On Respect

Diary

My brother used to tell me that he sometimes missed out what he called the “holy” part of my blog, but always enjoyed my diary. I suspect that there may be others like that too, so I am beginning this blog with my diary, partly so that the “diarists” can go straight to the part that interests them and partly because, in the reflection, I want to tell you about a doctor I met last week and whom I mention in my diary.

I went to Singapore a week ago and stayed in hospital for two nights for the “procedure”, which involved inserting tiny radioactive beads round the tumour in my liver. The doctor, who did it, was very friendly and talked me through the whole procedure, and, afterwards, I was told that he and the other doctors are happy with the way it went. I now have a month to recover before my next appointment and should all go well, and the tumour begins to shrink, I will then begin four months of chemotherapy, with a visit to Singapore each week. I must admit that I am not looking forward to that, but the Lord has carried me gently thus far and I trust he will carry me through the next phase.

The side-effects of the radiotherapy have not been too bad, but I think they were compounded by the fact that I was put on a course of antibiotics because I had a slight fever after the procedure – and I don’t do well with antibiotics. I think the fever may have been caused by a cold I caught, while going to Singapore. I sat next to a woman on the plane, who coughed and sneezed all the way over, without covering her mouth and nose. I think I shall take a nose-mask when I travel in future.

Now, I must apologise for being grumpy to those who asked me how I was, when I was first diagnosed – and received a grumpy answer in reply. I have been wondering why I reacted like that and I think it was because I did not know what to answer. I had only been told that I had cancer a day before it was announced in church, but it took me over a week or more for the news to begin to sink in and to accept it – so when people kindly asked me how I was or how I was feeling, I really did not know, but also ‘I did not know that I did not know!’ Please forgive me and thank you for your kindness in asking. Now I am answering such enquiries: “I really do not know, but I feel ok today – and that is all that matters.

About a week ago, I was listening to a song sung by Leonard Cohen, whose name suggests that he is Jewish, but he has a great insight into spirituality, including the Christian story, and one line of this song reached out and held me: “Jesus walked upon the waters, because he knew only drowning men could see him!”  My heart says: “How true!”

 

On Respect

I want to tell you more about the doctor, who performed the procedure on me in Singapore. He was an Indian doctor and I was struck by the respect and courtesy with which he treated me. The procedure was a little late in starting, but he came in to apologise that there would be a slight delay, as he was helping a colleague in a difficulty. Then, when he came back and started, he again apologised and then talked me through the entire procedure, enquiring, all the time, how I was doing. This courtesy was not because I was a priest, because he only discovered that at the end, nor was it because I was a European, for I noticed he spoke to all his staff in the same way. Such courtesy, especially to people in my position, is “healing” and I realised that he was a“Healer”, a healer, who healed with his hands, but above all with his heart and by so doing, he revealed “God the Life-Giver” in action.

There is a danger in the way we Christians tend to approach the Scriptures. The Scriptures reveal to us who God is and what he is doing in the world and it is so easy to come to the conclusion that it is “only” the Scriptures that show us this and so we may try to imprison God within our religious ideas. Scripture, however, is given to us to open our eyes to recognise God wherever and whenever he is at work – be that in a religious context or not. God is not bound by religion! In last Sunday’s Gospel, when Jesus told the crowds that God succoured Elijah through a poor pagan women, not an Israelite, the people did not like it and wanted to kill him. The Word is given to Israel, but God works through the heart of anyone who is open to it. I do not think that my doctor was a Christian and he may indeed have been an atheist, but I recognised God’s Presence and healing power in that doctor – I saw it in the compassion and respect with which he treated those around him.

We are taught that Christ has won for us “salvation”, but that word can so easily blind us to what Christ is actually offering us, which is “Life!” The life he offers is a life of friendship, of mutual support and understanding – a life which will go on into Eternity, but a life which begins now – and we can only receive this life, when we offer it to others. The Christian paradox is: “We can only receive salvation by giving it away!” This life we are being given is the life of “First born sons” (Heb. 12:22) – those who are extra-special in the eyes of God. God offers us this through the immense respect and reverence with which he treats each one of us – but we can only accept this gift by treating others in the same way that God treats us. That doctor in Singapore is such a person – he is a life-giver – and I was one of the many to whom he gave life – through his hands, but above all through his heart.

