“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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Memories

Mill Hill seminarians never know where they will be sent until about a year before ordination and I still remember myself and my class-mates being called to our Superior General to be told where we were going to be sent the following year. There were eight of us: seven were appointed to various parts of Africa, but as he handed me my letter of appointment, he said, “I hope you will be happy in Kuching”. I had wanted to go to Borneo and it had been that which prompted me to enter Mill Hill, but “Borneo” was “Borneo” and I was not familiar with the name “Kuching” so as I took the letter and thanked my Superior, I was whispering in my heart “Kuching? Kuching? Where on earth is Kuching?” I soon discovered, however, that it was Sarawak and delightedly went to see a Mill Hill priest, on the seminary staff, who had worked here and he produced a glass of sherry with which to celebrate and gave me a small anthology of the country I was going to go to.

Later that night, I experienced what is called” “euphoria” – one of the few times of my life I have done so – a feeling of wondrous joy – and in my case because I was going to be a missionary priest in Borneo, something I had dreamt of for a long time. I thought that I had made it! However, what I did not realise was that those feelings of euphoria pointed to the future; they were a promise of what one day would be, by God’s grace, if I held to the journey – but it would be a journey of light and darkness, of hope and sometimes near despair, a journey that would take my whole life long – but a journey in which I am still guided and strengthened by the promise given to me that night, now so long ago.

Such experiences occur in many form and are very much part of the spiritual life. Any joyful experience – of the closeness of God, on getting married, of having a child etc. – all point not so much to the present, but to the future. They are promises given us so that when God seems far away, marriages get difficult or the future seems dark, we can remember – that God was truly there that night, your love for husband or wife was real – and in those memories we can find the courage to hold on, especially when we find ourselves so trapped in the darkness that we are tempted to give up and find an easier, lighter way.

When I was first ordained, I was asked to take part in a BBC TV religious series called “New Beginnings” – in my case to be interviewed on my new beginning as a priest. I was asked by the interviewer whether I thought that a priest needed to be a strong man and I found myself answering that I thought the priest needed to be the “weakest link” – the place where the love of God could break into our world. I don’t think I truly appreciated the truth of what I was saying at that time – but I have since found that weakness and failure in my life have been the times and occasions when God’s love has most powerfully moulded me into a more compassionate and caring friend, companion and priest. Married friends and others tell me they have experienced the same – those dark and turbulent times are precisely the times when they have grown in love and forgiveness for each other. But, it is because they can be such terrible experiences that we need those guiding stars of our special memories to give us the hope to carry on.

The Songwriter Leonard Cohen sings of this in one of his songs: “Christ walked upon the waters, because he knew that only drowning men could see him!” It is only when we reach those points of darkness on our journey that we are able to see who Christ truly is – our crucified Saviour – and when we find the courage to let him embrace us in our weakness and failure, he slowly lifts us up and begins to leads us towards Resurrection. The Easter Christ, the Risen Lord, therefore, is the greatest of those guiding memories that give us hope. In baptism we pledge ourselves to him, at the beginning of our journey with him to the Father – but when the darkness comes we so often forget that we can only come to Easter through the failure and despair of Good Friday.

When I sit in the confessional, I sometimes hear the anguish of heart of those who have met the limits of their strength and feel they have betrayed Christ. They feel that if they truly loved Christ they should be strong for him in times of temptation and they are brought near to despair when they discover they are the weakest link. My heart goes out to them as I try to tell them that if they had truly betrayed Christ – they would not be there in the confessional! They would have done what Judas did and run away – whereas they are doing what Peter did – he wept and came back to Christ – and his brokenness became the clay with which the Risen Lord fashioned the Rock, who Peter is today. This is also true of our brokenness – it is the clay which the Lord uses to mould us – so that the promises in those guiding memories given to us will one day come to be.

Diary

I have begun chemotherapy here in Kuching and it is much more relaxed than my journeys to Singapore, although I still miss the friends I made there. I am also finding that the brokenness of being a cancer-sufferer also enables me to come close to other cancer victims. We seem  to lift each other up and find the healing and peace to accept ourselves as we are.

The rainy season here, this year, is wetter than I have known it for a long time. It  rains for hours on end – heavy rain with no sign of easing up. One minor difficulty that this causes is that should someone come and knock at my door, they cannot hear me when I tell them to come in. I shout and am tempted sometimes to throw something at the door – but then have to get up and open it myself. St Paul says that God turns everything to the good for those who hope in him – and I suppose I need the exercise!

I have one more chemo cycle to go through, before I come to my two month break from it. I must say that I am looking forward to it – maybe I may even get to cut a bit of grass again, but not, of course, in this rain!

