Saturday, 21 November 2015

Exam anxiety

I grab my phone, unlock it, scroll the screen without really looking for anything, and then I put it back. Ten minutes later, I do the same thing. When I realise that playing with my phone would be a waste of precious time, I start playing with my hair and fingernails. All while staring at my exam question bank and trying to make sense of what I am reading. I keep reassuring myself that I am calm, but deep down I know that I am ready to snap at anyone—anyone—who dare to interrupt me with unimportant things. And during this time, everything is unimportant, for me it seems.

I am having exam anxiety. The really big kind.

The problem is, I often can't talk about it with anyone. My parents, ever so confident in their super-smart can-do-anything daughter, always tell me, "Ahh you can do it! If Anna couldn't, who else could?" (Real answer: a lot of other people). Boyfriend is down with bronchitis and is demanding more attention (he didn't say he demanded attention, but he asked a lot of questions, each one separated by only 3-4 minutes) Strange as it sounds, I feel obliged to make myself distracted by these questions because otherwise unnecessary drama would ensue. And God knows drama is the very last thing I want in these times.

People's confidence in me can be more suffocating than flattering. I know I don't deserve it, because there are thousands of people smarter and more resourceful than I am, and a fraction of that population is either doing medical school or doing residency. The latter is none other than a collection of the creams of the crop, and while one is not competing against each other, seeing other smart people doing smart thing in front of you smart person doing stupid thing can be highly demoralising.

I am accustomed to giving my best in everything. Right now what I see is only a jumbled mess of daughterly duties, girlfriendly duties, and doctorly duties, with the last two seem to predominate and vying for love. Usually when I'm studying for important exams, I turn off my phone or at least silence any sounds and notifications. But now I'm too much of a chicken to do that because again, the drama I don't want.

Aahhh all these words just for pointing out that I have exam anxiety! Bear with me, for I feel alone, spent, and misunderstood. I know, this anxiety might be disproportionate to the real, actual difficulty of the exam. Yea maybe. I don't know!!!! A lot less external distraction looks like the best solution for now. Let me just... cave in with my books and slides and Q-banks and become the enemy of social life. Aaarrgghh!!

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Neither the examples of humility nor the proofs of charity

"Incense-bearer", photography by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

"I wish to follow with all my strength the lowly Jesus; I wish Him, who loved me and gave Himself for me, to embrace me with the arms of His love, which suffered in my stead; but I must also feed on the Paschal Lamb, for unless I eat His Flesh and drink His Blood I have no life in me. It is one thing to follow Jesus, another to hold Him, another to feed on Him. To follow Him is a life-giving purpose ; to hold and embrace Him a solemn joy ; to feed on Him a blissful life. For His flesh is meat indeed and His blood is drink indeed. The bread of God is He who cometh down from Heaven and giveth life to the world (S. John vi. 56, 33). What stability is there for joy, what constancy of purpose, without life ? Surely no more than for a picture without a solid basis. Similarly neither the examples of humility nor the proofs of charity are anything without the sacrament of our redemption."
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (Letter On the Errors of Peter Abelard)

Original:

"Volo totis nisibus humilem sequi Jesum; cupio eum qui dilexit me, et tradidit semetipsum pro me, quibusdam brachiis vicariae dilectionis amplecti: sed oportet me et Agnum manducare paschalem. Nisi enim manducavero carnem ejus, et bibero ejus sanguinem, non habebo vitam in memetipso. Aliud sequi Jesum, aliud tenere, aliud manducare. Sequi, salubre consilium; tenere et amplecti, solemne gaudium; manducare, vita beata. Caro enim ejus vere est cibus, et sanguis ejus vere est potus. Panis est Dei qui de coelo descendit, et dat vitam mundo (Joan. VI, 56, 33). Quis status gaudio, sive consilio, absque vita? Nempe haud alius quam picturae absque solido. Ergo nec humilitatis exempla, nec charitatis insignia, praeter redemptionis sacramentum, sunt aliquid."

Monday, 26 October 2015

"This Too Shall Pass"

"Sunset in the Yosemite Valley", Albert Bierstadt, 1869
Many people attribute the titular quote to the Sacred Scripture, although it is actually never found there. There are similar sounding verses, for example, in 2 Cor 4:17-18: "For that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen, are temporal; but the things which are not seen, are eternal."

