Scruples

I remember going to confession once, when I was a teenager, and after I had confessed my sins my Parish Priest said to me, as he always did, “Now make a good act of contrition” – but what is a “good” act of contrition, as opposed to an ordinary act of contrition”? At that time, I presumed it meant saying the prayer without any distractions and I also presumed that it was necessary to say it in this way if my sins were to be forgiven. After I had left the confessional and was making my thanksgiving, I began to wonder whether I had said the prayer properly, so, just to make sure, I repeated it again, and then a second time – but the more I concentrated on trying to mean each word, the less I was thinking about the God to whom I was supposed to be speaking! Was that also a distraction, I wondered, and, if so, I had been forgiven or not?

These concerns are called “scruples” and are symptoms of a spiritual sickness, for they “infect” our spirituality in various ways, but especially with the idea that prayer only “works”, when it is said perfectly and so prevents us from living at peace with our God. It leads us to think that God is always demanding perfection from us both in prayer and in action – but this is not true! St Francis de Sales explains it this way:

“The biggest mistake that most of us make about God, the one that most consistently undermines our peace of soul, is the idea that God demands a lot of us, more than a fragile being like ourselves could ever give. Such a God is frightening! But in reality, God is content with the little we can give, because he knows – and accepts – that we only have very little. We need do just three things:

  • Let God into everything that we do.
  • Do our part – however little that may be.
  • Let God do the rest.

If we follow these three rules, God will live with us and when we live with God in this way we will not be anxious for we will have no need to fear a God who never asks of us more than we can give.”

St. Francis de Sales

 

Scruples blind us to the fact that the Lord we follow is “The Good Shepherd” – the one who leaves the ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness to look for the one who is lost (Lk 15:4) and so we find ourselves unable to see that no matter how poorly we manage to respond to his coming, this cannot prevent his love from having the healing effect that he intends. Scruples make us feel “guilty of dust and sin”, as George Herbert puts it, and make us want to draw back from God’s love – driven so by shame – but our Lord is persistent, whispering to us – again in Herbert’s words –  Who made the eyes but I?” The Lord, thus, draws us into responding to his answering him and we try to express our love in words and actions, but it is our love itself which gives life and value to those words and actions – and without it they are empty. I now realise that the very fact that I had chosen to go to confession, on that morning so many years ago, was, in itself, an act of love – a prayer of contrition – a response to the God who loves me and had called me to Himself – and that was all that really mattered.

Scruples lead us to judge our actions by their outward appearance – but true love often wears very shabby clothes – for it uses whatever is available to show its smile to the Beloved. I remember some thirty years ago following a thirty day retreat, during which we were expected to pray for five separate hours each day. At the beginning, I found this very difficult and during one hour’s prayer, I was dry! I tried to pray, but after a while I could not think of anything to say or do and when I looked at my watch and I saw there were still twenty minutes to go, so I turned to the Lord in desperation and said, “Lord, I am bored out of my mind, I don’t know what to say or what to do – but I am staying here and although all I can offer you is the determination to somehow get through the rest of this hour, I hope you will accept it, because you are the One I love and wish to be with.”

I began to learn that day that boredom and distractions are an essential, but, thank God, only a periodic part of our spiritual journey, for when I endure these two terrors for the sake of God and not any pleasure that I might get from prayer, then I am growing in love – for that is what love does. We ought to know this from our everyday experience, for we see it all around us: parents who do hard and difficult work for the sake of their families or someone spends long and often boring hours, nursing a loved one – they do it for those they love – for they know that love needs both sunshine and rain in order to grow and our love for God is no different.

Scruples damage our prayer-life by leading us to identify the way we were taught to prayer with the prayers we were taught to say. Many fall into this trap and come to think, for example, that the form of morning prayers we were taught as a child is “morning prayer” and so not to say these words is to be faithless to God. There is a principle in our Catholic Tradition which says that we cannot demand of someone more than the Gospel demands – and whereas Jesus told us “to pray”, but he did not say that we had to use a particular form of prayer or pray at particular times. These are habits which can help us in our prayer, but if they no longer suit then we should change them and find other ways of praying or others times, which may help us better give voice and expression to the great love which God is causing to grow up in us.

Love takes to herself many forms and disguises and no one form can exhaust her beauty or adequately express it. She can sing in great music and reveal herself in lives of great dedication and service, but she can also be seen in a wilted flower given by a small child to his/her mother. She flourishes best in small actions that often pass unnoticed. I read recently, in a newspaper the other day, of a husband and wife, who had been married for 54 years and who had to be hospitalised because both were seriously sick. As the husband drew near to death, the nurses wheeled his wife’s bed into his ward so they could be together. She was only able to reach out and touch his hand, but he knew her touch and responded with a slight squeeze. He died shortly after and his wife followed two days later. That slight touch of her hand was all she could do to show her great love for her husband, but it was enough. Likewise, our God does not demand great gestures of love from us – the smallest faltering word, the slight touch of a hand, the mere look of hope can open our hearts to the Good Shepherd, who comes to gather us to himself.

