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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Letting the Lord love us

Some time ago, an older woman, here in Kuching, phoned me and said, “Father, I don’t want to go to Mass” and I replied, “Then, don’t go!” She was obviously surprised by my reply and said, “You mean I don’t have to go?” I knew that she had been suffering from slight depression for some time so I said to her, “You still love Jesus, don’t you?” and she answered, “Yes!”Then”, I said, “You have money in the bank from all the years you have cared for him and served him. Now you are under the weather, relax and let him look after you!”

                Most of us were taught our religious duties as children in the same way that a Mother teaches her children what is “right” and “wrong”. She may, for example, tell her son that it is “wrong” to kick his younger brother – and that may be the only language he can understand at that age. It will take some years for him to gradually appreciate that friendship between brothers is something wonderful but needs to be cherished – and this friendship is not helped by being kicked! So, also, we are usually taught as children that it is a “sin” to miss Mass on a Sunday – but unlike children in a family, we often get stuck there and, as we grow, continue to understand our Sunday Mass as a duty we have to do, rather than a time to taste the deep and abiding friendship that is growing between God and us.

This is the difference between “head understanding” and “heart understanding” and it is present in all of us, although most of the time it does not cause us too much trouble. When most of us ask ourselves why we come to Mass on a Sunday, our head tells us that we do so because we must fulfil our religious duties, but at a much deeper level we know that we come because our heart draws us there. We choose to come not to avoid sin, but because of the friendship between God and us in our hearts, a friendship we cherish and value, a friendship we want, even though it is so deep that we often miss it. Thus, we will be tempted to say that we come to Mass, “because it is a sin not to go!” It is only when circumstances do not allow us to get to Mass on a Sunday and we fee drawn to confess it that we are given the opportunity to understand ourselves more deeply and so come to appreciate the power which moves us and leads us to choose to be there at Sunday Mass.

Some time ago, a man came to confess that he had missed Sunday Mass and when I asked him “Why?” he replied that his wife had been dying and so he stayed with her. I gently explained to him that to have left his wife and gone to Mass would have been wrong – not the other way round – for in caring for his dying wife, he was living out that love and care that he learnt about and received at Mass. In other words, he was celebrating Mass there with his wife. Like most of us, this man followed God’s love in his heart, but when he tried to understand what he had done, he used his head to try to understand – not his heart – for the reasons of our heart are so deep that we cannot grasp them with our head. As Blaise Pascal, the Catholic Philosopher said, “The heart has reasons that reason (the head) cannot understand”.

I have come to experience this myself, at this present time, when the side-effects of the chemo-therapy I am receiving cause me, at times, to feel so tired and lacking in energy. Here in the seminary we begin our morning prayers at 6am and I used to get up at 5am so that I could spend a half hour in quiet with the Lord before prayers began. Now, I usually have to drag myself out of bed in the morning, even though it is much later than 5am that I get up. My head tells me that I am being lazy and with a little more effort I could get up for prayer and show the Lord how much I loved him. But then, another, much deeper voice whispers, “I don’t need to be shown that you love me – I know it! Now it is my turn to look after you and minister to you”. Here are echoes of St John in his 1st Letter, “Even if our conscience condemns us, God is greater than our conscience” (3:2).

Love is not something that can be known with our heads – only with our hearts. We have to dare to let ourselves be loved in order to “know” in the full, experiential way, what love is. I have learnt this at different times of my life when I have had to stand before God in my weakness and shame and let him love me back to health. I am learning to do that again now, in my weakness, even though my head sometimes condemns me for it. By God’s Grace, I learning again to let him love me and it is because of this that I could say to that older woman, who said that she did not want to go to Mass, “Then, don’t go!” If she follows that advice she will experience God’s love in a way not yet known in her life, for she will be making an act of faith far deeper than any she has made up to now in her life, for she will be letting God love her as she is.

