Monday, November 27, 2006

Viva Christo Rey! (Long live Christ the King!)

To all my friends, happy feast day. I write this on the night of the grand solemnity of Christ the King, the very last Sunday of the liturgical year.

What a beautiful way to end the old and begin the new. The Alpha and the Omega as today’s scripture reading proclaims; the beginning and the end.

In him, all is complete; our struggles, our hopes, our fears and trepidations, our dreams and purpose in life…all of these things find their ultimate meaning and fulfillment in Christ the King, whose sovereignty is eternal, and whose domain lies in the hearts of his people.

As this night draws to a close and the dawn of advent beckons, the whole paschal mystery renews itself for our sakes, accompanying us like a faithful lover through the seasons and times of our lives, sustaining us, loving us, encouraging us on our journey to the promised land.

No, we are not alone. And no, we should not be afraid. As children, many of us were afraid of the dark, of not knowing what lay hidden in its shadows. As adults, we continue to cower at the uncertainties of life, of not having any guarantees of success or happiness. It seems fear dogs our very steps, paralyzing us with worries, anxieties, and sometimes despair over our losses and failures.

At the heart of this fear is often loneliness. But the Church’s calendar reminds us that Christ the evergreen is always with us, never leaving our sides. Indeed he carries us in the warm embrace of his love, through the ups and downs and hopes and pains of this life. And at the end of this liturgical year of messianic birth, poverty, work, persecution, hope, suffering and death, he emerges triumphant as Lord and King.

All of human experience is captured in this man Jesus, who takes upon himself our own human tragedies and triumphs, and redeems us in his great passion, resurrection and glory.

The Latin word for “passion” means to undergo, to encounter in all its bitter dregs the fullness of our human experience. The greatest passion of our Lord was not so much the scourging, thorns and nails, but rather, it was taking upon himself the whole darkness of our human pain and despair, which he continually undergoes, redeems and transforms in his solidarity with us.

In truth, his victorious crown was won not for Himself, but for us whom he lifts up in his coronation as his beloved children and heirs to his kingdom.

How often have we seen portrayed in fiction; that great champion of the underdogs, that courageous saviour of the downtrodden, that hero who takes up the cause of those he fights for and wins? He suffers for them, gives his life for them and finally triumphs for them, seeking their freedom and fulfillment as the ultimate prize.

This my dear friends is the kingship of Christ - a crown worn not just in majesty and splendour, but glorious in humble service to those he loves.

Behold the servant king, whose reign is made magnificent by his love and service to his subjects.

And because “our God reigns”, as the hymn rightly proclaims, we have nothing to fear, since all our weaknesses, sadness and frailties are taken up in his mercy, and given hope, meaning and victory; both now and forever. The darkness of despair cannot stand up to the light of his crown, and if we let him – he who faithfully journeys with us year after year, day after day – he will fill us with courage and princely dignity, no matter what sadness assails us in life.

This king ascends his throne to be made a greater servant, unlocking the treasuries of his grace and riches for us, beckoning us come to him in confidence and joy, since as St. Paul reminds us, we have a royal champion and advocate who gave his life for us, that we may live free from fear.

Christ has raised us from servants to friends, and from friends to sons and daughters. Remember this famous quote? - “The Son of God became the son of man, so that the sons of men may become sons of God.”

Rejoice therefore sons and daughters of God. The feast of Christ the King is also the feast of us all who have been made royal and princely in his blood.

In his kingship, let us hold our heads high and face life courageously with God as our champion, and Christ as our King.

Viva Christo Rey!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Some thoughts on freedom

It’s amazing how quickly time passes. As I review the endless tasks before me each morning, I sometimes feel like a wizened actor trapped in a bad rerun of “Days of Our Lives”.

There are things to do, commitments to keep, mails to answer, decisions to make, errands to run, people to meet, and all this before the first sip of coffee even passes my lips.

For most of us (whether lay or religious), it’s a real challenge balancing the demands of our lives with the needs of our souls, and in the whirlwind of commitments and preoccupations, it’s easy to forget the man inside, the face we see each morning in the bathroom mirror, the heart of flesh that continues to beat with human frailty.

Our many duties - personal and professional - can drive us from the intimacy of ourselves when they bury us with obligations. I sometimes wonder in the story of “Quo Vadis” if Peter wasn’t just running away from death, whether in fact he was also fleeing the overwhelming demands of his flock, his duties and his ministry, which can also crucify a man without respite in its own way.

I often joke that I’m in the valiant process of digging a tunnel from under my desk with a spoon, and any day now, I shall make a run for it. The truth is, I have little to complain about since many of you reading this share an equal, if not more challenging quest for simplicity and freedom.

But before we can find it however, we need to recognize what authentic freedom is. And since most of us are not languishing in real dungeons, our quest for freedom is better described as a desire to be liberated from every obstacle to our authentic happiness.

In this, some might argue that liberty comes with more time, a better job, a beautiful wife, a house in the country or anything else that we can add or do to increase our personal treasury of things to have for fulfillment.

On the contrary, I think freedom is less what we have or do, than who we are.

By that, I mean that the world’s perception of freedom as having more choice to choose from (since the greater your choices, the more freedom you experience) is greatly at odds with the “Christian freedom” of choosing the better good because it’s spontaneously who you are, and not what you do.

If freedom is merely seen as choosing between alternatives, then one’s life is measured simply by a succession of good and bad decisions - pros and cons, Coke or Pepsi, him or her, this or that.

But as Christians, we are making decisions about who we are, and not what we do or what we have. And the greatest authentication of Christian freedom is being able to spontaneously choose good, because that is what our souls most desire - the same way some athletes spontaneously respond to the ball or some dancers spontaneously turn to the rhythm without missing a beat.

This spontaneity is unhesitating, generous and giving. At its best, it is instinctive.

Of course, it takes years of mastering the clumsy basics for Michael Jordan to leap to the skies and slam-dunk the winning shot. But at some point in the flight plan, deliberation and calculation blend into instinct and reflex.

In the same way, the long years of persevering in small good acts, making mistakes and trying again and practicing Christian spontaneity, all add up to that wondrous moment of transfiguration when a Christian soul acts, chooses and thinks from the depths of who he really is in God’s love, and not what he does.

It is the freedom to be a prince, to live our princely dignity wherever we are, even in the slums of human decadence and restrictions. It is the freedom of one in harmony with his dignity in Christ, who enjoys a liberation beyond his physical and circumstantial chains.

