“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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Who is the missionary?

In the London parish, where I was born, baptised and ordained, lived a lady by the name of Mrs Trinder. There was a lot of sadness in her life – her daughter was continually ill, her son, a friend of mine, suffered a cerebral haemorrhage, which left him disabled, and she herself had a painful form of arthritis. When I was in training for the priesthood, she would usually give me a little money, each time I came home on holiday, which rather embarrassed me, but a friend of mine urged me to take it as she wanted “to help train one of God’s priests”. On the morning I left for the missions, I said Mass at my Parish church and she was among those, who came to say goodbye and as she shook my hand she told me that she followed the “Little Way of St. Therese” and made a morning offering each day for missionaries and added, “From now on, I will make it especially for you”. I thanked her and then went home to collect my luggage and on to the airport, where I travelled to Borneo – and I did not think about Mrs Trinder again until about two years later.

It happened at that time that I and another priest had to go to the next door parish to discuss the Iban prayer book we were trying to produce. There were no roads, in those days, so we travelled along the coast by boat and up the next river to the small town of Balingian, where we spent the night. The following day, we went further upriver by longboat to a Catholic longhouse, where we spent another night and then the next day we walked for seven hours to get to the river, where a boat was to be waiting for us to take us downstream to the mission – and, at that time, that was the nearest parish to us! That seven hour walk is one I shall never forget – we went uphill, down through swamp, up the next hill and down through swamp, up the following hill and again down through swamp. After four or five hours of this, I began to tire and as I did so I began to slip on the muddy hillsides and the more this happened the more tired I became, until I went over the top of a hill, slipped and fell to the bottom – and there I stayed, so exhausted I had no intention of ever moving again! I remember my catechist saying to me, “You can’t stay here, Father, there are leeches” and I remember seeing them crawling across the grass towards me. But I did not care if I died – I was not going anywhere!

I do not know how long I sat there, but there came into my mind the picture of Mrs Trinder and how each day she offered up all her difficulties for me and this somehow got me slowly to my feet. I looked up at the hill in front of me and I took one step and then another and another and another until we came to the longhouse, where the boatman was waiting for us and we could rest for a while, before setting off downriver.

When I returned to my mission station, a week or so later – by an easier route, this time – I decided to write to Mrs Trinder, tell her what had happened and thank her for her prayers and support. So I did, but a letter from her crossed mine in the post, the first she had ever sent me. It was written by her neighbour, who told me that she was writing on behalf of Mrs Trinder, because her arthritis was so bad she could no longer write. In that letter, she told me how Mrs Trinder had had a very vivid dream about me – that I had fallen into a deep pit and she had struggled to pull me out but could not do it – this, she wrote, had so upset Mrs Trinder that she had asked her to write to see if I was alright.

That experience of Mrs Trinder’s story intertwining with my own has given me a profound sense of wonder at the way God moves us together in mutual support. Whether we know it or not, we are all profoundly dependent on each other – and not one of us, not even the most charismatic, just “does his/her own thing” in God’s service – we do it together as a Church or we do not do it at all! The memory of that missionary journey that Mrs Trinder and I made together, across the muddy hills of Balingian, led me to ask the question – which of us had the missionary vocation? The answer, of course, must be that it had been given to both of us – we both crossed boundaries in our concern for the Gospel and it is this which distinguishes the missionary vocation.

Since that time, I have also come to realise more deeply still that while we speak as though there were “various” vocations, there is, in fact, only one fundamental vocation to which all of us are called: to answer the invitation of God by loving and caring together with Christ in his saving mission – and while we each do this in our own, unique way, we nevertheless do it together, because it is a sharing in the one mission of Christ.