Regardless, I've been contemplating on "This too shall pass" a lot. Or rather, the quote has implanted itself in my mind so I can't stop thinking about it whenever and wherever.

People usually think about the quote or say it to themselves during a period of suffering, be it a small or a big affliction. I couldn't agree more. When you say "This too shall pass", it reminds you to persevere, to push through, and to "do your suffering" well.

However, I'd like to point out that the quote is also a good warning in times of prosperity. We are reminded that in Heaven's eyes, material prosperity is as fleeting as earthly suffering. It's not to say that we are not allowed to be happy or to feel happiness (or other positive feelings), but even with pleasant things we have to be in moderation, so that we don't grow attached to them or too proud of them, because someday they will be no more. This is a virtue that I'm currently in the process of cultivating and praying for. I fail many times still, many many times. But every day I pray these words of St. Thomas Aquinas's, hoping that one day, by His grace, I will be made worthy of it.

Grant to me, O Lord my God, that I may not falter
in times of prosperity or adversity,
so that I may not be exalted in the former,
nor dejected in the latter.

Da mihi, Domine Deus meus,
inter prospera et adversa non deficere,
ut in illis non extollar et in istis non deprimar.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The "Yes" of Even One Soul

No soul need ever be afraid of meeting My gaze, for in My eyes there is naught but mercy and love. Those who turn away from My gaze, those who fear the encounter with Me face-to-face,
 are those who fall away from My love. I call you to a life of adoration
 so that you might contemplate My Face
 and read thereon all the love of My Sacred Heart for poor sinners,
 and especially for My priests.
 Whenever a soul seeks My gaze,
 My Heart is moved to show that soul an immense pity,
 to lift her out of the sin into which she has fallen,
 to bind up her wounds,
 and restore her to the joys of friendship with My Heart.
 When a priest begins to avoid looking at My Face,
 he has begun to alienate himself from the merciful love of My Heart.
 This will he begin, little by little,
 to lose confidence in My mercy,
 to consent to sin,
 and to descend into the darkness of a life
 from which I have been exiled.

Look upon Me for those who turn away from Me.
 Seek My Face for those who avoid My Divine gaze.
 Accept My friendship for those who refuse it.
 Remain with Me for those who flee from My presence.
 This is the reparation I ask of you. 
Offer yourself to Me as did the little Thérèse;
 thus will you allow Me to love you freely,
 and through you, My merciful love will triumph 
even in the souls of hardened sinners.
 The “Yes” of even one soul to My Merciful Love
 is of immense benefit to a multitude of souls
 who fear to say it,
 or who are hardened in the refusal of My love.




From In Sinu Iesu, the Journal of a Priest
(Dom Mark Kirby, OSB: Vultus Christi)

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

More Real than Reality



There's something beautifully strange about the Real Presence. Time freezes when you step into His chamber. History converges into that very time and place, as though the entire creation was set in motion just to bring about that particular second.

Isn't it a wonderful realization that God has thought about this very moment with you since eternity? When He spoke "Fiat lux!", what He really said was, "I love you! Arise, my beloved!" He was thinking of you and of me, and of this intimate encounter with Himself. It is as though He's saying, "I've been waiting for you. I miss you."

You look at Him. He looks back at you. A quiet stare that a romantic couple shares with each other. You are quiet not because you despise talking, but because you have so much to say. Too much. And too great. The hastily-scribbled list of intentions laid aside like an insignificant lump of dust. This is a soul-to-soul dialogue, of One that has long fallen in love with the other, who loves Him back a little late. Words are good, but once they're uttered they're gone like a smoke in the wind. But presence, ah!—presence is better. To enjoy and appreciate each other's existence, pleasantly surprised of that ancient hunger within that is right now being sweetly satiated, a fulfillment which only makes you desire for more.

Don't you love just spending time with your Lover? You cherish every moment, you don't want to stop. So many questions and so many expressions, but you're afraid that too many words will shatter the delicate silence. And is your heart not torn apart when reality shakes you violently awake from your loving slumber? Which one is only a dream, and which one is real?

Whether hidden inside the tabernacle or exposed in an adoration chapel, this glorious Presence is more real than reality. Everything else pales before His subtle brilliance. He is Him who is, you are she who is not. And with Him who is True Reality you're forever captivated.

