My moving to Bali in 2006 was at a time of my life, when certain effects of old age began to be felt – in particular, teeth! Within 3 months of my arrival, three of my teeth collapsed, necessitating a visit to the dentist. The dentist who removed the remnants of the teeth also recommended a visit to the head of the practice, who specialised in implants. I was hesitant about this, because I knew they were expensive, but I went and, sure enough, was told that they would cost me US$6000. I told the dentist that I could not afford that as I was a priest and he then said, “Oh you are a priest! Then I will give a discount – US$2000”. I thanked him and left, having decided that I would have to find some other way of eating my food, for, even with a discount, US$2000 was too much for teeth. Three weeks later, the dentist was at Mass and astonished to see me there, “You didn’t tell me you were a Catholic priest!” he said, “I thought you were Anglican. In that case”, he added, “just pay me for what I use”. So began my friendship with him and over the following three years, I got to know him very well as he did more and more work on my mouth – and when I asked him for the bill, he told me that Jesus had already paid it!
Some three years later, I moved to Kuching and after some time suffered another broken tooth and was advised to go to the Government clinic for an implant, which I did, but it cost me over £1,000 sterling. So later, when another tooth became loose, I decided that I would just have to live with gaps in my teeth, but I did whisper to the Lord that it was a pity I did not still live in Bali – but I was shy to go to visit my Bali dentist again – just to get treatment.
So, that was the situation last May, when I took a group of people from Kuching to Bali for a retreat. On a Sunday morning, the last day of the retreat, I finished Mass and went outside and as I did so, someone called out to me, “Father Terry!” I looked and who should be sitting there but my Bali friend and dentist. I did not recognise him at first because he was in cycling gear and looked so much slimmer than I remembered, but he told me that some three years previously before, he had decided that he was overweight and so had taken up cycling. He told me that he usually cycled up to the retreat house on a Sunday morning for exercise and his driver would then come and collect him – that morning, his driver was late, he said, but he was glad if that meant we could meet again. We chatted for a while and then he asked me, “How are your teeth” and I replied, “Funny you should say that….!” and told him about my wobbly tooth. He told me to see him before I left and he would tell his secretary to give me an early appointment, so I did – and he extracted the tooth and popped in an implant. Next month, January, I go back to Bali have the crown fitted.
Now, the reason I’m telling you this long and complicated story about my teeth is to ask your opinion – “was that a chance meeting with my dentist or was it the finger of God working for my good?” I believe, on the basis of many similar experiences, that it was God, gently moving things together for my benefit. “Coincidences”, I believe, are another term for the gentle workings of God. However, if this was so, then it meant that the Lord must have started preparing for my meeting with my friend, long, long before my need of a dentist had come about. In fact it must have begun three years ago, when my dentist began to think that he needed to lose weight and so had the idea of taking up cycling – and moreover decided to cycle up to that retreat house every Sunday morning – where, “coincidently” I would meet him and so get the dental treatment I needed. But is it possible that God would go to so much trouble just for my teeth? I have pondered this and decided, “Yes, he would!” But such a conclusion leaves me in awe and wonder at the love that my God must have for me; I am astonished at the concern and care that would lead him to make all those arrangements long before I ever whispered a word about it to him.
If you go into the Scriptures of your own life – those many stories of your own living with God – you will find that the same is true of every blessing that God has given you – that for it truly to have been the work of God, then he must have been working on it long, long before you ever asked for help or even had need of such help. Such a meditation can only lead to the position when you stand before God in awe and say, “Who is this God, who does such wonders for love of me?”
At this time of the year, the readings tell us that this is the time “to repent – for the Kingdom of God is close at hand” Many people understand the word “Repent!” to mean “stop doing bad things and start doing good ones”, but where does Christ enter into this? I believe the word “Repent!” must mean something much deeper than just stop being a bad boy or girl. It is a call, I believe, to look at the scriptures of your own life-story and realise who is the one who is holding out his hand to us, asking us to walk with him. The call to repent is about coming to a new vision of the world and our life in that world. It is about becoming aware of our vocation and our mission as the partner of the One who has come among us. This can only really come about from a sense of awe and wonder about who it is who has drawn so close to us. The Scriptures, and especially the prophets and the psalms, speak of the majesty of God as seen in nature and they do so to inculcate in the people that sense of awe and wonder necessary to be a true partner of God.
“the depths of the oceans and the heights of the mountains are his
To him belongs the sea for he made it and the dry land made by his hand”
I too have been led to a sense of awe and wonder at the majesty and beauty of the Lord, when I look at nature, but for the same effect nowadays, I have only to look at my teeth.
I have just finished giving a six day retreat in Sabah for the local Sisters there. There were over 90 following the retreat and over 80 asked to talk privately with me – so I was rather tired when I finished. However, they seemed to enjoy it and so did I. One problem on the retreat was water, because their water tank was not large enough for the number of people staying in the house. So, the first morning I got up at 5.45am – for 6.30am prayer – and found that I had to do with a shower as there was no water. The sisters explained to me the problem, so the next morning I started my shower at 5.30 and was able to shower, partly! When I was covered in soap, the water ran out. So, the mornings after that I got up earlier still and also filled a bucket before I started to shower vjust in case…..
I shall be away in UK from 17th Dec – 1st Jan. I still have two weeks of my leave owing me, so I thought it would be nice to have Christmas with my family – something I have not done for several years.
So, to you all, wherever you may be:
All blessings on you and yours for Christmas,
may you know the nearness and love of our God
and take his outstretched hand
as we walk together into the New Year of Grace.