But, then, why, when we speak, do we usually confine the term “vocation” to that of becoming a priest, sister, brother etc.? That is because we are confusing the basic call to loving service with the various forms that vocation takes in the community of the Church. Thus, when we speak about “vocation”, in this restricted way, we usually overlook the most common form of that vocation, as it is lived out among us: namely our families. Our families are the seed-beds of loving care – or should be – they are the places where all of us, priests, sisters and brothers as well, learn to love and to care. For we can only become loving people by being loved ourselves; become caring friends by being cared for by others; become understanding supportive companions, by being understood and supportive by others – and this usually happens to us, first of all, in and through our families. Thus, priests, sisters and brothers learn how to love through the love of their families and friends and it is this love which enables them, in answer to the call of God, to reach out to those who need help beyond that which the family can give.

 

These are the people in this world who, due to the brokenness of our world, are in need of love and care in special ways: the elderly, especially those, who live alone, the orphaned, the handicapped, the rejected, the unwanted and many others, who are in need of one sort of help or another. It is to these that the priests, sisters and brothers especially are sent, to draw them into family. It may be that the immediate problems of these needy ones cannot be “fixed”, but they can all be given something much more necessary – a smile and a loving touch that assures them that despite everything they are wanted and cherished. The “sin of the world” can be seen in those who live at the edges of our society: uncared for, unwanted and unredeemed from the lovelessness of the world. It is for such as these that Christ especially came and it to share in this task of his that Christ calls us all, each in our own way.

To return to the story where we began – this is not a story of strong people putting to rights the problems of the world, but a story of weakness – weakness, which is powerful in its helplessness. Our universal vocation needs to be understood in this way for only when we are weak and the challenges we face are beyond us are we able be open to Christ’s love and grace. So, we can understand our vocation as a call to be the “weak links” in the human chain, the places in the world, where the love of God can break through and transform the brokenness of our world through the caring service he inspires in us. It was my weakness on the Balingian hills, which made a place on that journey for Mrs Trinder, and it was her pain and weakness that she daily offered to the Lord that enabled her to share in my weakness and bring about, for me, a deeper understanding of how the Lord is at work in our world – and who the true missionaries are!.

Diary

Next weekend, here in Kuching, we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Mill Hill Missionaries. It is astonishing that a mere 15 years after that date that they arrived here in Borneo, in 1881, and have worked here continuously ever since. I believe that this is something worthwhile celebrating, so we will have an anniversary Mass at 5.30pm on Monday 2ndMay – and if you live in Kuching or nearby I would be very happy to see you there. The Mass will be celebrated by more than 70 priests and bishops and this will be followed by a fellowship buffet.

We have a small organisation, here in Kuching, called “The Mill Hill Family” and they are doing most of the work in preparation for the feast and also are helping raise money for the training of our ten Malaysian Mill Hill seminarians that the Lord has sent us. I have been off chemotherapy for month now and feel much better, but I still flag at times and so I am profoundly grateful to these and other friends for their help.

The day after the feast, 3rd May, I fly to the Philippines for a Mill Hill meeting, returning on 8thMay. Three days later, on 11th May, I go to UK for a four week holiday. I was telling a friend about my programme the other day and he said, “and I thought you were supposed to be on sick-leave!” Point taken! But I feel I need to get all these things done before I start chemo again at the end of June.

 

God bless,

Terry

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To bow down in worship

A while ago, I watched a You-tube clip called “The Poor Clares of Malawi”. It shows a community of African nuns at prayer – singing the psalms of the Divine Office to the sound of drums – and as they do so they both raise their hands in prayer and gently dance to the rhythm of the drums. This video clip is accompanied by a commentary from an old Irish Missionary priest, who speaks with sadness of how the nuns have shown him what has been missing in his own prayer life. He says that God has given us hands to raise up to him in praise, has given us feet to dance in joy at his presence and has given us lips to kiss the ground in worship of the Creator – but then he goes on to say that although, when reciting the psalms, he has said the words, “I will raise my hands in praise”, he had never done so; although he has spoken of giving thanks for the beauty of creation, he had never bowed down and kissed the ground in gratitude for such a great gift.