Above all, it is the freedom to do what must be done, as in the case of our Blessed Saviour.

At the last supper, Jesus performs the freest act in human history…he gives away his life for love. What he must do expresses who he most deeply is…the beloved Son of the Father. Indeed, his deepest freedom was that he could do no other than the Father’s will.

Christian freedom is ultimately an act of obedience to God, since the Christian soul is enobled in fidelity and not success.

To love and believe in Christ and his gospel truth sets us free from our own delusions and false ideals, it liberates us from bad decisions, wrong choices and destructive patterns because it shows us the truth about ourselves, our world and our eternal destiny in Him.

"Because God is the very embodiment of love, his love inspires you to be what you are meant to be: a free person in the highest sense of the word. The more you are led by God's love, the more you become yourself, and it is all done without even losing your freedom." - Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

This my friends, is God's gift to us...the freedom to live in the Holy Spirit, freedom from sadness, from guilt, from repression, from sin, from oppression, from the inability to see, recognise and choose rightly. What we do with this freedom is our gift to God.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The art of statues

It is an often repeated answer that no Catholic worships a statue or image. Many Catholics do however use these images as visual aids to help them meditate and pray, granted that in any situation, there are always those who ignore the teachings of the Church in favour of superstition.

There is nothing wrong with having images or statues in Church, or representations of biblical scenes if their purpose is to glorify God and draw souls closer to Him. Man is after all a physical creature with dimensions and senses. In addition to a soul, we have a body. In as much as we strive for heaven, we still continue to live on earth, and in many ways, still need to experience the invisible in concrete ways.

That is why the medium of art flourishes where words and ideas often don't seem enough, or in the case of the illiterate masses of the past, completely inacessible. Statues, stained glass and paintings then became the bridge of communication for those whose hearts could recognise eternal truths but whose minds lacked the sophistication for heavy doctrine.

The real question is: Do we really worship these images or merely use them as visual props to mental prayer?

The concern for many Protestants is not so much the artistic and architectural expression of a Catholic Church (although most of our separated brethren would accuse us of complicating a simple faith with all kinds of paraphernalia) but rather the biblical evidence that such images are abhorrent to God.

To be fair, scripture does mention the worship of graven images as an abomination to God. The most quoted passage in support of this must surely be God's instructions to Moses, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:3-5).

Deuteronomy 27:15 also says, “Cursed be the man who makes a graven or molten image, an abomination to the LORD, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret' And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’”

Most Christians are familiar with these passages as well as others throughout scripture that condemn the idolatry of images. But these passages must be understood in the context of their meaning. Indeed, there is nothing in scripture that explicitly condemns the use of images in liturgical worship. What God forbids is the actual worship or idolatry of the image itself; as if it was a living, breathing person.

If not, how do we account for conflicting passages like Exodus 25:1, 18-20, 22; cf. 26:1, in which God commands the same Moses to "make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. . . . There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel”

Sheesh, talk about being wishy-washy.

If Moses had not understood God's real intent in forbidding idolatry instead of images per se, he would've thought that the Most High was schizophrenic. But because Moses recognised that the two commands were not contradictory in nature, he was able to obey the Lord in good conscience.

This is important because later on, God would command him to once again make an image; this time of a bronze serpent that would cure those who had been poisoned by snakebites. (Numbers 21:8-9)

Obviously God had no problem with images or statues, but when the people began worshipping the bronze snake, it was then that the statue was destroyed because the Israelites had begun perverting their use of it.

Now, no Catholic man who kneels before a statue of Jesus believes that the plaster artifact is truly the Son of God in the flesh. No Catholic woman who places flowers at the feet of a granite Mary thinks that she is doing so before the Mother of Christ herself, just as no husband believes he is actually kissing his wife when he pulls out her photograph and plants a loving peck on it. He knows it's just a representation of the woman he loves, no more.

And yet the photograph, despite being only a glossy image of the wife he adores, is able to excite his love and affections more eloquently than if he had nothing concrete to cast his eyes upon in the first place, particularly if he suffers from a chronic lack of imagination.

It's one thing to visualise the suffering passion of our Lord, it's another to watch Mel Gibson's The Passion and then meditate on those images on screen. No one will deny that the latter is most helpful in fleshing out the details.

But for a Protestant Christian to darken the hallways of a Catholic Church, the rising horror of beholding so many statues and graphic images can be bewildering as well as frightening at first.

Some of these statues of course are fashioned with better taste and artistic finesse than others.

Nevertheless, the shadow of idolatry can give the unfamiliar visitor a case of extreme scruples, especially since I've heard Protestant fundamentalists refer to the statues in Catholic Churches as being inhabited by evil spirits that masquerade as saints.

Imagine the amount of prejudice to overcome.

Would it surprise them to know that Solomon's temple was much the same? According to 1 Kings 6:23-35, 7:25, 36, this magnificent temple was resplendent with statues and images of angels, trees, flowers and animals.

Instead of cursing Solomon for erecting this menagerie of worship, “the LORD said unto him, I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication that thou hast made before me: I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually” (1 Kings 9:3).

Does this sound like the warnings of a God who was displeased with such images in His holy temple?

In fact, the Lord even blessed the temple of Solomon and promised to reside there forever.

Who has crossed the threshold of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris or St Peter's Basilica in Rome, and not be transported to heavenly realms by the sheer beauty of their religious art? Such beauties are crafted to raise our minds toward God and lift our souls to heaven, as befits the house of God. As Mother Angelica of EWTN famously quipped, "If you worship in a church made like a garage, you come out feeling like you've been in a garage. We need to see beauty or we don't know what beauty is. Did you even get inspired by a warehouse?"

To persevere in a fundamentalist interpretation of "graven images" would oblige us to systematically rid ourselves of every family portrait at home, every cute and cuddly soft toy, every monumental statue in public parks, every hobby collectible and perhaps even our money since minted coins have graven images on them as well.

That would be rather extreme to say the least.

But then again, so is accusing Catholics of idolatrous worship just because they sometimes pray before statues in their Churches, the same way some Portestants kneel before a barren cross or pray with a bible in their hands. And yet in the latter case, no one questions a pious Protestant who devotedly hangs a symbolic reproduction of the worst kind of Roman execution on their bedroom wall.

