The State of Virginity

The State of Virginity
I should like you to be free of all worries. The unmarried man is busy with the Lord's affairs, concerned with pleasing the Lord; but the married man is busy with this world's demands and occupied with pleasing his wife. This means he is divided. The virgin - indeed, any unmarried woman - is concerned with things of the Lord, in pursuit of holiness in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has the cares of this world to absorb her and concerned with pleasing her husband. I am going into this with you for your own good. I have no desire to place restrictions on you, but I do want to promote what is good, what will help you to devote yourselves entirely to the Lord. 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A VOCATION HIGHER THAN ANGELS


When I was only nine years old, I used to go around telling everyone that I wanted to be a priest. At that time I wasn't even baptized yet (I was baptized at the age of eleven) but even then I had already fallen in love with Jesus. I used to go to the bookshop near my school to buy pictures of Jesus and I used to look at these pictures and talked to Jesus for ages. It never occurred to me then that there are no women Catholic Priests!

Unlike children of my age, I wasn't crazy of my favourite artistes. The people I adore and respect are neither artistes nor politicians but our unsung heroes - our priests. Why do I choose these unnoticed heroes to be my heroes? Because they do not live for themselves but for us. Because they live to serve us. I just couldn't think of any other nobler vocation than that.

We all want to make lots of money, to get married and have children, to enjoy ourselves and live a comfortable life. What is so unique about our priests is - they are NOT one of us. They do not preach to make money for themselves, their wife and children. In actual fact, they are paid very little for their noble vocation. Instead of busy making money for themselves, their wife and children, our priests give themselves entirely to God and to men. Whatever they do, they do it for our church, for us. They live the life of Christ and travel the path that he had travelled. And these heroes certainly deserve all the praises on earth!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

OUR PRIESTS, OUR UNSUNG HEROES



The above photos were taken during the Eucharistic Procession in Lourdes on 4 June 2008. When I saw our heroes during the procession, I felt so proud of them. I immediately took out my camera and snapped as many photos as I could throughout the procession. In Malaysia, we don't get the chance to see so many priests.

Only those endowed with superhuman strength can accept the call to priesthood and the truth is - not many are endowed with this special gift from God. The priesthood is not a career option. It is a vocation which places on our priests the heavy demands of Christ's life and in living these demands they have truly become our heroes.

In the midst of this materialistic world where everyone is busy pursuing wealth and fame, these unsung heroes forgo all earthly treasures, career, marriage, and even themselves to lead us to the path of righteousness. How many of us can actually be like them? We all want to make a lot of money, to get married and to have children, to enjoy ourselves and to live a comfortable life. This is human nature and that's why the number of priests is declining. Our priests have therefore become a rare treasure today.

We tend to show great love and respect for our favourite artistes but we seem to have forgotten about our priests who have devoted their entire life serving God and serving us selflessly with great patience and endurance. How much love and respect have we shown to our priests? Who baptized you when you were born? Who feeds your soul and gives it strength to travel the journey of life? Who will prepare you for your last journey home to appear before God? Our Priests, of course. But have we ever expressed our gratitude to our priests? Many of us tend to take our priests for granted assuming that it is their duty to serve us. Perhaps it's time for us to learn the art of gratitude.

Let us pray for our Holy Father, our Bishops and all our priests in this special Year for Priests. Let us remember to be grateful to them for the sacrifices that they have made for us.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST


In Lourdes, I followed the Way of the Cross on Calvary Hill almost everyday to relive in spirit every step along Christ's path to Golgotha. Each time I went through the Way of the Cross I couldn't help feeling that I was going up Calvary with Jesus - accompanying Him on His last journey. There are altogether 15 monumental stations with larger than life bronze statues illustrating the various scenes of the Passion on Calvary Hill and this is something which is really unique to Lourdes. This 1500 metre Way of the Cross starts from the side of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and winds its way up the wooded hill with its highest point at the Twelfth Station (The Crucifixion) and then slopes downwards to the last station (The Resurrection) and back to the Basilica.

If I could go back in time and live in a different era than the present, I would choose to live during the time of Jesus so that I could accompany Jesus on His way to Calvary. That's why Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" has become my favourite movie. I watch this movie to get the feel of Calvary. I prefer the Aramaic Version of this movie because Jesus' everyday language was Aramaic. (Nazareth and Capernaum, the towns where Jesus lived, were Aramaic speaking communities). I have watched this movie over and over again so many times that I have learnt quite a number of Aramaic words. This is the only movie which really depicts the emotion, pain and passion of the crucifixion of Jesus. Many commented that it was too bloody. This is because they failed to see the trauma that Jesus actually went through.