Diary

I went to Singapore, a few weeks ago, for a short break with a friend of mine and while there I thought to buy some shirts my size. It is interesting that there are plenty of guys around who are even bigger than I, but very few shops that sell shirts for the “larger gentleman!”  So I went to a famous store called “Mustafa” and they had shirts of every size and description. I bought one which was 3XL and tried it for size – you can’t trust size labels because a 3XL in one shop fits, whereas a shirt with the same label in another might not. However, this one fitted me well and I liked the colour so I bought it. Then I saw another with the same label and the same size label so I bought that one too – only to find when I got back to Kuching that it was too small! Still, the larger seminarians are always happy to take such things off my hands!

I will be in Kuching for Christmas as the parish priest, where I help out on Sundays, wants to go away with his family on a bonding holiday because their Mum died earlier this year and so I offered to supply for him. I shall miss my visit to Bali but shall include them and all of you in my Christmas Mass. So, if I do not get to write another blog before Christmas – I am suffering from writers’ block still – may I wish you all God’s blessings on you, your family and friends at the coming of Christ and may he lead us all into a New Year of Peace and Goodwill.

God bless,

Terry

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Meditation on a mosaic

On the wall behind the altar in our seminary chapel is a beautiful mosaic of large multi-coloured, multi-designed stars blazing out against the deep blue background of the night sky. It represents the promise made to Abraham in Gen: 15: “Look up at the night sky and count the number of the stars, if you can – such shall be the number of your descendants.” To Abraham, this was the promise of life in the only terms he could understand, for the people of his time thought they lived on after their death only through their children – and so to have that many children meant that his name would live forever. This same Promise of life has been made by God again and again over the centuries – to the whole of mankind and to each one of us personally. It is this promise that is the starting point of our life of love and friendship with God in Christ and when I sit in our chapel in the dark of the morning, before the sun has risen, and look up at the illuminated mosaic, I seem to hear the voice of Christ quietly whispering to me that same promise: “I came that you might have life and have it to the full”.

The stars in the mosaic are all different from one another; some are large and made up of bright and intricate patterns, whereas others are smaller and much quieter in both colour and design, but in all of them the colours and the patterns are drawn together in such a way that the Cross of Christ can be seen standing at the heart of each star. The Cross draws its form from the various shapes and colours of each star, just as the compassionate love of God takes different forms as it flows through us, giving life and hope to those around us – each in our own unique way – and in doing so draws us ever deeper into his life.

I was aware of this recently at two funerals I attended. The first was that of Father Richard, a priest who ministered at a spiritual healing centre called Mount Hosanna and to whom many went seeking life and hope. At his funeral, the Cathedral was packed with priests and people who had seen the Cross of Christ drawn large in the star of his life. The following day, I attended another funeral, a much smaller one – that of Teresa, the sister of our seminary cook, Sister Pat – but apart from some Religious Sisters and the students and staff of the seminary, there were only few people present. However, the Cross of Christ was also drawn in the life of Teresa for those who had the eyes to see it, for Teresa died of cancer but she had stayed with us at the seminary periodically, while she was receiving chemotherapy and we noticed the quiet dignity with which she bore her sickness and her shy smile when she greeted us, a smile which revealed the face of Christ – the one who brings life and peace, even in the midst of suffering.

Christ asks us to share his life of mercy and care for others – to let his love flow through us, carried by both the whole and the broken parts of our lives. At the beginning of our spiritual journey, when we take our first tentative step into the great river of his life, we find it difficult to see how God could want our broken and spoiled parts – and so much of our spiritual energy is used up in struggling and failing to improve ourselves and so we often drown out the words he is whispering to us: “But it is ‘you’ whom I love – not some perfect person”. Only when we finally give up and allow the Lord to love us as we are, can the Cross begin to be drawn in the wonder and brokenness of our lives, for only when we accept ourselves as we are and give ourselves as such into the arms of the Lord, can his face begin to appear in us to those around us.

Christ is the “Wounded Healer” and we share in that mission through the broken parts of our life. Our mosaic stars reveal this mystery of our salvation, for when you come close to them you see that they are made up of some good small stones, but also other bits and pieces picked up off the beach, including many shards of broken beer bottles, but these give colour and texture to the many different stars. Our God loves all that he has made and treasures everyone no matter how broken we are. He moulds our very brokenness into things of wondrous beauty, which I catch a glimpse of as I ponder our mosaic in the early hours of the morning.

