Jesus answered: ‘Will you lay down your life for me?’ - John 13:38

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-Pope Benedict XVI

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Sportive Struggle

As of this writing, I have just finished a short self-initiated (inflicted) workout in the privacy of my room. It's actually a big accomplishment for me, embarassing it is to admit.
It has been almost two months since I started working (and consequently, my sedentary lifestyle), and I have not concerned myself with physical exercise for much longer than that. It's funny how a mere twenty minutes of stretches, push-ups, crunches, jumps, and kicks can seem like an eternity to someone who has not really exercised for a long time. My muscles were resisting, and I felt quite itchy and uncomfortable afterward.

Meanwhile, young athletes from all over the world have flocked to Singapore for the first ever Youth Olympic Games. I'm pretty sure all of these youths have spent countless hours in disciplined training and body conditioning to be able to represent their countries in their respective sports. I'm thinking they must have spent at least four hours a day training. And they're, like, at least five years younger than me.


Anyway, the key thing I wanted to write about is the value of sportive struggle, especially in the spiritual life. I'm no expert on this, and this is by no means an original idea (in fact I have to give credit to Opus Dei circles for most of these points), but recently I have come to see through my experiences (like physical exercise, for instance) how similar our spiritual journey can be to athletic discipline. Cliche as it may sound, it's true that there is no growth without struggle. We need to experience hardships and trials and overcome them to realize our inner potentials. Life would be stagnant, not to mention boring, if it didn't present any obstacle for us to overcome. I think there could be no true achievement without struggle.

As Christians, we strive to live out our faith and pursue the universal vocation to holiness in whatever role we have - student, professional, son/daughter, brother/sister, friend, and many others. Anyone who has been taking his/her Christian life seriously knows that it demands sacrifices and struggles many many times in the course of a day - against the lure of procrastination, against working with half-hearted effort, against the rationalization of sin, against gossiping, laziness, indifference, pride, mediocrity. This is similar to what a person who wants to lose weight and get fit has to do - he/she would need to stick firmly to an established exercise regime, not to mention a rather simplified diet, for at least several weeks to get results. It means foregoing fast food, ice cream, sweets, soft drinks, and many other good food in order to achieve his/her physical goal.

I believe this concept of self-denial is especially challenging to us who are living in today's secular and relativistic world where everything is centered on the self. However, just like how all athletes train themselves regularly and continually, so too must we struggle and prevail over these obstacles in order to grow in virtue and to strengthen our resistance against our inclination to sin. It is by no means easy to engage in continual struggle, and though we fail at times, it is even more important to be able to begin again and again. Come to think about it, the saints are people who did fall, but had been able to struggle to get up every time.

In addition, dealing with our personal struggles is a way of translating our supernatural life into action. Desiring to be good is not good enough - it must flow into our daily lives and influence our decisions, our behavior, how we treat other people.

Some of the things that can help facilitate our struggle are the examination of conscience and the acquisition of virtues. We are able to know our weak points through regular examination of conscience and thus focus on overcoming them. Meanwhile, developing good habits (by actually doing them) leads us to grow in virture and makes it more natural and easy for us to live a Christian life.

Perhaps one thing that can help sustain us in our sportive struggle is to see it positively, keeping in mind that whenever we say "no" to ourselves, we say "yes" to God, just like Mary. Also, given this outlook, we are able to face our obstacles with cheerfulness because we know that Our Lord and Our Queen are in the battle with us.

Monday, August 23, 2010

HM1101: Introduction to Hail Mary

When was the first time you learnt Hail Mary prayer? Hmm.. I went to a Catholic school from kindergarten till high school. I think the kindergarten teacher taught us when we were in K1. I can’t remember whether I learnt this prayer in K1, K2, or maybe primary school. In my school, we always prayed The Lord’s Prayer before class started and we recited Hail Mary when the class ended.
We might not remember how we learnt about this beautiful prayer. So, let’s visit our childhood and learn again about this prayer 

When you open Luke 1: 28, you’ll find that the first part of this prayer comes from this verse, the salutation from Angel Gabriel to Our Lady, “Hail (Mary) full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women.” If you jump a little bit to Luke 1: 42, you’ll find out that we use the same words as what St. Elizabeth used when Our Lady visited her, “and blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Jesus)”. How about the finale? It is stated in the ‘Catechism of the Council of Trent’ which has been framed by the Church. The last sentence is our petition which implies that “we should piously and suppliantly have recourse to her in order that by her intercession she may reconcile God with us sinners and obtain for us the blessing we need both for this present life and for the life which has not end” (

We possibly cannot recall how many times we have prayed Hail Mary: during rosary, during Angelus prayer, in front of Our Lady’s grotto, and for me, every time I feel nervous, especially before exam or presentation. We might feel that this prayer has become too automatic in our brain and recited too automatic by our mouth. Now is the moment for us to contemplate on this prayer, a ‘normal’ prayer, a prayer that we have learnt since our childhood, but it doesn’t mean it is an ‘automatic’ prayer without any feeling or emotion.