Jesus' sufferings actually began in the Garden of Gethsemane. According to Luke 22:44, "In his anguish he prayed with all the greater intensity, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground." This is a condition known as hemathidrosis where the tiny capillaries in the sweat glands break thus mixing blood with sweat. This could happen under great emotional stress like what Jesus experienced in Gethsemane. Therefore Jesus had already started bleeding in Gethsemane and the bleeding continued up to Calvary. Here I would like to list out the traumatic experiences that Jesus went through after the agony in the garden.

1. He was being struck repeatedly across the face.
2. He was flogged with the flagrum which tore into the flesh of his back. This could shred the skin and cause massive bleeding.
3. A crown of thorns was pressed on his scalp.
4. He was struck across the head driving the thorns deeper and deeper into the scalp.
5. The wooden beam (between 110-125 pounds) crushed on Him and His bleeding wounds during his walk to crucifixion.
6. Jesus was nailed to the cross.
7. The legionnaire drove his lance between the ribs, through the pericardium and into the heart of Jesus.

Just look at the wounds on the body of Jesus. How much blood do you think would gush out from these wounds? Do you think that Jesus is as bloodless as you see in the paintings? The depictions of Christ's sufferings and crucifixion in these paintings have somewhat become too decorative and bloodless that we tend to forget the real emotion and pain that Jesus had gone through. We know that Jesus was crucified but we don't see the horror of the crucifixion. Mel Gibson had therefore done a good job for it is in "The Passion of the Christ" that we can really see the actual sufferings of Christ and the horror of the crucifixion.

Friday, September 18, 2009

LOURDES AND ST' BERNADETTE


Who was Bernadette? She was the daughter of Francois Soubirous, a miller, and Louise Casterot. In November 1856 the Soubirous family was reduced to the direst poverty when Francois Soubirous was without stable occupation. Penniless and homeless, they had to seek refuge in a damp and unhealthy room in a former prison known as "The Cachot" which was abandoned for sanitary reasons as being unfit for human habitation. Bernadette received no education. She was sent to work at her nurse's farm in Bartres. Life in Bartres was difficult for her. On 2o January 1858 Bernadette returned to the Cachot to prepare for her First Holy Communion. She attended a convent-run school where she was put in a pauper's class.

From 11 February to 16 July 1858, fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous had 18 visions of the Mother of God at the Grotto of Massabielle. These visions were followed by numerous miraculous healings at the grotto. Even today miracles are still happening there and that is why Lourdes has become a major site for pilgrimage. The spring which emerged when Bernadette dug the earth following Our Lady's instructions now flows at the rate of 5000 litres per hour. Many pilgrims, especially the sick, flock to the grotto to drink the spring water. Many were healed after drinking spring water and immersing themselves in the grotto's pools. The spring water isn't a magical liquid but the Mother of God uses this water as an instrument for healing to demonstrate the reality of her presence in this holy place. However not every sick pilgrim who goes to Lourdes can be miraculously healed but those who have been there would learn the meaning of suffering and suffer with fortitude.

St' Bernadette could have made herself a millionaire with the apparitions. There were people who offered her money if she would go to Paris with them to talk about the apparitions. She could also start her own hotel and restaurant business in Lourdes and make big bucks. Money would not be a problem as there were many people who offered her money. However, instead of busy making money out of the apparitions, Bernadette Soubirous became a nun. She chose the Order of the Sisters of Charity in Nevers. "I've come to hide", she pointed out on her arrival at St' Gildard's Convent in Nevers. Why did she come to Nevers to hide when she could easily become rich and live a comfortable life in Lourdes? Only a saint can make such a choice. She remained in Nevers until she died 21 years later in 1879 at the age of 35 after a prolonged and painful illness. The asthma and tuberculosis of the bones of her legs have finally wasted her away. This was how she summarised her whole life, "To obey is to love. To suffer in silence for Christ is joy! To love sincerely is to give everything, even grief!"

She was buried in a damp grave for 30 years. When she was exhumed in September 1909, her body was found to be incorrupt even though the rosary which she held in her hands had rusted. When she was exhumed again for the third time on 18 April 1925, the autopsy revealed that her internal organs were in perfect condition. Her liver was astonishingly well-preserved even though it is the organ which is most subject to decay. Today, her miraculously preserved body can be seen in a bronze and crystal casket in the Chapel of St' Bernadette at the Church of St' Gildard in Nevers. She was canonized as a saint on 8 December 1933. In Lourdes she remains close to the pilgrims with the message of her suffering lived in hope and joy. The message from Our Lady of Lourdes to Bernadette - prayer, penance and poverty were the keys that would open the Kingdom of God.

