Category Archives: my life with God

Joy of Christmas

Every Christmas I find a Christmas carol which rings in my head the entire season. In most cases it’s a reflection of my feelings. It’s not something I do consciously; I just hear a song and depending on my mood, I’ll find myself singing it over and over again.

This Christmas, two songs have stood out: John T. Williams’ Home Alone 2 (movie) version of ‘Somewhere in my memories’ and Pentatonix’ ‘Where are you Christmas?’ The former fills me with nostalgia as I remember the happy feelings I always have on Christmas.

The latter on the other hand, is an expression of the turmoil in my head this season:

Where are you Christmas?

Why can’t I find you?

Why have you gone away?

Where is the laughter you used to bring me?

Why can’t I hear music play?

My world is changing

I’m rearranging

Does that mean Christmas changes too?

Yesterday was Christmas day…for some reason however, it did not feel quite like it. In the evening I looked at my phone, and obviously the date on the screen was 25th December. If I didn’t know better, I would say my phone was malfunctioning, because the day itself just felt ordinary. I was not bubbling over with my usual Christmas cheer…and neither were my family members.

Light-heartedly, I said, “My phone shows it’s 25th….and that’s Christmas day!”

“What?” My big sis, getting what I was insinuating feigned surprise. Mom however, did not get my drift so she said it was Christmas indeed.

“Of course it’s Christmas,” I affirmed. “It just doesn’t feel like it”. Christmas is usually a big deal to me. It is my favourite season of the year. To me, it represents hope. My sisters and I have this tradition of watching Hallmark Christmas movies. For anyone who’s into them like we are, you will notice they are relatively predictable.

Most are usually premised on a love story, where a lady and a guy meet. Over time they develop feelings for each other, but then they run into what feels like an insurmountable hurdle. With determination either from both parties or just one of them, they find a grand solution to the problem and they end up together. Sometimes there’s a dash of Christmas magic…

My sisters and I are big on happy endings. Therefore it’s not hard to understand why these movies are so appealing to us. In a way, they are a representation of hope: broken families are reunited; lonely hearts find love, people who had stopped believing in the Christmas magic find a reason to believe again…  The movies are simply inundated with hope, and that’s what Christmas is all about; the wonderful gift of hope.

This year though, I have been running low on the Christmas cheer. I know a huge contributor to that has been this awful fatigue that’s been making me feel so worn out. This year has been a very busy one for me. At the start of the year I got into bar school and I only managed to come up for air when I finished my bar exams in late November.

Seemingly, the fatigue has aggravated my anxiety so I’ve been feeling on edge these last couple of weeks. Everytime I try to shake off the angst but the general atmosphere at home hasn’t helped the situation. This, I think, is what has robbed me off my Christmas cheer this season.

I know I’m not the only one who feels like the song by Pentatonix voices out their emotion, and there are several reasons this could be attributed to: it could be a family feud that has members distancing themselves from each other; or it could be because one has been hoping by the time the year ends they will have found love but they haven’t yet.

It could also be because a couple was hoping to get a child this year but they haven’t; or someone was hoping to get an end of year promotion but it didn’t come. It could also be because one’s fallen behind on paying their debts now they are drowning in arrears…the list is endless.

During the third Sunday of Advent, that is last Sunday but one, the priest gave an uplifting sermon about the joy of Christmas…and yesterday in church he reiterated what he had said then: the reason for this Christmas season is Jesus Christ.

We often think that having everything in life will make us happy. However, that is a fallacy. I remember watching Alladin, where Will Smith, who plays the genie cautions Alladin against drinking from the cup of voracious power because, not even all the money in the world could ever feel enough. That is true. The more one gets, the more they want…

In reality, the things we think might bring us joy might just turn out to be the bane of our lives: the child a couple thought would bring them joy might be the one who brings them tears and immense sadness; the spouse one waited for, for so long might be one who causes them anguish.