God bless,

Terry

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The corn and the weeds (Mt 13: 24-30)

Last week was my last time to visit Singapore for medical treatment, at least for the foreseeable future. This is not because the doctors have managed to cure my cancer – that can only be done by cutting it out and they consider that procedure too dangerous – but, they believe that it can be controlled through chemotherapy and have given permission for this to be given in Kuching, rather than Singapore, which I am happy about. So, it seems that I will to carry my tumour for the rest of my life – or, in other words, I must rest in the hands of God, day-by-day, but that is not such a bad place to be!

When it came to saying goodbye to the people whom I had come to know at the Treatment Centre, I was surprised at the friendship which, I then realised, had grown up – not so much with the patients, for there are so many that I did not usually see many of them more than once or twice during my time there – but with some of the clerks, helpers and nurses etc. As I sat there, that last time, waiting for treatment or to pay bills etc., some would see me and smile or wave – and it gave me pause to realise that the death-dealing disease, which had brought me there had also been the door through which those friendships had come to be. Sickness and pain had been the place where compassion and friendship were born.

I now realise that I had seen this same thing in the clinics on several occasions – not so much on the faces of those who were sick, but in the concern on the faces of those, who accompanied them – their friends and relations. Pain and fear call from our hearts mercy, compassion and love – when we choose to answer that call – and so reveal the deep truth that somehow love is always inextricably linked to suffering and misfortune. Indeed, it is in reflecting on such times of suffering that we come to realise that we do love, although, in the midst of that pain and confusion, our attention is not on the love, but focussed on the one whose distress is calling that love from out of the depths of our heart.

We sometimes hear the remark that if God is good, why does he allows pain, sickness and death in our world. Wouldn’t it be better, it is asked, if we could live in a world without pain and suffering? We cannot plumb the depths of God and I do not know the answer to this, but there is a glimpse into this mystery in the hospital wards, among the disabled and maybe, above all, when we read the inscriptions in our cemeteries. The Poet, Edwin Muir, wrote of this seeming contradiction in his poem: “One foot in Eden”. He likens Eden to a world without pain and suffering and then compares this with the world in which we live – a place of tragedy and success, of good and evil; and he writes that in our world are “flowers that Eden never knew”. For only in this, our world of pain and sin and betrayal, not in the world of Eden, do we find hope and compassion, mercy and faith – and these are the flowers that are not to be found in a world where brokenness never happens. Maybe this is why at the centre of our Christian Faith stands the Cross – for the degradation, injustice and hatred that the Cross reveals, also calls forth the mercy, compassion and love that we see in Veronica, Simon and the women as they stand at the foot of the Cross. It seems that only this revelation of the weakness of God can save the world, because it alone can bring about the hope, faith and love, which, in Christ, fosters the redemption of the world.

I once read of the mother of a large family, who was asked, “Which of your children do you love the most?” She answered, “The one who is in trouble!” This is another way of saying what I have written above, but it can also be, I realise, a fresh approach to the season of Lent that we have just entered. Previously, I have always decided how I should “pray, fast and give alms”, during Lent, but, I realise, this season is not supposed to be “Do-it-yourself holiness”; it is supposed to be a way of saying to the Lord, in practical terms, “Your Kingdom come; Your Will be done”.  But, does the Lord ever tell us where he is calling us to come to him? He does – in all those around us, who are in trouble, in need – but so often I am deaf to their soundless cries and blind to their need of help. My first Lenten practice, therefore, this year must be to wait patiently for the Lord to give me the gift of hearing and sight, and then I can put into practice the lessons I have been taught in the clinics and treatment rooms of Singapore General Hospital.

Diary

Here in Kuching, we have been having rain, rain and more rain, so much so that there were very few fire-crackers during Chinese New Year just passed – normally you cannot sleep through the loud bangs that happen at Midnight – but not this year. Everything is muddy, including my lawn at the centre of the building. The seminarians have returned, but they cannot venture on to the lawns to try to cut them, without turning them into a quagmire. So, we shall have to wait for the sun!

I have been on tenterhooks for a couple of months now, because the unused pages of my passport have been filling up with stamps, as I have been going in and out of Kuching to Singapore. I have not been able to renew my passport, because it has to be sent to UK and that takes about four weeks, and I have had to go to Singapore about three times every month. So, the news that I can have my chemo done here in Kuching is quite a relief – I have only two spare pages left! Marvellous what happens when you see no answer to a problem and so put it into the hands of the Lord!

I wish you all a good Lent – and, of course, followed by a joyful Easter!

God bless,

Terry

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The Journey

The coming of the New Year is a time when many people make New Year resolutions. They take a look at themselves and decide that there are things they would like to change and January 1st sees them trying to put those changes into place. However, most of these resolutions are expressed in terms of actions – e.g. I will do 20mins exercise each day, or maybe say the rosary each day – but I have found that trying to change myself through actions – i.e. doing or not doing certain things – can be a very uncertain way of proceeding, for should I slip just once, I invariably give up the whole project. “My resolution is broken, so, I may as well give the whole thing up!”