Diary

I am coming more and more to the conclusion that computers were put on earth to try us – or at least to try me. I upgraded my desktop to Windows 10 recently, and now find that my scanner on my printer does not work. Is there a conspiracy to make us ever buy newer things – a built-in obsolescence?

You may remember that my plants that I like to have in my room, all began to die on me about eight months ago. A friend of mine told me that the Chinese believe that plants know when their owner is sick and begin to wilt in sympathy with him or her. Well, after that, most did indeed perish – why I do not know – but then Sister Pat our cook gave me some new ones and they are flourishing – and it is nice to imagine that they enjoy living with me!!

It has taken me weeks to write this blog – I seem to have had writer’s block or maybe just a lack of psychic energy! However, I have managed it now and attach a picture of the mosaic in our chapel. I have laboured over it for such a long time that I no longer how to judge it, so if you would like to give me your comments – either way – I would be grateful.

God bless,

Terry

 

The mosaic in our seminary chapel.jpg

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“The Lord is my Shepherd”

I was born and bred in London, a town boy with almost no experience of rural life and so looking back, it surprises me how easily I took to rural life, when I arrived here, in Sarawak, almost 45 years ago. This does not mean that I did not have to learn the ways of the river and forest – I did – but I had many helpful people around me, who handled the boats and taught me how to walk through the forest and so for the first two years I managed, but without fully realising just how much I depended on my companions. Then, one day, a priest friend of mine, from a neighbouring parish, asked me to say Mass in one of his longhouses, while he was away on leave. I readily agreed, for although I had never said Mass in his area, I knew where the place was. As the time neared for me to fulfil my promise, I pondered whether I should, as usual, call down my catechist to travel with me, but that would mean a day’s journey down river from his longhouse to where I stayed and then a further day’s journey to get to the longhouse I was due to say Mass in. As I considered doing this, pride reared its head and I thought – “I can manage by myself!

 

I set out on my journey by longboat, alone; I went through the canal that connected the river on which the mission station stood with the main river and then on to the longhouse, about two hour’s journey further on. I was enjoying the journey and the sense of achievement when the engine suddenly sputtered and stopped. I tried to start it, but without success, so I used the knowledge I had gained from an old moped I once owned and checked the petrol line, cleaned the spark plugs and blew through the carburettor, but it still would not go. By that time my arm was getting tired from pulling the starting cord, so I stood up in the boat and started to pull again, but to no avail. I, then, remembered someone telling me that if you put the engine into gear, it sometimes started; so I put it into gear and standing pulled the cord once more. It worked! But, because it was in gear, the boat jumped forward, as the engine started, and I fell backwards – out of the boat and into the river. As I came to the surface, I saw the longboat turning in ever tighter circles, until it too disappeared under the water!

 

Fortunately, longboats do not sink when they capsize. They turn upside down and although the engine pulls one end down into the water, there is enough buoyancy to lift the prow of the boat up out of the water by about a foot and so I swam over and sat on the prow, which supported me, but it must have seemed from a distance as though I were sitting in the water. Now, the river Igan, where I capsized, is a big river – a very, very big river – and in the place where I capsized there were only few people living, so as sat there and looked all round me, I saw only the banks of the river, forest and padi fields, but no people. So, there I sat gently floating upriver on the incoming tide with a bag, I had rescued, in my hand and a deep hole in my tummy. I looked all around and saw no one; I gave a great sigh and said to myself, “Oh dear!”

 

Fortunately, although I could not see them, some children had been playing on the far bank of the river and had seen me capsize. They ran to tell their parents, who were working on their farms and the next things I knew, there were several small boats, in the far distance, being paddled towards me, with great jovial cheers and laughter as the people came to my assistance. However, when they got to about fifteen metres from me, they stopped! For what they saw was a white man, wet all over, and with a big dark beard and seemingly sitting up in the water, and I heard them saying to one another in Iban, “Go back, go back, it’s an “Antu”, (a devil) Fortunately, they did not turn back, but instead one man stood up in his boat and called out in English, “Yes, Sir, what has happened?” On hearing this, I thought to myself, “Hmmph! Isn’t it obvious what has happened? But instead I answered, in Iban, “I have capsized” He then asked, “Oh! Are you the priest?’, for they were from the longhouse towards which I had been heading and, on hearing that I was, they all began paddling towards me and with cries of “Ah, pity him!’, they lifted me and my boat up out of the water, rescued whatever luggage they could and took me to their longhouse to dry out and rest.

 

However, I was not able to say Mass for them that evening, as planned, for my Mass kit was in a metal box and had gone to the bottom of the river and the Igan is so deep that it will never be recovered, and with it went a lovely silver travelling chalice I had borrowed from my priest companion at the Mission. So, because of my pride in thinking I could manage by myself, the people went without Mass and I was left in the humiliating position of having to admit what had happened to my priest companion and to tell him that his beautiful silver travelling chalice was now lost at the bottom of the river Igan.