But it's the cross you say; it represents our faith and redemption. Well it's still a faithful reproduction of something that used to exist as an instrument of torture, so what's the difference? Even though it may not be the image of a person or creature, nevertheless why do you bow to it or cover it with kisses, or keep it in your wallets or hang it around your necks?

In truth, we are sacramental beings by our very nature. And in order for love to remain love, it cannot be kept in the silence of our hearts. Instinctively, we would seek to give it form and expression.

It is not enough for us to know and feel, we need to express these intangible emotions in a concrete way, in order that what passes through our minds and hearts may materialize in a touch, a gesture, a hug or a physical expression. Which husband would not want to manifest his love for his wife with hugs, roses and kisses instead of just words?

The biggest example of how divine love became extraordinarily close to us was when the Word of God became man, when the eternal Son took on our human nature to give a face and a smile to the invisible God, so that no longer do we just know Him in spirit, we could actually love Him in the flesh.

Jesus walked upon the earth so that we wouldn't know God just theologically, but corporally as well.

Two milleniums ago if a man wanted to, he could hug his God, listen to His voice, eat with Him, walk with Him, look into His eyes and if he chose to betray His love, he could even crucify Him.

The moment Christ assumed our human nature, He elevated our physical bodies to a dignity and purpose far beyond the material. From then on, we would be sacraments of His love to each other; physical expressions of God's love in the internal dwelling of our souls. We would show forth in a tangible way through our lives and actions the invisible movements of grace in our hearts.

Finally, it might interest some people to discover that contrary to popular fiction, Protestants were not the first people to question the proper use of statues and images in the life of the Church. Eight centuries before Protestant kings like Henry VIII began tearing down Catholic images in their realms, the Catholic Church had to intervene twice to suppress the heresy of Iconoclasm in the Byzantine East.

Begun by a Nestorian Bishop, Xenaeas of Hierapolis, who believed that such images were abhorrent to true worship, a movement began to seek and destroy all images and icons, an effort which later found support in the person of the eastern Emperor, Leo III himself, (716-41) who ordered his troops to support this endeavour with a violent show of arms.

Unable to distinguish between the spiritual reality represented by the image and the image itself, the Iconoclasts (or image breakers as they were called) embarked on a crusade to smash every statue and image they could find.

Eventually, the 2nd Council of Nicaea put an end to this madness by refuting these errors and affirming the legitimate use of holy images in the life of the Church.

This little episode in Christian history reminds us that most heresies are hardly ever original.

The condemnations of some Christians regarding the use of statues and images are merely echoes of former errors already disproved by the majority of Christians in former times. For as we have seen, the Bible not only does not forbid the use of statues and images in liturgical worship, but in many places actually commands it.

It remains only for us to open our eyes to God's wisdom, and ask Him for the grace and clarity to see the forest as well as the tree, so that in beholding a Christian heritage older than ourselves, we may appreciate the truths beyond the image.

Getting your "Logos" right

Earlier this evening, I got into a crowded elevator in my brand new polo t-shirt, one of those special edition ones with a huge horse and rider woven across the chest and a number 3 on the sleeve.

As I entered the lift , I heard someone exclaim, “Whoa that’s a big polo logo, I’ve never seen anything like that, I hope they pay you for it.”

Startled by this stranger, I suddenly felt like a walking billboard for Ralph Lauren, except I was the one who did the paying as far as advertising money was concerned.

But it got me thinking about the secular symbols we proudly wear, and the religious symbols we hide away in embarrassment lest anyone sees them and snicker at our piety.

Why do some of us spend so much money and effort decking ourselves in the biggest brands, the latest trends, and the coolest names…whether it’s in the form of fashion, cars, real estate, corporate jobs or even the schools we attend…and politely decline wearing our crosses over our breasts, saying grace in public, or in the case of clerics and religious; sporting a roman collar or habit?

Perhaps we don’t want to be thought of as some religious whacko, since any kind of religious sentiment today is often decried in our enlightened societies as intolerant, fanatical and generally clouded in medieval superstition.

To even admit that you are a Christian can invite scorn in some parts. So what happens to the kingdom of God when we continue to hide our rosaries, crosses, beliefs and bibles beneath the fabric of popular fashion and political correctness?

It’s interesting to see that as we abandon the symbols of our spiritual heritage, and put on the armour of materialism to ward off any uncomfortable criticism of our faith, the world greedily picks up these abandoned symbols of Christianity and plants them on the altar of unholy mockery in the name of fashion and art.

Since believing Christians are embarrassed to honour and reverence the images of their association with Christ, why should the secular world (which is often hostile to Christ and his teachings) feel any embarrassment about mocking these symbols and images, and indeed, displaying them in a public arena long declined by Christians?

The more embarrassed Christians are in using these images with reverence, the more audacious the pagan world becomes in using these images in sacrilege.

From fashion-customed rosaries, crucifixes and crosses to blaspheming motifs and designs on t-shirts, to gallery art pieces like a crucifix immersed in urine or a statue of the Virgin Mary covered with a condom, nothing is sacred or off limits when sacrificed to the idols of free expression.

But amidst the desensitizing of our times, there is hope on the horizon. A younger generation of Christians are witnessing with a dignity and openness that gives courage to orthodoxy.

You see them proudly wearing their crosses in public. They’re not ashamed to read their bibles on the train. They stand up for their faith in any public debate, often with great charity and respect for the dissenting views of their critics. They display a natural comfort with saying grace in public, or confessing their love for Jesus with unfeigned honesty. And in little ways, they begin to rescue contemporary culture from the edge of irreligion.

I used to avoid the Catholic tradition of making the sign of the cross when saying grace in public, preferring instead to quietly mumble a thanksgiving under my breath, until I heard a professor of theology once exclaim to a class, “Peter was crucified upside down, Paul lost his head for it, and the early Christians were torched, killed and eaten by wild beasts for witnessing to this symbol of our great redemption. What are you afraid of? That unkind snicker, that patronizing look, that uncharitable comment?”

Thank God most of us live in a free society where the practice of our faith will not endanger our lives, where we can freely worship and witness without repercussions to our health and reputation. So why don’t we?

Our refusal to do so for fear of losing human respect is a travesty and insult to the many Christians of our own time, who continue to risk imprisonment and death by boldly practising their faith amidst the horror of totalitarian regimes hostile to religion and God. Even for those who worship secretly in “underground” communities, the threat of being discovered, tortured and sent to labour camps are all too real.

