Monday, 1 September 2014

Stones, Pebbles and Sand


It rained hard. The river was nearly swelling as water flowed towards the dam. The townspeople were asleep as it was 3 o’clock in the morning. The dam upstream was shaking with the relentless water pressure. It could not take it anymore, as a portion on its right side started to crack. At the mountain sat a giant rock still and without life. Just as the dam’s concrete surrendered to the onslaught of water, the Master awakened the rock that followed His command to protect the community. It rushed down instantaneously and dived into the water, thereby covering the fallen portion of the dam. But the water continued to penetrate in the uneven form of the rock.

The rock then shouted, “Stones, pebbles and sand, I cannot do this by myself. I need your help!”  The nearby stones, pebbles and sand came to life, and they sealed the areas where the water penetrated. The water was contained and eventually calmed down.  When morning came, the townsfolk saw a giant rock covering a huge hole in the dam. They thanked the Lord for placing ‘St Peter’s Rock’ that saved them from certain death.

The apostle Simon Peter was not a perfect man. He had a lot of shortcomings, yet he was chosen by Jesus to continue His ministry.  “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18) Like the rock that was flawed, St Peter (and his successors) could not alone pursue God’s mission without the help of other disciples and believers.

Many of us are the “stones, pebbles and sand” that are called upon to complete God’s plan on earth. We may not be as prominent as the Pope, but we are important to the Church.  Pope Francis acknowledged this at the very start of papacy when he said, “And now I would like to give the blessing, but first – first I ask a favour of you: before the Bishop blesses his people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me: the prayer of the people asking the blessing for their Bishop. Let us make, in silence, this prayer: your prayer over me.”

Do not belittle yourself; you are precious to God.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Soup

There was drought in the land, and the tribe had little harvest and sparse water.  One day, a man with a cart visited the tribe. The visitor said that he’d come to make soup for everyone. He asked the chief to produce the biggest pot and to make a fire in the middle of the village. He filled the pot with the barrel of water on his cart, and started to cut a cabbage that he placed into the pot. The people inquired, “Just one cabbage?”

The man asked the villagers, if they had a spare salt, spare spices, spare vegetables and spare meat or fish. Everyone said, “Yes” and they hurriedly went to their homes and returned with what little each had. All these were placed into the pot.  That day the tribe had the most delicious soup that everyone had partaken.  The visitor left, but he was remembered not just for the soup, but for the lesson he imparted.

Fr Valerian D’Souza at Our Lady of Lourdes-Glen Eden shared this story as part of his homily on the Gospel reading on the multiplication of the bread and fish. “They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full.  Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.” (Matthew 124: 21)

We often tend to think that those who have abundance are obliged to share, while those who have little are exempt. But in the many occasions of seeking donations for worthy causes I have worked on, those you expect to give, do not; while there are people out of nowhere who anonymously give. And the little offerings amazingly compose the bulk of the donations that go to the beneficiaries.

The world today suffers from drought, spiritual drought that is. All around us, we see wars, senseless killings, twisted values and sinfulness. Must we surrender to the evilness in the world? Or we can fill the Cup of Life that heals the peoples’ emptiness of soul?  


Each one of us, believers in Christ, must do our share to help those who thirst. 

“Thus says the Lord: All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money come, receive grain and eat.” (Is 55:1-3)

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Sacrifice

Kenyans rule the middle-distance and long-distance athletics contests, whether this be in the Olympics, Commonwealth Games or other prestigious contests. Catherine Ndereba won the women’s Boston Marathon four times, other than being a two-time world champion. Paul Tergat and John Ngugi are spoken with reverence. 

So it was no surprise that in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the gold and silver medals went to Kenyans, while the fourth top finisher was from Kenya as well. But what was intriguing was the bronze medal winner who was Caucasian and wasn’t even known in his country.

Zane Robertson from New Zealand earned the bronze in the 5000m final at Hampden Park, Glasglow. Where did this bloke come from? The answer: “Nowhere”.

Seven years ago, together with twin brother Jake, he decided to live in Kenya and train with world’s best long distant runners.  They never visited New Zealand in that span of time. He said, "I've worked seven hard years and in the early years in Africa I sacrificed a lot. I don't see it that way anymore. I'm living the dream, travelling the world and having absolute fun living my life. Today, all those sacrifices I doubted originally, they've paid off."


In a similar vein, superstar footballer Lionel Messi said, "You have to fight to reach your dream. You have to sacrifice and work hard for it."  

I used to pity contemplative nuns who spend their entire lives behind walls, and away from people in the bigger community.  What sacrifice they offer: praying, reflecting, singing, living for the Lord. Yet their reward is far greater than any earthly recognition, any worldly possession.


