have much company, but my Mum would come to visit me almost every day, in the afternoon. I used to look forward to her visits, but at the same time would often be sullen and surly towards her, when she arrived – but still she came, day after day, and she would sit there with me for about an hour or so before it was time to leave. She had a very distinctive step and I would hear her walking down the corridor towards my room, but, I remember also, that as she neared the door to my room, her steps would slow a little, as though she were trying to pluck up the courage to come in and face her sullen, ungrateful son. However, she never lost courage and turned back – not that I would have blamed her had she done so – and this love of hers slowly won through and bit by bit I was brought into healing. Now, as I remember that time, I am reminded of the Song of the Suffering Servant Is: 53:5: he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” This passage refers to Christ, but my Mum enabled Christ to be present with me as together they carried the pain and difficulty of being with me that brought me into healing. This vicarious suffering is what we call “Penance”!

            For most Catholics, “penance” refers to the prayers we are given to say after confession, which somehow “make-up” for the sins we have committed. However, the meaning of “penance” is far deeper than that and is something that Christ calls us all to share in whether we were the ones, who committed the sins, or not. “Penance” points to the work and effort required to heal the brokenness of the world and its people brought about by sin – be that personal sin or the brokenness of the world pointed to by the teaching of “original sin”. My rough treatment of my Mum and others, when I was sick, could have resulted in splitting my family and myself in two, for that is the type of thing that sin does – it destroys, damages, disfigures – and only the love of someone, who is willing to “carry” that damage, can do the “penance” required to put the world back together again and so bring it into peace and friendship again. That is what my Mum was doing when she came each day without complaining – enduring my surliness and sinful behaviour – she was doing penance so that I and might be healed by God’s grace.

My old professor in Rome used to say that we can have a “sinful idea of sin”. By this he meant that “sin” is sin because it damages, because it destroys, because it disfigures. It damages people, communities and the world – we only have to look around us to see that. A “sinful idea of sin” leads us, when thinking of sin, to concentrate on ourselves and our self-perfection and by so doing blinds to the very real damage that true sin does to all around us. We live in a “sinful world”, we live in a world where people live blighted, broken lives because of greed and selfishness. “Sin” is that which causes people not to have the means to care for their families, “sin” is that which leads communities to face each other in hatred and enmity, “sin” is that which mars and destroys the beauty of the lands in which we dwell. This and much more are the effects of sin, which Christ came carry and so to “forgive” and to this end he calls us to share with him in this – to take up the painful task of carrying that brokenness of the world, so that, through the Holy Spirit, he can heal our world and the people who live herein.

This is the meaning of his words: “take up your cross day by day and follow me” – to help him carry that pain, that destruction that must be carried if we and our world are to be healed and unified. Christ is the one “who takes away the sins of the world”, but sometimes miss that the words are the present tense – indicating that his task is not yet completed. It was this thought that led Pope Paul VI, in the document “Paenitemini”, to call Christ “The Penitent One”, because he is still carrying the sins of the world and calling us to share in this task no matter how painful. My Mum heard that call and answered it each day she walked down the hospital corridor towards my room, not knowing what she might find.

Diary

Having been forbidden to cut grass for three weeks, I have been looking for other ways to exercise. Usually I walk round our College cloisters for 30 – 40 minutes, but I find it very boring, evening though I listen to BBC radio programmes on my iPod. I think I might try taking up swimming again, but I don’t like swimming with crowds of noisy, splashing people…. Fussy heh?

I go to what was my first mission, Mukah, at the end of next week, to give a retreat to a group of sisters. It has greatly changed over the last 40 or so years, but it still carries some very nice memories for me – even though I now know far more people in the cemetery than I do in the town.

God bless,

Terry

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On a journey

One evening last week, I was taken out for a burger by a young man, who attends the parish church where I say Mass on Sundays. The burger stall is new and is run by two young chefs, who are trying to launch out on their own and after giving our order we sat down in a nearby café to have a drink, while we waited for the burgers to be cooked. When they arrived, the chef, who brought them, looked at me, and said, “I seem to recognise you; are you one of the Fathers?” I answered that I was and he then said that he used to go to Mass at St Joseph’s Cathedral, but added, “but I don’t go any more; there are too many hypocrites!” He seemed interested in chatting a little, so I replied to his remark by telling him about Evelyn Waugh, a British writer of the last century. Waugh was a convert to Catholicism and attended Mass regularly, but, at the same time, by all accounts, he was a most unpleasant man. One day, in the course of being rude, someone said to him, “How can a man like you go to Mass every Sunday? Aren’t you being a hypocrite?” He answered, “No, because you should see what I would be like if I did not go to Mass!” The young chef thought about that for a moment and then said, “That’s an interesting way of looking at it, thank you!” and then left to tend his stall.