God bless,

Terry

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A little news

Hello to you all,
                               Thank you for the many messages of concern and prayer that so many of you have sent. I am very grateful and touched by your kindness and affection. Thank you so much.
      I went into hospital in Singapore for two days last week to see whether I was suitable for the radiotherapy treatment – I must admit it was a tough four hours under the machine while they explored my liver, but most of all because I was dying to use the toilet!! God bless the male nurse who came to my aid!
       I was told when I left hospital that I was borderline for being accepted for the trial – and there followed three days of waiting – but I feel very blessed for my heart was at peace and I knew myself to be completely in the Lord’s hands – I was given a very great grace in that I found my heart happy to accept whatever the Lord decided. I realized that the phrase “he has freed me from my foes” has its deepest meaning when we have been freed from fear.
        Then today, I was told that I have been accepted for the radiotherapy trials. I am grateful for all your prayers for this – and I go back into hospital to begin on 24Aug.
My prayers are and have been for all of you.
God bless,
Terry
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To pray the Mass

About a week ago, I received an email from a friend of mine who used to be a student at Reading, when I was Chaplain there. After leaving Reading, he studied for the Maronite priesthood – the Maronites are a part of the Catholic Church, but of a different “rite”, which means a different way of saying Mass and a different tradition of theology. He told me that, at the moment, he was spending a little time at home, but “prayed the Mass every day” – and that phrase really made me stop and take notice. I am used to saying: “go to Mass” or “attend Mass”, but I cannot remember ever before hearing the phrase “pray the Mass”! This may be the way the Maronites express it, in their worship, but it is a very beautiful expression and it made me pause and ponder on what the Mass actually is!

There are, of course, two aspects to the Mass; there is the Mass itself – and then, there are the words and readings that we use when celebrating Mass. Usually, I think, our attention is focussed on the words being said and the readings being read, rather than what is happening in the Mass itself is! To use an English proverb – I think that most times “we don’t see the wood for the trees!”

The phrase led me to ponder on the Mass, for although it is so much a part of my daily life, it is also such a Mystery. The first thought that came to my mind was: “Why do we go to Mass week after week?” Many, I think, would be tempted to answer: “Because it is a sin not to go”, because this is what they were taught in catechism, but, deep down, that answer doesn’t hit the spot! I know that I, and also many others, go because we are drawn to the Mass. There is a “wanting” in my heart, evoked by “the whisper of God” calling me to himself, calling me to Mass and there is always something there specially for me. We sometimes have the idea that we are supposed to pay attention to everything that is read or said at Mass, but this is not so. Not everything read or said at Mass on a particular day is for me – but there is something there that is and if I am attentive, the Spirit will gently “nudge” me to notice it – maybe a word, a hymn, an action – something which I experience as touching my heart. This is how we can “pray the Mass”.

Our response to this whisper of the Lord is not so much a word as an action – and the symbol of this is the offering of the bread and wine. When the Lord speaks, it is always, in some way, an invitation to join him in giving life to the world and the offering of the bread and wine is our way of choosing to join him – but usually we do not know much about what is being actually asked of us. Thus, the offering, when I make it mine, is a profound act of trust in the Lord, and I was reminded of that by the words of Frodo in the Lord of the Rings – which I am now re-reading – where he offers to carry the ring to Mordor – “I will take it, but I don’t know the way”.

This leads into the great miracle of the Mass, which is often taught as God coming down into the Bread and Wine, but to stop there is to miss the greatest wonder of all – for it is not so much the Bread and Wine, which becomes the Body and Blood of Christ – but us who receive it. The miracle of the Incarnation finds its fullness in us the community – we become the Body and Blood of Christ – the place where God dwells and the place where he is reconciling the world to himself by bringing the world to life. “To pray the Mass” is our resounding “Yes”, to God – or maybe, on occasions, our weak and half-hearted “Yes”, but if that is all I can give, the Lord lovingly accepts it. God accepts us as we are – not as we think we ought to be – for all have a place in his great mission to the world.

John Henry Newman speaks of this, when he speaks about the mission that God has for each one of us. It is our glory and our unique vocation and even though we may never know what it is, we will do it, if we make the “Yes” of the Mass our “Yes” – and the phrase “to pray the Mass” points the way we make that “Yes”.

Diary

I went to Singapore last week to see a consultant, because some friends here in Kuching asked me if I would be willing to take a second opinion. As soon as I said, “Yes” I found the appointment booked, air-tickets provided and a hotel booked – for which I am very grateful. However, the plane was full, so my friends booked me business class but that led me to wonder how to hide my face in case any Catholics saw “Father” sitting in a business class seat. I thought of buying a newspaper – but solved the problem by getting on the plane last!

