Tag Archives: Faith

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…

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.

 

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…

Sentenced to death!

Imagine you were this very down-to-earth person. You lived an exceptionally good life; fed the hungry, took care of the sick, sheltered the homeless. Where there were issues of rights violations, you sought to help the aggrieved persons find that highly craved justice.

Slowly I’ve come to realise that the word justice is at the tip of almost everyone’s tongues. Sadly, it’s a very emotive issue which only remains a mirage; the desolate yearn for it and wake up every morning, hoping to find it. The ‘authorities’ on the other hand, avoid it like a plague and pull all possible strings to ensure the common citizenry don’t even come remotely near it.

Moved by the plight of these dejected people, you do all in your power to help them resolve their issues. In short, you are the epitome of a saint. But as this is not some delusional utopia where everyone advocates for good, you become an irritating prickly thorn in the flesh of all those who are in one way or another inconvenienced by your saintly actions; say corrupt officials, who feel you’re upsetting status quo by opening people’s eyes to the rampant evil being perpetrated against them by those in power.

Furthermore, majority of the hoi polloi can’t quite comprehend how someone walking the streets in a world shrouded by moral depravity could be so good for real. So they presume it’s just another case of some shrewd charlatan trying to act all ‘holier-than-thou’ and stuff… and obviously, from that erroneous presumption stems deep-sitted loathing.

The self-proclaimed ‘saints’ on the other hand, who should at least try to understand you for God’s sake, fault you for blaspheming their God, because you claim to have some special relations with Him. He is your Father; and the world just can’t take it. You’re too much… and therefore must be eliminated.

Eventually, you’re brought to trial for ‘being so good’… It’s preposterous, isn’t it? The officials, whose wicked ways wouldn’t let your saintly ways drive them out of business, are only very eager to have you silenced permanently. Unsurprisingly, people are so willing to give you away.

You realise, everyone hates you. Everyone’s against you; even the ones you helped when they were in dire in need refuse to stand by you. The only people who know and love you are a measly handful; who essentially, are your family and those in your inner circle.

After awfully skewed deliberations, the verdict is given. You’re sentenced to death by being nailed to the cross. It’s the most shameful way to die. You’re stripped off your clothes and displayed on a windy hill for all and sundry to see. Weak, and helpless, you watch, as the people you tried so hard to fight for jeer at you, watering down all the good you did…

What they don’t know is, that you were neither a charlatan, nor some self-righteous ‘goody-two-shoes’. You are who you claimed to be; merciful, kind, and loving all unconditionally. Better still, you know The Almighty God on a very personal level.

As a result of that, even in that dejected moment, when your scourged body is bleeding out, and your heartbeat is growing fainter, you still hope that someday, all those who have rejected you will understand and accept the principles you so bravely championed for; and subsequently accept you.

Ultimately, in one final act of love, you ask God to forgive them, for they knew not what they were doing. You’re so good, that even in that searing pain you can’t harbour any grudges against them.

And you breathe your last!

Taking all that humiliation into consideration, imagine you had some supernatural powers… Knowing my human weaknesses, which I try so hard to overcome, smiting with lightning immediately comes to mind…

Today is Good Friday, and we’re commemorating the death of that baby born on Christmas day. He died such a shameful death, when he was just at the peak of His youth. And if you’re wondering what he was guilty of, His love for us nailed Him to the cross. He was the Paschal sacrifice, whose blood was meant to wash our sins away.

This Easter, we’re called to reflect on that great love, that made Jesus give His life up for us. There are many lessons to learn from His Passion. Now, the onus is on us; to reject Him, or to accept Him and follow the precepts He died advocating for: to love God above all; to love one another and to follow the Will of God in our daily lives. He too accepted His Father’s will; to die on the cross, knowing only too well, that it would be a harrowing experience.

I wish you a very blessed Easter.

 

Waiting patiently for my ‘Lamborghini’…

It takes one tonnes and tonnes of strength for their faith, and willpower not to be swayed easily by difficult situations… and I’m speaking from experience. I think on average, the state of affairs in my life is one that is almost-always depressing. It has become a habit for me to talk myself out of stressful thoughts that by now would have had me falling into an abyss of clinical depression.

Occasionally, on days when I’m just trying to be honest with myself (my faith in God aside), I’ll internally admit that this life is hard; really, really hard. However, since my mom and two sisters are more pessimistic than they are optimistic, I try to remain positive for their sake at least, so that when worry sets in, we won’t all drown in it.

Comfortingly, even with all our seemingly incessant problems, God has showed me that He really listens when I call; so I’ve learned not to rush Him. He does take His time sometimes but when He ‘arrives’, He does it in style; so the wait is always worth it. That thought is what keeps me motivated. I kinda equate this feeling to when a teenager requests his parents to buy him a car on his 16th birthday. He waits anxiously, only to be disappointed when he receives some relatively cheap gift instead.