Evelyn Waugh saw something about the Faith that we often overlook – at this present time, we do not have full freedom with regard to our behaviour, we are chained by the type of person we are – in other words: we are sinful people and so we act sinfully. However, he also saw that we are on a journey of growth and that gives us hope, for although we have not yet arrived at our final destination, we are on the way. We are being moulded by the Holy Spirit, day by day, into the likeness of Christ and if we cooperate with the Spirit, then, one day, we will be fully and completely like Christ. As St Paul says, “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”  This is why St Paul can and does call us all “saints”, because although we are still sinful in many ways, we are in “process” – we are being led by the Spirit and, one day, we will be completely transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Does that mean we can just sit back and let things be? No, because the power of the Spirit is not magic; it rises up within us through our choices for goodness that we make in the depths of our heart – this is how we cooperate with the Spirit. Thus, whenever we look at our sinful ways and ask for forgiveness, we are not just asking to be absolved from those acts, but through them we are looking at  ourselves and making a choice – “No! That is not the person I want to be! I want to be like you, Lord; I want to become like you; I want, one day, to be with you!” and in that heartfelt choice, I give leave to the Spirit to continue the journey we are on and mould me, make me, love me into the image of Christ.

One of the reasons that we overlook this aspect of our Faith is that we Catholics are trained to look at the things we do wrong, but not so often to see the things we do right. We start each Mass with an injunction from the priest “to acknowledge our sins”, but, as Cardinal Martini used to say, now and then, we should also call to mind the good things that we can now do – but could not have done ten or twenty years ago. This is the “process”, but how does it work?

St Paul says that “the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” This love is not so much God’s love for me, but God inviting me to love others with him. When I find myself in a situation where I see some good that I can do – a helping hand, a friendly word, a kindness – this is the Holy Spirit bringing it to my attention and also giving me the love to choose to do so. My part is to choose for that love. If I choose not to, then that love disappears, because it was not really mine in the first place, but if I choose to follow that inspiration and reach out in compassion to that person, then that love becomes my love – and thus I grow.

Our baptism is a “one-off” act, whereby God takes us to himself in an act of re-creation, but that act is also a process and goes far beyond the pouring of water and the saying of the words of the sacrament. It is an act that has tremendous consequences, for, as St Paul says, “The whole of creation waits with eager longing for the sons of God to be revealed.” (Rom.8:19) When that day comes, then there will be no more wars, enmity or hatred, but until then we have to learn to bear with one another’s failings, take time to help each other understand that we are on a journey and that can take place anywhere– even at an outdoor burger stall in Kuching.

Diary

For some months now, I have had pains in my right shoulder. I thought it was tendonitis, due to using a computer mouse too much, so I changed hands when using the mouse – which was interesting. It was rather like trying to do up a button when looking in a mirror! However, the pain persisted and then a memory came back to me of when I lived in USA and fell down some steps, resulting in a pinched nerve in my shoulder. At the time, I had an old friend – a nun and old-time nurse, who knew old-time remedies – and she advised me to take aspirin every six hours and it worked. However, I could not remember how long I was supposed to take it for and when I stopped, the pain returned. So, I went to an osteopath here in Kuching – a chirpy young woman – and she confirmed that it was a pinched nerve, together with a strained muscle. She began manipulation and I already feel a benefit from it – but I have to leave off grass-cutting for three weeks!

We celebrated the “Friends of St Peter’s College” day last Monday and about 500 – 600 people came for the Mass and the meal and entertainment afterwards. I met two elderly ladies whom I have known for the last forty years. They were among the many people who supported the College in the beginning when we had almost no money, and they faithfully sent us small donations over and over again and so we survived grew. The sheer devotion and love of such people overwhelms me and when I look into their smiling faces, I see the face of God.

I will be spending Christmas in Bali this year – as I am not really needed here in Kuching. I will go a week before Christmas and return the day after Christmas. That will give me time to visit my friends both in the prison and outside it.

God bless,

Terry

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