Diary

I grow African violets. I got to like them through my Mother, who also grew them. They are a very grateful little plant, for if you take a leaf and put it in water, it will grow roots and even if you just put a leaf straight in the ground it will also take root. I started to grow them a few years ago when I saw one rather bedraggled, sorry-looking pot of African Violets in our cloister and I took it to my room and adopted it. It seems to like the air-con and I remembered that while it likes a lot of light, it does not like direct sunlight. So, I set it by my window and it has flourished. I now have ten plants – not including some I have given away – and I have a nursery of five babies. They help remind me that I am supposed to be a life-giver.

Our students have gone for their end of year break and will not appear again until after Chinese New Year. So, the College is very peaceful and quiet. I asked my “student grass-cutter helper” to cut my lawn before he went home and he has done so and it looks good for Christmas. I shall probably get irritated as I see it getting more and more straggly, but one student who does not live so far away has promised to cut it during the holidays. (With all the things to worry about, here I am worrying about my lawn – shows I am human I think!)

I go to Singapore, this coming Wednesday and Thursday, for my last chemo session before Christmas. I have had a two week break since the last and I needed it as the last two hit me very hard. However, I am learning to say to myself, “This too shall pass!” and it does. My doctor has been very kind and has cancelled the session I should have had on Christmas Eve – so after Thursday I shall have a three week break before I go again. So, I should be in a fit condition to remember you all at Mass on Christmas – even though I may not have the energy to celebrate Midnight Mass.

May you all have a very happy Christmas – wherever you are and whosoever you are with. My grateful thanks for your kindness to me throughout the year, especially your encouraging emails, prayers and gifts both to help with my Singapore treks and support for the Mill Hill Family here in Sarawak.

God bless you all,

Terry

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Two Answers

At the beginning of November, I went to Singapore to see my doctor. I usually see her once or twice a month, but this was to be a special visit because they were going to take a scan of my tumour and compare it with the one taken, when I was first diagnosed as having cancer. From this, they would be able to see whether the treatment was working and I am pleased to be able to tell you, that the treatment seems to be working for they discovered that the tumour has shrunk fairly considerably – from 8.1 cms to 6.6 cms.

When, on that day, I arrived at Singapore General Hospital, I was rather pre-occupied with what the results of the scan would be, but, in such a place, you cannot just be concerned with your own welfare, for all around you are people in a worse condition than you and with them are the many helping hands of friends and relatives, together with the Hospital Staff, whose support and care give a richness to their living. I noticed this particularly on the day before I saw my Doctor, when with many other patients I waited for my turn to be scanned. There was a friendliness among many of them, due probably from having met in that place before and they chatted together as they waited, but my attention was drawn to two quieter men, one in his 60s, I would think, and his companion, a younger man, probably ten or fifteen years younger than him. It was the older man, who was having the scan, but I noticed the concern with which the younger man sought to help his friend.  After having completed the preliminaries, I was directed to a waiting area for the type of scan I was to receive and, shortly afterwards, these two men came and sat down near me. There were only the three of us there and I do now so wish I had spoken to them, but as so often, in such places, I didn’t. We sat there in silence until I was called in for my scan and then I went back to my hotel.

I saw them both the following day, as I waited a little nervously to see my Doctor, for unbeknownst to me these two men were in her office, being told, I presume, the results of the older man’s scan. The door opened and I saw them come out and watched them as they walked away – the younger man leading the way. The older man walked with his head slightly bent, but then I looked at the younger man and I have never before seen such a look of devastation as was on his face. He led the way out of the clinic like a man lost, almost as though seeking to run from what he had heard – and I was reminded of the words of the song: “How am I supposed to live without you?”

I was then called in to see the Doctor and she smiled and said, “Good news. The treatment seems to be working” and she asked how I was managing the side-effects of the chemotherapy. However, relieved as I was to hear the news, when I came out of her office and prepared to go for my chemotherapy session, the face of that younger man kept coming to mind and I realised that my possible return to good health could not be looked at in isolation from all else, for I am intimately linked to all others – and, in a special way, to those two men, a little of whose sorrow and pain I had been privileged to witness in the corridors of the Hospital.