I remember, in the days when I used to smoke, I would usually take the beginning of the New Year and the beginning of Lent as opportunities to stop smoking – and so ruin several Lents by losing heart when I slipped just once with my self-imposed smoking ban. I still clearly remember one Ash Wednesday, travelling to an Iban longhouse for Mass and the blessings of ashes, and this journey took me past the home of a Catholic Chinese family, set back a little from the road. I knew that if they were at home they would invite me in for a drink and the Papa would offer me a cigarette, and so, to avoid stopping, I speeded up as I came near the house and tried to look the other way, so I could say that I had not seen them wave, but when I got near the house, I found the Papa standing in the middle of the road waiting for me. He knew I would be coming, as he would be at the longhouse later for Mass, and he must have heard my car from a way off, because only few cars travelled that path – the upshot was that I had to go into his house have my cup of tea, accept the proffered cigarette – and so another Lenten penance ended in collapse!

I am gradually discovering, however, that there is another way of changing my way of living, one which does not concentrate on particular actions, but on choosing the type of person I would like to be – and by doing it this way, I make sure that the Lord is a part of the project. The problem with “act-based resolutions” is that I myself decide on the act and I depend on my own strength to carry it out – I may ask the Lord for the grace and strength to do so, but I realise now that I never used to ask him whether I should be making these resolutions in the first place. It was me saying: “I have decided on this, but I need your help”, but by doing that I reduce the Lord to my servant, instead of my Master – and in my experience, he will not go along with that!

If I am to change, then the Creator must do you – I have neither the inspiration nor the power how to do it – and as St Irenaeus teaches, the Father creates by using “his two hands” – the Word and the Holy Spirit. Through his Word, God gives me a vision, not of what action I should do, but of what type of person I could become; and, through his Holy Spirit, the Father fills my heart with longing and so enables me to choose to become that person.  This “choice” is my part in this transformation, however, it is not a choice to do something, but to become someone and it is also a choice which is not made just once, but many, many times, for, through the situations I meet in my life’s journey, Lord leads me to make that choice at ever deeper levels in my soul – and it becomes ever more a choice for Christ, the choice to be his companion, the choice for an ever-deepening friendship with him. This choice will involve me in doing or not doing certain actions, but these actions will change for what may be a good action in one situation may not be so in another and the only way I can know what I should do is by handing the situation into the Lord’s hands. For instance, it is good to go to Mass to seek the Lord’s grace, but should there be someone in my house who is sick and needs my attention, then it would not be a good action to leave that person by themselves while I go to Mass. So an action which is right in one situation is not necessarily right in another.  Our journey, then, must be a journey of trust, and one I can never be certain that I have got right.

Because of this, it may well seem safer to hold on to rules and actions, which I believe to be “right”, for fear that I will sin and so be cut off from God, but our weakness or sinfulness does not necessarily cut us off from God, they can instead reveal to us what we are really like and so open the door to God at a much deeper level than we had reached before. For, as I sit in sorrow, amidst my weakness and failure, I can turn to God and say: “Lord, here in my failure, I see more clearly nowl which way I want to go. I want to be like you; I want to be your companion. Lord, here in my failure, I choose you, please accept me”.  And my baptismal promises become even more firmly rooted – as the Exultet at Easter says: “O Happy Fault, O truly necessary sin of Adam that brought us so great a Redeemer!”

The Christian life is a journey, a process – it is not a series of “right” actions. This can be a little frightening, and we may worry, “because perhaps we have got it wrong!” This is where trust comes in. We are only Christian because the Lord has asked us to share in his mission and we have chosen to do so. If we hold on to that vision, he will not let us fail – even though at one time of our life we follow him in this way, and at another time we follow him in that way. He is the “Master of the meeting” and he is the one who moulds us, even though we may not realise what he is doing. This is the meaning of the Lord’s first miracle – changing water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana. We are like that water and only the power of God can change us into wine. This is not done overnight, but is a process which takes our whole life for God to accomplish – and our failures, weaknesses and sins have a vital part in that process. So, our failed resolutions – be they at New Year or Lent – may be of greater benefit to us that if we succeeded in carrying them out.

Diary

Over Christmas, I had a three-week break from chemotherapy – God bless the Doctor!  I still feel weak, but I also feel normal, but last Thursday I started the treatment again. I was fine on Friday and Saturday, but it laid me flat on Sunday. I am gradually getting ready to go again tomorrow. Thank you for all your prayers and good wishes over Christmas and New Year – and if I did not reply, I do so now.

The seminarians are away on vacation and will not be back until Chinese New Year. This means that I have to sit and watch the grass growing all around me with no one to cut it. The growth is helped in that we are in the rainy season and so with the sun and then the rain and sun once more, you can almost see the grass shooting up; a good lesson in patience.

God bless,

Terry

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