Lourdes is not just about healing. Those who go there with great expectations for miracles are likely to be disappointed. Lourdes is a place for prayers and penance. Life is not a bed of roses. And St' Bernadette had truly testified to Our Lady's call by living a life of humble prayers and sufferings. What really makes me adore her so much is the fact that she had rather walk in the footsteps of Christ than to make big bucks out of the apparitions. In this world which is so full of greed, she is a rarity.

SAYING GOODBYE TO MEDJUGORJE




Even when I was packing the night before I left Medjugorje my heart was filled with sadness. I was rather reluctant to pack that night. In my heart I regretted very much for not buying the statue of Jesus that day. I really liked it very much. It was quite a big one, about 2 feet, and I was wondering how I could take it home without breaking it. I have already bought a statue of Our Lady of Medjugorje and two statues would be too heavy for my hand luggage. And the two Krizevac Crosses, the blue cross, the wooden cross, the metal cross and all the other breakable souvenirs ... I had to bring them home with great care too! And the books that I bought at the bookshop near St' James Church - there were so many of them (but of course they are unbreakable and much easier to handle). That's why I said that Medjugorje is a shopper's paradise. There are so many things to buy that you can never finish buying all the things that you want to buy.

I can never forget the day I said goodbye to Medugorje. It was one of the saddest days in my life. I had an early breakfast that day and left for Sarajevo at about 8.00 a.m. On the way to the airport I took some photos with my camera. As you can see in this blog, these photos are nothing glamorous but they are very precious to me because they make up a part of my Medjugorje trip. And it was in Medjugorje that I discovered the meaning and purpose of life.

As my car was approaching the airport, I knew that I could never escape the fact that it was time to go home. In my heart, I was praying to our Lady of Medjugorje asking her to take me to Medjugorje again and again and again in the future. And I asked her to let me know what I could do for Medjugorje.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

MEDJUGORJE PHOTOS







When I wrote my first blog I didn't know how to download photos. Here I would like to share some of the Medjugorje photos which I took with my own camera whilst I was there. I have also brought home more than 100 Medjugorje postcards and you can see two of them here. The big cross you see is the Krizevac Cross.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

ARE THE MEDJUGORJE APPARITIONS AUTHENTIC?

My story of Medjugorje actually began way back in the year 2007. A friend of mine who is a priest invited me to visit this place in one of his emails. When I first heard of his invitation I thought that it must be a joke that he should invite me to visit such a place. What am I going to do there? I must admit that although I was baptized at the age of eleven, I didn't really focus much on religion. Time could be one of the limiting factors. I didn't have the time to pray. I have never stopped studying since the day I started schooling at the age of seven. After having completed my STPM I started with the LL.B. followed by a degree in TESL and then an MA in English Literature. Maybe the invitation came at the right time. I had just submitted my MA thesis a few weeks earlier and was wondering what I should do for my Ph.D. thesis. I had more time to think and do some research on Medjugorje during this interval. I pondered for weeks whether I should visit this distant land. I suppose it was God's will that I accidentally bumped into Randall Sullivan's "The Miracle Detective" in one of the bookshops. I found this book very interesting. I read this book over and over again. I also read about Medjugorje online. I began to understand Medjugore more than I ever did. But still why should I go there?

One day, I prayed to the Mother of God asking her to help me make up my mind about Medjugorje. That night, I held her statue on my bed and talked to her for awhile before I put it back on the altar and went to sleep. Whether it was a coincidence or not, I felt a strong electric jolt running through every nerve of my body. I was so scared. I thought I was going to die. I started praying and calling out to Our Lady telling her that "I want to live". After some time, the electric jolt stopped. For a few days I kept thinking about what happened that night wondering what it meant. I have never had such an experience before. I did read about Rita Claus' case before but I didn't really pay any particular attention to it. When I reread "The Miracle Detective" again I began to wonder whether the electric jolt that she experienced before her healing could be the same as what I experienced that night. Was it a message from Our Lady that she has invited me to Medjugorje? Well, I made up my mind at that very instant. Yes, I would go to Medjugorje. It was already April 2007 and I was only left with less than 2 months to prepare for this journey. I looked forward to go to Medjugorje with great excitement. I began to love Medjugorje.

It was about 11.30 pm when I boarded the plane at the KLIA Airport. The German guy beside me was very friendly and he had so much to talk about. When the plane finally took off I suddenly felt tears in my eyes. Yes, I was going to Medjugorje after all. I didn't want the German guy to see me crying as I myself didn't know how those tears got to be there. I looked out of the window and told the German guy that I wanted to see the plane take off. My new German friend told me that he couldn't sleep during the flight and could talk all night. I enjoyed his company very much. And he always offered me his food even though I couldn't finish mine. It was a wonderful flight and I enjoyed every moment of it including the transits in Frankfurt and Munich as well. The flight attendants were very friendly. The Germans are very courteous people.