His 17th birthday comes and goes, and there’s no car still. So he gets very desperate and reminds his parents that all he wanted was ‘just a car’. Something he can drive to college in… He gets more frustrated because he’s wondering how come his parents haven’t noticed all the kids his age already own cars…

When he realizes the car might not be coming from his parents ever, he even stops asking for it; and it even gets more exasperating when his parents fail to offer any explanations for not granting the request. On his 18th birthday however, something totally amazing happens…

Naturally, because of the crashed expectations over the months, he’s not even eager to get out of bed because he already realized the car he really wanted would be purchased with his own hard-earned cash in the future; furthermore, his friends and neighbours already teased him for not being able to afford a car, and the ‘joke’ got so old that they found something else to laugh about.

When he finally gets out of bed sulking and generally unexcited about turning a year older, he makes his way to the dining to have breakfast with the rest of the family. At that point, he’s feeling so lethargic that nothing, in his imagination, would be grand enough to wipe the gloom away.

Surprisingly, when he’s pulling up a seat, something odd occurs to him. It’s already bad enough that he never got his car, which from his own estimation, his parents could have afforded if they willed it; now on his 18th birthday, no one even seems to remember it’s his special day. At the table, everyone’s demeanour bespeaks of another humdrum day in the family’s life.

Even the younger siblings who are always regarding him with so much adoration barely recognise his presence. Things just got worse in a span of two years, he thinks; from relatively cheap gifts to no gifts at all. Suddenly the gift voucher given to him a few birthdays ago feels like an awesome gift.

However, when they are about to pray for breakfast, the mother announces that she was unable to have breakfast ready on time and she has a meeting so everyone will have to fix their own breakfast. At that point, the teenager wants to punch something… even getting breakfast on his birthday is now a problem. Infuriated, he pushes his seat back and when he’s about to exit the room, his dad calls out, “Hey, you forgot something”.

Internally, he feels like a volcano that’s just about to erupt. Nonetheless, looking over his back, he asks calmly, “What?” He masks his disappointment behind a half smile.

His dad only holds out the key in his hand, and the teenager kinda looks confused momentarily. He can see that is definitely a car key, but he’s wondering if that’s a hint for him to rush to the store to get a few ingredients for breakfast. Then to his surprise, the entire family says cheerfully, “Happy Birthday!” And suddenly, as realization dawns on him, he walks towards the dad and takes the car key.

“You didn’t think we forgot your birthday, did you?” The mom asks, smiling because she already noticed her son had thought they did. When he rushes outside, he can hardly believe his eyes. He only asked for ‘just a car’, but parked outside, is a sleek Lamborghini, and it’s all his. He even feels guilty for getting mad at his parents for not buying him a car.

“We didn’t want to get you just a car,” the dad says. “You are our son and we love you so much, so we wanted to get you a quality car. And we knew this is what you’ve always wanted, even though you never asked for it expressly.”

“I thought you didn’t think I was ready to have my own car”, he confesses, awash with guilt.

“We couldn’t afford it at first so we realised we would have to save up some more for it,” the mom offers. And it all suddenly makes sense to him. When the air has been cleared about delayed gifts, the mom tells them she made a breakfast reservation in a five-star hotel. The day that had seemed so dull takes a 180-degrees turn and everything feels like a scene from a fantasy movie.

That is how I see the relationship we have with God. He might take long to answer but when He does, He ‘arrives in style’. So unlike the impatient teenager, we need to wait patiently… and to trust God.

Broken! God, where are you?

God, where are you? Have you ever gotten to that point where you look around, and the pitiable state people are in; the deplorable state of affairs just makes you wonder if God exists for real, and if He does, why He’s watching quietly as everything goes (seems to go) awry? This past week I’ve found myself in related instances. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes might bring into view a very bleak perspective of things.

A couple of days ago, my small sis came home looking so broken. Her eyes were all droopy and, her shoulders slouched. I could tell all was not well with her. “I cried today”, she told me.

I was in the kitchen preparing supper, so I just paused, knife in hand to look at her. “Why?”  I asked her.

A dejected sigh escaped her, before she answered, “When I was coming home, I saw this child on the street. From my estimation, he couldn’t be older than five. He was seated, leaning against a wall. I wanted to give him some biscuits I’d bought because I figured he was hungry. He was asleep, so I tried waking him up but he wouldn’t open his eyes”.

I was expecting the worst at that point… and I started dreading that the next words coming out of her mouth would be, he was dead. God-forbid! She sniffled before continuing, “I thought he was on drugs or something. Maybe some other kids already introduced him to them.”

“For most street kids it’s some sort of coping mechanism,” I explained. Then I figured he was only a small boy. I don’t have much experience with babies that I can use as some point of reference but I know some fall into deep sleep when they do get to sleep. So I also told her the same thing; or maybe, he’d been hungry for so long so he was too weak. I hoped it was the former. I know how it feels to go for a long time without food and honestly, I wouldn’t wish that, even on my worst enemy.

“When I figured he wasn’t waking up I just tucked the packet of biscuits under his sweater so the older kids wouldn’t snatch them from him. Guess what Aly? That’s when I noticed he didn’t have legs”.

