As I was about to end a one-off Zoom meeting at work while working from home, I gave one of the usual end of the meeting words to all who were online…’Thanks guys and keep in touch’. Out of nowhere my youngest son, in his usual pesky demeanour said to me…’Dad, touching is not allowed nowadays’. Funny that one comment. But come to think of it, one of the few good things about this frustrating lockdown is that it does give us a lot to think about, and one thing that it has made me consider is the importance of touch. We are living in days when any physical contact is frowned on, if not forbidden, and, rightly, we need to be careful about what and who we touch.
I find it interesting that although we talk about ‘managing to keep in touch’ with people through technology, the irony is that the one thing we aren’t doing is touch. We link up with people through sight and sound, but not with physical contact. That inability to touch is a loss. We are now reduced to bows, hand waves or facial gestures.
What is more uncomfortable is the loss of touch when we are in contact with those we love; those people we would like to hug, hold or kiss. I kind of miss during prayer fellowships when we have to shake hands with friends and pat them. I realise it may be a bit agonising, because in the absence of physical contact, for those who find themselves in solitary isolation. Amidst all the serious concerns about this pandemic, one that’s overlooked is what we might call ‘touch deficiency’.
Although we take touch for granted, it is extraordinarily powerful and therapeutic. Medical science has confirmed how vital touch is for babies, yet that importance continues throughout our life.
Touch has been shown to improve our immune system, reduce pain, decrease blood pressure and alleviate depression. Sometimes, it raises our self-esteem when someone pats you in the back for a job well done.
Touch conveys intimacy and can often say more than words. Touch can carry different meanings too: comfort, warning, rebuke or love. Touch shows the importance of physical contact; that we can say of some emotional event that we were ‘touched’ by it.
Sadly, the very fact that so much has been made over the last few years about ‘inappropriate touching’ testifies to the power of touch.
I have realised that touch plays an important role in the Christian faith. On almost every page of the Gospels we read of some aspect of physical contact. The baby Jesus is wrapped in cloths and put in a manger. As an adult, Jesus bathes feet and heals by touch. Ultimately, Jesus is betrayed by a kiss, killed by physical force and carried away into a grave. When raised from the dead, Jesus confirms that he is no vision or ghost by allowing himself to be touched by his disciples. Remembering this, the apostle John wrote, ‘We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands’. In Jesus, the remote and untouchable God becomes literally someone who is at hand.
The physical emphasis of Christianity continues into the church. It’s there in the new covenant that Jesus created which focuses not on a form of words, but on the very physical elements of bread and wine. It’s there in baptisms and in the laying on of hands for healing. It’s there in greeting one another ‘with a holy kiss’ or whatever modern form we find culturally appropriate.
Touch is valuable. It should be part of our lives and it should be part of our fellowships. Sadly, touch reminds us at the deepest level how much we are valued and loved. It’s a fascinating thought that, in Jesus, human beings are able to touch the God who loves us so much that he put on flesh and became one of us. So if you are suffering ‘touch deficiency’ at the moment, remember that God understands that need. When ‘this is all over’ may we all be those who value touch a little bit more and are more ready to share it with those who need it and receive it ourselves. And, in the meantime, to use a phrase that can be a cliché but is in fact a reality, may we all know something of God’s touch at this time.
This COVID19 virus is causing a lot of disruption in life isn't it? As of this writing, the government, state and federal has imposed quarantine and travel restrictions. There are restrictions on public gathering, schools is starting to close for a while and our experience is likely no different than your experience right now – a certain panic, a fear, a worry. And so when we're going through all this disruption and change its natural to ask this question - How will this end? And because we just don't know we kind of get a little uncomfortable and we get afraid. In other words, we get afraid of the unknown.
Nowadays, we live in a culture where we're not used to not knowing the answer. We live in an Information Age where we have a question we just go to Google and it gives us the answer instantly. I mean, recently I heard my two boys speak and ask our Google Home Nest about the weather and query the latest news and it will reply instantaneously. Caleb, our youngest, would then say to me, ‘Daddy, I told you Google know all the answers. I replied back ‘No, she knows facts but she does not have wisdom. I guess, that's what we need right now. We need wisdom.
