Friday, October 30, 2009
On 25 February 1858, during the ninth apparition, Our Lady of Lourdes told Bernadette to go to the spring, drink and wash. Her conduct seemed strange. She crawled forwards and backwards into the cave. She began to dig in the damp earth and tried to drink the muddy water rising to the surface but threw it away three times because it was very dirty. At her fourth attempt, she drank the water and smeared her face. The crowd shouted and jeered at her. "The girl is mad," they said. This was what the young seer had to say, "She told me to drink from the spring and to wash myself. Failing to see anything, I went to drink at the river. She told me that it wasn't there; pointing , she indicated that I should go below the rock." The story of the spring in the grotto thus began.
The muddy water continued to flow, becoming clearer and more abundant. On the evening of the same day, Louis Bouriette, a stonemason who was irremediably blinded in the right eye 20 years earlier, bathed his right eye in the water from the spring. His sight was completely restored. On 28 February 1858, Blaisette Soupene who was suffering from a chronic infection of the eyes was healed by the spring water. On the same day, a moribund terminally ill two-year-old boy, Justin Bouhort, was immersed in the spring water. He was restored to life and health. On 1 March 1858, Catherine Latapie, whose arm was paralysed in an accident, was immediately healed when she plunged it into the spring.
The extraordinary healings at Lourdes continued. Until today there are altogether 67 healings recognized by the Church as miraculous. The spring is now clearly visible on the left at the back of the grotto. The spring feeds the water taps on the left of the grotto and the baths on the right. The baths were built in 1955. There are altogether 17 baths, 11 for women and 6 for men. Hundreds of pilgrims, sick or healthy, immersed themselves in the baths each day to purify themselves and to renew their baptism.
The spring water is not a magical liquid nor does it have any special healing powers. It is just ordinary spring water but Our Lady of Lourdes uses this water as a healing instrument at times to demonstrate the reality of her presence in this holy place.
I brought home with me more than 200 postcards from Lourdes. Above is one of them. You will be able to see the source of this miraculous spring in this postcard. This is how the spring is visible today. It is covered with glass and illuminated.
Friday, October 23, 2009
The above photos were taken on my way up Calvary Hill on 29 May 2008. One of my dreams is to dress up as a bride and accompany Jerusalem's most eligible bachelor on His way to Calvary. That's why I like to relive again and again the last moments of our Lord's earthly life through the meditation of the sorrowful mysteries and watching Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ". During my stay in Lourdes, I went up Calvary Hill with Jesus almost everyday. One of the highlights of the pilgrimage in Lourdes is the participation in the Way of the Cross. Going through the Way of the Cross is a practical response to the message of repentence, conversion and purification conveyed by our Lady of Lourdes.
The 1500 metre Way of the Cross starts from the side of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and winds its way up a wooded hill with its highest point at the XII Station (the crucifixion) and then slopes downwards to the last station and back to the Basilica. There are altogether 115 figures made of brightly painted cast iron at the 15 stations along the Way of the Cross. These slightly larger than life-sized 2 metres high statues were constructed between 1898 and 1911 by the Parisian sculptor Raffi. The Way of the Cross was inaugurated on two different days: the first seven stations on 14 September 1912, the feast of the Glorification of the Cross, the remaining stations on 15 September 1912, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The XVth Station, the Resurrection, is a recent addition.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Father Lim Ooi Chai, better known as Father OC Lim is the eldest son of Datuk Lim Foo Yong and grew up in the midst of great material wealth. He completed his secondary education at St. Xavier's Institution in Penang and finished his Sixth Form at St. John's Institution in Kuala Lumpur. He spent a year at Universiti Malaya doing his BA but opted out as he was more interested in law. He then went to London to pursue his dream to become a lawyer. Four years later, he returned to Kuala Lumpur and went into partnership with Chung and Huang Advocates & Solicitors. For fourteen years he worked as a lawyer enjoying a five figure monthly income at the height of his career. But instead of getting married and remaining in the legal profession, he gave up his luxurious life and became a Jesuit Priest.
Why did he give up his luxurious life to serve God and to serve us? According to him, "I enjoyed my life, but there came a time when I began to question whether there could be more to life than what I was experiencing. It has been a gradual realisation that the priesthood is my true vocation. The La Salle Brothers at St. Xaviers were instrumental in planting the seed of faith in me. And the spirit of God spoke to me through the Scriptures, prayers, people and events. One day at mass, it occurred to me that 'this is it!' ...what I was looking for, and I shed tears of joy."