How many of us have the passion of an athlete and the commitment of a contemplative nun in seeking the eternal company of the Divine, as promised by Jesus?  


“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:15-16) 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Killing Children

Children have suffered, or have been killed, in conflicts or war in many parts of the world today. We’ve already read of the young and the innocent shot in schools by fools who have no respect for life. Most disturbing, though, are the senseless death of children in the hands of parents or their close relatives.

In the month of July 2014, we read of disturbing news about murdered children.

On July 8, Dayana Valencia, a 5-year-old girl, tried to stop her stepfather from attacking her mother, Facunda Velenzuelaleon, in their home in Kootenai County, Idaho.

The killer confessed to strangling his wife and to killing the child because she hit him as he was attacking his wife.

The crime was committed after the killer learned that his wife confessed to cheating on him during a trip to California. Dayana’s body had cut marks in her neck, throat and chin — and she had an electrical cord wrapped around her neck. The killer spared his two biological children by bringing them to a friend’s house prior to the killing.

On July 9 in Spring, Houston, Ronald Lee Haskell entered the Stay family home looking for Katie Stay’s sister whom he had been divorced. Failing to obtain an answer, Haskell shot Katie, her husband and their five children, aged 4 to 15.

One child, Cassidy, the eldest, whose skull was fractured by a bullet, played dead until the killer left. She immediately called the police to prevent him from killing her grandparents. The police intercepted the man before he could continue his killing spree.

The 15-year-old girl, in an interview, said that she felt as if angels were with her whispering to her to be quiet during the attack.

On July 10, a news item told of the Utah police announcement that Megan Huntsman, 36, admitted that she killed six of her newborns (from 1996 to 2006) and stored their bodies in a garage as “she was high on drugs and didn’t want the babies or the responsibility.”

It is incomprehensible that some people commit such horrendous crimes. Surely the justice system shall give them due punishment.

But what is far worse than the three instances is the institutional murder of children. Governments in a number of countries have allowed abortion, some with conditions, while others unconditionally.

For instance, Great Britain’s Abortion Act of 1967 permits abortion for a variety of reasons if certified by two physicians. In Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that abortion is legal for any reason at any stage of pregnancy.

In Sweden, abortion is legal in all circumstances within the first 18 weeks of pregnancy. Most shocking is Russia, where more babies are aborted than those who live,
and in China, where there is no defined time limits to access to the procedure.

What has become of the world? Do we not realize how precious the children are?

"See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10)

Sunday, 6 July 2014

In A Woman

I received a call early in the morning of June 23 from one of the organizers of an event that honors women, asking me if I could write a poem to be read during the awarding ceremony.

As I rode on the bus towards my workplace, I scribbled a few verses of the poem I titled, “In a Woman.” It was not difficult. I remembered my late mother, Milagros Batulan, who dedicated her life to care for us, her children.

I recalled the times she accompanied me to the dentist when my tooth ached and when she bought me supplies in Sen Hiap Hing at the start of the school year. I could see her smile as she listened to my inaugural speech as national president of the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

I also thought about my wife, Debbie, who cared for our three children, bringing them to school and attending to important occasions in their lives.

I thought about my daughter Jam as she raises her two kids while working as nurse on weekdays. I thought about my daughter-in-law Krizia looking after her baby.

We find so much inspiration in the labor and love of women to their children, in the sacrifices they make to feed and raise their offspring, in their contributions to make the world a better place to live in.

It brought me to thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus, who carried the Holy Child in her womb, raised him towards maturity and witnessed his death on the cross.

The poem was completed within the day. On June 28, I read it before the eight women that were recognised. The room fell silent except for my voice (I was never asked to read a poem in public before), and not only could I feel the joy in the eyes of the awardees but those of most of the women in the audience as well.

The organizers had placed copies of my poem in picture frames and given to each of the awardees. I felt humbled when the daughter of one of the recipients asked me to affix my signature.

Here is the poem I wrote for all the women in the world:

In a woman’s womb/Is sown the life of the earth/A child shall be born/To ensure every tomorrow/

In a woman’s eyes/Is seen the splendour/Of the seas and the skies/Of the creations from Above/

In the woman’s mouth /Comes the warmth of words/Of care and assurance/That we are never alone/

In the woman’s hands/We feel the touch of affection/The grip of protection/The refuge of helplessness/

In a woman’s heart/Is a limitless amount of love/ To a child, to a husband, to all/To fill the world with joyfulness/

In a woman’s soul/Is the presence of the God/Whose only Son was conceived/In Mary, the Queen of the Universe//

Woman,/You are the precious gift/Of heaven to humanity/You are the most cherished treasure//