In light of this, we need to realize that all the joy we need can only be found in Jesus Christ. When one finds the joy of Christ, they can be happy even when they’re sick, childless, hungry…etc. That’s the joy we’re reminded to find this season. Speaking from experience, I know that’s easier said than done…but when we find that joy, everything will feel right…

I sort of got stuck on the first part of Pentatonix’ song, but towards the end, lies the answer:

Christmas is here… everywhere

If you care

If there is love in your heart and your mind

You will feel like Christmas all the time.

As we’re nearing the end of year 2019, I wish you all a very Happy and Prosperous Year 2020!

Why do you believe?

Why do you believe in God? If you heard, say through social media, that your religious leader/spiritual guide was involved in some very shady dealings, would you stop believing in God? Would you stop going to your place of worship? I know it is very easy for people to get discouraged, when they are made privy to unsettling stories about their religious leaders. Question is, should that cripple our faith in God?

A couple of years ago, I shared a post about a priest in my church who got involved in some very murky affairs, and all in the quest to have the parish priest removed from office, so he could be the parish priest.

At the time the story caught me by surprise because the parish priest at the time was a very jovial and kind man of God. He was humble and even in his interaction with people, it was difficult to fault him for any malice, hypocrisy, or anything of the sort. His kind personality notwithstanding, some devious congregants conspired with the assistant priest and came up with very serious allegations that had our parish priest suspended.

The cardinal set up a team, which set out to investigate these defamatory allegations; which included womanising and practising black magic. A couple of months later, a report was sent to our church revealing the findings of the investigation. By then, neither of the two priests was in our church.

Worse still, the entire missionary society had pulled out from our church so now we had new priests. The parish priest read the report to us and just as I had thought, the former parish priest had been found innocent. None of the sixteen allegations against him were confirmed.

On the other hand, we were informed that the conniving assistant priest had been dismissed from priesthood by the Pope. Reason being, he was found guilty of various offences, which were a violation of the sanctity of priesthood, in the strict sense; since ideally a priest is meant to be a representative of Christ on earth.

That announcement made me question many things about the church. I knew there were priests out there who molested children, or even sired children with women, yet a Catholic priest is required to be celibate…Now to add to the list, there was a priest practising black magic.

I thought about my personal interactions, with that assistant priest –for instance during confession- and I felt scared, because I wondered where he drew the line between serving God and practising black magic.

I questioned the effect of him celebrating mass, and worst of all consecrating the bread and wine to turn them into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Had any of that been real given his already tainted soul? To some extent I felt duped.

There I was, dedicating my whole soul to God, yet the person who was meant to be loosely put, ‘holier than me’ was there invoking powers from the underworld. Speaking from experience, it can be really disheartening.

Now fast-forward to the present, I have read online about this disturbing story of a priest who was found dead and it is alleged he was killed by a fellow priest. How do we trust murderers to guide us to heaven? It really is disheartening.

Then following further investigations, there’s been a twist…it is alleged, this priest was in a gay relationship and his supposed lover is the one who killed him. Technically, a priest should not even be getting involved in romantic relationships with women, leave alone men; which part of society still frowns upon. So that raises a lot of concerns, especially where believers imagine, priests are very holy people.

From where I’m sitted, I feel it is very easy to lose faith in God, if it’s premised on the holiness – or lack of it thereof- of our spiritual shepherds. I remember when I was in boarding school, there was this priest who used to come to church with blood-shot eyes, courtesy of alcoholism, and in my infantile mind I found everything wrong with that. As I was growing up however, I realised alcoholism was only the least of a priest’s shortcomings.

So with all these occurrences, how does one still ignore everything and continue attending mass, with the nagging thought at the back of the mind that the priest celebrating mass could be getting apprehended for murder, rape…etc. sooner than later?

In my humble opinion, one should nurture their faith in God, in a way that it won’t come crumbling down the minute news of a priest’s/religious leader’s flaws start spreading on social media. Normally, I discourage those around me from ‘getting prayed for’ by others. This is because, I believe praying is a gift God has given us all for free, so we don’t need ‘middle men’.