I have cut down on my grass-cutting – especially my pride and joy which is the central lawn of the seminary, which is just a little too much for me now. However, I have trained a seminarian in how to cut it – very short so as to get the lines to appear, just like Wembley!! He is getting quite expert.

I go to Singapore again this Thursday for tests to see whether I am suitable for the radiotherapy treatment and then I shall go for a short holiday with a friend of mine from Bali.

God bless,

Terry

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Progress report

Hello to you all,
                         first let me apologise to all of you to whose kind emails and messages I have not replied to. I tried to answer them, but got snowed under, but let me say that I am most appreciative of your message and words of support. I feel buoyed up by your prayers and love.
     Things have moved on since I last wrote to you. Last Sunday, some friends visited me and urged me to seek a second opinion in Singapore and as soon as I agreed to it, I found it was all fixed up for me to see Professor Pierce Chow, at Singapore General Hospital, who is the leading liver surgeon in this region – and also an old boy of St Joseph’s school here in Kuching.
     After several extra tests, in Singapore, I was told that he could not operate on the tumour as it had invaded a vein, but asked me whether I would agree to taking part in clinical trials for this type of cancer, whereby they use radiotherapy to shrink the tumour and then operate. These trials are taking place in cooperation with Hong Kong, Australia, EU etc and involve placing the radioactive material inside the tumour. They seem very upbeat about the treatment and tell me that it has achieved good success rates up to now. So, I have agreed to that.
     I shall go to Singapore on 13th August for two nights to see whether I am suitable for this treatment and that being so, they will apply for the radioactive serum from Australia and begin the actual treatment a week or ten days after that. This will be followed up with some chemotherapy.
    So, this is me, at the moment. I am appreciative of your prayers and good wishes and I am in a good place and at peace with whatever may happen in the future.
God bless,
Terry
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Hello to you all,
                            for some time, now, you have probably noticed that my blogs have not been as frequent. This is because I have been feeling rather tired and this led me to see first my GP and then a specialist. They have discovered that I have a tumour in the liver – as far as I understand it, it is not itself malignant, but is being fed by a malignant tumour in the bile duct. I am told that the best way ahead is to have an operation to cut it out as chemotherapy does not work very well in this case. So, tomorrow I shall be seeing the surgeon about the operation and shall probably have it in a week to ten days time. I have decided to have it done here in Kuching, rather than returning to UK, because I am impressed with the medical services here and to return to UK would probably involve a lengthy delay before an operation could be arranged. There is, of course, no guarantee that the operation will be a success, but it is the best option available.
     I am at peace in myself, and I attribute this a lot to having practised the 12 steps for years and learnt to hand things over into the hands of the Lord. I don’t know where he will lead me, but I know that it will be with him – and that is enough for me. However, I would appreciate your prayers, both for myself and my family and close friends, for whom, in some ways, have to carry the heaviest part of the burden.
God bless,
Terry
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Give Thanks!

I climbed Mt Singai, the spiritual home of the Singai Bidayuh in Borneo. I had climbed it twice before, some years previously, but, this time the 1007 steps were almost too much for me and, at one point, I felt I might have to give up. However, my two seminarian companions urged me to stop and rest awhile and then together we finished the rest of the climb and reached the top. We were not alone in climbing the Singai – there were up to a thousand people altogether climbing with us – for we were climbing to remember and celebrate the 130th anniversary of the first Mill Hill Father to climb the mountain and begin the long process of bringing the Gospel to the Bidayuh, who lived there. As the Society Representative of Mill Hill in Malaysia, I was expected to take part, and so drenched with sweat and out of breath as I was when I arrived, I was given a great welcome and was pleased to be there with them all at the place where the Gospel was first preached in that region.

Mt Singai

     I cannot say that we actually followed in the footsteps of Father Felix Westerwout or those other early Mill Hill men, because we climbed a fairly recent wooden plank-walk of 1007 steps, whereas, 130 years ago, those first missionaries scrambled up the earthen face of the mountain – but, at each step I took, I marvelled at the love and service, in the hearts of those early MHMs, which prompted and sustained them and the Sisters, the FMSJs, who later joined them in their mission. They came, they climbed that very steep mountain and despite the rather hostile reception they received, they stayed – not only for a day, like me, but for years. They built a place to live, they started a small school and sought to reach out, in any way they could, to help improve the life of the Bidayuh – for the Gospel is a message of “life” and we preach it by whatever helps people live more richly.