~


Keep yourself for Me
as I keep Myself for you
in the Sacrament of My Love.
Know that I wait for you.
There is a consolation
that only you can give Me.
It is your friendship
that My Heart desires
and this friendship of yours
cannot be replaced by any other.
You are Mine and I am yours.

(In Sine Iesu, The Journal of a Priest)

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Spiritual history-taking: worthy of consideration?

"Science and Charity", Pablo Picasso (1897)

It occurred to me just now that medical history-taking lacks an important component: the spiritual life. A proper spiritual history does not only ask about the patient's religion, but it seeks to answer these questions:
  • Does the patient use religion or spirituality to help cope with illness, or is it a stressor—and how?
  • Is the patient a member of a supportive spiritual community?
  • Does the patient have any troubling spiritual questions or concerns?
  • Does the patient have any spiritual beliefs that might influence medical care? 

I mean, why not? First, Indonesia is a [supposedly] religious country, so religion and spirituality are near and dear to the hearts of Indonesians. Secondly, a human being is both a physical creature and a spiritual creature. Religion is a human virtue born of a response to God's grace. Yes, of course this virtue is systematic, because virtue leads to order (i.e. orderly passions, orderly life, orderly worship and belief in God). Thirdly, I think we shouldn't make assumptions about a person's spiritual life based on his/her ID card religion. No two Muslims are the same, no two Christians are the same, no two Buddhists are the same, no two Hindus are the same. Consequently, two people holding the same faith might still define and approach their illnesses differently, and physicians should recognise this in order to give better care.

A spiritual history, however, requires a physician who is, at the very least, welcome to the notion of God, and who understands how important God is in many people's lives. Meaning, if the physician is an atheist, he must not dismiss the idea of a Higher Being as ridiculous or unfounded or counter-productive to treatment. In fact, he must use the patient's belief/religion/spirituality as an adjunct to treatment. I think, if used correctly, the spiritual history will add a fresh new dimension to the doctor-patient relationship and to medicine in general.

I'm not intending this post to be very long, so right now I'll just leave it there and think more about it.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Saints of Mental Health #1: St. Dymphna

The mentally ill are oft-forgotten children of God. In them, the wounds of Original Sin, especially the loss of integrity, manifest most insidiously and most destructively. As I'm proceeding through the humble first year of residency, I've come to realise the fact that mental illness is probably the darkest form of the darkness of ignorance. We need all helps we can get to aid this marginalised group.

St. Dymphna is the earliest known patron saint of the mentally afflicted. She was born in Ireland in the 7th century to a pagan king and his Christian wife. At the age of fourteen she took a vow of chastity, consecrating herself to Christ. At around the same time, her mother passed away.

Legend says that Damon, Dymphna's father, was so grieved that his mental health sharply deteriorated. He sent messengers throughout many lands to find some woman of noble birth, resembling his wife, who would be willing to marry him. When none could be found, his evil counsellors told him to marry his own daughter. Damon began to experience disordered desire for Dymphna, who was indeed just as beautiful as her mother.

When Dymphna learnt of her father's intentions, she fled the royal court together with St. Gerebran (or Gerebernus), her confessor priest and two other friends. From Ireland, they sailed toward the continent and landed in present-day Belgium. They took refuge in the town of Geel (or Gheel) and there built a hospice for the poor and sick.

King Damon successfully traced their whereabouts, due to Dymphna's usage of his father's material wealth for her service (Note: I don't understand the monetary system back then, but I imagine it must've been something like credit cards that can be traced, to make this story plausible). He ordered his men to cut off the priest's head and then he tried to persuade his daughter to return to Ireland with him. When she refused, he got furious so he drew his sword and struck off her head too. She was then only fifteen years of age.

In art, St. Dymphna is often portrayed with a sword, which is her instrument of martyrdom. Her feast is celebrated on 15 May.

Relationship with people with mental disorders

The narrative of St. Dymphna is largely based on legends, although at the town of Gheel two sarcophagi had indeed been discovered; one of them bore the name "DYMPNA", and the other was presumed to be that of Fr. Gerebran.

Invocation of the saint as a patroness of the mentally ill has existed from time immemorial. Ecclesiastical scholars noted that a colony of "lunatics" flocked at Gheel and were said to be miraculously cured. Even now there are sometimes as many as fifteen hundred whose relatives invoke St. Dymphna for their cure. At the site, the insane are treated in a peculiar manner: it is only in the beginning that they are placed in an institution for observation; later they are given shelter in the homes of the inhabitants, take part in their agricultural labours, and are treated very kindly. They are watched without being conscious of it. The treatment produces good results.