Let us begin to rescue our schools, our homes, our offices, our entertainment and society from a chronic amnesia of God, particularly when in some parts of the world, crosses are being removed from Catholic classrooms, Christian worship is banned, carrying a bible can get you arrested, and priests are increasingly forbidden to wear their cassocks and collars.

Will we succeed overnight? No, all good habits take time to foster, but we can begin with renewed love for that most basic embrace of our Christian vocation – the cross.

From this powerful symbol of our great redemption, we can begin to reclaim our world for God and goodness; one prayer, one witness, one grace before meals, one bible in the hand, one crucifix on our breast, one Christian bumper sticker, one inspirational t-shirt, one rosary in our fingers at a time.

And yes, “advertising” like this does pay handsomely…

"If anyone acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will openly acknowledge that person before my Father in heaven." Matthew 10:32

P.S (By the way, the Greek word “Logos” is commonly used to describe Christ, the divine word made flesh.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Enjoy the Journey

A friend recently asked me in frustration how we could possibly know God's will for our lives? Do we take it for granted that when the Lord doesn't bless our efforts with success, it's an indication that He may not want us to take those paths? Or do we look at our lives and try to discern the "closed doors and open windows" of our journeys as showing us the paths we should take?

I guess in some way, we could see God's hand in the various opportunities and blessings that either come to us or not. But I believe rather that we cannot discern God's will in our lives by a standard of success or failure, nor can we judge His Holy plans for us by expecting concrete results that we can see and measure.

The reason is because faith is more than success, and perfection cannot always be seen in obvious results. We are so used to measuring our lives by results that we forget that Christianity is about faithfulness, not success.

To believe in God and love Him does not necessarily guarantee success, good health and material blessings. In fact, a real Christian can always look forward to the cross as the only guarantee...but despite the painful difficulties of that...a great sweetness can still be found in our crosses.

I think that God's will is simply for us to be happy, not just for a day or a month or for some years, but for eternity. In a word, it is God's will that we should be SAVED, in order to know and enjoy indescribable happiness with Him, both here and in heaven.

Everything that happens to us here, both crosses and blessings, are meant to help us on that journey and secure our salvation. To do God's will is to find the cheerfulness and humility in accepting all that happens to us with faith, confidence and peace, since all things come from His divine hand for our good.

As people, we are interested in doing things all the time, in the expectation that what we do will make things better, brighter and more meaningful. God on the other hand is not interested in doing things, He is interested in saving us.

So whether we have our prayers for a certain need answered or not, whether we succeed in a certain effort or not, or whether we win certain spiritual battles or not, God's will is not so much to be found in the end result but in the struggle, the journey, the via crucis that is sometimes so hard to bear.

In other words, God's will is found in accepting life's many challenges with faith and patience, since it is His will that whatever happens, we should learn things about ourselves and about our relationship with Him, and thus grow in our Christian journey, mature as good wine, take greater shape in the hands of the craftsman who moulds us, and everyday resemble more perfectly the image of His Son Jesus.

To help us achieve that, He sends us lessons in this life, whether that means having our prayers answered in certain ways or not. Heaven is the goal, everything else is only a tool to help us get there.

Everything that happens to us, good or bad, wil only have meaning if they help us on our way to eternal happiness.

And that includes marriage as well I guess. The most important thing is to find the spouse whom God desires for our sanctification and to aid us on that journey to Himself.

The search for love is always a great adventure. Unfortunately, finding love is not quite the same thing as shopping for clothes. I know what is beautiful and pleasant and graceful. But I cannot read hearts, and must depend on the Lord to help me discern.

Sadly it gets harder and harder to meet the right people. But we must take consolation in the knowledge that God does not give us desires to frustrate us, but to fulfill us. In love; let us always be ambitious, let us aim for eternity.

For those of us enjoying the embrace of someone special in our lives, let us give thanks for our partners, even as we continue to discern our vocation to love. For those of us still seeking a kindred soul, let us ask God to help us seek what he desires us to find, and to find what we seek.

But for all us us seeking God's will, let's celebrate what we find in the journey, allowing the Lord to take the wheels of our lives, and not echo with childish impatience as we continuously cry out from the back seat, "Are we there yet?"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cathedrals of Flesh

Reading the biography of Mother Angelica of EWTN today, I'm humbled by the legacy of this extraordinary woman who built an empire of faith on a mountain of pain, spiritual trust and an unbeatable sense of humour.

From poverty and afflictions to physical dangers and crippling opposition, she took on every challenge to faith with a gladiatorial commitment to trust in providence and the fidelity of Christ, often insisting that "unless we are willing to do the ridiculous, God will not do the miraculous."

How lovely to know that. It's true of course that it's not always easy to find clarity in our lives. Still, we can't be sure about anything. The most we can do is to try and make the best decisions we can, and trust that as we step out in faith, God's hand will raise us up and carry us over our fears and difficulties.

I'm suddenly reminded by what I saw on television last night; about how an eagle chick desperately tries to conquer its fear as it steps over the edge for the first time. The tiny bird looks so small and the cliff so high. The winds are so strong and the wings of the chick so frail. And yet...a little trust, a little step...and for a few brief moments; a little fall....and all at once, the wind picks her up and carries her safely over the world.

If we don't take some steps, we shall remain always in the tiny nest of our lives, where it's comfortable and safe, but never what we were meant to soar over and celebrate.

God's love does indeed want to carry us over the plains, mountains and rivers, freeing us to be happy and alive...but it requires us to step out in faith...and perhaps for a few brief moments, even know what it's like to fall in fear. Then and only then, shall we pass from fear to joy, from falling to flying, from sadness to celebration. And from hope to love.

If the Lord inspires us to do something, let's just try and do it, even if we don't know half of what we're doing. In anycase, with God as the architect of our lives, we don't need to keep glancing at the blueprints.

I am never one to build my life around work, so I remain quite dissatisfied with career achievements and such. I think the real legacy of a man is in the lives he affects rather than the things he accomplishes. The real success of a man is measured more by how much he loves, than how much he has or does. After all, more than what we have or what we eat, or what we achieve...a man is really what he believes...because from what he believes in his heart, is how he will live and love.

When I was in Italy gaping in awe at the beauty and strength of cathedrals and ancient churches, I noticed also that these same cathedrals were built to last. The effort, materials and labour came from everyone in the community, not just the architects and the church. Everyone had a part in the old days in contributing their time, talent and resource to building this great temple to God, this great inspiration to faith. And because these cathedrals took decades, centuries to complete, it was always a work in progress. The builders knew they would never see the end result, but they still worked hard to leave a beautiful legacy for others to continue and enjoy.

