Rejoice; Do Not Worry! (Advent Week 3)

"Shout for joy…! Sing joyfully…! … [The Lord] will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love; he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.” (Zephaniah 3: 14, 17-18a)

Have you ever experienced someone bursting into joyful song because of you? Those who have fallen in love with another have perhaps experienced such joyful expressions of love in other ways – in a heartfelt letter, in a tender embrace, or in the particular way that our beloved looks at us. This Sunday’s readings call us to rejoice, because God loves us just as passionately – and more!

How do we experience God’s love? At some points in our lives, of course, it is difficult to believe in our beloved-ness: in times in confusion and hardship, in times when we are aware of our failings and imperfections, in times when we feel lonely and in pain. But the coming of Christ in the stable, light to a people suffering and oppressed, reminds us that God in God’s infinite love is already prese…

Longing for Unity and Peace (Advent Week 2)

This Sunday’s first reading and psalm speak of the return of Israel’s children, who were exiles in a strange land. “[L]ook to the east,” says the prophet, “and see your children gathered from east and west…. Led away on foot by their enemies they left you, but God will bring them back to you…” (Baruch 5: 5-6)

Do you ever feel, like Israel, the pain of exile? Of alienation? That existential loneliness that comes from being disconnected from ourselves, from each other, from our environment, and therefore from God?

Much ink has been spilled on what some have now termed the “loneliness epidemic” in our societies. Technological innovation has made possible many improvements in the way we live. Through the internet we are more connected than ever – but, ironically, increasing numbers of people are feeling lonely, starved of quality contact with others. The influence of the digital world “can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.” (Laudato Si,…

Waiting for God (Advent Week 1)

Nowadays, my daily routine involves traveling a little more than an hour each day to my place of work (and back again in the evening), a big part of it on foot through drab-looking residential streets and across two dusty, polluted highways. In the last few weeks, however, it has given me much pleasure to see Christmas decorations going up bit by bit in the places I pass: a lighted star in someone’s window; wreaths made of recycled bottles on a bridge; and in the doorway of someone’s small tin shack – a complete nativity scene!

These little bits of green and tinsel are more than just the trappings of Christmas… they are for me signs that point beyond. They hint at what we often forget: that behind the dull exteriors of the spaces we inhabit and the sheer familiarity of our daily grind is something extraordinary. The divine is indeed already present here among us, in the very places of our everyday challenges, boredom, and joy.

This is what Christmas celebrates: that God has come and d…

How to Discern a Vocation to Religious Life: Part II

(This post is continued from How to Discern a Vocation to Religious Life: Part I)

Of course, we aren’t always in touch with what our deep desires are in the first place. What often preoccupy us are the shrill and incessant voices of what I will call our “surface” desires (for chips and chocolates). One of the things that helped me in my process of discernment, then, was cultivating my awareness of what was going on inside me. (I’ve written about this before in a blog post on getting in touch with the daily “movements” of our hearts.)

To continue the story then: once the two-month period I had given myself had passed, besides gathering information about various congregations of religious sisters, I also started a practice known in Catholic circles as “spiritual direction”, in which I talked to someone regularly about my spiritual life, and this person helped me to notice and become more aware of how I was experiencing God’s action in my daily life. In addition, I went to retreats and t…

How to Discern a Vocation to Religious Life : Part I

A while ago a reader of this blog asked me, “How did you discern that religious life was for you?”As we have talked a little about discerning life choices here on this blog, I thought I might post my response here too and add to that conversation. Do feel free to leave comments or write back about your own thoughts or experiences.

Dear Reader,

Your question reminds me of a rather interesting conversation my community had earlier this year at the dinner table when one of our sisters said that someone had asked her, “How do you know if you are called to religious life?”

The four of us at the table started sharing our own stories of coming to that awareness. We were each from different countries, with age differences spanning 45 years, but surprisingly enough, while the details of each person’s journey varied widely, we noticed some common threads running through each one.

The first was that each of us at some point felt a desire for religious life. While some people seem to be awa…

You Don’t Need to Change It

This poem is by Agustina Hartini fcJ and translated by Audrey. The original Indonesian is below.

Good Shepherd,
When I see the way you walk, I am amazed
When I hear the way you talk, I am hypnotized
When I follow your steps…
I stagger to left and right
But your gaze is enough to make me rise again
And keep walking with you
My name is Hartini; you don’t need to change it to win my heart.


Gembala yang baik
Saat ku lihat caramu berjalan, aku terkesima
Saat ku dengar caramu berbicara, aku terhipnotis
Saat kuikuti langkahmu, . . . 
aku terbanting ke kanan dan ke kiri
namun cukup dengan tatapan matamu membuat aku bangun kembali
dan berjalan terus bersamamu
Namaku Hartini, tak perlu Kau menggantinya tuk dapatkan hatiku.

How to Step Out of the “Productivity” Trap

A while ago, I heard that a prominent government official known for promoting productivity in government had been baptised into the Catholic Church. “He can now take on a new ministry of promoting productivity in the church!” a friend of mine joked.

This rather incongruous statement made me stop and think. IS productivity a value of the church?

Productivity is certainly a national value in my native Singapore – right there at the top of the list along with efficiency, effectiveness, etc. We want government to be effective, which it generally is. In general, public services in Singapore work, public transport gets you places, and the economy generally runs like a well-oiled machine. All these are well and good; the results of a culture of productivity.

But we can also see, I think, some of the dark side of productivity when it becomes both a national and personal obsession. When I ask people how they are these days, the invariable reply is, “Oh, busy as usual.” Working frenetically lo…