At 42, Father OC Lim joined the Society of Jesus. Known as the Jesuits, and designated by the initials SJ after the name, they are the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church, with 18815 members - 13305 priests, 2295 scholastic students, 1758 brothers and 827 novices - as of January 2008. Pope Paul III accepted them as a new religious order in 1540. The Society is characterized by its ministries in the fields of missionary work, human rights, social justice and higher education. When he was asked why he has chosen the Jesuits, he said, "A Jesuit priest is mobile, flexible and always available. He can be a man for all seasons. There're no permanent ties to people, places or posts. He is ready to get up and go when told. So he is able to dedicate himself totally to God's work, which is what I want to do."
He spent the next seven years studying the scriptures, two years as a novitiate at St. Francis Xavier, then five years in Manila studying philosophy and theology. At 49, Father OC Lim was ordained a Jesuit Priest on 1 May 1992 at St. Francis Xavier's Church, Petaling Jaya. "My seven years of intellecual and spiritual formation didn't end with my ordination. It is an ongoing process and will only stop when I die," he said. When asked how he felt after his ordination, Father OC Lim said, "It is one of the peaks of personal salvation history - one of the privileged moments of my life. It is still a mystery to me why I was chosen! There are so many better Catholics than I am, why me? But, I accept it with humility and in complete trust in the Lord. My feelings are just inexpressible. I am just overwhelmed by the call to my vocation to be a Jesuit.
My aspiration is to labour in the Lord's vineyard ... to be a channel of reconciliation between God and persons and between person and person ... to bring the peace of Christ to persons whom I will have the privilege to encounter in my pastoral ministry. My calling to be a Jesuit priest has given me a new impetus to my belief that faith would be meaningless without the promotion of justice. I see one aspect of my vocation as a continuation of my work in the legal profession in my 'past life', but charged with a faith dimension, defending the 'poor', the 'exploited' and the 'innocent' and promoting their rights while not forgetting that the well-to-do also have their rights.
My inspiration has been and always will be the ever-abiding presence of God in every moment of my life and also the confidence that our Blessed Mother will always be guardingly watching over me with her maternal care. Each time I overcome a 'difficulty' in my life, I reach a new ecstatical height of experiencing God's saving and loving power.
I know how to be poor and I know how to be rich too. I have been through my initiation and now I am ready for anything anywhere, full stomach or empty stomach, poverty or plenty, I can do all things in Him who strengthens me."
Father OC Lim has taken the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. According to him, "Poverty means no attachment to material things. For example, if the church were to stop me from using my car, I would revert to public transport. Practising chastity is a matter of channelling sexual energy into work and prayer. Obeying superiors is not difficult because instructions are given only after consultation and prayer."
To sum up his feelings, Father OC Lim said, "I live a simple life now but I'm happy. My inner joy is something beyond words. I regret that I didn't join the priesthood earlier. But there is a time for everything if one has faith. Those days, I learned the application of law. These days, it is the application of the holy scriptures to everyday life. For the most part, I spend time in prayer and reading the scriptures. Old and wintry as I am now, I have just entered the spring of my life! And I shall remain young and energetic in the service of the Lord by your prayers and supplications."
Throughout the years, Father OC Lim has given me a lot of inspiration. Sometimes I do ask myself whether I did the right thing in choosing the teaching profession instead of the legal profession. Then I will look at Father OC Lim's photo on my bookshelf and say, "I have no regrets with my life."
What makes me write about him tonight? Why is the story of his life indelibly printed on my memory? It is only once in a long, long time that we can encounter someone like Father OC Lim. Who on earth would give up his successful career for the priesthood? Who will exchange his imported car with a second-hand car owned by the church? Who will give up his five-figure monthly income in exchange for a monthly allowance of RM50? How many men would willingly give up marriage to become a priest? How can I forget Father OC Lim's sacrifices?
Father OC Lim will always remain a source of inspiration not only for our priests and seminarians but for all Catholics throughout the world. I pray that he will always enjoy good health and live a long, long life. We all need him very much. How many people can live a holy life like him? He has given himself completely to God and to men, serving God and serving us with undivided attention. I will honour and respect this great hero all the days of my life.
To those priests who are still unable to relinquish materialism and are busy pestering the Pope to allow them to get married even after the Pope said a big 'NO' to them, why not try to emulate Father OC Lim?