I'm reminded of the gospel story of how Our Lord cautioned his apostles that even though they work the vineyard, others may harvest the fruits...but it doesn't matter...because anything worth doing is worth sharing. In love, your joy is my joy.

And a man is not measured by success, but by love.

We too must build cathedrals in our hearts, in our lives, in our families. We may never live to see them completed, but it doesn't matter. Others will carry on our efforts. And God will be blessed and praised in the cathedrals of flesh that live on forever in our hearts, and the hearts of those we love.

I pray that both you and I will begin to build this cathedral within our brick at a day at a that together, we may raise a temple to love.

Was Judas fated to betray Jesus?

I was recently told that it was pointless to struggle for justice and righteousness, since for the most part, our destinies are cast in stone and sealed. "Take poor Judas for instance"...said my friend, "the man was the ultimate fallguy if ever there was one. What choice did he have in the designs of providence?"

At first glance, Judas' predicament does seem to be somewhat unfair. But if it is true that each man accepts his own fate with no more choice in the matter than a plunging apple following the dictates of gravity, then what reasons do we have as Christians for aspiring to Godliness and salvation? Why run the race or fight the good fight if the outcome is already pre-ordained?

If such is the reality, faith and righteousness are no more acts of free will than John Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, where only the elect are chosen by God to be sealed with his mark of redemption while the rest of mankind spirals into oblivion regardless of their virtues and goodwill.

But since we know God to be Just, there must be a deeper and more authentic answer to the question of Judas, which in many ways is relevant to every human person since all of us at some point in our lives have wondered about this - whether we are just poor hostages bound by an unfeeling web of fate or do we indeed have any say in how our days unfold.

There is such an imposing amount of material existing on this subject that we get as many varied answers as we do more questions. Nevertheless in my own journey, I have found that the tragedy of Judas can surprisingly lend some very consoling insights into our personal struggles.

And as there is no better place to investigate a scriptural character than in the Bible, we look to the Gospels where it is written that Jesus would be betrayed by one of His own. In fact, Our Lord Himself had this to say about His infamous disciple, " Have not I chosen you twelve; and one of you is a devil? Now he meant Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon: for this same was about to betray him whereas he was one of the twelve" (John 6:71-2).

The Synoptic Gospels when naming the Apostles had no qualms in calling Judas a traitor or betrayer either.(Matthew 10:4. Cf. Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16). Obviously this was not the most pleasant way to remember one of your own. But in this unflattering description, the Gospel writers were not trying to be malicious or unkind, they were merely appealing to a well-known and widely accepted notion of Judas' role in the early Church.

Peter himself in Acts I, 16-20, referred to the prophecy of David concerning Judas and the horrific end that awaited him. Indeed the Old Testament foretold a betrayal, without revealing who it would be. It was Jesus who revealed it. And the early Church under the leadership of the apostles recalled and confirmed it.

Even so, did not the eternal wisdom of God the Son handpick this man only after spending a whole night in prayer before God the Father? So what went wrong? Was there a miscommunication between The Trinity?

Of course, we don’t really know what transpired between Father, Son and Holy Spirit on that quiet night in the hills, but we do know that Jesus made a decision that evolved from much intense prayer and consideration. And yes, Judas was part of that conscious decision. All was foreseen by Divine Wisdom and all went according to Divine Providence. 

In truth, nothing went wrong. There are those who say that Our Lord specifically chose Judas despite his weaknesses, to remind the Church that she will always have to bear with similar Judases throughout the ages. Others suggest that Judas was a counterpoint to Peter, that in allowing Judas to march within the ranks of His lieutenants, Jesus was also pointing to Peter and affirming his appointment as the Rock foundation of the Church. In other words, the Church will never be conquered by darkness because Peter is the key that holds us together in spite of the failures and betrayal of some of our leaders.

But Judas’ role was more than just playing black sheep to Peter’s shining knight. If a person's attitude and affections can be observed from the way they treat one another, then this is clearly evident from the way Our Lord treated His Apostle in the three years of His sacred ministry. No degree of love and affection was withheld from Judas at any time.

Even though John was known in scripture as the “beloved disciple”, there is no doubt that Jesus loved all of them dearly, including Judas. 

Time and again, Our Lord reached out to Judas in a special outpouring of love and attention that you seldom find mentioned for the rest of the apostles, except maybe apart from Peter himself. It was almost like the increased devotion given to a sick and difficult child by a mother dying to restore his health. The experience can be exasperating and exhausting at times, but never a temptation to lessen her unconditional love.

As an Apostle commissioned by Jesus Christ Himself, Judas shared in all the priestly powers and prerogatives of the other eleven. Like the rest, he was called from among the multitudes to embrace a new life of grace, he was witness to the countless miracles of healing and deliverance performed by his master, he received from Christ an indomitable authority over evil spirits and different illnesses and as a prominent member in the intimate circle of Our Lord, he ate with Him, listened to Him, saw His compassion, watched Him walk on water, raise the dead, perform fantastic miracles and above all, he had every opportunity to drink endlessly from the grace and wisdom of the eternal teacher, who explained so many divine secrets to His beloved apostles that were often hidden from the crowds.

Whatever Jesus gave to His other Apostles, He gave gloriously to Judas as well. And perhaps even more! After all in John 13: 29, we hear that Judas was given charge of the money necessary for Jesus’ apostolic journeys, even though the Gospel of John was very blunt in describing his penchant for wealth: “This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.” John 12: 6

Why this immense gesture of trust and confidence for a man who apparently had a notoriety for treachery? This is all the more striking since the Master deliberately went out of His way to show confidence in His disciple in the very thing that hangs over the poor man like a cloud of mistrust.

With a reputation like that, it’s not hard to be the most unpopular guy on the ship. And whether justified or not, the Apostles were still humans with prejudices and personal judgements. If they did not question the wisdom of Jesus in choosing this man openly, they surely pondered it in their hearts. And anyone who has ever been made to feel unaccepted will tell you that it’s traumatic to be kept at bay and ostracized, even if that discrimination should be restricted to wary looks and whispered mumblings.