When we say, ”Hail Mary, full of grace…” , how about trying to visualize the Annunciation? Imagine you were there in the room when Angel Gabriel salute Our Lady, a very young Virgin who answered “Yes, be it done unto me according to Your word.” Then we fly to a few months later when Our Lady visited St. Elizabeth. In this prayer, we praise Mother Mary and Jesus at the same time, “… the fruit of Thy womb …” . Last but not least, when we recite the last part, asking Mother Mary’s intercession, we also offer our whole life to the Lord, the happiness and sadness, petition and thanksgiving. At the same time, we realize how we are a sinner, but still, Mother Mary wants to pray for us

Je vous salue, Marie pleine de grâces ;
le Seigneur est avec vous.
Vous êtes bénie entre toutes les femmes et Jésus,
le fruit de vos entrailles, est béni.
Sainte Marie, Mère de Dieu,
priez pour nous pauvres pécheurs,
maintenant et à l'heure de notre mort.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bust Your Windows - Are we going too fast?

The wildly popular American pop phenomenon, Glee, introduced a song Bust Your Windows. The chorus of the song goes, ‘I bust the windows out your car’ and this reminded me of a short story I read in a church bulletin once.

I shall relate the story as I remember it.

One parishioner of a church, a rather pious and devout Catholic (when it suited him) had just bought a proud new BMW. It was black, fast and powerful - just how he liked it. He was so proud of his new ‘toy’ that he drove it to church the Sunday it arrived from the dealer.

After mass, he was the first out of the church and with a rev of his engine, he was off and away.

Suddenly, as he was driving along a quiet road, feeling absolutely contented with the fine purring of his engine, his side window shattered as a brick smashed through the glass and onto the empty passenger seat.

Furious, he stopped his car and marched out to confront the imbecile who had committed the treacherous act. A small, pale boy with a skinny frame stood before him, trembling in the cold wind. His anger started to dissipate a little as he asked the boy, “Boy, did you throw the brick at my car?”

The boy replied, “I’m so sorry sir, It was all I could think of to stop you.” He then pointed to an empty wheelchair and a bigger boy lying on the pavement beside the wheelchair. The boy explained that he was pushing his brother to the church and his brother had fallen off the wheelchair. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t lift his brother back onto it. The elder boy was in pain and had given up. The boy was desperate and so he had thrown the nearest object, a brick, at the BMW.

“I was waving to you from afar, sir, but you didn’t seem to see me. I didn’t know what else to do so I threw the brick. I’m so sorry, sir!”

The parishioner helped the elder brother up and into his car and gave the two of them a lift to the church.

Sometimes in life, we’re going so fast and are so pleased or caught up with what we’re doing, that we fail to look around us and think and consider others. We might or might not get a brick thrown at us to stop us in our tracks.

Do we know what’s happening to those around us? Are we concerned? Are we listening to what God is saying to us?

Sometimes I tend to ignore these silent promptings as I’m caught up in ‘work’ or ‘serving Christ’. Even in legion work, we need to ask ourselves: Are we doing work for the sake of fulfilling our allocated work or are we truly legionaries of Mother Mary’s army!

As for Glee and busting windows, the lines “You broke my heart so I broke your car…Why am I the one who’s still crying” explains it all.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sister Josephine Leong, rest in peace.

Once, during a talk about human virtues, Joel from Opus Dei, explaining the importance of being a good friend, and the importance of friendship for the apostolate, said that we should hope that many people come to our funeral - it would be a sign that we were a good friend. If that's true, the number of people at Josephine Leong's wake this evening is a wonderful testament to her apostolic zeal and her character.

What a sight it was. So many Legionaries gathered around the coffin, praying the Rosary and the other Legion prayers; the huge bouquets of flowers from those whom Sister Josephine had touched - from her colleagues (she was a nurse, and a highly respected one too, judging from the people who had sent bouquets), from Senatus, and from the Legionaries in Malaysia.

The standard of the Legion of Mary, our vexilium, was placed near the head of the coffin - a reminder that here lay a Catholic who had dedicated her life to the advancing if God's Kingdom on earth, a soldier of Mary, obviously an apostle of Christ at her workplace, among her friends and to those whom she did not know.Sr. Jocelyn, our spiritual director, who had worked with Sister Josephine when she Josephine was President of Senatus, is right: we are lucky to have witnessed such a role model in the Legionary service right here among us, in Singapore.

I didn't know Sister Josephine well. I've seen her only about a dozen times. I've spoken to her only once, when she visited Tertiary Curia some years ago. But older Legionaries, like Paul Chen know her better, and always talk about her with great respect.

Last year we were asked to pray for her - she was fighting cancer of the spine, which had metastasised. She recovered and resumed her duties as President of North Curia, VP of her praesidium and correspondent for Senatus with the Legionaries in Malaysia. I've observed her at Senatus - she was very thorough, very sharp, and obviously very dedicated. She was at her Legionary post, on duty, to the end. I missed last month's Senatus meeting, but she was present for the meeting the month before, reporting the activities of the Legionaries in East Malaysia. She was also heavily involved in the preparations for the Legion Seminar and jubilee celebrations coming up next month.

Last weekend, the current President of Senatus, Brother Anthony Gabriel, asked for prayers for Sister Josephine once again, and said that she was at Assisi Hospice. Obviously things had taken a turn for the worse.Yesterday Paul asked Anthony how she was, and we learnt that she had died that afternoon.

"There goes another great Legionary" Paul remarked. It's a huge loss to the Legion in Singapore and  cruel blow to her family. But she deserves the peace and her reward. She suffered the agony of cancer and its treatment with cheerfulness, just like Edel Quinn, whom she admired very much. I pray that she is now with Edel, in the God's Kingdom of love and glory.

Eternal rest grant unto Josephine Leong, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. And may her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

I heard someone from heaven say, "Write this: Happy from now on are the dead who have died in the Lord. The Spirit says: Let them rest from their labours; their good deeds go with them." (Revelation 14:13)