What does it mean for current psychiatric practice?

The "peculiar manner" described above sounds a lot like psychosocial rehabilitation, although not quite the same. The basic principle, however, stands true: the mentally ill have to be re-integrated into the society as early as possible, and as much as possible. For the modern eyes, the people at Gheel may be thoroughly foolish for accepting these people in their homes. But I'd say they just have great faith and great love.

"The beheading of Saint Dymphna", by Godfried Maes

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Some news and many feels: Residency, the Little Office, and other things

I've been meaning to post this for awhile but didn't get around to do it, partly due to my busyness and partly do to my laziness (yes, I can be contradictory sometimes, I'm an INFJ!). But here's some news:

1. Residency

Oooh yes. This is The Big Thing of the year. I've been accepted into Universitas Indonesia for psychiatry residency. *insert a loud hurrah here* For those of you non-Indonesians, let me tell you how this could be a-something: UI (pronounced OO-ee, not you-eye) is the oldest state university in the country, and consequently also the most prestigious and of the highest quality. [*Note: I'm speaking in general terms here; there are other centers with their own nationally-acknowledged excellence]. Its teaching hospital, RSUPN Cipto Mangunkusumo (abbreviated RSCM), is likewise the oldest general hospital and functions as the national referral hospital. So it is a big deal to be able to get into any one of the UI-RSCM programs. It's like getting into Harvard, really, but without breaking the bank and without the chilly winter.

The hospital face. The medical school face is on the opposite side. The whole area measures 12 acres. Inside there are libraries, canteens and cafés, a bank, plenty of photocopy kiosks, and many other supporting facilities.

As proud and happy as I am though, I also realise what a great burden (read: cross) this is. Hard to get in can also mean hard to get out. And then there's also the high expectation from people towards UI alumni and RSCM doctors. By entering their system, I will forever bear a great name in addition to the privileged identity as a Christian. Maybe I'm being too apprehensive and I'm thinking too far ahead, but surely a little healthy anxiety helps me prepare?

I will begin on August 31, and from that day forward there's no stopping it, so pleaaaaseee pray for me!!!

2. The Little Office

I still couldn't navigate the Divine Office—sad!—so I decided to get myself a copy of the Little Office. I was hoping that it would spare me the confusion and the headache >.<

My copy is from Baronius Press. It is a neat little blue book, slightly larger than pocket size. The edges are beautifully gilded, the cover is navy blue faux leather, and it's completed with two ribbons of yellow and blue. The book doesn't just contain the Office proper (in Latin and English), it also contains notations of the hymns and six appendices of stuff like the history, how to use, types of intentions, indulgences, a liturgical calendar, and the Litany of Loreto. This book is AWESOME! And it's so pretty!!! All prayer books in the world should be made just as this!!

I hope someday I'll be able to recite the Divine Office too, but for now I'm content with devoting myself to the Little Office =) Even with this Office it's already difficult to get into the habit. I'm setting a modest target first: that is, to regularly pray at least one hour, any hour, every day. I'm curious to know how other people get into the discipline. Do share your experiences!



3. Former priests in the community

I was a little taken aback when I learnt that my Lay OP chapter has accepted four former priests into the community. FOUR.

I have mixed feelings about these ex-priests. Granted, I haven't known them well enough. I only know that their intention in joining the Lay OP is not entirely pure—they want to be buried in the habit. However, my conscience is disturbed because, these people seem to take pride in their status as ex-priests. They don't try to hide it. One of them, let's call him M, even accepted interview requests from Catholic magazines, and there he stated quite clearly that he was once an anointed servant of the Lord. He is married now with three children if I'm not mistaken, and he's super active in various lay apostolates. He even founded the charismatic movement in Surabaya, a city in East Java known for its orthodoxy and strictness in liturgy. I have a strong reason to be worried and doubtful of M's own orthodoxy. But let's wait and see, shall we?