 

It would be nice, if I were able to tell you that from that day onwards, I never allowed myself to be led by pride again – but that would be untrue. That was but one of many disasters that have happened in my life and all because I thought I knew best and could manage alone. This is not only true of my relations with other people, but, in a special way, of my relations with God. I profess that “the Lord is my Shepherd – my Guide”, but my prayers have usually been attempts to persuade him to approve the path I have decided on, rather than to ask him to lead me along his paths. However, St Paul says that the Lord turns everything to the good for those who love him and so by honestly looking at those disasters – and not trying to blame others for them – I am allowing grace to work in me and so learning to distrust my judgements – which is merely common sense, because there are so many aspects of the world that I do not and cannot know. So now, each morning, when I awake, I throw my legs over the side of the bed, but before I stand up, I make my morning offering. The words may vary from day to day, but the meaning is the same –“Lord, take my hand and lead me where you want us to be, for I cannot know what is right and good without your guidance.” I must confess that I sometimes am tempted to take back control again, but I know that if I do then things will come crashing down, so I try to stop and think before rushing in to solve a problem, because I know that if I do that, the Lord will show me what part is mine and what part is best left to him. He gives me those tasks which best suit my gifts and talents, while he himself manages the deeper parts that I am not even aware of.

 

So, the memory of my swim in the Igan river, even though I still sometimes cringe at the thought of it, stands me in good stead, for as long as I keep remembering it, it will bring to mind that it was pride that caused me to capsize and even though, I believe, that the Lord probably prevented worse consequences than actually happened that day, it would have been better if it had never happened at all. If I had asked the Lord to be my Shepherd on that day and not tried to do things my way, then those people in the Igan, would have had Mass and my priest friend would still have his beautiful silver chalice.

 

Diary

I enjoyed my visit to Bali last month and even though many of my old friends there have now moved on to other places, there are still plenty I enjoy meeting again. I managed to visit Matthew in prison and we had a great chat, but I could not find out where Tan was in Malang and neither did I get to see Scott in the north of the island. It was a three hour journey there and another three hours back and my energy was not as great as I thought it was.

 

I found a mattress topper during my visit to Bali. I had been looking for one ever since my home leave when I slept on one at my sister’s house and found it most comfortable. However, I could not find one to fit my bed and my purse in Kuching, so when I saw one in Bali, which was the size I wanted and a third of the price I was being asked for here, I bought it and brought it back as luggage. There were some bemused faces at customs in Kuching when I told them what it was.

 

I went for my three monthly blood test yesterday, to see whether my “lodger” is still quietly dozing or whether it is beginning to wake again! My Doctor later phones to tell me the good news that my cancer marker has gone down from 29 to 25 – so I have another three months free from chemotherapy. My next test will be at Christmas.

 

God bless,

 

Terry

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Homily for an afternoon of Mass and Fellowship for cancer Sufferers and their Companions, held on 13th August 2016

Hello, I am Terry and I have cancer.

I have been looking forward to spending this time with you, because I find it gets a little lonely sometimes, for even though I have many wonderfully kind and caring friends around me, they cannot really know where I am – living with something that may one day kill me. Only you know where I am – you who also live with cancer – and I hope that as we spend this time together and share our experiences, we may receive that strength and peace which comes when two or three gather in the Lord’s name.

 

I remember clearly the day I was first told that I had cancer and needed an operation immediately – I asked the doctor how long I would live without treatment and he told me, “Six months”. I received the news calmly and then went home and tried to make sense of it.  We all know that we are going to die, but that is “head knowledge”, but when you are told that you have cancer – that your life is probably drawing towards its close – this becomes “heart knowledge”, you “know!”, but that knowledge takes time to absorb. I was given my news by the doctor on a Friday and by Sunday everyone seemed to know – but then Kuching is a small town – so when I went to say Mass that day, people kindly asked me how I was and how I was feeling – but I didn’t know myself how I was, I was still confused and maybe even angry at the news. So, sadly, I answered some quite gruffly and I am still apologising for having been so grumpy!

 

However, I did come to accept it rather quickly and even find peace in it, but then I had an advantage. Some twenty years or so ago, I had trouble with alcohol and throughout my troubles I begged and begged the Lord for help, but nothing seemed to happen until the time when I chose to enter rehab. It was a place for priests and the programme included a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament each day and one day I asked the Lord , “Where were you when I begged and begged for help and you did not come?” and I heard him answer, “I was on my knees beside you, every day, begging you to let me in and share your pain, but you did not want me; you wanted only my power, so that you could go on running your life in your own way.” And with a heavy heart, I realised that it was true. From that day onwards, I have tried to share my life with the Lord – to hand over to him the difficulties I come up against and to give myself into his hands when I find things are beyond me. It is a way of life that I am still learning day by day and it is summed up in the Serenity prayer:

 

O God,

            grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

            the courage to change the things I can,

            and the Wisdom to know the difference.