As I watched and listened to that video clip, my own heart echoed the feelings of that Irish priest, for I realised that I also have tended to turn my worship into rules and duties and so the richness of my worship of God – bowing down before him in gratitude – has tended to be pushed to the edges of my Christian life and at times seems to disappear altogether. And this is sad, because our Catholic Faith is full of signs and symbols, which our Catholic forebears have bequeathed to us as ways of experiencing God by worshipping him with our bodies as well as our words. The Sign of the Cross, genuflection, the taking of holy water, the fasts and feast days, the flowers and the colours of the vestments etc. are all things which can help reveal the nearness and tenderness of God for us and yet we so often miss what they are pointing to, because we concentrate on the rules which govern the “what” and “when” of the symbols – and miss seeing the “why”.

In our chapel, here at St Peter’s College, we have a wonderful mosaic on the wall behind the altar. It depicts the night sky as spoken of in the Book of Genesis, when God promised Abraham that his descendants would be more than the stars in the heavens, which was God’s promise of life to Abraham in the only way that he could understand it. The Scriptures tell us that in answer to these promises, Abram uttered not a word, but “bowed down to the ground” (Gen.17:3) in an act of worship – and this way of answering God stands as a model to us of how to accept the promise of life that God holds out to us in Christ Jesus. It was the way, I am sure, that Thomas the Apostle responded, when Jesus invited him to put his finger into the holes in his hands made by the nails, for I cannot imagine Thomas saying, “My Lord and my God” without also bowing to the ground in adoration.

There have also been times in my own life, when I felt that the only way I could approach the Lord was on my knees, because I needed to “show” my faith in him and not just speak of it, for just as my love for my family and friends needs to be expressed in actions as well as words, so also does my faith and worship of God, for without those actions, my trust in God is not given a fully human expression. So, in my personal prayer, in the quiet of my room, I have an icon of the Lord, a copy of the Mt Sinai icon – “Jesus friend and judge” – and this, I find, helps bring me into the presence of the Lord. Sometimes I add to this by lighting a candle, as I pray, or softly play some devotional music as a background to my prayer. For the same reason, in times past, I used to sit cross-legged in prayer before the Lord, as I found that that helped me pray, but age and the stiffness of joints no longer allow me to do this, so now I pray and I can and not as I can’t! All of these things help remind me that God created me body and soul and it is only in my full humanity that I can offer him proper worship and praise.

But, you may ask, why is worship necessary? Does it add anything to our lives? It does! It was when he bowed down in worship that Abraham saw that the land he was being given was a gift and he learnt to cherish it as such. When, in worship, we thank God for the gift of family and friends, our eyes are opened to the tremendous treasure we have been given in them and we realise that love and friendship are more important than anything else in our world. So it was, that as I watched those African nuns singing their praise of God and touching their foreheads to the ground in adoration, I began to see, by following in my heart their actions, how cherished I am by God and as I experience a little of his great faith in and love of me, I find the grace to become the person I can become through his love – a person who loves and cares for the world in the same way that he loves and cares for us.

Diary

I am glad to be able to share with you that my doctor has given me a three months break from chemotherapy to help my body recover. I am now into my third week, but am still struggling a little with the weakness, which is the side effect of chemo – particularly my weak immune system leaves me a prey to whatever virus is wandering about. However, I am managing and though I cannot do everything, I can do some things – Praise the Lord!

One thing my sickness has done, which I regret, is that it has not allowed me to go home to be with my family as they mourn my brother-in-law, who died recently and is to be buried this week. However, I hope to be strong enough to go on leave in a few weeks’ time. It will be lonely not having my brother-in-law there to welcome me – but I am sure my sister will enjoy my visit.

I was due to go on leave in August last year and had the ticket booked and paid for, but then I was diagnosed with cancer. So, I wrote to MAS, the airline, and sent them a doctor’s letter and they replied that in the circumstances I could use the ticket at a later date. However, when I came to ask for a replacement ticket, I was told that I could only go for 10 days and that I would have to pay all the taxes again as well. The upshot was that I decided to buy a new ticket. No wonder they can afford all their planes!! Hehe!

God bless,

Terry

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