But one thing is obvious: being laicized is definitely not something to be proud of. On the contrary, it's a disgrace, both for the priest himself and for the Church as a whole. After ordination, the priest becomes eternally "married", so to speak, to the Church. Note that this "marriage" is eternal; in the netherworld he will still be judged as a priest. The mark of the priesthood is indelible on his soul. Therefore, when a priest is laicized, the only way of life appropriate to him is living in penance. And yes, still celibate. This is not a written rule, of course, but one with a clear conscience and understanding of the natural and supernatural orders is bound to think so too.

Additionally, I'm also worried that people—in this case the Lay Dominicans and even the sisters perhaps—will tend to inappropriately regard these ex-priests as priests still. Indonesians have such a tendency. I can already predict, for example, if I teach A which is the correct teaching of the Church, and M teaches B which is a heterodox teaching, people will tend to favor M's teaching just because he's a [former] priest. Or, they will reluctantly accept the truth, and may do or speak something in order to be "inclusive" to the misinformed ex-priest. I'm not speaking this out of early prejudice; I'm Indonesian and I know how Indonesians behave. It has happened before, so many times and in many other occasions.

I trust that God will bring something good out of this terrible mess. For one thing, I can further train myself to be humble. But to be really honest, I'm worried that the presence of these ex-priests may do more harm than good to the souls of my lay brothers and sisters.

4. Back to the Doctors project

My laziness—mea culpa—took the better of me, but now I'm back doing this big project!! I can't remember having explained this in my blog, so here it is.

For some time now, I've been working with (or for?) a theologian couple, Stefanus and Ingrid Tay, who founded Katolisitas.org. It is a large, well-built, well-researched catechetical website; might as well be the largest and best one in the country. Maybe like Catholic Answers, though not that big just yet. But Stef and Ingrid do have an ambitious long-term goal to make it so. My BF has been hired to help them realise their catechesis system which they hope will be implemented across dioceses and parishes. Meanwhile, I was asked to do a side project, writing a definitive book on the thirty-six Doctors of the Church.

I was initially excited about this project, but excitement gradually went down and it was replaced by a panicky feeling. What if I can't finish the book satisfactorily? What if I don't measure up to their standard? What if there are fatal mistakes in the book that harm the souls of my readers???

My personal aim with this book is to portray the Doctors three-dimensionally, that is, to present them as who they really were. The images of saints have been saturated with overly sentimental, feel-good, feel-nice portrayals, so much so that they seem impossible to imitate. I don't want that. I want realistic saints that people can relate to. I want to make people realise that saints too, had struggled, suffered, cried, moaned, doubted, angered, been confused, been wronged, been upset. I want these saints, these illustrious Doctors, to rival popular fiction characters that people young and old so idolize.

So far I've done St. Ephraim and St. Catherine of Siena. St. Catherine took up the most time; she was a great personality in medieval history and politics. I had to research her time and place first in order to write well about her and her contributions. Writing these Doctors is as fun as it is exhausting. But I guess in the end it will be worth everything I sacrificed.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

"That's Human Nature" — On Perfect Humanity

"La Petite Gourmande," Pierre Lussier, 1945
Last night I was deep into reading 33 Doctors of the Church by Fr. Christopher Rengers, O.F.M.Cap on the entry about St. Catherine of Siena, and I stumbled across this passage that I found worthy of note. I decided to share it here for you readers, fellow spiritual pilgrims, and also for myself, to make it easier for me to locate it later on :) I found great truth and encouragement in it, and I hope you will too!
The Saints were always the most human of all people because they comformed themselves most perfectly and in the most ordered fashion to reality as God made it. They were the most human because in that reality were included the truest, most perfect and highest ideals. They were most human because they won a victory over human weaknesses, which work to prevent a full flowering of ordered love. The expression, "That's human nature," has its real, its true, its fullest meaning in the person of a saint, for a saint has achieved perfection according to the divinely created order which Almighty God built into human nature when He created it. Most often, the phrase, "That's human nature," is used to explain and excuse weakness and lack of fidelity in people. However, what would be more accurate would be to say, "That's fallen human nature, not cooperating with the graces of Redemption obtained for man by Jesus Christ."

The true fullness of human nature within a person demands a victory of the higher faculties and aspirations over the lower. Perfect humanity will be, within its limits, a perfect reflection of the Creator. Man being made in the image and likeness of God, those who are truly the most human are those who portray that image and likeness most perfectly—following the injunction of our divine Savior, "Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:48).

Monday, 4 May 2015

Untitled

The hour I found the shame of my priest is the day I dread. At the wee hours of the morning, at last, our glorious guardian angels won the battle against the Enemy, and his serpentine ways exposed.