You see Google can tell you that you were born on what day, but it can't tell you why you were born. It can't tell what your purpose of life is. It can't tell you what will make you happy. We live in an era where we have all the information in the world at our fingertips but we lack wisdom and discernment. Right judgment to be able to see the way God sees and then know the grace to act the way we ought to act. And so, we fall into the trap of fear. Question is… do we have a reason to be afraid?
While the answer is no and how I can say that so confidently well because if we just look to the life of Jesus and the Gospels he never gave people reason to be afraid. He never affirmed people ever in their fear. He never stood on the side of a mountain with thousands of people around him and said blessed are the fearful…for they shall inherit the earth. Or blessed are the anxious of heart for they shall be satisfied. Jesus never said anything remotely close to that. In fact, Jesus said the opposite. didn't he say ‘Peace I leave, you my peace I give to you. I don't give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid’.
What then should be our posture? Now that self-isolation is what we now face, how do we handle our situation? Let me share three words that I hope will help.
The first word is resolution. It’s vital to take charge of the situation and not let the situation take charge of us; at the end of this we all want to be a victor, not a victim. In as much as we can, set ourselves targets and goals. Our grandparents were called to war, we are being called to sit on our lounges – we can do this!
However justified we may feel it is, don’t slip into becoming a wreck, don’t be negative or pessimistic, don’t moan. There are some people who bring happiness wherever they go and other people bring happiness whenever they go! Have a happy attitude and don’t drain people with negative talk. Resolve to be cheerful.
Keep up with personal hygiene, change your clothes, don’t sleep until midday! Find things to do, books to read. And do projects (I am writing my blogs), clean the backyards, play boardgames with the kids). Let’s tidy and de-clutter. (Remember how ‘we didn’t have time’?). Try to get exercise, even if it’s simply walking up and down the stairs or the corridor. And let’s think and act to help others who are isolated – even a phone call or Messenger, or practically to support and assist.
This is pretty much standard psychological advice but let me add a Christian dimension to this. We need to remember that God rules over all things, including viruses, and this has not caught him unawares. A little word in the first two verses of Psalm 23 has come to mind. There, in the middle of those wonderful lines ‘The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters . . .’ Although we all desire freedom and the ability to do what we want, we are like sheep and our wise Shepherd may, when it suits him, make us lie down. God has his purposes for us in this period: let’s resolve to make the most of them.
The second thing is relaxation. Now I apologise if you are stuck in a small unit with hyperactive children and relaxation is something you are praying for, but the fact is most of us will be facing a life that has shifted down a gear or two. This may well be a blessing; one of the characteristics of modern life has been its frantic pace. Many of us are familiar with the sort of situation in which you come across a strange person in the hallway and realise that it’s a member of your family. Indeed, you may well have said as you frown at your twentieth email of the day over your morning coffee, ‘the pace of life is killing me’. Why not consider that, in this self-isolation, God is gifting us with a slow-down? In the long run it may well be the reality – and I pray that it is – that these days of self-isolation end up adding months, if not years, to your life. Our great Shepherd has slowed down life and given us time: time to pray, to read the Bible. To have those conversations with your loved ones, to send out those emails that you never got round to. To relax!
The third thing is reflection. Isolation should give us the opportunity to think about who we are and what we are doing. For a brief moment, the endless stream of traffic on the motorway of life is stopped and we’ve got the opportunity to think about where we are going. While it’s not the moment to peer into the rear-view mirror of life and reflect gloomily about our failures and disappointments, it is a good time to look forward and to think about what we value and what our purposes are. In many accounts from ex-soldiers we often hear or read something along the lines of ‘what I saw and experienced in the war changed me; I made a promise that, if I got out of this, I was going to do something with my life’. What a perceptive thought on how most people live life! Why not spend time thinking and praying, not about how unpleasant things are now, but how, once this is all over – and one day it will be – we are going to live our life in a different way.
