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.