Feelings of shock and embarrassment crashed upon me like an angry wave upon a rock. Why, I beseech my Lord, was I placed then and there, among all time and space? What was He trying to tell me? What great wisdom am I about to learn, and why does great wisdom always come with great suffering?

I lament the day I asked the Lord for a spiritual director. The priest He sent me was no longer a director but a downfall, no longer a confessor but a concupiscence. Strange times passed me by, during which I saw the man inside the priest and the fallen inside the anointed. At the same time, I also realised my own greed and pride, which had prompted me to unwisely demand to God a certain set of criteria for a confessor. In my pride I thought I knew what was best for me. Indeed, we were both fallen creatures, and look what sin costs us: a friendship, a spiritual love, a father and a daughter.

Nevertheless, I shall praise the Lord forever for He has spared me from my own iniquity. Had I been in the poor girl's place, I would be found disgraced, unfaithful, because my weakness is deep and my want great. I praise the Lord for her ego strength, for even though she seems so meek, she is unyielding still, and even though she looks puny, she is stable. Bless the day our paths crossed; now I have a sister I can cherish and protect, and I know that the Lord has not given up on us.

Thanks to you also, my Queen, my sweet helper; you have not abandoned this wretched daughter who has consecrated herself to you. Blessed are you among women, blessed is your immaculate heart containing only the purest of pure affection, over which deceits and hidden lies have no reign.

There is only one thing more heartbreaking than to tell my sister that we must distance ourselves from the person we trust and love so dearly: it is to see the immediate consequence, that he is now far from us, an object of chaste love no longer lit with its warmth. What a blessing, so delightful it is painful! The sword of truth is indeed the deadliest sword of all, yet most loving and most saving.

And what about prayer? Oh, the swiftest arrow that pierces many hearts! Let me rely on your sure path to pierce my priest's heart! Fly, arrow, and rip apart the shroud of dark temptations and intemperate desires, open the way for divine light to shine through, so that this precious anointed heart may remember again its purpose and dignity.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Youth Commission and the Augustinian Irony of My Life

"The Vision of St. Augustine", Sandro Botticelli, ca. 1488

The last few weeks have been rather interesting, to say the least. My spiritual director, Fr. Habel Jadera, who happens to be the current head of the diocese's Youth Commission ("Komisi Kepemudaan" in Indonesian), asked me, one more time, whether I was willing to join the Youth Commission. Now you might think what's the big deal about that, but for me it is a big deal because: 1) I'm not usually associated with any youth groups; 2) I may not have the time and extraversion characteristic of typical youth groups (INFJ personality here, hello); and 3) I'm not usually associated with any youth groups.

My past experiences with youth groups were epic fail. Those groups were either too energetic and emotional, or too laid-back and flat. Two things in common: they were not deeply rooted in the study of the Faith and they didn't appreciate tradition and catechesis. The ones who cared about evangelisation and Bible study were, of course, Protestant groups. They also had the gut to rebuke each other, something that I constantly find missing in many Catholic communities in the name of "brotherhood" or "kinship". Bad experiences with them, and better experiences with all-age or even older communities have led me to believe that I don't belong to any groups labelled as "youth". I thought it was proper to just accept it and move on with what I have. It's all about knowing your place, right?

But God revealed to me yet again, that He's got a terrific sense of humour. Out of all the diocesan communities He could've put me into, He put me here, in the Youth Comm. Youth!

My first thought was, He's gotta be joking. Or, this was all simply coincidental, a mere consequence of my earlier wish, that is, a wish for a spiritual director. I prayed for a spiritual director with a certain set of criteria, and He sent Fr. Habel my way through a moment of grace. Visionary and full of zeal, this priest started asking me if I could write articles for the Commission's new website. I doubted at first, because I really didn't know the game pool, or the "battlefield", if you will. And I also thought Fr. Habel was just being nice. But time passed and I found him persevering still. Being the phlegmatic-melancholic that I am, I get deeply moved—infected, even—if I see someone so keen and so persevering without being too pushy or demanding. I saw great love in him, and that love transmitted itself to me.

And so here I am, against all my better judgements, just like St. Augustine who wanted to live a secluded peaceful life as a theologian but got voted as a priest and then a bishop. He now had to do what he didn't like: being in the multitude, pastoring the people of God, and doing oh-so-boring administrative work.