“What?” I couldn’t help my surprised look. It’s not unusual to see a street child whose legs have been amputated, or who was born with under developed limbs, but hearing that about a homeless boy, and who was of such a tender age for that matter, made my heart bleed. He was out on the cold streets alone, and helpless. It certainly had to be harder for him living out in this callous world, with no one to fend for him or defend him.

His mom must have left him out there when she figured he was going to be a differently abled child. How unfair, I thought. “I don’t know how I’m ever going to live, knowing I left him out there,” my sister interrupted my momentary thoughts. “I haven’t a clue where he is. I’m scarred Aly.” She seemed broken, as those words left her mouth.

It wasn’t hard to imagine how tormented she must have been feeling. She has a big heart, and half of the times she does things even I have trouble comprehending. Sometimes I ask her not to let people take advantage of her kindness, because that’s just who she is. If there’s any weakness in her, I can bet that would be her biggest weak spot. I fear it would make her too gullible. But that aside, there was a baby living out there on the cold streets alone. The thought itself made my heart ache.

“God knows where that boy is,” I told her, “so let’s pray for Him to provide for him and that He may also keep him from harm’s way”. Nodding, she acquiesced. I could tell she would have wanted to do more for the child, but as it is, we’re so strapped for cash it hurts. Nowadays we’re merely getting by…

This and some other incidents reminded me of this Lenten reflection/prayer:

“My Jesus, the world still has you on trial. It keeps asking who You are and why You make the demands You make. It asks over and over the question, ‘if You’re God’s Son, why do You permit the world to be in the state it’s in?’

Why are you so silent?”

“…Your humility frustrates me, and makes me uncomfortable. Your strength before Pilate as You drank deeply from the power of the Father, gives me the answer to my question- The Father’s Will. The Father permits many sufferings in my life, but it’s all for my good. If only I too could be silent in the face of worldly prudence- steadfast in the faith when all seems lost; calm when accused unjustly; free from tyranny of human respect; ready to do the Father’s will, no matter how difficult”.

“Silent Jesus, give us all the graces we need to stand tall in the face of the ridicule of the world. Give the poor the strength not to succumb to their privation, but to be ever aware of their dignity as sons of God. Grant that we may not bend to the crippling disease of worldly glory, but be willing to be deprived of all things rather than lose your friendship.

My Jesus, though we are accused daily of being fools, let the vision of quiet dignity standing before monstrous injustice, give us all the courage to be your followers. Amen”.

 

Close of the Year of the Divine Mercy

divine-mercy

Last Sunday but one marked the close of the year of the Divine Mercy. That sounds weird I know; because God’s mercy is timeless and lasts for all time. However, this year we have been celebrating the year of God’s Divine Mercy. Thinking of what that title alludes to; the hopes and promises… it’s so easy to get discouraged if those prayers don’t come to fruition just yet.

That’s the situation my family and I find ourselves in. We’d hoped this year would somehow bring some relief after all we’ve been through but as this year comes to end what we feel is utter discouragement. Most of the things we had prayed would come to pass didn’t.

In any case things seemed to have gotten worse. For instance, dad’s drinking worsened and he squandered most of the money he had set aside for our school fees. So now we’re always getting in constant arguments with him because of that. Additionally, he completely neglected mom completely so basically the only thing that keeps them together is the marriage certificate.

Since he works out of town, he only comes home when he needs to withdraw a large amount of money from the bank. Normally he will call her to notify he’s coming home but as it is he’ll just take a detour, to some nearby bar and by the time he comes home it will be the next day at dawn, in a drunken stupor. It goes without saying that in that state there can be no civil conversation between him and anyone. When he talks it’s usually annoying because all he does is offend everyone.

Later in the afternoon he’ll wake up and go back to the bar. In all honesty, I cannot remember the last time I saw him eating at home. Mom, as a result of this, has been so stressed lately. If it wasn’t for the fact that I believe marriages are meant to be for keeps –in good times and bad times- I’d suggest she file for divorce and subsequently institute proceedings to get a church annulment.

Whatever little faith I had in matters marriage has completely waned. Now I feel like marriage is just a prison; an institution that one walks in filled with hope but gradually closes in on someone, leaving them constricted and without a way out. Mom’s a prisoner of love, and this year has left me absolutely doubtless that if she had married a different man she would have been very happy. A far-fetched dream from the misery, that is her life.

So now that the year of the Divine Mercy is behind us, I’m almost feeling desperate. Our lives completely denote the saying, that ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same’; even with everything around us changing, the only constant has been problems; which obviously everyone has. But my faith in God keeps reminding me that all hope is not lost because God’s mercy is timeless.

I would imagine there are very many people who are in similar situations; feeling spent because life seems to continue kicking even when someone’s already down. However, there’s one thing I refuse to give up on; hope. So if you’re feeling like my family and I are, don’t give up just yet. There’s hope. I know that because there’s this deep conviction I have that God listens; so if you have been praying and hoping, that big break is in the offing. Believe it…faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains, remember?

All through, since I became aware of my own existence, I’ve always believed God never disappoints those who hope in Him; and more often than not, He’s proved me right. So today, even if you’re feeling distraught, don’t give up; because tomorrow we’ll be a better day. Why, you ask? Because He lives.