 

I made that surrender to the Lord once more when I heard the news of my cancer and he has given me a most deep peace; he has healed me at the deepest level of my being, for I have been brought to “know” that I am in his hands and so can accept myself just as I am, knowing that I am safe with him. I know that when it is time for him to take me home my life will have been completed – he will not let me die before it is so – and it also means that while I still have life, there is still something for me to do and this helps me greet each day with anticipation.

 

When I met you, as you arrived today, my dear fellow cancer sufferers, I felt that same peace coming from your hearts, for the awareness of the sickness within us opens that door to the Lord’s love and care that only people like us can know. As Leonard Cohen sings in one of his songs, “Jesus chose to walk upon the water, because only drowning men and women can see him.”

 

We are sharing in the Cross of Christ, my friends, and our sufferings, both present and to come, help further the redemption of the world. We do not know how this happens, but it is our Faith that when we pray for others, love and compassion is released into the world – a power of healing. As a young missionary, I once experienced the power of the prayers for me of an elderly lady who suffered greatly from arthritis. On one occasion on a long and difficult journey here in Sarawak, I collapsed with exhaustion, but slowly became aware of the power of her prayers somehow getting me to my feet and urging me on, when all my strength seemed to have vanished. The world needs our prayers, especially those who carry God’s mercy and compassion to those in need. They do not go out through their own strength, but, as St Therese taught, through the loving prayers of the sick and elderly and weak of this world. Someone somewhere lies prostrate, as I once was, waiting for our prayer to lift them to their feet once more – may our prayers go out beyond our own needs to all those who need help.

 

And to you, our dear friends and carers, who have also come here today – we are deeply appreciative of the love and care you show us. Your love often seems the only good thing that our cancer brings us, for it has drawn us closer together with you than we would otherwise be. However, we also need you to help us rejoice in the life we still have.  Thoughts must cross your mind that maybe you will have us with you for only a limited time and this may cause you sorrow, but we are with you now – so help us to live fully and joyfully the time we still have together with you. Because our possible death has become something real to us, we need to talk to you about our lives; we need to tell you of old memories, some sad, others of regret, but others still of joy – of the people we have loved, of the ones who have loved us and the wonders of life we have known. We need you to help us bring our life together in this way, so be not sad for us, but enjoy us; help us to live richly, fully and with hope, that the peace of Christ which fills our hearts may also be yours. Amen

 

 

Diary

            I am writing this bit of the diary on my way to Bali – to visit my friends there. Among hem are the prisoners I used to visit, but two of them have been moved to other jails – one in the north of the island but the other one to a jail in Malang, Java, and no one seems to know precisely where he is. The last time I heard from him, he told me that he got very few visits as he was so far away, so please say a prayer that I will be able to find him when I go to Java looking.

 

As you may gather, I am feeling quite good at the moment. I still get tired in the evenings, but my psychic energy needed to write has come back – partly anyway! So, I am trying to take up each day as it comes and enjoy it – although part of the enjoyment now is at times to lie back and read a book. I have also taken up grass-cutting again, but not as much as before. Now, on my trip to Bali, I hope to go swimming again.

 

God bless,

 

Terry

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The Sons of the House of Mercy

Some twenty years ago, I worked for a while in a hostel for street boys in India called “Prema Seva Sadan”, which means: “The House of Mercy”. We had 96 boys, ranging between 3 and 22, housed in a group of old buildings, which was all that was available, but they were mostly a happy group.  Apart from sending them to school or teaching them carpentry or tailoring, so that when they left they would be able to earn a living, we also tried to teach them to be grateful to those who provided our food and gave us a place to live, rough though it might be. So, on Saturdays mornings I got them to help keep the place in repair and tidy looking – we planted flowers and grew some vegetables and also got the older ones to repair and paint their rooms with colours of their own choosing. I still laugh when I look at a photo of a group of them, completely covered in whitewash – taken when they were painting the outside of the buildings – and all you can see are dark brown eyes peering out of white-washed faces!

The boys were a mixture of Hindu, Christian and one or two Muslims, but we did not allow any of the non-Christian boys to be baptized while they were in the Hostel, in case they felt pressured into becoming Christian. Instead, we would celebrate the Hindu and Muslim Feasts as well as the Christian ones with them and many of them, of their own choosing, would walk to Mass with us on a Sunday. They grew up feeling they belonged to each other – despite differences of religion – and that feeling of being family, the PSS Family, has lasted until now, even though the Hostel itself closed some ten years ago.