As for me, instead of joining the Liturgical Commission—whose membership I would gladly accept—I'm joining the Youth Comm, whose membership makes me question whether I've done something real wrong in the past that I have to pay for. In my heart I want to scream: "I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS. I have no time, I have not the right spirit, I wouldn't fit in, I'm best as a silent writer, I am too busy!"

Augustine did, eventually, see the will of God in it. It understandably took some time, however, because although he knew a good deal of theology, but he was yet to link the knowledge in his head with the love in his heart and unite both with the divine will. The last portion, I can attest, is always the hardest.

I struggle so hard with the idea that the humblest thing I have in mind might not be the Lord's plan for me. How could it be, Lord, that retreating into anonymity and working in solitude isn't what You want, You who cast down the mighty and exalt the lowly? Or does pride lurk even in the most unacknowledged position, and the only cure to this kind of pride is to let oneself be visible, so that nothing is safe from the penetrating light of humility? Why must You make love so persistent and so irresistible?

Fr. Habel described it like this: I'm a fish, and a fish doesn't like to be fished. It will fight back at first, but then it will submit. I thought, yeah of course, because the fish would be as dead as a rock by then. But then another idea occurred to me: doesn't the Lord want us to die to ourselves first, in order to live for Him? Doesn't the fish have to die first in order to be presented to the Lord and get blessed and multiplied and able to nourish many?

This is all rather intimidating for me, especially now that Fr. Habel is going to Rome soon for further study. Who will be my driving force when he's gone, albeit temporarily? Where would I find so great a love and so burning a zeal that could pierce me and hold me?

In a strange mixture of excitement and confusion and anxiety, I force myself to return to the Source of All Loves and drink from it. And to console myself, I'll leave this quote right here.
"All my hope is found solely in your exceeding great mercy. Give what you command, and command what you will. ...O Love, who are forever aflame and are never extinguished, O Charity, my God, set me aflame! Give what you command, and command what you will."

St. Augustine, Confessions bk. X, ch. 29

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Drinking the Bible



Hi, readers! I'm back! I know I haven't been keeping this blog updated, and I'm sorry for that, but to my surprise I found that this blog's stats is still quite dynamic. Meaning, visitors still came and (hopefully) read it and got something from it. You are truly fantastic readers!

There are a lot of [awesome] things that have been happening in my life, but right now I just want to share this, umm, witness, if you will.

I'd been struggling with regular Bible reading. I knew it's great and everything, and I always loved the idea of committing a certain time period each day to read the Bible. However, I hadn't been able to find real, personal enjoyment from it. It's like when you know exercise is good for you and you would advise it to your friends (and your patients) but wouldn't do it yourself because it's sooooo difficult to do and you butt is waayyy too heavy to drag to the gym.

The proof of it can be found here. I started the 90-Day Bible Reading Challenge and it looks like I successfully failed.

But then. MIRACLE. About two months back I experienced... uhh I don't know, a personal Pentecost? Can't remember exactly how it began. I think I was collecting Bible verses for a book project. Suddenly I couldn't stop reading. I read and read the Bible like a hungry beggar keeps eating and eating. It was a very, very strange experience. Suddenly I could "see" the Bible, like a teenage boy suddenly "sees" his female friend from childhood, a girl whom he has seen a thousand times before, in a completely different light.

My rational mind, of course, wanted to wait. That could be a temporary emotion, right? Or, it could be due to the format of the Bible I was reading that was comfortable to hold. It was the Bible given by the Dominican priest during my novitiate ceremony.

Or—as I gave up rationalising—it could really be the Holy Spirit giving me the necessary grace! Deo gratias!

Anybody reading this might still be skeptical. That's alright. I was skeptical too. I was skeptical that one could fall in love with the Sacred Scripture, so passionately, so longingly. Sure, we Christians should love the Scripture, but we might never imagine that it's possible to love it that deeply and romantically. Yes, romantically. As if reading a love letter.

But why is the title of this post "Drinking the Bible"? It refers to this strange, lingering sensation in my soul whenever I read the Bible these days. As I read, I feel—ever so realistically—like there's robust red wine flowing down my esophagus into my tummy where it warms my entire being. The wine tastes sweet with a tinge of bitterness, yet as soon as it touches the base of my tummy, it evaporates into equally sweet and pure, warm air contained in my being. It's relaxing, it's uplifting, and it's addicting.