Attending mass, from a Catholic’s perspective is highly encouraged. However, one should not just be attending mass for the sake of it. One’s faith should be so strong, such that even when we hear our beloved priests committed a felony, we won’t get easily discouraged. I like to remind myself that all these spiritual shepherds are also human.

The implication of this is that, they are prone to sin like the rest of us. Therefore, one shouldn’t base all their faith in them, but in God, who has commissioned them to spread His Holy word. That way, it won’t matter what our religious guides do backstage when they are not ministering. We should always remember that when all this is over, we will stand before God, individually. It won’t matter if our spiritual guides were murderers, paedophiles, home wreckers…etc.; of importance will be, what we did with our lives…

Humble yourself and God will lift you up

Imagine you got invited to a high-end party…and when you arrive at the venue, you find seats are organized in such a way that all the VIPs have their own special area reserved, as it usually is in most cases. Therefore when you get there, you quietly (without any drama) take a seat at some table meant for the rest of the hoi polloi.

However, when the host sees you, they happily walk over to you and tell you that you’re sitted at a wrong table. Furthermore, they respectfully walk you to a seat reserved just for you at the VIP section. How amazing would that feel? I know I would be stoked.

Then, consider a contrary situation where you’re already sitted at the VIP section, then some ‘big shot’ makes their way to your table, in the company of their entourage. Judging by their flashy clothes and accessories, you surmise they are very, very important persons. In their presence you feel very small.

When almost everyone is in attendance, the host walks to the ‘big shot’ sitted at your table, and whispers something in their ear. You just watch as they rise to their feet, their face awash with palpable rage and shame. Albeit you didn’t overhear what the host whispered to them, you gather from the rest of the VIPs at your table that the person was sitted at the wrong table and should have been at the ‘commoner’s’ area; moreover, the particular seat is reserved for some other VIP.

This hypothetical scenario is based on this past Sunday’s readings in church (Luke 14: 1 – 14). Jesus was invited to the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees. There, on noting the sitting arrangements, He told a parable to the guests in attendance. “When you are invited by anyone to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honour, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him.

And he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man’, and then you will begin with shame, to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher’. Then, you will be honoured in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”.

Jesus also went ahead to caution the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite friends or your brothers, or your kinsmen or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just”.

Jesus’ teachings encourage us to be humble. If we don’t go around blowing our own trumpets and seeking praise from others, God will Himself uplift us. In the parable, He would be the host who invites the humble guest to sit at the high table.

Most of us thrive on publicity, and as result we end up doing things that might be deemed despicable. Case in point is Farrah Abraham’s recent ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at the Venice Film Festival. While the jury is still out on whether the ‘malfunction’ was accidental or choreographed, I’m of the humble opinion her reaction was too blasé for it to be considered inadvertent. Methinks it’s just another case of ‘Bad publicity is better than no publicity’.

Based on what I’ve gathered over time, some people gain popularity without even trying. I know some people who are so successful in life, but you wouldn’t know unless you deliberately set out on a quest to find information about them.

There are these verses of the Bible I love:

Matthew 6: 3-4: “When you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. Then it will be a private matter. And your Father who sees what you do will reward you”.

Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is unseen. And your Father who sees what you do in private will reward you openly”.

These verses encourage us to carry on with our affairs in confidence. Looking at it from Jesus’ perspective, one needs to be very humble for them not to go telling every one of their achievements. It really takes so much strength to keep good things to ourselves.

Sometimes we go ‘rubbing’ our achievements in people’s faces, partly out of excitement, and partly as a way of showing off. I suppose what Jesus is discouraging is pride. As the saying goes, “Pride comes before a fall”. Logically, one cannot be proud and humble at the same time. So it’s always a matter of personal choice.

 

 

 

The Narrow Door: Part 2

The thought of dying feels scary to most of us…and I imagine it’s because the afterlife would best be described as ‘unchartered waters’. Yes, there are some people who’ve come so close to following the proverbial ‘light’, when they get to that Near Death Experience (NDE); and when they regain consciousness they try to explain what they saw on the other side.