Recently, I received a WhatsApp message from one of them, telling of the death of one of the ex-boys and how he had left a wife and three children. He told how the widow used to go to her father’s house to sleep, as she was nervous of being alone in her house at night, but one night, the house was robbed, while she was at her father’s place, and everything of value was taken. Then her father died and she was left alone – trying to find a way to support herself and her children. The only ones who came near her, the WhatsApp message said, were the money-lenders demanding that she repay the debts left by her husband. She is in a bad way.

I am used to receiving letters asking for help, but this message was different, for although I received a copy, the WhatsApp message was not addressed to me, but to “The PSS Family” asking them to help. The writer, Anjaneluyu, is a Hindu lad who was very close to me, when I lived in the Hostel, and he has tried to make his own the ideals of the now-closed Hostel. When I visited him a few years ago to be present at his wedding, I saw how he had gathered the ex PSS boys into a self-help group to help others who were in need and even took into his own home, small as it was, boys he met, who needed shelter. He wrote, in his message to the PSS Family, that he was planning to try to help the widow by paying the school fees for the three children and added: “it is a big amount but we can manage it if we all help”. He, then, also asked that if any of them had other ideas of how to help the widow and her children to please let him know and he added, “my friends, my motto is to hold together and help each other as one family – and so should any one of you be in need of help, or know someone who is, do not hesitate to call me.”

PSS, “The House of Mercy”, began when a Mill Hill priest met a small boy on a railway station, who asked him for money. The priest asked him where he lived and the boy answered, “Here! I sleep under that bench over there.” The priest then asked him where his parents were and the boys answered that he had no parents, the priest then paused and thought for a moment and then asked the boy, “Would you like to come home with me?” The boy answered, “Yes, and can I bring my friend?” – pointing to another small boy about his own age. The priest said, “Certainly” and the two of them walked home with the priest and thus began PSS, the House of Mercy.

I met that same little boy, some years later, by then a grown man. He had left the hostel and married, but was often at the Hostel and considered the PSS boys to be his wider family. I remember, on one occasion, that he asked me, “Father, may I ask a question? Why do you, Fathers, leave your home and come to India to look after us?” I cannot remember exactly what I said in answer to him, but I know that he had seen the love of God in the care and concern of the priest who had taken him and his friend into his home – and also in those other priests who had come after him. That WhatsApp message I received, also showed me that when the PSS boys had left the Hostel they had taken that love of God with them – a love, which had to go out beyond family or religious boundaries, for although most of the PSS Family are Hindu and Christian, the man, who died was a Muslim and it is his Muslim widow and children that they are now trying to help.

So I now know that those ragged-arsed kids that I knew and loved in the Hostel, some twenty years ago, have indeed heard the Gospel, even though it was taught to them through acts of love and kindness – and not so much through doctrine. They have taken the Gospel into their lives and are now letting it flow out on to those in need around them. So, maybe these young men, to whom we once brought the Gospel, now have a message for us, who live in a world where race, religion and culture seem more and more to divide people rather than unite them. For just as they heard the Gospel through seeing it in action, so through their actions they remind us that the love of God does now allow for any boundary, because Christianity is our spiritual home – not our prison!

Diary

Last week I went to north Borneo, to Sandakan, for the diaconal ordination of one of our students. I have not been to any of our ordinations over the last year because I was not feeling well enough, but having been off of chemotherapy for four months now, I felt well enough to go, even though it is the furthest of the Borneo dioceses and needs two planes to get there. It was a lovely ceremony and I was most touched when the new Deacon publicly thanked me for the kindness and love I had shown him in his years of formation. He made me realise once more that a word of appreciation is such a powerful, life-giving gift.

Because I am feeling good, I have decided to go to Bali for ten days towards the end of August. I want to meet up with the friends I have there – although many have moved away over the seven years since I left. I also want to visit three of the prisoners, who I used to visit, but they all now live in different prisons. One of them, Tan Nguyen, is now in a prison at Malang on the island of Java, but I have been unable up to now to discover exactly which one. However, I shall still go and ask the Holy Spirit will guide me – and even though I do not succeed, I know that my attempt to visit will bring  a blessing on him.

I have started to cut grass again! Not a lot but it is a start and shows that my well-being is returning slowly. I still get tired fairly quickly and seem to need more sleep than I once did – but maybe that is due as much to age as to the effects of chemotherapy.

God bless,

Terry

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“Where there is love and where there is friendship – there is God!”