Replace you fears and anxiousness to an attitude to resolve, relax and reflect; and may we find our period of isolation to not be a burden but a blessing.
Mercy, Part 1 - The Ecology of Social Mercy
Social mercy is mercy among people – families, peers, community, Church. For us Christians, ‘mercy is love when it encounters suffering. It’s when love meets the poor, weak and broken – the least’[i]. To forgive, to free, to heal, to console, to clothe, to feed, to shelter, to befriend, to correct, to bring good news to, to repair injustice, to intercede, to pray for, to host, to forebear with, to protect, to nourish, to bury the dead – these and more are all acts of mercy! Our religious ecology demands mercy to be exchanged for mercy. And that mercy to the unmerciful is annulled[ii]. Opposite and eternal consequences befall both the merciful (heaven) and the unmerciful (hell)[iii]. In the Divine Mercy prayer, we bravely supplicate to God: “for the sake of [Jesus’] sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world”.
Is alleviating poverty an act of mercy? Definitely! But how is this so, and to whom is mercy granted?
In the beatitudes, ‘blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy’[iv]. And from Our Lord’s Prayer: ‘forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us.’[v] From these, we can surmise that an offender’s sin or trespass results in a collectable debt or enforceable claim by the aggrieved, so that its forgiveness (or its write-off) by the aggrieved equates to mercy on the offender. The rich are people who have stewardship over freedom, and great resources. With these explained, what dynamic then had transpired to result in so much debt owed by the rich to the poor, and also by the poor to the rich?
Personal and economic excesses, idolatry and extremism, injustice and corruption, lack of compassion, lack of neighbourly concern, being inhospitable, greed and exploitation, selfishness and lusts for power and sex and status – these are some of the many reasons why the rich are infinitely indebted to the poor. From this perspective, we who are rich in the world’s goods and comforts – we who are free – we are the ones in need of mercy from them (the poor)! Think of sweathouses: child labour in the chocolate, coffee, shoe and garment industries. Think of regimes which are oppressive to Christians such as the Middle East (Sharia law), India (Caste), China (Communism), North Korea (Juche). Think of the wide-spread corruption in the Philippines through cronyism, nepotism, malversation toward public resources, and bribery. Think of societies where abortion and embryonic farming, mutilation and destruction are legalised. Think of street and crime syndicates, red light districts and sex slavery. Think of regulated and unregulated gaming, alcohol, pornography and drug addiction.
These offences results in many and complex sufferings of the poor: their downtroddeness, hunger, thirst, sickness and injuries, oppression, imprisonment, loneliness, addiction, nakedness, blindness, sickness, and their grief. From what fountain of grace, then, may the poor draw from to forgive such sins? The answer is in Our Lord, Jesus.
Jesus said to St Faustina that “The greater the sinner, the greater right he has to My mercy”[vi]. God hears the cry of His people so in one saving act of Divine wisdom and humility, God chooses to become man and hides himself in the poor[vii] (incognito!) so the poor will always have something commensurate with which to write-off (to forgive) the incalculable debts owed to them by the rich and overindulgent, the corrupt, and the oppressive.
In turn, here are (at least) nine reasons on how the poor trumps the rich, and dispirits them. First, like flies in the summer, the poor is ever-present[viii] and the eradication of poverty is a lofty ideal only achievable through religion that must be just, and holy, and believes in a universal physical resurrection (life after death)[ix]. Second, the poor can be disruptive and demanding[x]. Third, the poor have so little, materially, to trade with[xi] . Fourth, the poor shames the wealthy before God[xii] . Fifth, it is easier for the poor to enter heaven than it is for the rich[xiii]. Sixth, the rich who do not help the poor disinherits heaven and offends God himself![xiv] Seventh, it is not enough for the rich to simply be ‘good’ by keeping the commandments[xv]. Eight, by their poverty of spirit, the poor is more likely to merit everlasting bliss[xvi] . And most of all, God the Almighty King identifies himself as one who is poor in this world[xvii]. The inequity among rich and poor results also in a debt owed by the poor to the rich. This places the rich in the privileged position of forgiver and mercy giver through urgent, generous charitable works.