I’ve heard some chilling stories about what some people purport to have seen. In this case I’m deliberately using the word ‘purport’ because sometimes it’s hard to draw the line between what one actually experienced, and the part of it that’s just a hyperbole. One of the stories I’ve heard is about a man who died (almost died) but came back to life.

He claimed to have seen heaven and hell and interestingly, he says most of the people he saw in perdition were people who while alive were renowned servants of God; simply put, priests and pastors. Now one may ask, assuming this man was telling the truth, and that indeed the souls keeping the devil company are those of former religious leaders, then where does that leave the rest of us, who may not be that religious (in the eyes of our fellow men at least)?

In church yesterday, the priest’s sermon reminded me of that man’s NDE. The sermon was premised on the gospel about the ‘Narrow door’. In a nutshell, what this reading says is that the road to perdition is broad, and laden with flowers and all manner of good things. On the contrary, the road to Heaven is very narrow and thorny.

The basic explanation is that it’s very easy for someone to go to hell; because when one is in a moral dilemma, it’s always easy to choose the easy way out. For instance, if one is almost getting kicked out of their house because they have outstanding rent arrears, then while they’re walking on the street they come across a wallet on the ground, the financial crisis they’re in will prompt them to pick it up and use the money inside.

In essence, the right thing, in my opinion, would be to pick it up and figure out how to have it returned to the owner; say by contacting any numbers available in there. However, it is also understandable why someone would opt to use the money in it. It may not be right, but at that time it would be feeling like a tremendous blessing.

From a lawyer’s perspective, some of the cases I’ve interacted with have helped me realise that sometimes people commit grave offences, not because they have a penchant for crimes, but because difficult circumstances pushed them between a rock and a very hard place.

There’s this prayer/reflection about why saints became saints: they forgave when it was hard to forgive; they were patient when it was difficult to be patient; they were agreeable when they wanted to be disagreeable; they remained silent when they wanted to talk; and, they pushed on, even when they felt like calling it quits. What this reflection does, is that it makes one realise how hard it is to be a saint.

One of the recently canonized saints is St. Teresa of Calcutta, popularly known as ‘Mother Theresa’. The life she led, one would have to turn their back on all worldly pleasures to attain that level of holiness. She lived a very simple life serving others. Question is, how many of us are capable of that?

In the era we’re currently in, the people we celebrate as servants of God are giving us more questions than answers with regard to our quest to attaining salvation. This is because churches have been turned into money-making businesses. These ‘servants of God’ are preying on gullible people, minting money from them in the guise of ‘saying special prayers for them; or cleansing them…’

Our priest in church was saying, “Don’t be surprised if you get to heaven and find the local drunk was allowed in through the pearly golden gates, yet I’m still outside the gate begging to be allowed in. Going to church everyday, tithing, singing in the choir and joining all manner of prayer groups while commendable, are not enough to guarantee someone salvation.”

He continued, “Professing and proclaiming the name of the Lord is not enough. The life you live, must speak for itself. Because even if you dedicate most of your time to church activities, yet you don’t live a holy life, Jesus will tell you, ‘I don’t know you’. Aspire to live a life that pleases God. A life free of hypocrisy”.

His words gave me a lot to ponder on; sometimes we think because we’re always involved in church matters and always attending services/mass, we’re already guaranteed a place in heaven; and that those we perceive to be wayward will automatically go to hell? That is a huge misconception. Only God knows each person’s heart. The only thing we can do for ourselves is try to live holy lives, by following His precepts.

 

Who’s my neighbour?

As a lawyer, I know my neighbour is the person who is close to me, in terms of proximity, that my actions or omissions would cause them harm. This neighbour principle is intended to caution a person to be careful of what they do, or don’t do because they will be held liable for their actions/omissions.

About a fortnight ago, the readings in church were about a conniving lawyer who was trying to test Jesus’ wits, asking Him what he needed to do to attain eternal life. Jesus told him to be good to his neighbour. The rationale is, someone cannot love God, who they have never seen if they cannot love their own neighbour.