Young people today are often greatly surprised, when they hear what Sarawak was like when I first arrived here 45 years ago. Outside of the towns, there were only few roads and the priests usually walked, when visiting the kampongs and longhouses, or went by boat – and these journeys could take up to three of four weeks. Moreover, there were no mobile phones and the internet had not yet been invented, so when we travelled we were out of touch until we reached home again. In comparison to today, we lived poor lives, but they were happy lives, for we lived very close to our people; we stayed with them when we went on visitation – even though this often meant sleeping on the floor of the longhouses, among the fighting cocks and the dogs and above the pigs! But because we shared their lives and spent time with them, this brought about strong friendships – friendships, which revealed what the Christian Faith was about, for friendship with God is discovered and fostered by friendship with each other.

I was reminded of this the other day when reading how the Lord sent out the seventy two disciples (Lk 10: 1-73) telling them to take nothing with them – no haversack, no spare tunic etc. That passage brought to mind, when, as a newly arrived priest, I was preparing for my first trip upriver; I asked the priest I was going with, whether we should take food with us. He replied, “No!” I, then, said to him, “What if I can’t eat the food?” He looked at me for a moment and said, “You eat it! And if you can’t, you go home, because you’ll be no use to us.” He went on: “The people will offer us the best they have and we accept it – gratefully!”  This gave me a new insight into what the Lord was saying to the seventy two disciples; he was telling them – and telling us – the way to make friends with our people, that when we share their lives, when we gratefully accept what they offer us and when we spend time with them, we are, in fact, preaching the Gospel, for as the ancient saying, “Ubi caritas et amor…” says: “Where there is love and where there is friendship – there is God”.

The priests of the generation before me also discovered this, helped I think by the even simpler lives that they lived. I remember, when I first arrived, listening to their stories for they delighted in telling of humorous things which had happened to them at various times and places, when on visitation, but as I listened I also knew that together with those stories, there must also have been other stories about times of loneliness and often great hardship, such as when they were interned during World War 2 by the Japanese, but of these they only rarely spoke – instead what shone through their stories was their love of East Malaysia and its many peoples. Their people became their families, formed by the love and friendships which came about when they shared the lives and spent time with their people. It was this love and friendship which became the foundation of all the Christian communities – and such was the way that Christ came to live in the Land.

Those men and women would be astonished to see how wonderfully the communities they helped to found have grown and prospered. They would marvel, I am sure, at the wonderful churches that now dot the landscape, replacing the poor wooden and bamboo churches that they prayed in and often also lived in. They would be intrigued by the instant communication brought about by the internet and mobile phones – but, despite all these advances, their lives still have something very powerful to teach us today. The friendships they found and fostered among the people remain the bedrock of the Catholic communities here and whereas we often think of strengthening the Christian communities through courses, seminars and more frequent access to the Eucharist, we should not forget that the communities came about by people spending time together and through sharing each other’s lives. The love and service that inspired the priests and sisters – and now inspires so many others – to spend their lives in the service of the Good News, remains the glue that holds the community together and the friendships that they found and fostered remain the setting in which we discover ever more who our God is and where true happiness lies.

Diary

I arrived back from leave in UK about four weeks ago. I really enjoyed seeing and being with family and friends, even though the cold took a little getting used to. It was wonderful to be free of chemotherapy for three months, and discovering again the taste of different foods – especially the wonderful Sunday lunches that my sister cooks – even though it means that I am putting on weight again, after having lost 10 kilos.

On my return, I had a blood test and my Oncologist told me that the cancer marker is still stable, despite having had no chemo for three months. So he has given me another three months free from chemo, until the end of September and should the marker still be stable, I think he may extend the chemo-free period yet again. I still feel tired, but slowly that is fading and I am told that it takes a long time to recuperate from chemo,so the time hopefully may come when I begin cutting grass again!

I am most grateful for all your kindness, concern and prayers during this time. This has been very healing, for it helps me know and appreciate the love which carries me whatever the future may hold.

God bless,

Terry

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To be yourself

One of my favourite spiritual mentors and characters is the Jewish Rabbi, Lionel Blue. I have only actually met him once, but his BBC broadcasts and writings have been of tremendous help to me over the years. Amongst other things, he has helped me to appreciate the part that humour should play in a healthy spirituality. I remember one BBC programme, in particular, some years ago, on the occasion of his 70th birthday. He was sitting in the garden of the Carmelite Retreat House just outside Oxford and he was reminiscing prayerfully about his life. He said something like this: “Lord, I have always been a good boy. I wanted to be a good boy for my Mama and I wanted to be a good boy for my Rabbi and especially I wanted to be a good boy for you, Lord, so I did the things I thought would them all happy – and, I thought, would also make you happy.” At that point, he gave a great sigh and said, “But, Lord, I’m tired of being a good boy. I want to be myself, to be Lionel and do the things that make me, me.