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Some time back, a church member told me that life as a taxi driver was tough as competition was great and he found it rather difficult to make ends meet. He also said something else which I considered was a mockery to the Catholic Church. Guess what he said? He said that he would have become a priest if priests were allowed to get married. And what were his reasons for that? Well, he said that life would be much easier for him if he were a priest. As a priest, he would be respected and need not worry about food and lodging. But too bad, Catholic priests aren't allowed to marry and that was why he said a big 'NO' to priesthood. He said that if the Pope were to change the rules regarding priesthood celibacy and allow Catholic priests to get married, he would be the first in line to join the priesthood as he really cannot 'tahan' (tahan is a malay word meaning tolerate) being a taxi driver. He also said that if he could become a priest, his wife and children would be well taken care of by the church and they would have a better life.
I listened to all these with disgust. I wanted to scold him but refrained from doing so. Calmly I said to him, "Why don't you join the 'Married Priests Now Organization' ? Let's see what they can do to make you a married priest." It was no use talking to people like him. When I passed by Mid-Valley that day, I saw the long taxi queue and I said to myself, "If Catholic priests were allowed to get married, then the taxi drivers alone would be more than enough to fill up all the vacancies." Not only taxi drivers but all those who are unable to find a proper job during this recession period would be competing with each other to join the priesthood as they would be guaranteed with a job and their wives and children would have a better life. But is this the kind of priests we want?
The priesthood is not a career option for people who are unable to find a proper job. Only people with deep faith can undertake this important mission. Being a priest means that he should always be ready to tend to his flock from the cradle to the grave and helping them in times of need. But would someone who joined the priesthood with the sole intention to secure a better future for himself and his family be able to be a good priest?
The priesthood is a vocation and a vocation is a calling from God. Only those whom God has chosen and those who are ready to live the life of Christ can become priests. It involves a lot of sacrifices to become another Christ. The taxi driver aforementioned is certainly not God's chosen one. Although there is a shortage of priests, the Catholic Church is still surviving and we shouldn't make priesthood a dumping ground just because we do not have enough priests. Let there be quality and not quantity in the priesthood. Who are those who really qualify to become priests? Those who give themselves entirely to God and to men. "When I chose you to represent Me as a priest in My House, you are not to make yourselves a common man, for you will not bring the souls into the Kingdom by joining them in their sin! Yours must be a pure and shining example! You must follow your vows of chastity and poverty." Jesus, August 14, 1974. Remember, you cannot have both. You will not have this world and the Kingdom of God! For those who cannot live the life of Christ and who want to become priests, why not try out their luck with other sects and groups which can accommodate their whims and desires?
As the saying goes, if the priest is a saint, the people will be fervent, if the priest is fervent, the people will be pious, if the priest is pious, the people will at least be decent. But if the priest is only decent, the people will be godless. What if we have priests who are only concerned with making a better life for himself, his wife and children and comes to church to bla... bla... bla... without meaning what he said? Then the church would crumble. No doubt they are 'ready and willing to serve' for the sake of securing a better job but can we respect this kind of priests?
"Continence, My Child, is the sacrifice asked by the Father. You cannot divide yourselves; there must be full dedication to the will of God." - Our Lady of the Roses, March 24, 1974.
"The heart of the priest, in order that it may be available for this service, must be free. Celibacy is a sign of freedom that exists for the sake of service." - Pope John Paul II, Letter to Priests, Holy Thursday 1979.
Three cheers to Pope Benedict XVI for upholding tradition and reaffirming the value of priestly celibacy.
Friday, October 16, 2009
This waxworks museum is dedicated exclusively to the lives of Jesus and St' Bernadette. Here, you can see more than 100 life-size wax figures illustrating the main events of their lives. There are altogether 18 scenes representing several episodes in St' Bernadette's life, the first apparition, and various biblical scenes. The Last Supper, based on Leonardo da Vinci's painting, is one of the museum's highlights.
When I was in the museum, I couldn't help feeling that I was in another world - as though I was living during the time of our Lord as well as sharing the life of St' Bernadette.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Before he became a priest, Father Damien's name was Joseph de Veuster. He was born on 3 January 1840 in Tremeloo, Belgium. He attended college at Braine-le-Comte in preparation for a commercial profession as his father had decided that he should take over the family business. However, the young Joseph decided to become a priest instead. He entered the novitiate of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Leuven. He was ordained to the priesthood on 21 May 1864 at Honolulu.