In this lawyer’s attempt to outshine Jesus, he asked Jesus who his neighbour is…and Jesus went ahead to tell him the parable of the Good Samaritan. When Jesus was done, He asked him who of the three people was a good neighbour.

In a nutshell, the moral of the parable is to be kind, even to those people we don’t know. The neighbour principle discourages us from doing things that might harm others. It teaches us not to do to others, what we wouldn’t want done to us.

That Sunday morning after mass, mom and I were at a petrol station checking tyre pressure, when we heard the distinct sound of shattering glass. On reflex, I looked over my shoulder thinking a driver had rammed into something.

But lo and behold! I saw a relatively young man, possibly in his early twenties, bending forward. He was trying to pick something from the ground, but his centre of gravity seemed very wobbly. His back and forth rocking motion bespoke early morning inebriation.

Then, I also realised, his pants had pooled at his ankles and he seemed to have such great difficulty yanking them up. He would bend, and his entire tall frame would tip forward, then he would attempt to stand.

I bet he was so drunk because he took like three steps forward, trying to find his balance, then he took a few steps forward. It was sad really. I would have been tempted to laugh, but the situation was just heart breaking.

When he was still trying to fasten his pants, which thankfully he had managed to pull up, he dropped his phone; and at that point he let go off his pants then bent forward again to pick the phone. Next to him was a broken window of a fast food restaurant, and shards of glass were scattered on the ground. That had mom and I thinking he had something to do with the breakage.

A waiter from the restaurant got hold of him and directed him inside. Then he locked the double glass doors from inside, I guess to prevent him from disappearing before they settled the damages. Though I doubt he would have, given his uncoordinated movement.

I could not help but wonder why such a young man would get himself into such unnecessary trouble on a beautiful Sunday morning. After seeing dad drink for all these years, and knowing the problems this has brought him and us, I am of the humble opinion people should just try to avoid the habit, difficult as it is.

Funny thing is, during mass the priest had said a good neighbour is one who doesn’t do things they wouldn’t want other people around them to do. Interestingly, he gave an example of a drunk man/woman, who comes home after three days. When asked where they’ve been, they turn hostile.

The priest asked, “If you wouldn’t want your partner or children coming home that drunk, why would you think it’s ok to do that to them?” Being a good neighbour means sparing a thought for those around us.

Angry because God is taking too long to come through?

Have you been praying incessantly, and after months, or even years of waiting you’ve still got nothing to show for your devotion to God? Are you so angry with God that you’re praying less and less, and slowly you feel your faith has been waning? If the above describes your situation, then this post is meant for you.

In church this past weekend, the priest was telling us about the importance of effective communication in a relationship. Ordinarily, most relationships break down because the parties are unable to communicate with each other.

When someone is hurting because their partner did something they didn’t agree with, the problem is resolved easily when they can express their emotions. That way, even if the other person didn’t know they had done something wrong, the minute that issue is brought to their attention, they start making amends.

Normally when a couple is preparing to get married in church, one of the essential parts of their preparation is going through counselling by a church minister or a priest. During this counselling, they are usually advised to be open with each other. This is because where there is no communication in a home, a minor disagreement generates into a glaring chasm, which at some point becomes impossible to fix.

This is the same thing that happens with us when we stop communicating with God. Our relationship with Him gets affected. In light of this, the priest was telling us to learn to communicate with God. If you feel angry because God is taking too long to grant your wishes, have that conversation with Him.

Tell him Him you’re angry…you’re frustrated…and you feel life is becoming unbearable. Break your problems down from the first to the last, making clear what is bugging you about the whole situation.

Now, you might be thinking, “But God is infinitely wise and He already knows my problems”. That is true. He does know all your problems. Essentially, the importance of this exercise is to decongest your thoughts, and chest. Personally I find it very therapeutic when I take time to meditate, having that deep conversation with God. Then when you’re done, ask God to guide you on the way forward because you feel lost.

