"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." -- Romans 8:38,39
IN THE LAST WORD of the Catholic News' pre-Christmas issue, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser wrote about a promising young woman who suffered from brain tumour at a tender age of 18 and how "her family and others prayed hard for her, storming heaven for a cure".
He finally concluded, "Doctors who research on the human brain tell us that we only use about 10 per cent of our radical brain capacity. Most of our brain cells never get activated, both because we don't need them (they exist for wisdom rather than utility) and because we don't know how to access them."
"The same doctors tell us that, paradoxically, two things do help us access them: the experience of love and the experience of tragedy. Deep love and deep pain, together, deepen a soul in a way that nothing else can. That explains why Therese of Lisieux was a doctor of the soul at age 24. It also explains the wisdom that this young woman now lives out of, gently challenges her friends with, and radiates to the world.
"...having learned at a young age what most of us only learn when we die, namely, that ordinary life is best seen against a bigger horizon, that life is deeper and more joy filled when it isn't taken for granted, and that love is more important even than health and life itself."
THE PAST TWO WEEKS HAD BEEN a very special grace-filled period. Attended three very meaningful sessions: a year-end recollection session at St Ignatius on Dec 14 (Sunday), the last meditation intro session at Holy Cross on Dec 18 (Thursday) and an SFO recollection cum celebration session on Dec 21 (Sunday).
Providentially, the first recollection turned out to be like Part One, the meditation session Part Two, and the second recollection Part Three! Finally, thanks to a neighbour who passed the Catholic News to me a few days ago, i managed to read Fr Rolheiser's write-up (see extract above) which wrapped up the whole 'lesson' beautifully. The recurring theme was: pain and brokenness, and how paradoxically through it all, we can still grow from weakness to strength.
During the first recollection, there were four prayer sessions. For the third session, we were supposed to pray for an hour over the "O Oriens" (rising sun) antiphon and the Isaiah 9:2 verse ("The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.") and try to enter into colloquy with Mary, Jesus and the Father.
After the session, as usual, we were asked to share our prayer experiences. A gentle-looking middle-aged lady spoke up and told us how she found herself arguing with Jesus during the session, questioning Him about His love for us and how He can allow such dreadful suffering. Her friend, B., had a husband who died of cancer years ago. Now, ironically, this friend herself is also stricken with cancer. If she dies, she'll leave behind a teenaged daughter. How unfair can life be? The gentle lady's voice broke with emotion as she recounted this.
Curiously, during the prayer session, each time she asked Jesus why He allowed her friend to suffer thus, His answer was, "How do you know that I don't love her? When i lay dying on the cross, did my heavenly Father love me any less?"
i was moved to share with the group my own prayer experience. Did my third hour of prayer in a thatched hut in the middle of the garden. Initially, it merely drizzled. Soon, it was pouring in torrents. Was at once reminded of a sad day many years ago, when i stood grief-stricken and defiant in heavy torrents, crying out to God, "Where are You? Why do you allow this to happen?"
It was much later that i realized that sometimes, something bad (a problem) had to happen before something else much better (a blessing) can happen. Speaking of cancer, i was reminded of the wife of our meditation group leader, Patricia N., who had been diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer. Yet she, her husband and familiy have been facing this blow with remarkable bravado and love. In an email message to everyone in the group, she wrote of how her children would go to her first thing in the morning every day, hug her and tell her how much they love her. The gentle lady nodded, she knew Patricia too. She added, "Many members of the meditation group had also come forward to comfort her and her familiy."
"If i'm surrounded with 'the things of heaven' (such as so much love) NOW, i'm ready to let go of the 'things of earth' (such as health or even life itself)," i declared. [Let's hope and pray that between my heart and mind, there isn't a "disconnection". :-p]
On Thursday, during meditation class, the group leader Peter N. moved us close to tears as he told us how he and his wife had a heart-to-heart talk about all the things that had happened since that fateful diagnosis five months ago, and how they had both arrived at the same conclusion, "Our ultimate meaning in life is to raise ourselves from human-consciousness to God-consciousness... Neither death nor life, nor anything else can or should separate us from the love of God."
The second recollection with a group of lay franciscans was painfully and yet so sincerely frank and introspective. The group faced two internal crises this year: two different leaders had abandoned the group at different times. The spiritual director for the session, Friar G. stressed on the need to accept pain and brokenness with faith, the need to see Christ in one another and yet, the need to challenge one another with fraternal love.
Once again, the first recollection came to mind. Besides the 'cancer' sharing, i was also reminded of how my good friend, W, corrected me in a gentle and humble way during the earlier Sunday's tea break. Yes, how important it is for us to speak the truth to one another with love!
As Mother Theresa said in No Greater Love, "Do not be surprised or become preoccupied at each other's failure; rather see and find the good in each other, for each of us is created in the image of God. Keep in mind that our community is not composed of those who are already saints, but those who are trying to become saints. Therefore, let us be extremely patient with each other's faults and failures."
And More to Come...
On Monday morning, received two surprising pieces of news via email. Patricia N. wrote again to the meditation group. Looks like she's now recovering rapidly after a surgical operation and 10 sessions of chemotherapy. Her cancer marker has dropped from the post-surgery level of 146 to only 41 after the first dose of new chemotherapy drugs. This is good news considering that the normal range is 0-35!
The other piece of news was rather sad: LCH, a friend of a friend (GK), had passed away and would be cremeated on Christmas day. GK had recently resigned from her job of over 20 years to pursue a dream course in the United Kingdoms. Now, she's truly thankful that she took that leap of faith, "Life is so full of uncertainties."
Finally, surprise of all surprises and the best news of all: this year, my non-believer mother and second sis attended Christmas mass with me yesterday at St Mary's of the Angels. My sister's home is very near there. i also wanted to show them the niche that i've bought at the columbarium there. How they loved the place! Said it radiated peace and serenity, unlike the other columbaria which hold the ashes of our ancestors. Now, what else shall i ask? Hmmm.... ;-)
O Sapientia (Wisdom), you come from the mouth of the Most High. You will the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner. O come to teach us the way of truth -- how to judge wisely the things of earth and to love the things of heaven. AMEN.
(See also Abou Ben Adhem and Deep Water.)