During those days, lepers were placed under a government sanctioned medical quarantine in a settlement colony known as Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai. This village is situated in Kalawao County and is isolated from the rest of the island by a steep mountain ridge. The lepers were left there to die. Bishop Maigret knew that these lepers needed a priest to minister to their needs but he realized that this assignment could potentially be a death sentence. He spoke to the priests about it but did not order anyone to go. Four priests volunteered to take turns to visit the lepers. Father Damien was the first to leave on 10 May 1873. After seeing the desperate needs of the 816 lepers, he requested to remain there indefinitely. In a letter to his Provincial Superior he wrote, "I want to sacrifice myself for the poor lepers." Why did he accept his death sentence? Because he believed that he would discover life by accepting death.
Upon his arrival at Molokai, Bishop Maigret presented him to the lepers as "one who will be a father to you, and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you, to live and die with you." He was greeted with the words, "In this land, there is no law." At Molokai, Father Damien had to bear with all the unpleasantness of leprosy. Since there were so many people with suppurating sores, the stench of rotting flesh pervaded the atmosphere. The lepers salivated and coughed constantly. They also spat on the ground. Earlier, Father Damien had been told not to touch the lepers and only to eat food that he prepared himself. However, he found that he couldn't minister to his patients that way. He began sharing their meals. Living in a situation of extreme deprivation both spiritually and materially, Father Damien wrote to his brother, Pamphile, that he was the happiest missionary in the world!
Due to insufficient resources and medical help, the lepers were forced to fight with each other to survive. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "Drunken and lewd conduct prevailed. The easy-going, good-natured people seemed wholly changed." Rape and burglary were common occurrences of the day. The stronger lepers took advantage of the weaker ones. Corpses were thrown in a ravine or buried in shallow graves. The graves were so shallow that wild boars ravaged the corpses.
Father Damien's first course of action was to build a church. He was not only their priest, but their doctor, builder, carpenter and grave digger as well. He cleaned wounds, dressed their ulcers and even amputated gangrenous limbs. He helped the lepers to build their schools, homes, beds, coffins and dug their graves. It is estimated that he built more than 1600 coffins during his years at Molokai. As there was no proper water supply, he and those well enough lepers dug a trench and laid pipes to bring clean water from a lake. Basic laws were enforced under his leadership. For the first time, laughter was heard on this island of death.
In this lawless colony of death that had been abandoned by society and God, Father Damien brought life and restored their faith, pride and dignity irrespective of what the outside world may think of them. He brought a new breath of hope to these people without hope. He transformed the settlement from a place of death to a place of life. As what Father Damien said, "I am bent in devoting my life to the lepers. It is absolutely necessary for a priest to be there." He had truly lived out his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience by identifying himself with the lepers. One evening, in December 1884, Father Damien soaked his feet in boiling water and pinched himself but he could feel no pain. That day, when he delivered his sermon, he greeted the lepers as "My fellow lepers" instead of "My fellow believers". He wasn't afraid of death. According to him, "Our Lord will give me the graces I need to carry my cross and follow him, even to our special Calvary at Kalawao."
Knowing that he had contracted leprosy, he worked even harder to build as many homes as he could and enlarged his orphanages. He had to plan for the future of these lepers as he was worried about what may happen to them after his death. Despite his sickness, he was a happy man. The gift of self was his inspiration and happiness. He said, "I have no illusion as to what is in store for me with this dreaded disease, but if this is what the Good God wants for my sanctification then all I can say is: Thy will be done." In one of his last letters he wrote, "My face and my hands are already decomposing, but the good Lord is calling me to keep Easter with Himself."
On 28 March 1889, Father Damien became helpless and he died at Molokai at 8.00 a.m. on 15 April 1889 aged 49. He was beatified on 4 June 1995 by Pope John Paul II who said of him that, in his life he "showed forth Christ's tenderness and mercy for every human being, revealing the beauty of that person's inner self which no illness, no deformity, no weakness can totally disfigure. He offered the lepers, who were condemned to a slow death his very life ... he became a leper among the lepers; he became a leper for the lepers. He suffered and died like them, believing that he would rise again in Christ, for Christ is Lord!" Pope Benedict XVI will officially declare him a saint on 11 October 2009. Today, Father Damien is the patron of lepers, outcasts, HIV/AIDS and the State of Hawaii.