And believe me when I say I'm not trying to be poetic. This mystical wine, I can almost taste it on my tongue. I pray that the Lord will never take this dear sweetness away from me. I pray you will get to taste it too.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Did I or Did I Not Consent? - a piece of advice from Fr. Tanquerey

"Woman at the Window", Winslow Homer, 1872
Part of my regular confusion during the examination of conscience was whether or not I had consented to a particular sin. As the Catechism states, "deliberate consent" is one of the three conditions of a mortal sin. Now although this confusion never really influenced my decision for confession (i.e. I confessed it all anyways), still it bothered me at the level of wanting to understand just how far I fell. I figured that if only I knew the limits of "deliberate consent", I would be more aware of the early signs of temptation, and thus avoid them more effectively.

I remember describing my experience to Boyfriend like this: it is as if I'm a kid being prohibited from playing with fire; I often find myself happily holding a lit match, only to realise suddenly what I'm doing, and—terrified—I quickly put the fire out. Would that be full consent or not? Sure, giving a fight usually means not consenting, but sometimes I felt that my struggle wasn't hard enough, or a little "late".

Boyfriend said that he had been thinking the same too. Have you been thinking about it as well? If you have (or if you haven't), then read on.

Yesterday, Boyfriend found an excellent exposition here. It is an article taken from The Spiritual Life, by Fr. Adolphe Tanquerey. While I was excited about it, I also felt somewhat disappointed that post-conciliar documents or published works rarely touch upon this important subject. I sometimes get the impression that people—priests included—tend to generalise all kinds and all degrees of temptations. This makes it hard to explain to them the exact nature of our personal temptations and consequently it is also hard to get an effective piece of advice.

What I love about Fr. Tanquerey's work is that he takes into account the temperament, character, and education of the individual (#905), as well as God's providential designs. This makes sense because sometimes, someone experiences violent temptations from a singular theme. Others experience only mild temptations from many different themes. Some are easily "upset by temptations", others are able to "keep their peace". These factors, I think, must not be overlooked by priests and spiritual directors.

Secondly, and this is the answer to my confusion, is that there are degrees of consent. While there are "lack of consent" and "perfect consent", there is apparently also "imperfect consent". Fr. Tanquerey describes imperfect consent as follows:

908. One may consider consent to be imperfect:

1) When one does not repulse the temptation as soon as its dangerous character is perceived. There is then a fault against prudence, which without being grave puts us in the danger of consenting to the temptation.

2) When one momentarily hesitates. One would fain relish somewhat the forbidden pleasure, but one is loath to offend God, that is after a moment’s hesitation, one repels the temptation. Here again there is a venial fault of imprudence.

3) If temptation is resisted in a half-hearted way. One does resist, but in a feeble, indolent manner, a half-resistance which implies a half-consent, hence a venial fault.
Additionally, thorough knowledge of the self also helps:
910. In the different cases we have explained, doubts arise at times regarding the consent or half-consent given. Then we must make a distinction between the delicate and the lax conscience; when it is question of the former, one may rule out consent, for the person is not in the habit of yielding consent, and if he had consented in this particular case he would know it. When it is question of the latter, the presumption is that the person has given full consent, for if he had not, his soul would not be troubled.
Let me try explaining it a bit. In deciding whether consent or half-consent is given, we need also to consider the conscience of that person. Is it a delicate, "sensitive to sin" conscience; or a lax, "insensitive to sin" conscience? If the person's conscience is pretty "sensitive", he is unlikely to have given full consent, because he would know it already, and he wouldn't be confused. So it is safe to assume that half-consent has been given.

When the person is questioning his consent and his conscience is found to be "insensitive to sin", then it is safer to assume that full consent has been given. An insensitive conscience, naturally, would only be disturbed by a grave sin. To borrow pharmacological terms, this latter conscience has developed a "tolerance": it needs a bigger dose of sin to disturb its peace.

These words are very comforting for me. I can't really bet on this, but I think I can say that I now have a better idea of my approximate position in the journey towards holiness. Of course, this doesn't make me able to relax my defense; on the contrary, now that I know, I must be on my guard more energetically and perseveringly (#915-916).

What do you think? Does Fr. Tanquerey's article help you?