 

Having reached roughly the age that he was, at that time, I realise that I am in a similar position, but this is not something new, rather it is something the Spirit has been leading me towards for a long time. I remember, an instance of this, when the Holy Spirit brought to my mind the memory of a conversation, I once had, with my old Parish Priest, Francis Ryan. I had asked him whether his patron saint was Francis of Assisi and he had answered, “No, it is the gentle Francis – Francis de Sales”. The Spirit used that memory to make me curious to know more about St Francis de Sales and I started looking for his writings and, having found them, have treasured his wisdom ever since. This is one of his sayings, which points towards the same journey that Rabbi Lionel was on – and which I am still on – “Most of us” he wrote, “spend our lives looking over the fence at other people and wishing – and often praying – that we were like them. We think that if we were like them all our problems would be solved. But” – adds Saint Francis de Sales – “if God had wanted you to be like that, he would have made you like that; instead he made you as you are, because he wanted you to be as you are. So, to do God’s Will, stop looking over the fence and grow where you are planted!

 

Pondering these words, I began to realise that, like Rabbi Blue, I too had wanted to be what others thought I should be – and that included God! I had assumed that there was such a thing as the “model christian”, the “model priest” and that I was supposed to become like that, so I used to pray earnestly that the Lord would make me like that. I am now so grateful that he ignored those prayers of mine and instead has been leading me throughout my life to become “me”! So, I am now learning to ask the Lord, each day, what his Will is for me, for I so often get it wrong, when I rely on what I think is right and wrong. His Will and his Providence, I am learning, are far greater than I can possibly imagine and they always astonish me.

 

However, in addition to this wrong understanding of what God wanted for me, there were also parts of me that I rejected, that I hid from and desperately wanted changed and so I begged and begged the Lord to take them away.  However, on one occasion, when I was imploring him to free me from them – I heard him answer, “But, if I took them away, you would no longer be “Terry” and it is Terry whom I love – not that imagined, perfect man without faults.

 

It is an awe-inspiring experience to be loved in this way and I am still plumbing the depths of that experience – that what the Lord wants is “me”, that he wants not only to listen to my story, but also to tell my story together with me. So, I am having to look under the old costumes and masks that I have worn for so long, to discover who the “Terry” is, that is hidden under the “Father Burke” I have lived with for so long. I am having to learn to tell again my story and tell it with all its gifts and weaknesses, its successes and failures – and also to listen to it in memory and accept the love of my Lord, which is written throughout that story of mine – especially in the episodes of sin and grace which are woven throughout my life. I am also still having to learn to be honest about myself – and so discover the place for my Lord in my life, my story – for it is only in my weakness and failures, in the broken and dark places of my story that he can shine and become one with me by drawing me into living with him. I am realising that if I seek to be perfect and so self-sufficient, he can have no place in me – and that I do not want.

 

Recently, I attended a Mill Hill meeting of our priests from the various Asian Mill Hill Missions. At the end of the last Mass, our Superior General suggested that we approach each other in friendship and bless each other. This we did and I was touched by the love and concern I experienced as each one came to me to bless me, for most included a prayer that I may be cured from the sickness I carry within me. However, I noticed that while I appreciated their loving words – my heart drew back from the petition that I should be “cured”, for it seemed to suggest that my cancer had no real part in my story with the Lord, whereas it has drawn me much closer to him. I pray instead that I may be “healed” – that I may, by God’s grace, accept myself as I am and entrust myself into the Lord’s hands, whatever the future may hold. Whatever then happens to me, my story will be interwoven with the story of Jesus, my Lord – and I shall become the one whom God made me to be.

 

Diary

            Our celebration in Kuching of the 150th anniversary of the Founding of Mill Hill is over! It was quite wonderful, not only because of the celebration itself, but especially because of the wonderful people who came forward to help and to bring it about. I am most grateful to them for arranging the Mass – at which we had over 60 bishops and priests – for arranging the Fellowship buffet afterwards for 600 people and for raising the money, from the sale of memorial booklets, which not only helped pay for the meal etc., but will also help support the nine Mill Hill seminarians, whom God has sent us – so far!!

 

I am feeling quite good, at the moment, after being, for over a month, free from chemo. I am still a little weak and wobbly, but it is quite marvellous to see how much kindness and consideration this prompts in people. Because of this I could attend a Mill Hill meeting in the Philippines, directly after the Anniversary celebration on 2nd May, and have managed that well also. I returned from the Philippines on Sunday and then on Wednesday, I go on leave to UK for four weeks to see my family. I am looking forward to that.

 

The seminarians at Kuching have now gone on holiday – together with the lad whom I trained to cut “my lawn”. However, the grass got a little long and another priest kindly took it upon himself to cut it – but he did so in his own fashion. I watched him doing it, but he did not cut it so that it resembled Wembley football ground (as least in my sight) but he did it in corkscrew fashion – starting with the sides and working round and round until he came to the middle. I watched without saying anything, but in my heart I sighed, “Aaaaaaah!”

 

God bless,

 

Terry

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