This, then explains the ecology of social mercy: The poor begs the rich for earthly relief and trades divine mercy (from God) for the prayers, corporeal acts and works of mercy by people (rich in faith) who willingly share God’s transforming love with the poor.
In Couples For Christ (CFC), our vision are to be both:
Reflection and Discussion
In commemoration of the Feast Day of St Leo the Great, and the Enhanced Vision and Mission of CFC ANCOP
[i] Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, “You did it to Me”, (Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2014), p. 19
[ii] Matthew 18:21-25 ‘the parable of the unmerciful servant’
[iii] Matthew 25:34 ‘come and possess the kingdom’; Matthew 18:34 ‘he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount’
[iv] Matthew 5:7 ‘happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them.’
[v] Luke 11:3-4
[vi] Diary of St Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul (Stockbridge: Marian Press, 1987), p. 723
[vii] Matthew 25:40,45 ‘in truth, I tell you, in so far as you did it to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me. . . . in so far as you neglected to do this to one of these, you neglected to do it to me’
[viii] Mark 14:7 ‘the poor you will always have with you’
[x] Luke 11:5-8 ‘friend, lend me three loaves’
[xi] 1 Kings 17:12 ‘all I have is a handful of flour and a bit of olive oil . . .that will be our last meal, then we will starve to death.’
[xii] Luke 21:3 ‘this poor widow put in more than all the others’
[xiii] Matthew 5:3 ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven’; Mark 10:25 ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!
[xiv] Luke 16:23 ‘in Hades, where he was in great pain’; Matthew 25:40 ‘you did it to me’
[xv] Matthew 19:22 ‘he went away sorrowful’
[xvi] Matthew 5:3 ‘blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’
[xvii] Luke 2:7 ‘wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for the in the inn’; Luke 9:58 ‘the Son of Man have nowhere to lay his head’; Isaiah 53:3 ‘he was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, he was despised, and we did not esteem him.’
Mercy, part 2 – Gazed with Mercy
Why do we pity the blind? Isn’t it because they cannot see the beauty, the wonder, the dimensions and the motions of what we can see? And when we talk with them, it could be near impossible to describe colour, shapes, and features. It is also awkward to explain how a scene is funny or astonishing, and how a child looks so much like his mother. Blind people are disabled from connecting what they cannot see with what they can otherwise sense. Signs and words need to be felt and heard. Pictures are often much left to their imagination.
I suppose this is why God pities mankind and would not leave us to our fate - why God is so merciful to us. We became disabled at the loss of Eden. Blinded by sin in this corruptible world, we only have our faith to really ‘see’ with. Faith with which to recognise God’s image in people. Faith to experience God in us, with.
Perhaps this is what faith is – a sixth human sense. More than a perspective, faith is constitutional and genetic. A means for us to recognise the Fatherly life-giver who is the cause and the fulfilment of our heart’s restlessness and thirsts[i]. But misguided faith can also lead man to think of himself a god – begotten in evolution, not designed with intent and purpose, of one being with the vast universe which (by affinity) justifies his pride and philosophic boastings – as if apart from God, he can be greater than his urn, his body which contains him. Just as misguided and diminished senses can lead the blind to incorrect conclusions, so too could faith when misguided or diminished, result in (i) a loss of trust in Jesus; and (ii) loss of ability to recognise Jesus, especially in the poor and in the Eucharist. To mitigate the effects of these errors in faith, God instils in each of us another ‘sixth sense’ – our conscience!