Since that hospital visit, the thought of those two men has come back to me again and again, together with the feeling that the Lord was trying to show me something. I do not know what the doctor told them, but, from their demeanour, I feel she must have said that the older man only had a few months, or even only a few weeks left, and I started to wonder what those weeks or months would be like for them. I am sure they will be a time of tears and maybe some regrets about things left undone or unsaid, but, by God’s grace, it could also become something quite wonderful.

Some thirty years ago, I visited a man in New Orleans, who had been told that he only had a few weeks to live, but who refused to talk about it to his wife and family. Somehow, my visit helped break through that barrier and his wife told me, sometime later, that those last weeks of their marriage were the most beautiful of all. There was born, within their tears, a deepening of friendship, of care and concern, which we hope, one day, will be ours in the joys of heaven. The walls, with which we surround ourselves in life protect us from being hurt, also prevent us from caring and being cared for. When these walls begin to crumble through sickness or coming face to face with our own death, we are given a chance to see and reach out for that for which we were born – to allow people to love us, to dare to reach out to those in need – to risk being spurned in order to be held against someone’s heart – to die so that we might find what life is. I pray it may be so for those two men.

Two answers given in a Doctor’s office: one answer seems to speak of death, but, at a deeper level, a door to life is opened. In the time given them, no matter how short that may be, may they find that caring, that concern for the other, that will bring them into that deep friendship, which says that life is complete and the great treasure has been found.

The other answer given in the Doctor’s office seems to speak of life – or least the hope that it might be so – but does it? Through my silent meeting with those two men, God is showing me, I think, that even had the Doctor told that I had been cured, I would still not have received the gift of life, that would depend on what I did with the time given me. What such an answer would give, is not the gift of life, but the opportunity to truly live – to care, to be concerned and to reach out to others and so find something of that deep friendship that God calls us to – the promise of friendship he leads us to see in the people around us, and maybe especially as we sit in hospital waiting rooms.

Diary

My life is very much taken up with medical matters these days – no grass-cutting stories to tell – except to tell you that one of our seminarians has taken over the tending of the lawns at St Peter’s College, which are my pride and joy, and that he keeps them beautifully.

Two weeks in three I journey to Singapore either to see the doctor or to have chemo – or both. However, the Lord always  seems to make sure I have companions. There is one lad from Kuching newly working in Singapore and I have met him for a meal once, even though sadly I have had to let him down twice because I have not felt too good, but I should be good this coming week and he has promised me a hamburger. Likewise, when I went on the day of the scan, I wished I had a companion to go with and as I got off the plane, a man introduced himself as from Kuching and told me he knew why I was in Singapore and pressed a gift on to me “so you have a good meal while here”.

I usually go to Bali for Christmas, but this year I shall stay in Kuching and so shall miss seeing my community there this year. However, a friend of mine from there has asked if he can spend Christmas here with me, which is very nice of him, for it will be nice to have company, but I do not think I will be fit enough for Christmas visiting here in Kuching.

God bless,

Terry

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On Respect

Hello – I wrote something on Respect a few weeks ago, but I have now re-written it and I think it is better – and thought you might like to see it.

A while ago, I went to Singapore to begin radiotherapy. The procedure involved inserting lots of tiny little radio-active beads around the tumour I have, to try to make it shrink so that it can be operated on. It is a very impressive operation, with the doctors slowly guiding the tiny beads into the position they want them, but I want to tell you about the doctor, who led the operation, because I was so struck by the respect and courtesy with which he treated people.

The procedure was a little late in starting, so he came into the room to apologise that there would be a slight delay, as he was helping out a colleague with a difficulty. Then, when he was ready to begin, he came and again apologised and began to talk me through the entire two and a half hour procedure – enquiring, all the time, how I was doing. This courteous attention was not because I was a priest, for he only discovered that towards the end of the operation, nor was it because I was a European, for I noticed he spoke to all his staff in exactly the same way. He was a courteous man and this courtesy – to those, who are sick or in a position of weak dependence – is “healing” and so, whereas I was wheeled into the operating room as a patient – someone in need of treatment – I was wheeled out as someone “healed”; someone, who mattered, no matter what was wrong with me. And it was the doctor’s courtesy that had helped make it so.