Our Lord who could read the hearts of men probably sympathized with Judas more than His troubled disciple ever knew. Indeed, Jesus loved and surrounded him with every encouragement and sign of His friendship than would have been necessary for anyone else in the group. Not only did the Divine Master entrust Him with the apostolic funds as an act of faith and confidence, He also washed the feet of Judas and bestowed the lifeblood of His divine love upon him at the Last Supper, when the Son of God offered His Body and Blood to be broken and shed for the salvation of the world.

Did Jesus not know that Judas would spurn His love and sacrifice for him? Of course He did. Right after His discourse on the Eucharist which offended and scandalized so many of His disciples in John 6, Jesus said in Vs 64: “'But there are some of you that do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him.”

Still our Lord so persevered in hope and charity that at the Last Supper, He once again offered His own sacrifice for the salvation of His wayward Apostle, whom He loved and treasured as the Good Shepherd would the lost sheep.

The Eucharist is the ultimate sign of communion for the entire Church, and in not denying Judas this privilege and invitation to belong as one, even at this late point of his deterioration, was truly an enormous act of Godly mercy and love for the prodigal son. Towards the very end, Jesus would not give up on the wretched man even though Judas had already chosen to give up on his Lord.

Some scholars say that the final catalyst for Judas’ impatience with Jesus was the scandal of the Eucharist; all this hogwash about eating His Body and drinking His Blood was hardly the image of a triumphant King who will fulfill Judas' vision of the worldly messiah. From that moment on, disappointment and cynicism unleashed their final seduction of evil over his captive heart and conquered.

Even then, Our Lord kept this cruel desertion hidden from the other disciples (quite possibly not to further embarrass Judas) since it was obvious they had no idea who the traitor was. But He also gave Judas to know that as God, He was aware of the stirrings of his rebellion. Perhaps this was a last attempt to shock his muddled conscience and turn the traitor from his intended treachery.

John the evangelist described all this with moving detail in his Gospel. (John 13: 21-28)

The crucial question is, since Jesus knew to what end Judas was headed (John 13: 18 “I am not speaking of you all; I know whom I have chosen; it is that the scripture may be fulfilled, He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.”) how could the Apostle avoid what seemed to be inevitable?

Elsewhere in John's Gospel, Our Lord called Judas the "son of perdition", which has led some to conclude that Judas' fate was truly sealed. (Incidentally, "Son of Perdition" in reality sounds less fatalistic than our modern ears are accustomed to. It is a Hebrew phrase that simply means "He who would have lost himself", and not "He who is destined to be lost". Big difference.)

Now, why would the Lord take so much trouble to deflect Judas from his path of perdition if there was no avoiding it? Is destiny truly an unbending weight pressing upon our free wills? The answer to that is twofold.

In some ways...yes.

Falling objects as discovered by Newton are destined to fall in obedience to the law of gravity. Mankind was not fated to breathe under water or we would have been granted gills. An atom has no choice but to bow to the laws of physics. And humanity since the fall of Adam is destined to die a mortal death.

And yet in other ways...not at all! We’re not ruled obsessively by the clenched fists of fatalistic karma.

Gravity despite being a reality can still be challenged by rockets and turbine engines mounted on titanium wings, underwater life can be experienced with some nifty scuba gear, an atom can be spliced and reassembled by harnessing the very physical laws that govern its nature. And since the dawn of Calvary, humanity can vanquish and overcome death through the resurrection of Christ.

As human beings made in the image and likeness of God, we're given a power and dominion over most other things in creation. It wasn't just over the animals, birds and plants. With the gift of inspired intellect and wisdom, we share in the creative powers of our maker who grants us the ability to subject and tame the very laws of nature for our own good, even though that process of discovery comes with trial and error. That is a God-given talent that separates us from animals and allows us to be masters of our own destinies, while at the same time accepting that we live in a world of realities that although limiting our free will in some things, cannot take away our power of choice in everything.

Spiritually, we have an even greater advantage in supernatural grace. Knowing how to use this noble gift will empower us to influence our present and our future, regardless of the errors of our past. No one is a slave to an unchanging destiny. After all, every person who believes in Christ is destined for eternal life. But that doesn’t mean that everyone will automatically find themselves at the pearly gates. Salvation depends on their personal cooperation with grace in this life. Since every saint has a past, every sinner can look forward to a potentially glorious future.

God respects our free will. The very nature of love itself is dependent upon choice and freedom. Love cannot be imposed nor elicited by force. And as every Christian child knows, God is Love.
How then do we explain Our Lord's knowledge concerning Judas' impending treachery?

Even from a human perspective, (and Jesus was infinitely more than just a man) it is amazing what you can see when standing from a vantage point. When a bowler sends his ball speeding down the alley, he can tell by the momentum of the ball what its final contact will be if it continues rolling down the same path.

When an air-traffic controller scrutinizes the flight path of any airplane, he does this with a judgment and predictability that is denied to individual pilots. Why? Because he has the advantage of a more powerful radar that helps him guide pilots away from destructive routes that only he alone can see.

In the same way, just as it is easy for someone with an unobstructed view to predict the final destination of a ball rolling down a straight line, it is easy for Jesus to see how Judas would end up if he persevered in an attitude of sin and rebellion, granted that Our Lord had the benefit of Divine insight and saw more into the hearts of men than anyone else ever could.

This is not difficult to understand since we too share in this gift in a limited way. We know with some precision that a child who shirks his studies and plays excessively to the detriment of his schoolwork will inevitably fail his exams if he perseveres in that attitude. That’s not destiny, that’s common sense.

Now in order that a projectile be deflected from its path of motion, something stronger and more forceful than itself must intercept its course and either stop or push it in another direction.

For instance, if you want a ball to stop rolling in a certain direction, you can either kick it or throw something else at it to break its moving pattern. The rolling ball itself cannot effect this result, trapped as it were by the force of its own momentum.

Our human lives are much the same way in practice, trapped as we are by the force of our own egos and selfishness. Unless a greater force than ourselves intervenes through the power of grace and directs us to a new beginning away from sin and disaster, we shall continue to be trapped in the motions of our bad habits. There have been countless examples of immoral personalities whose lives changed for the better because of the friendship, faith and sacrifice of a virtuous friend or family member. Somewhere, somehow, someone believed in them and it made all the difference. John of the Cross certainly subscribed to this philosophy when he said, "Where there is no love, put in love and you will find love."

