I wrote this last month, but was not satisfied with it. So, here it is again – reworked!
At my recent Ruby Jubilee celebrations, many photographs were taken and some were sent on to me by friends. My reaction to one of the photographs was, “My goodness! What a large belly I have!” I usually only see my belly from above and it doesn’t look too big from up there, so I was quite surprised when I saw myself from the angle at which the photograph was taken. But, that is what photographs do – they let us see things from a different perspective, but more important still, they give an opportunity “to stand and stare” at scenes, which probably passed by so very quickly in the living of them that there was no time to fully appreciate what was happening. This, of course, is why we create photograph albums of weddings and birthdays etc. so that we can sit and smile – and maybe also wince a little – as we look the photographs and remember.
This is also a way of understanding the great doctrines of the Church, which we celebrate as Feast Days at various times throughout the year – they can be understood as “photographs”, because they give a chance to pause, ponder or “taste” various aspects of our Faith, so that we may live them more fully. An example of this is Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ –which here, in Kuching, is very movingly celebrated with candle-lit processions of the Blessed Sacrament through the streets. Just like a photograph, this Feast gives us pause to remember and appreciate – in the busy-ness of our daily Christian lives – that at the very heart of our Faith there stands not a just message – but a living person: Jesus Christ, true man and true God. Thus the celebration of this Feast bring home to us in a very real and forceful way not just the memory of what Jesus did two thousand years ago – but also what he is doing now! Through the Eucharist, I know that Jesus is truly present with me now – lifting me up, holding me steady and encouraging me to walk on with him day by day. I need to know this, for without it – there would be no hope, no salvation, no future, for a mere message cannot save, it can tell me what to do, but cannot help me do it – only the God-man can do that!
Photographs, however, also have a shadow side – they can confuse as well as reveal. Among the photographs of my Jubilee, there is one of me standing with my hands above my head in a very odd posture and looking at it you might well ask, “What on earth is he doing?” To answer that, you need a movie, not just a photograph, because at one point during the party I sang an action song and the photograph is of me singing this song, but without movement, you cannot understand what is happening. In a similar way, the “photograph”, or the doctrine of Corpus Christi, tells us the “what” of the Eucharist – that Jesus is really and truly present – but it cannot tell us the “why” of the Eucharist – only a “movie” can show that. St. Therése of Lisieux speaks of the “movie” in a very down-to-earth-manner, she says “You don’t think, do you, that Jesus comes down upon our altars day after day, just to be locked up in a golden tabernacle? He wants much more than that – he wants you!” This “movie” of Corpus Christi, as told by St Therése, is indispensable for a true understanding of the Eucharist, for without it we cannot understand “what Jesus is doing in the Eucharist”. He is present there, so that he can be present in me – live with me and with you and bring us home!
This “movie” of the Eucharist helps us see that we are on a journey with the Lord. The Father has sent Jesus to bring us home and although we have started the journey, we have not yet completed it. Sometimes, we are aware of journeying with him and walk happily beside him; sometimes things get so tough that he has to carry us; and sometimes it gets so dark that we doubt that he is there at all. All these parts of the journey are necessary for we are in a “process of creation” and both the times of light and the times of darkness, the times of strength and the times of weakness are used by the Father to mould us. This is why the idea of “movement” in the Christian life is so vital, for if we have only “stills” or “photographs” of our spiritual lives, we will judge ourselves by where we are at the moment – and should this be a time of darkness, we will condemn ourselves as failures.
The photographs from my Jubilee have joined the photographs of other times in my life and of other places where I have lived. They are wildly different, ranging from pictures of a joyful young man being ordained, to a devastated man having to leave places and people he loved, to a tubby, more or less contented man celebrating his Ruby Jubilee of priesthood. All are pictures of me, but no one picture can sum up the whole of me; I am more than all of them – and there is still more of me to be revealed in the future. Likewise, in my spiritual journey with the Lord – there are memories of times I walked with him in joy and memories of times when I know I failed him, but I have learnt to see these memories against the background of movement. The Father has sent Christ into the world to bring me home – and while the photographs speak to me of various stages of the journey, no one memory sums up the whole journey – except one: The Lord has told me that he will not fail me; he will bring me home and my trust in that promise has carried me through forty years of priesthood and will, I believe, support me to the end.
It has been a busy month. I went to Bali to sell my house. It was too expensive to run it for the few times a year that I visit and if I had rented it, it would no longer have been my home. So, I sold it. An Englishman has bought it and when he asked me to visit and show him how the house worked, I went and said goodbye to the place I have enjoyed having and was sad to lose. It was nice to see the house for the last time, but when he told me of some of the changes he was going to make, the thought burst out – but only in my head – “How dare you make changes to my beautiful house!!!” Hehehe!
I think it is part of my missionary vocation to enjoy being where I am and then, when the Lord says, move on, but this is not done without sadness – the price of having loved. Fortunately with Bali people the bonds will not be cut, for I shall continue to visit and I was touched by several messages from my friends there saying that they hoped I would still come and visit. I was also touched by my reception at the prison, when I went to visit the English speaking prisoners there – and met several others as well.
The Church in Sabah, the North Borneo Malaysian State, has been celebrating the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the local Nuns and as they were founded by a Mill Hill Father, I was invited to attend, which I did. It was a lovely celebration and at the end of it, one of the Bishops asked me whether I was going to be at the celebration, the following Wednesday, when they were blessing a new memorial to the Mill Hill priest who founded them and his seven Mill Hill companions, who had been killed during the Japanese times. (I wrote of that incident a few months ago under the title “A red sash”) I told the Bishop that I hadn’t been invited and he admitted that he had been very busy and it had slipped his mind – “but”, he added, “I do hope you will come!” At first I said I would not be able to, because Kuching is an hour and a half plane ride from Sabah, but when I got back here, and the bishop sent me an sms asking me again to come, I relented and three days after my return, I packed my bags once more and caught the plane to Sabah. And I am very glad that I went.
Then, two Mill Hill seminarians from Kenya arrived, on the day I got back from Sabah – or rather two seminarians were due to arrive. I went to the airport to meet them, but only one turned up and he told me that he did not know what had happened to the other man. At the Immigration desk in Kuala Lumpur, he said, the other seminarian had been questioned by an awkward officer, who implied that he was trying to enter Malaysia illegally. The seminarian who arrived in Kuching told me that he had then gone to the toilet and when he returned his friend had disappeared. He arrived in Kuching only late at night, so there was no time to do anything then, but the next morning I contacted the ex-Attorney-General of Sarawak, who contacted the Director of Immigration (both of whom are Catholics), and I finally received a message that the man had been released. I was, then, contacted by the Immigration in KL who told me that I had to send the equivalent of US$100 to rectify his ticket, which I did, and finally the poor man arrived. He had been held incommunicado all night with a lot of others, who were going to be deported back to their own countries. They had been given no food but were allowed to buy water. He told me of the great relief he felt when he heard his name being called the next day and he was told that he could proceed to Kuching. I told him, “You now know what “redemption” means! It is sometimes good to know people who know people!
On Wednesday 24th August, I shall be leaving for UK and shall be away for four weeks. It will be nice to have some cool weather and see some old familiar places – but I hope it is not too cool and wet! I am looking forward to meeting my family and friends and especially my brother, who is undergoing treatment for cancer.