Father Damien's whole life as a hero of charity had deeply impressed me when I was still a little girl. I first read about him in the Children's Britannica that my parents bought for me. I've also done a lot of research on his life. In fact, I grew up with thoughts of Father Damien deeply engraved in my heart and soul. He has been a great inspiration to me especially during my growing up years. Now that I have started my own blog I would like to take this opportunity to write about my childhood hero and share his life and mission with the whole world. I am so glad that he would soon be honoured as a saint and I would like to thank Pope Benedict XVI for deciding to have Father Damien canonized. 11 October 2009 - this is the day that I have been waiting for since I was a little girl. Father Damien is really a saint. According to Pope Paul VI, "Saints have not only given of themselves, but they have given of themselves in the service of God and their brethren. Father Damien is certainly in that category. He lived his life of love in the most heroic yet unassuming way. He lived for others: those whose needs were the greatest." Those who read about him will be moved by his selfless example. And of course it is not possible not to cry when you read about him. I cried when I first read about him and now I am crying again as I am writing this article.
Not many people could love God and fellow humans as wholeheartedly as Father Damien did. Father Damien is truly one of the greatest heroes who ever lived. Instead of joining the 'Married Priests Now Organization' and pestering the Pope to allow him to get married, he devoted his whole life to the most wretched of his brothers and sisters. As what he wrote to his brother, Pamphile, six months after his arrival at the leper colony, "I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ." He was more concerned with the lepers than with his own well-being. He had consecrated his entire life to lepers. He taught the world how to love by work and example. His life and work thus speak for themselves. His goal was to be another Christ. Like Christ, he gladly accepted his death sentence. He gave himself entirely to God and to men as he traveled the path that Christ had traveled.
The heart of a priest is the reflection of Christ's life. Jesus Christ our Saviour, sanctify thy priests.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
The above photo is the best photo of Father Slavko that I could find in Medjugorje. I had this photo framed and it is now on my computer table. Although I have never met Father Slavko when he was alive, I will always remember him as one of the greatest heroes that ever lived. His dedication to the people of Medjugorje and to the world would never be forgotten. And to be frank, I really envy those who got the chance to meet him and to be with him in Medjugorje when he was still alive. When I went to Medjugorje in the year 2007, Father Slavko was already dead for seven years. If only I had been there seven years earlier... If only I could get the chance to help Father Slavko with his work... Oh, it seems that I am daydreaming again!
Who is Father Slavko? Well, I'll write a short biography of him here. He was born on 11 March 1946. He joined the Franciscan order at the age of 19 on 14 July 1965 and made his final vows on 17 September 1971. He was ordained a Franciscan priest on 10 December 1971.
Father Slavko was fluent in Croatian, English, French and Spanish. He studied at Sarajevo, Graz and Freiburg. He obtained his master's degree at Graz (Austria) and his doctorate in religious pedagogy (with the title of psychotherapist) at Freiburg. He was officially sent to Medjugorje in 1983. In Medugorje, he had been a great inspiration to millions of pilgrims. During his service in Medjugorje, he wrote numerous books that were translated into more than 20 languages. He has also written numerous articles in various publications. He was the editor of the St' Francis Bulletin and Glas Mira. He organized conferences for priests, pilgrims and youths. He has travelled to many parts of the world to spread the message of peace and reconciliation of Our Lady of Medjugorje. He founded Mother's Village - the home of war orphans, children from broken families, unwed mothers and elderly people who have been abandoned by their family members. His knowledge of psychotherapy also enabled him to help the drug addicts in the Cenacolo Community.
Every Friday, he faithfully led pilgrims to the top of Mount Krizevac to celebrate The Way of the Cross. On 24 November 2000, he celebrated the Way of the Cross on Krizevac Mountain as usual. As he was descending Mount Krizevac, he stopped near the Resurrection Station and blessed the pilgrims who had climbed with him. That was where he collapsed and died of a heart attack.
In his short life span of 54 years, he has done so much for Medjugorje and for the Church. He spent every moment of his life serving God and serving us. He did not live for himself but for all of us. He gave so much of himself and truly he is one of the greatest heroes of our time. I thank God for giving us this great hero. I will always adore, respect and honour him. To me, he is a saint. I'll remember him fondly all my life. Sometimes I light candles for him. Whenever I say the Croatian Rosary, I will look at Father Slavko's photo and ask him to join me in my rosary prayers. And I am proud to say that I can say the Croatian Rosary very well now.
Priesthood is a wonderful gift won by the price of Christ's blood. The priestly call is a personal call from God on His chosen ones. And who are these chosen ones? Those who willingly give themselves completely to God and to men. Those who willingly devote all their time to Christ as Paul did. Father Slavko had willingly given himself completely to God and to men and devoted all his time to live the life of Christ. And that's why I am writing about him here. I want the whole world to know about our priest hero and the saint of Medjugorje.