The key to unlocking this power for change and redemption of course is in acceptance and cooperation. So although the wisdom of God knew that at the first fall of Eden, it would require something as scandalous and yet marvelous as the sacrifice of Calvary to redeem mankind, and although He knew that the betrayal of the messiah was inevitable, given the weaknesses of our human nature, Judas’ "fate" was not cast in stone as was evident in the loving and hopeful attitude of Jesus towards him.

In other words, even if Judas had not been the one to betray our Lord, some other human individual or community would likewise be responsible for the betrayal of Jesus in the designs of providence. 
This does not mean that Providence simply waited around for the most convenient scapegoat to pick, but rather, the weaknesses and fallen nature of human beings almost always guarantees that there will be some who will reject and betray the message of the Gospels. Not all who listen to the voice of Christ will accept the movements of grace. Isn't that how it has always been and always will be?

Otherwise, the whole world would be converted by now. Yet we see that even in Jesus' own ministry, the multitude of unbelievers and those seeking to oppose Him outnumber His believers. We should remember that the Old Testament simply hinted that the betrayer would come from among His own people, not necessarily from among His apostles.

But as it happened, Judas chose to reject Jesus despite Christ’s many attempts to reach out to him. And perhaps because he was an Apostle, the powers of darkness knew that he had greater access and opportunity to betray the Master by virtue of his friendship with the Lord. After all, what can be more treacherous and painful that the cruel kiss of a traitor whom you consider a beloved friend? Without question, Satan understood this and used Judas' special position and privilege to humiliate Christ more cruelly.

But lest we forget, to all who are tempted by the spirit of darkness, even more grace is offered to overcome the enemy. The Lord does not leave His sheep to the mercy of the wolf, even if some of us deliberately seek out such dangers. “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!" (Mk 14:21) This very warning implies a choice, despite the frightening prospect it paints for the one who chooses wrongly.

If Judas had indeed trusted in Our Lord and accepted the immense grace that was being offered to him everyday, who knows what great sanctity he would be remembered for today, for if Satan cannot be overcome and withstood by those who are tempted, then what is the basis of Our faith in a God who leaves us completely vulnerable?

Truly, it can be said of Judas that never was one man given so much, and yet bore so little fruit. And the same is said for many other Judases throughout history and within the ranks of the Church today. Again, were not all the disciples equally poor? Did they not all depend on the mercy of God to supplement their weaknesses? And did they not all doubted and failed at one point or another?

Even Peter the Rock was not spared - "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren." (Lk 22, 31-32)

Contrary to popular belief, treachery was not the great sin of Judas since all the apostles could be considered traitors for abandoning their Lord at a time when He needed them most. Peter blatantly denied knowing Jesus three times! If that isn’t disloyalty and treachery I don’t know what is.

Some might argue that their fear of the Jews was a mitigating factor. Nevertheless, these men had spent three amazing years with Him, oftentimes boasting of their unquestionable loyalty and allegiance to His Lordship even under the threat of death. And yet at the crucial moment, they rescinded every oath they ever made to serve Him in order to save their lives.

History is full of men who have been shot for being traitors whilst attempting to abandon their posts under infinitely lesser leaders. And here we have the crème de la crème of Jesus' disciples who could hardly do any better.

No, Judas sealed his fate not because he betrayed Jesus, but because he refused to submit his pride to the mercy of God. His pure arrogance and self-worship was his ultimate undoing. Alas for human respect which has a greater hold on our frail egos than the goodness of God.

It takes a certain humility to not just ask for forgiveness, but also to gratefully accept that God’s love and mercy is greater than our gravest sins. Peter and the rest of the apostles found redemption because their faith and love for Jesus prepared them to also accept His healing forgiveness. To do that, one has to relinquish any obsessive hold on our egos and go humbly on our knees before The Almighty and admit that we cannot even aspire to the least good without Him.

This reality is tenderly portrayed in the beautiful scene of forgiveness and redemption that we read in John 21: 15-17, where Peter is not only forgiven for his treachery, he is restored to wholeness and granted a greater glory and prominence in the Church, which is to take the place of Jesus as chief shepherd and to crown that high calling with the glory of martyrdom.

But the tragedy of Judas is that he could not help refusing the Lordship of Jesus even in his sorrow. Anyone who has ever wallowed in self-pity and depression knows that the focus of our being in such a mental state is often our own bloated self-image.

Ironically, this has caused some people to stubbornly cling to their self-pity by inventing a world where their personal tragedies take on Shakespearean proportions and importance. Nothing else matters in reality, only the great sorrow of their lives take centre stage in some kind of melodramatic encore. Indeed, the magnification of their troubles and tragedies, whether real or imagined, can give some individuals a demented sense of self-importance.

“If I cannot be the best, at least no one can take away from me the distinction of being the worst”, which is what some people in this life feel when they refuse to crawl out of their self-pity because misery can feel so comfortable.

The reward for such extreme self-obsession is despair, which is nothing but the lack of faith, hope and charity. If Judas had only sought the Lord's pardon, Jesus would have only been too happy to restore him to his princely dignity. After all, isn’t there more joy among the angels in heaven over the conversion of one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine who need no repenting?

But this particular Apostle did not, could not, would not concede his pride! He had convinced himself that his betrayal was even greater than the compassion of Christ, and who knows, perhaps in some twisted delusion of grandeur takes concealed pride that at least in this, he stood out from the rest of the Apostles.

In so choosing, he lost not only a chance at becoming a great saint…but ultimately…his life.

At the height of the sexual scandal in the American Church, I once noticed someone wearing a t-shirt that read ‘Don’t abandon Peter because of Judas’. I couldn’t agree more. Especially since each one of us has the capacity to choose Peter over Judas in our own struggles. So that when the enemy of mankind seduces our minds and exaggerates our failures and treacheries, we may confidently count on Jesus to help us choose faith over despair, grace over sin and life over death.

It's all about making the right choices.

I often come across good people in the church who despite having clear signs of a religious or priestly vocation, would nevertheless say that they have no choice in the matter because they already have a boyfriend or girlfriend in their if no priest or religious in the history of the Church has had to make that difficult choice. There are also those who are afraid to choose righteousness at the risk of jeopardising an imminent promotion at work. Or witness to their faith at the expense of losing influence with friends and peers.

Yet in each of these circumstances, we have indeed exercised our choices, albeit cowardly. And no matter how much we excuse ourselves in our weaknesses, we can never silence the memory of the martyrs who were forced to choose between their faith in Jesus or the fires of execution, between the will of the Father or the heavy blade of the executioner, between the teachings of the Church or the firing squad of her enemies.