The Mass was presided over by Father Sepp Schmolzer, a Mill Hill Father, who had worked in Bau for ten years and had helped inspire the construction of the Catholic Pilgrimage and Memorial Centre. He now works in Rome, but during the Mass, Mr Vincent Edy, the Chairman of the Committee of Memorial Centre, welcomed him “home” and then went on to speak of what the coming of the missionaries meant to the Bidayuh. He spoke of the suffocating paganism that had enveloped the Bidayuh, in those days; a paganism, which held the people enslaved through a fear of black magic and so prevented any advance in education, medicine or farming.  It was the coming of the missionaries and the faith in Jesus Christ they brought, which gave the people the courage to reject the beliefs that had held them enthralled for so long and embrace the Gospel and the education and new life that it brought them. Those small schools begun by the Fathers, and continued by the Sisters, began to open up the people to new ways of living, ways freed from fear, ways which have now led, as Vincent Edy said, to the Bidayuh nation being among the most educated of the peoples of Sarawak, with many professional men, doctors, lawyers, teachers and priests among them. They are a people, who through the Gospel, have learnt to live; a people who are now themselves helping bring life to others.

The Memorial Mass had a wonderful atmosphere of celebration – celebration of the Christianity of the people and the possibilities of living which are now theirs, but also of deep gratitude for the courage and determination of those missionaries who brought them that gift of life. I was very moved, when the congregation sang, as a thanksgiving hymn after communion: “Give thanks with a grateful heart”. They sang it with joy, they sang it with gratitude and also some with a tear in their eye – and as the words of the hymn rose up among the great trees that still cover the Singai, I imagined them being carried by the Lord back through time to when that first young priest was struggling to climb the hill. I imagined the Lord using that hymn and the gratitude it embodied to touch the heart of that young priest – tired and frightened as he must have been – urging him to go on. I imagined the congregation calling out to him: “Go on, we need you to climb! Don’t give up; we need the faith you are bringing us. You will not see the fruit of your labours, but we now have a freedom that we would never have had if you not had the courage to climb. So – go on, climb and ‘Thank you!’”

In my thoughts, I knew that the young priest would not have been aware that it was the Christians of the future, who were calling out to him and encouraging him not to give up. All he would have been aware of was that something was urging him on, urging him to climb that hill in the face of the fear and uncertainty, which must have filled his heart – and I believe that our faith in “the Communion of Saints” makes it quite possible that that is how the Lord gave him the inspiration and grace to climb.

That train of thought led me on to think about the inspirations and thoughts that sometimes fill our hearts today, thoughts which gently urge us on to some love and service, the results of which we may never see. All we are aware of is the prompting, but maybe that “urging” is someone whispering in our hearts – “Go on, dare to do it, we need you!” Maybe, the prayers and thanksgiving of future generations can reach out backwards across time urging us to do those things which will bring them life. The memory of that great hymn of thanksgiving that rose up from the congregation on Mt Singai urges me to think that this is may well be the way the Lord’s grace works and so maybe the memory of those early missionaries should also inspire me to listen for the angel voices of Christians not yet alive, calling me to climb the mountain I see before me now, no matter how hopeless it may seem – for the Lord can bring life from any situation that we dare, by his grace, to enter. The story of Singai assures us.

The steps up the Singai

Diary

I am sitting writing this on a Sunday morning. I have no morning Mass today – my Mass will be tonight – and it is lovely! It so rarely happens that I have such a relaxed day, when I can get up when I like, do what I like, eat when I like with no pressure. It is wonderful and I realise what a gift the Lord gave us in the 3rd commandment of the Sunday rest. Strange, how we humans have, in different times and places, turned that Sunday gift into a rather painful experience of duty etc.

I have booked my ticket home to UK for my annual leave – how quickly it seems to come round. I shall be home from the middle of August to the middle of September and am looking forward to catching up with relations and friends. I have decided to plan my vacation a little more this year, so that I get to do the things I would like to do, for it is so easy to let things slip and suddenly I am at the end of my leave and have not done or seen things that I wanted to.

I have taken up grass-cutting again, after a time of letting my shoulder heal – and my central lawn looks beautiful – although I need the help of a student to do it properly, which includes collecting the grass-cuttings. Without his help, the task would be a little beyond my “puff”.

God bless,

Terry

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Are you there?

Before the Vatican 2 reforms, Catholic churches were more mysterious places than they are today. The high altar was up against the wall, because the priest used to say Mass with his back to the people, and in the middle of the altar stood the tabernacle, covered with its veil and with six large candle sticks – three on each side. There was also a communion rail, which marked off the sanctuary from the rest of the church and the gates of this were kept closed, except during Mass, when the servers needed to go in or out. There was also, like today, a red oil lamp burning and that told you that Jesus was present there, in the tabernacle.

