Sunday, March 30, 2014

Old Friends

Top among my list of things to thank the Lord for in my prayer this morning was the blessing of re-establishing communication with three very good former classmates from my secondary school days in Hong Kong - two of them now residing in Hong Kong and the third one in Vancouver.

Using old-fashioned technology – telephone – one of the two former classmates in Hong Kong was able to track down the other one. From there, new - or newer - technology took over: the two of them emailed me, I added in the email of the Vancouver classmate, and suddenly emails were flying in and out of our email boxes like swarming minnows in the waters of Toogood Pond as the four of us scrambled to bring one another up to speed on almost forty years of activities and changes.

The feeling was amazing and at the same time a little strange, joyful and yet a little sad, sweet but inexplicably heart heavy. Everything that we used to know so well about each other – how we wrote, how we expressed ourselves, how we reacted to things, what each one of us liked or didn't like, our different inclinations and emotions, etc. – suddenly became quite unfamiliar. So you observed, you asked, you savored the familiar traits that remained and adjusted to the new ones that caught you off balance - it’s almost like starting all over again! The experience was fascinating and exciting to say the least.

Of the two former classmates in Hong Kong, one is a teacher and a scholar due for retirement in short order; the other one is a former government official but is now retired. The Vancouver friend is not only my former secondary school classmate; we also studied together and graduated from the same university in Canada. Being a financial advisor overseeing numerous investment portfolios, he can’t see how his clients will allow him to retire before 75.

As we get older, we come to appreciate old friends even more. Not only do they bring sweet memories and love; the time you spent with them, the interactions, the mere experience of growing up together, the companionship, the laughter and the tears - every moment of those youthful days has now become an integral part of your life. In a very real way, they are the people who define who you are. This is why I was thankful in my morning prayer: rediscovering a piece of me that had been missing for years. The rediscovery, joyful and sweet as it is, is like a jolt that triggers in my heart, and I'm sure in theirs as well, an eruption of euphoria and nostalgia together with a good mix of sadness and helplessness. Sad because those youthful images still vivid on your mind are in stark contrast to what you see; helpless because you realize that nobody, including yourself, can withstand the unrelenting and ever-forward-moving wheel of time.

Emails are still going back and forth among us as I write. As soon as all the emotions have subsided, our lives would probably return to normal. Tardiness might once again get in our way and we might not hear much from each other. But the friendship that has withstood almost 40 years of inactivity and somehow emerged strong and untarnished will surely continue to live on. For safe and sacred in our hearts is a special quarter carved out specifically for the occupation of this very special inhabitant - our friendship old as wine.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Second Conversion

In witnessing to God’s love and the power of the Gospel, I often share with people through my church programs and speaking engagements the amazing experience of my personal spiritual conversion in the nineties when moved by the Spirit I started reading Vatican II, Catholicism of the Catholic Church, Church Fathers, Scott Hahn, etc., and eventually ended up studying theology and retiring early to serve God. The conversion was intense, the duration lengthy, and the outcome drastic. My personal comfort zone was destabilized, and my life turned up side down. The experience has helped me to relate well to some of the famous conversion stories in the Bible, particularly those of St. Paul (Acts 9) and St. Peter (Luke 5:1-11).

However, if my conversion in the nineties was like a Big Bang from which my spiritual life emerged anew, my awakening in the subsequent years to the importance of the virtue of humility was akin to another powerful conversion that added substance to my new life and turned the initial big splash into a lasting and sustainable journey.

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word (Luke 1:38).

Mary’s words of faith, obedience, and humility will always resonate in my heart as I continue to battle to wrestle to the ground the beast in me that speaks deceitful and boastful language “from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet” (Rev 13:16). No less useful in this regard is St. Paul's beautiful teaching below, which has become the guideline that I follow to the letter in using the spiritual gifts that God has graciously given me to minister to Him in our church community:

For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned. For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness (Romans 12:3-8).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Deceiving Dreams and Crafty Speeches of the Politicians

Olivia Chow had just delivered a 15-minute speech to launch her campaign to become the mayor of Toronto. It was a very good speech - a typical politician's speech that touched many hearts but provided no specific promises or actions, a spirit-lifting and motivational rally that brought hope which we know will vanish as soon as everyone returns to the political reality of the City. But that's what the politicians do, that's what they are good at, whether it's George W. Bush or Clinton, Jean Chrietien or Harper, Mayor Ford or Olivia Chow. We, the good citizens who will be at the mercy of these political candidates once they are given the authority and power, are like mindless little children: no matter how many times we've been taken to the cleaners, we are still happy to hop on the merry-go-round to enjoy the dreams deceivingly weaved up, and the speeches craftily delivered, by our politicians.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Spring Fever!

It's been a very long winter here in Canada. Windchill of -14°C this morning (-8°C no windchill). Can you imagine!

But the sun is shinning bright. It's March already; March 20 is the first day of spring; and we are moving the clock ahead by 1 hour this Sunday. If my imagination was not playing tricks on me, I think I even heard a bird trying out its long-forgotten tunes this morning.

Hopefully winter would finally let go of its strangling hold on the collective throat of this poor northern nation!