There is a difference between being “cured” and being “healed”:  to be “cured” is to have a particular ailment or sickness put right, but to be “healed” is to be touched in the deepest part of who we are and be brought into “wholeness”, because by being recognised as a “person” we are given the grace to accept ourselves as we are – even though our sickness or disability remains. We are, in this way, enabled to take up the challenge of living, with all its possibilities and limitations – at peace with ourselves and the world around us.

I remember once visiting the famous Leper Hospital in Carville, Louisiana, USA, and being told of a Doctor Brand, who had worked there. He was a skilled rehabilitation surgeon and rebuilt the hands of his patients, crippled by untreated Leprosy. When he was congratulated on his skill, he would reply: “It is not my skill that heals them, but my heart; my skill can rebuild their hands, but only my heart can give them the courage to use them. Someone, who has been despised or considered of little worth – or believes him/herself to be of little account – often loses the courage to live. They need someone to believe in them in order to find their own self-worth and accept the challenge of living to the full – and the courtesy and respect given them is often be the sacrament by which God brings us into such healing.

This is not just true of the sick or marginalised, but of all people and all situations in life. I remember, a few years ago, visiting a priest friend of mine in his rural parish and as he did not have a housekeeper, we went next door to a small local café for our evening meal. We gave our order to the waitress and chatted while we waited to be served. When the waitress brought our drinks, I thanked her and my priest friend burst out laughing and when I asked him why, he said “You did not see her face when you thanked her; she is obviously not used to being thanked”; he told me to watch, when she brought our meal. It was, however, another waitress, who brought the meal, but when I turned to her and thanked her I saw the look of surprise and pleasure on her face. She was obviously used to being ignored, when she served people and it seemed to me that she walked a little taller and with a little more dignity as she returned to the counter. Such is the power of a word of respect – through God’s grace, it gives life!

We are taught how the Spirit of God moves with his renewing power throughout the whole world, but the way we understand the Scriptures can often obscure this. If we see the Scriptures as a “Sacred Script”, imparting knowledge of doctrine and rules etc., we will not see the wonder of the Holy Spirit’s passage through our world, but if we take Scripture as a “Key” which shows us where the Spirit is at work in our world, then, we will more and more see his finger in all the happenings of our daily life – including the courtesy with which someone like my doctor treats us.

The Scriptures reveals that whenever God approaches us, he does so with infinite courtesy and respect. We see this at the beginning of the History of salvation, when the Lord first spoke to Abraham, and we also see it in the courtesy with which Christ received and spoke with the outcast and despised, such as the leper, who said, “Sir, if you want to, you can heal me” and Jesus answered: “Of course I want to” and touched the man (Mk 9:23).  We have an ancient saying in the Church – that wherever we find love and friendship, there we find God. We can also equally say: that wherever we find respect and courtesy, we can see the Life-giver at work – for courtesy and respect are the beginnings of love.

Diary

I went for my first dose of chemotherapy on 23rd September and felt great – for two days! Then I began to go downhill, until a week later, when I was due to go for my second session I was almost on my knees. When I arrived at the hospital in Singapore, I had a blood test, and later the doctor’s assistant came and told me that my white platelet count was too low to have chemo, so they would give me two weeks rest before the next one, which will be this coming Thursday 15th Oct.

I was told that this is a fairly normal reaction to the first session and I have now recovered and feel good and ready for the next session. Several people have kindly invited me to stay with them in Singapore, but because I politely declined because of how I might feel and stayed at a hotel next to the hospital. I was thankful for that decision last time, because I felt so bad I went to bed in the hotel, when I arrived the day before, and stayed there for 12 hours. If, however, I begin to tolerate the treatment better, then I may accept one of the kind offers, because Singapore is expensive.

Apart from that, I am managing to teach and do other things, and whereas I feel somewhat tired, I am also feeling very good in myself. I am sure that your prayers and good wishes contribute to that – “Thank you so much” for that.

Someone at the seminary said to me the other day – “You look good, but I will know that you are truly better when I see you behind a grasscutter again!

God bless,

Terry

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