Once Upon a December

During this year’s logmas party, one way the Justins icebroke us was to get us to use a song to describe our love life. After catching my stumped looks (which I attribute not only to the difficulty of describing something non-existent / imaginary, but also to how past my bedtime it was), S eventually suggested Once Upon A December.

I thought that was quite perfect.

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Near the beginning of December, I felt drawn to a new spiritual phase: to focus more on God than on God’s will.

In the weeks and months after Taize, I had brooded over what God wanted for me in my life. Is God calling me to further studies? Should I apply this year or next? Should I apply at all? Am I becoming too comfortable where I am?

I attended a #RIclassof2005 10th year reunion in October. I was excited to see who had taken the road less travelled, and what kind of paths we were walking now. But so few of us have done so. On hindsight, I guess that is not surprising. Bonded by scholarships or relationships, shackled by grit or fear – these few initial years of our first jobs would scarcely be sufficient to overcome the inertia of expectations (be it others’ or our own).

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I was looking for an escape or an excuse; but it appears that we are not so far from the madding crowd after all.

Some weeks later, I read Ann Yeong’s article on discernment (the “Article“).

“If we find ourselves obsessing and stressing over what the right choice is, it may be wise to defer the moment of decision and focus instead on our relationship with God.”

The Article was a jolting reminder that Mary had the better part. This is hardly a new idea. So when A checked up on me about a month ago, I replied her (among other things): “In being so caught up about discerning vocation / career / life routes, I think I fell into the classic trap of doing versus being.”

When I attended Fr Chris’ talk on discerning social issues, he put it another way: the bread of miracles is not the Bread of Life.

“Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”

– Jn 6:26

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I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when my faith became utilitarian. Or perhaps there are no moments; only a continuum from detachment to attachment on which I traverse. There are even times when I feel doomed to an endless cycle of false idols to be forged and torn down again – golden calfs, multiplying bread, miracles, consolations, gifts, images, signs.

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Holy Indifference is what the Article argues that we should aspire to. When I first heard about this idea from Uncle Y during our regular catechist meetings almost a decade ago, I remember Aunty N objecting vehemently. To her, faith should be a romance, a love affair with Jesus. Far from detachment, it is desire that leads to God.

At that time, I thought Uncle Y sounded too much like a Stoic. Besides,  I was only 17 and I had just discovered that H1 Literature was my favourite subject (and had deeply regretted not taking Lit in Sec 3 and 4). Desire, despair, and delight – these were the endless fascinations that life held.

Of course, it is now clear that Uncle Y’s object of indifference and Aunty N’s subject of passion are wholly different. In God of Surprises, Gerard Hughes S.J. captures this: “Indifference, or detachment, describes the state of a person who is so attached to God that there is no created thing which they are not ready to let go if God’s will should demand it. [emphasis added]” Detachment and desire then, insofar that the former is for the created and the latter is for the Creator, can and should co-exist.

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“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.”

– Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

Prominent SFX individuals have elevated Fr Arrupe’s quote to something of a spiritual zeitgeist recently. While I hate to hop on the bandwagon, I must be humble enough to admit that I am drawn to the quote too.

I, too, want to love God in such a way that it will decide everything. The mystery is how? How can I be sure that I am loving the Person and not just the feeling, the consolation, the gifts?

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Earlier this year, as part of LOG’s series of sessions on social mission, an external speaker shared with us how Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning changed his life. Instead of material wealth, fame, and/or other worldly pursuits, he now sought for meaning. He testified to the great changes in his outlook and his lifestyle, and how he discerned about them.

Nearing the end of the Q&A, A gently pointed out: we have discussed for a couple of hours now, but where is Jesus in our conversation? There has been so little mention of Him.

And so my prayers this December have echoed Steffany Gretzinger’s No Fear in Love: “I wanna stay close to You / It’s really that simple.” Whether I am struggling or succeeding, serving clients or community, writing articles or affidavits, I want to fall in Love, and stay in Love. 

In the end, as we are emptied again and again, perhaps Peter’s words at the close of the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 is the purest response to God’s love:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

– Jn 6:69

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A few weeks ago, I texted LOG:

hi guys. i met up w [Aunty E and Uncle D] ytd. they’ve asked me to begin taking over duties as a L6-L10 (i.e. secondary lvl) catechetical coordinator. L6 and L7 [P6 and Sec 1] catechism timings are 11-1pm on sundays. L8 and L9 are 3-5pm. so on top of planning / admin commitments in e week, tts anor sun slot of time gone. so if i do take this up, i foresee tt my LOG / 1cor12 involvement will dip (though i’ll prob still do some camps, if not all -.- lol).

some of my main considerations are:
1) if i apply for further studies next year, i’ll go off in aug 2017. tts v little time to get a hang of things and be useful / effective. getting someone else might be better for continuity’s sake;
2) i am passionate abt catechism (both the system and the kids) and i want to change things, so this role will empower me. one thing tt i esp wanna push for is a closer working rship (ideally, a full merger) between YO and catechism;
3) i don’t know if i’m the right fit for the job. i have hardly realised my ideals / dreams when i first joined, even in my own class, so i hv no basis to say tt what i hope to change on a systemic lvl is even the right things to change;
4) i’ve nv rly coordinated / led adults before so i’m quite insecure abt working w the other catechists. i hv no clout / presence in any other lvl apart from my current batch tt i’m taking;
5) the need is quite great. [Uncle D] wants to move on to other areas of need. catechists are stretched. no one rly wants to do this.

i hv until christmas to pray and decide. in e meantime, i welcome counsel / challenge, so pls feel free to bounce your thoughts w me.

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At first, I did not know how this Marthan endeavour fit in with my Marian call. And A’s main concern when I discussed this with her was that I did not sound very excited.

But as I reflect more on the upcoming year, I sense also that my time for rest is over. I have adjusted to the rigours of working life; I (very grudglingly) admit that I now have (some) capacity. And the call is no longer to a simplistic being-doing distinction. The call is not to do less, but simply to be more. Regardless of the results, the fruits, the signs, the desolations and the consolations – the call is for me to  love, fall in love with, and stay in love with, Jesus.

“What is most important is not seeking Him, but rather allowing Him to seek me, find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply in the Infant’s presence is, ‘Do I allow God to love me?’

– Pope Francis, Christmas homily 2015

Christmas has come and gone. I have decided to take up the role.

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Nearing the end of his life, Fr Arrupe suffered a debilitating stroke, that caused him to resign from his office as the superior-general of the Jesuits. Because of the stroke, he could not speak directly to his brother Jesuits, but his final address was read to them in his presence. It was received with “thundering applause and a torrent of tears”.

“More than ever, I now find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life, from my youth. And this is still the one thing I want. But now there is a difference: the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in his hands.”

At the start of this new year, I close this post with this new end point in mind.

2016 awaits.

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About Mel

I dreamt I was a whale. https://melvynfoo.wordpress.com/about-mel/