I arrived at Sarajevo after 9.00 pm. It was already dark. On the way to Medjugorje the roads were very dark. There were no lights. It will take some time for this country to recover after the war. It was already past midnight when I arrived at Medjugorje. The first thing I saw was St' James Church in the dark.

In Medjugorje I attended mass twice daily at St' James Church. English mass is at 10 am on weekdays and 12 noon on Sundays. Croatian rosary is at 6.00 pm followed by Croatian mass at 7.00 pm. The days I spent in Medjugorje were full of excitement. There were so many things to see and to do. I just couldn't have enough time to do all the things that I wanted to do there. I didn't even have enough time to do my shopping. And Medjugorje is truly a shopper's paradise!

Many of you would probably heard of the Risen Christ statue and about the liquid that oozes out from Christ's knee. I saw it with my own eyes. Unexplainable, isn't it? We took turns that day to collect this liquid which is believed to have healing properties. The guy before me had already collected a small bottle of liquid and yet when it was my turn I could see more liquid oozing from Christ's knee. I used a tissue paper to absorb as much of the liquid as I can and now this tissue paper is in my Bible.

I climbed Podbrdo Hill once on a Sunday together with the other pilgrims whilst sayng the rosary. When I arrived at the top of the hill some pilgrims were praying for a woman who was sick as she was kneeling down in front of the statue of Our Lady. I prayed together with them. My eyes were filled with tears even though I wasn't feeling sad at that moment. Although many people have contested the authenticity of the Medjugorje apparitions, I couldn't help feeling the intense presence of Our Lady in our midst right there on Podbrdo Hill that day. And it is probably this feeling that brings the pilgrims to Medjugorje year after year. They could feel her presence there. And it is this feeling that matters most irrespective of what people may say about the apparitions.

I managed to climb Krizevac mountain twice during my stay in Medjugorje. During the first climb the weather was fine. There were lots of pilgrims on the mountain that day. I scribbled my name and the date on the lower part of the cross. I said the rosary together with the other pilgrims. I intended to climb Krizevac Mountain again before I left Medjugorje and during this second climb the weather wasn't so good. When I reached the summit there was not a soul to be seen. I saw Father Slavko's memorial and the image of this Croatian priest suddenly flashed so vividly in my mind that I couldn't help feeling that he was alive. A sense of great calm and peace descended upon me. He was there. I knew he was. I could feel his presence. Although I have never seen seen him before I have read a lot about him and my heart is always full of admiration for him. And it was indeed a great privilege that I got the chance to be alone with him on Mount Krizevac that day. I talked to him for a long long time.

After my conversation with Father Slavko, I knelt in front of the Krizevac Cross and said the rosary. There was peace and calm everywhere on Mount Krizevac at that moment. And in the midst of this great calm and peace I got my message - the message that would change my life. I descended Mount Krizevac a much different person. And my life would not be the same again. I was born again that day.

If circumstances would allow it, I would love to stay in Medjugorje forever. Truly this is a place of love and grace, a place of deep conversion, a place where heaven touches the earth. The Mother of God has invited me there to get closer to Her and to Her Son. When I returned from Medjugorje I started saying the rosary every night and I can pray for hours, something I seldom did in the past. I have since learnt to say the Croatian rosary. It has been more than two years since I last said my rosary in English. I prefer to pray in Croatian and French now. Croatian is a beautiful language. I can even sing some Croatian songs now. Gospa majka moja, Kraljica mira ... And I've brought Medjugorje home with me.

My journey to this small distant village between two mountains will always remain as one of the most memorable events in my life. Truly Medjugoje has changed my views and perceptions about life. Because of Medjugorje, I live my life all over again. I cried the day I left Medjugorje knowing that I will miss this place all my life.

So after my journey to Medjugorje, what do I think of the apparitions? Are they authentic? Is the Gospa still appearing in Medjugorje today? One cannot deny the fact that the miraculous healings of Daniel Setka, Jozo Vasilj, Rita Claus, Diana Basile and Charlene Vance did in fact occur and they are real miracles of Medjugorje. These cannot be contested. Where does the liquid that oozes from the Risen Christ statue come from? No one can explain the mystery of this weeping statue. Is it a miracle? What else can it be? Something is really going on in Medjugorje. What about the electric jolt that I experienced the day I prayed to the Gospa asking her whether I should go to Medjugorje? Was it merely a coincidence? It has never happened before nor has it ever happened again after that night. My experience on Mount Krizevac ... I will not comment further on it here ... all I can say is I've promised to consecrate my virginity to the Lord that day. The wedding photo in my blog was taken in a ceremony to consecrate my virginity to the Lord 9 months after I returned from Medjugorje. One of the special graces of Medjugorje is when you leave this place your heart and life are changed forever.