Did they have an easier choice when the only other alternative was death at the hands of men? Yet with the grace of God, choose they did. Not just for themselves but also for us, since it is by the blood of the martyrs that the seeds of faith are planted and grown.

For most of us, we are asked far less in the way of sacrifice than the martyrs. Even then, we continue to squirm and try to respond to what God asks of us grudgingly, looking for the easiest way to live our Christian calling with minimal sacrifice, trying to answer God's invitation without actually having to answer it, and then convince our muddled consciences that we have done our best in that situation.

Unless we are committed to following the Gospel imperative to die to ourselves each day, how can we live in Him who so respects our free will that He will not dethrone our egos despite His rightful place in our lives as Lord and King?

In the end, it is always easy to choose that which we love. If we do not choose God, perhaps we do not love Him quite as dearly as we imagine. God on the other hand loves us! His infinite mercy overwhelms us and there is nothing so precious as the generous gift of free will that He bestows on us.

In humble gratitude, we can only ask Our Lord for the grace to choose wisely in all that pertains to this life. So that having made our choices to live for Him...we may win the grace to live with Him for all eternity.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Soul Food Anyone?

Someone once said to me that fasting seems like a very masochistic way to draw closer to the Lord. How does starving ourselves of nourishment please a loving God?

Reflecting on that, I understand how some people can see fasting as simply abstaining from food and drink. Yet even though that may be the physical feature of undertaking a fast, Christian fasting is much more than sacrificing your yummy treats. It’s not so much refusing food at all costs as it is to embrace a spirit of humble poverty, enabling the one who fasts to pledge solidarity with the poor, the hungry, the suffering and the oppressed, whose hunger and lack of nourishment is a daily struggle that goes beyond a meal or a day.

Fasting in its essence is a participation in the redemptive mission of Christ.

But before we go any further, let’s be clear that there’s nothing sinful in enjoying your food, except for maybe the killer waistline it can slap on. There’s nothing in the nature of divine law that frowns upon the “daily bread” that is so necessary for our survival, and which all of us receive from divine providence all our lives anyway.

As the gospel writers teach so clearly, love always goes beyond the law. There’s some truth in the old adage that “We should refuse our appetites what is lawful so that we may learn to deny ourselves what is unlawful”. However, true love is always more than just denial or abstinence, it is first and foremost always a gift, both in response to our God and to our neighbour.

In choosing to eat less, you choose to deprive yourself of your right to more so that you may be filled with greater riches. I remember an early John Michael Talbot song with a line that went “I am just a cup to overflow your will but I know I must be empty to be filled.”

That’s what we do when we deny ourselves little luxuries, it’s nothing less than an exercise in moving away from our passions and wills, and moving towards God.

Fasting isn’t so much about food and drink than about the will. I don’t know of many successful people who don’t unconsciously worship their own strength and ego and who find it hard to bow their heads to another kingship other than their own.

Hence when we choose to eat modestly or abstain for a spiritual intention (always taking care not to harm our health), we’re simply fasting from our conditioned impulses to ingratiate our appetites. This shouldn’t be seen as an indictment against the joys of culinary experience. We should most definitely enjoy our meals, which are nothing less than blessings from our Lord.

In fact, I think it’s great that some people love their food. I certainly do and with a passion, seeing as how there are times when I can barely keep my will from buckling under the aroma of a sizzling dish.

Obviously, food is so intrinsically tied to our basic instincts for survival that it sometimes takes all our discipline to keep our cravings in place. We are programmed to survive, which explains why our sexual instincts are also very strong impulses. Like the food we eat and the air we breathe, our need to propagate is part of our biological instinct to keep the human race alive. But above them all, there is our spiritual intellect and will which animates our quest for eternal life and salvation. As is so often the case, pandering to the body can often suffocate the soul, for if all we know are our physical needs, we shall soon forget that we have any spiritual ones.

Thus when we abstain from food or drink, take time to perform some minor mortification, deny ourselves some luxury (whether it’s time, sleep, cigarettes, television or money given in charity to our neighbour), we’re sometimes swept off our feet with surprise at seeing how such freely chosen expressions of love for God can impart to us extraordinary graces and consolations in our lives. And that kind of joy stays in our hearts more surely than any pleasure we may find in the world.

Of course, that's not to suggest that we should embark on some cruel masochistic adventure to rise to sanctity. No one can raise herself by pulling on the roots of her own hair. It’s God's grace that surrounds someone and gently lifts her off her feet in a cloud of love and carries her to the bosom of her Father.

Ok, but what about the saints and their frightening mortifications and excessive fasts? Tales of St Francis of Assisi treating his body with such disregard, or St Ignatius Loyola having a field day torturing his ailing stomach by refusing to eat for long periods seem extreme to post-modern minds to say the least, perhaps even insanely unnecessary.

Nevertheless, we shouldn't begrudge the saints their particular inspirations despite their being somewhat peculiar to us today. After all, who among us having been madly in love before does not know the extravagance of the heart for its object of affection?

Divine love lies behind the fasts and mortifications of the saints. And that's something of a paradox to a world used to ingratiating every appetite and passion as an expression of personal freedom and fulfillment. One wonders how liberated and free someone with such addictions are, particularly the addiction to worship our own ego as the paradigm of all morality, which we can shift and adjust to compensate our needs.

In the end, there is the pursuit and gratification of so much...and the true realisation of so little.

Somehow when we deny ourselves what is lawful and good by starting with food, we often find that naturally, it becomes easier to deny ourselves what is unlawful like lust.

This works for other temptations in our lives as well. No Easter without a Good Friday, no little resurrections without little crosses.

These days, I make a resolution to try and eat what's set before me without much fuss, which is an incredibly difficult thing for me to do as I'm such a fussy eater. Every month I also set aside a day for fasting and recollection, which admittedly isn’t much. But even then, I can see how that pays off in my life. I’ve begun to enjoy a certain freedom and healthiness from my usual over-indulgence that quietly covers me like a blanket of contentment. Furthermore, I am also learning to be more sensitive to other things as well, especially people.

That's not to suggest that I don't dive gleefully into my favourite dishes anymore when I get the chance, but sometimes I just prefer not to...and you know what?

It has made all the difference in helping me on this earthly pilgrimage I call my life.