When I was a boy of about nine or ten, I had a small holy picture of the boy Jesus sitting on the altar, next to the open doors of the tabernacle and he was talking to a boy about my age. I had this picture next to a small altar I had made in my bedroom and one day, looking at this picture, while saying my prayers, I wondered whether Jesus would talk to me like that, if I went to visit him. So, a few days later, on my way home from school, I went into our church and seeing that there was no one there, I went, with great daring, past the altar rails and up to the altar. I was just tall enough to reach up over the altar and I knocked on the door of the tabernacle and said, “Jesus, are you there?” There was no answer, so after a pause, I tried again, but again, there was no answer, so I genuflected and left the church. Thinking about that incident, I have tried to remember whether I was disappointed that there had been no answer and I think I maybe I was, a little, but, I still believed that Jesus was there, in the tabernacle and that he was my friend, so I went home happy that I had dared to knock at his door!

Since then, I have knocked at his door several times, when I have been in need, but on those occasions he has come, even though I was often not aware, at the time, that it was him. The Eucharist teaches us that Jesus comes to us in and through people and I now find a great way of praying is to just sit and think about the number of times and ways the Lord has come to me in people – throughout the unique Gospel story of my life. Many of those occasions were, when I was in pain and anguish and I called and he came, but there have been far more occasions still, when I did not call out, but nevertheless he came, because he knew I needed him. Sometimes he came to me in people because he knew that my living would be so much richer with that person in my life. Often, these people did not have the appearance of the Saviour – they were often one of God’s little people – but they were people I came to value more and more as time went by – and looking back now, I see that their influence gently grew and their presence enriched me in a way I only realised, when the time came for them to go on their own journey. Now I know that when someone smiles at me with kindness, there are two people looking at me through that smile – and Jesus has opened the door of the tabernacle.

The Eucharist also teaches that not only does the Lord come to me through others, but also that he comes to others through me – but this is often much harder to see. However, people tell me sometimes that something I have done or said – or just by being there – has been important to them. In this way, he draws us into his mission of love and mercy for others – and if I accept and embrace that mission, I become bound to him in such bonds of friendship that will never end. In doing this, he draws me into his work of quietly opening up roads that have been blocked, of binding up wounds, which for years have refused to heal and when all hope seemed to have gone, of helping people go on, despite everything. And in all of this I also am healed and liberated. The bread and wine of my life, which I place on the altar each time I go to Mass, or when make my morning offering, is the giving of myself to share in this mission. My salvation happens, not only when God comes to me in my weakness, but much more so, when, in my weakness he takes me up into his saving mission to others – and makes of me a wounded healer.

So, to return to that incident – all those years ago – when I went up to the tabernacle and knocked – I believe now, that the Holy Spirit put that thought into my head and heart. The Spirit was teaching me that if I was to find the Lord I had to knock. I had to knock, not to get the Lord to open his door, but by knocking I would open the door to my own heart and life. I dared to knock and he has been answering me ever since.

Diary

A new term has begun and our upper students have returned after six months out on pastoral work in parishes. It is surprising what those six months do for the seminarians. It gives them a self-confidence and sense of purpose in a more rounded way than they can receive here in the College. I suppose that is understandable, because their vocation to the priesthood comes to them through people – not so much through us priests. If you ponder on what I wrote above, you may understand what I mean by that.

My shoulder is slowly healing – although not as fast as I would like. I notice the latter particularly when I am in bed at night. I have a bedside table, which I place opposite where I lie in bed, so I can switch the light on or off easily, but there seems to be a gremlin, which in the night sometimes pushes it further up towards the head of the bed and when my alarm goes off at 5am and I reach for the switch, I find I have to reach at an awkward angle, with a resulting jolt of pain. Still, that is one way to get fully awake in the morning!

Next Sunday, one of the parishes nearby is celebrating the 130th anniversary of the first Mill Hill Father to climb the sacred mountain – Singai – where the people lived at that time and begin the process whereby the people became Christian. There is a Mass, on top of the mountain, and I am expected to attend as I am the leader of the Mill Hill Fathers in Sarawak. Fortunately, there is a wooden step-walk, unlike the time of Father Felix, the first priest to go up, but there are 1007 steps – and that is an awful lot of steps to go up and come down again! So, a prayer please!

God bless,

Terry

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