This exercise is very important because when you stop communicating with God, despair sets in and before you know it, your faith becomes history…and I know, once someone’s faith weakens, rekindling it becomes a herculean task.

From experience, I find it calming when I know God has everything under control. So with regard to all matters faith, it’s advisable for us to talk with God, telling Him how we feel. If you’re feeling God has abandoned you, or He’s taking it too long to act, tell Him about it today…

Gift of hope

Whatever you do, no matter the circumstances, don’t lose hope. All other virtues are premised on this one and this is in the sense that desperation makes us do things we wouldn’t ordinarily do. Desperation makes good people do bad things. For instance, hunger could make a person steal if they do not have better means of obtaining food.

Love as we know it, also stems from hope…A person whose heart has been broken so many times will be afraid of falling in love again because they are afraid of going through the pain that’s already too familiar, if things go awry. On the contrary, where someone has hope, they will embrace a potential love because they are hopeful things will turn out fine.

When things are not going on as well as we may want, what keeps us going? It’s hope; hope of seeing better days. Lately I keep reading stories about people who have come so close to taking their own lives because they were suffering from depression. From my understanding, hopelessness is what triggers suicidal thoughts.

While I may not have gotten to that point where I felt the urge to end my own life, I have battled depression before and I know, only too well, the state someone is usually in…one finds themselves in a situation where no single thought triggers happiness…everything feels bleak, and wherever one tries to comfort themselves that the future will be better, all they see are misery-laden days.

When someone wakes up every morning, feeling like they have nothing else to live for, hopelessness engulfs them and the next thing that prevails over them is the thought of ending their own lives. Hope strengthens our spirit to fight through unpleasant situations.

In life we can’t always be on an upward scale, because failure and pain are just an inevitable part of life; and I bet, this is where the saying, ‘it’s not about how many times you fall, but how many times  you pick yourself up’ arises.

My maternal grandma passed on five years ago, and everytime I think about the months leading to her death, I usually suspect she died a depressed woman. A few months before she died, mom brought her home so we could take her to hospital. She had been unwell for a while and her two sons who she lived with upcountry seemed to have neglected her.

Moreover, the two had been fighting over the ownership of her land. Given how peace-loving grams was, I usually imagine those clashes between her sons sent her to an early grave. She abhorred violence and they wouldn’t resolve their disputes amicably. Sadly, when she fell into depression, they didn’t seem to notice.

When mom learnt she was sick, she went for her and brought her home. I loved her so much, and I even had the honour of being named after her. Looking at her, I could tell all was not well with her. Even while sitted next to her, I would get the impression she was miles away because she had this bleak stare. At night I would sit by her bedside, trying to give her examples of all the good things she could look forward to, so despair wouldn’t suck her into its dark abyss.

As days passed, she got better and she started insisting she wanted to go back home. We didn’t want her to go just yet, but we figured she was feeling disillusioned because she was in a foreign place. Since we wanted her to be happy we agreed to let her go. A few months later mom and I visited her at her place and shortly after, we heard she was sick again.

Before we knew it, she was gone! When she was well, she was very lively. So when I think of hopelessness, she comes to mind and I hate what it does to someone. The way I see it, though grams never jumped off a cliff or stood in front of an oncoming train, she died because she lost the will to live.

She didn’t have the strength to fight illnesses when they ravaged her frail body and eventually when death knocked, she just opened without putting up a fight. I usually feel she could have lived for many more years if she had been happy. Hope would have opened her eyes to the endless possibilities that the future held.

The worst part about depression is that it’s very easy for one to fall victim, yet it is relatively difficult to get out of. Hope is that priceless shield which protects us from falling into that chasm. When I’m feeling low, I remind myself of the Bible verse, which says, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, but with prayer and thanksgiving, make your requests known to God”.

From my own experiences, I know it’s very easy to lose hope; but one thing I’m learning, is to look up to the man of sorrows. Jesus would have despaired in life because He already knew the painful death He was going to be subjected to, yet He didn’t. Everytime we feel despair gnawing at us, we should ask Him to help us. Because we too can be victorious like He was.