Conscience is the sacred space God carves out for Himself inside a person to enable each us to self-assess our lives when projected against the righteousness and holiness of God. The fruits of a good examination of conscience is a holy shame (ie. a humble disposition toward God) and a repentant heart[ii]. Both of these are pleasing to God and cause for heavenly rejoicing[iii]. Our conscience helps realign our faith in the love and mercy of God. When we experience Divine Mercy, we are moved by God’s loving gaze on us to, in turn, change ourselves and to change our outlook towards others and the whole of creation. We are moved to take on the ‘merciful outlook’ – which means to take in a view from the perspective of mercy.
The merciful outlook was written about extensively by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, in his book “You Did It to Me – a practical guide to Mercy in action”[iv]. The merciful outlook is NOT the downward gaze of one who is patronising, proselytising and judgemental. On the contrary, the merciful outlook is more like that of the father who lovingly gives in and advances his son’s rightful inheritance - then forgives him for squandering it[v]; more like the saint who bursts to share God’s love and the Gospel through authentic love for the other; more like Jesus’ teaching reminding us to stop short of trespassing onto someone else’s conscience[vi] and to avoid prying to ‘see in the other what the other’s own inner eye [conscience] sees’[vii] .
The merciful outlook is also NOT an over-spiritualised outlook in that it genuinely delights in the other – not just delighting in Jesus who happens to reside in the other. Taking ‘death’ for an example, Fr Michael nails down the significance of each person’s “inexhaustible beauty” in how people are missed – even (and especially) because of their annoying personality traits! ‘We rightfully weep because there’s a hole in the cosmos, a reflection of Christ’s face that here, we behold no more.’[viii]
The merciful outlook prudently overcome cynicisms, to look over the sins and real annoyances in people – deciding instead ‘to deal with it, look past it, or even rediscover it as a treasure’[ix] and ‘it chooses mercy over justice, and trusts in the power of mercy to bring an even greater good out of evil’.[x] The merciful outlook recognises the signature of God in the unique composition of the other and reveres the King-hidden by conferring princely dignity to the other. Further, the merciful outlook is ready to correct the other, to save both his soul and the other’s, in the spirit of ‘better to love than to be right’.
In a special way, to look at another mercifully is to love more than the other is ready or comfortable of being loved. This means setting yourself up for possible rejection, shaming, disappointment or even persecution. Loving mercifully is messy, and it is a hit-and-miss activity. “God is pleased with the person who doesn’t lose heart after embarrassing himself trying to love. He is so happy when we don’t give up after learning firsthand what it means to be a ‘fool for Christ’s sake’.”[xi]
And so the merciful outlook moves us to reach out to others, and to dive deep among the murk to delight in the treasures God has instilled in the other which pleased Him since the dawn of creation.[xii] Without the merciful gaze of God and the merciful outlook of his saints, and each other, we are destined to be lonely people seeking to excel only at distracting ourselves.
In my life, I strive these days to be reminded to add the ‘secret ingredient’ of mercy in all my thoughts and prayers, in my communion with people and the world. I’ve noticed changes already in my outlook toward family and friends, my CFC community, my workmates, and in my service. Even if others do not change, I experience changes and graces within. Praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet and 3pm Divine Mercy prayer is very helpful to me. (I recall praying it regularly in high-school but somehow I stopped the devotion for almost 30 years!)
Since taking up mercy prayers again, I find that choosing a merciful outlook arms me to better engage others with diverse faiths, multicultural histories, and secularistic language which are prevalent in my workplace and immediate society.
Viewing life with mercy also helps me pray better: to be more reflective, more honest, more rigorous, more courageous and more aware. The great irony for me is that even as I experience chastisements and sorrows, I feel there is already an element of divine mercy there just for me – if only because God permitted these things to happen to me because He loves me as His child, has great plans for me, and desires permanent togetherness with me.
Yes! Mercy changes people, societies and even environments. Mercy is a cause for joy and Jubilee. Having a merciful outlook is Christ’s grace at work in us, toward our reconciliation and ongoing transformation in Him.
For Reflection and Sharing
How do you know when God gazes at you mercifully? How do you sense this?
Recall and share about a time you received the merciful outlook from someone. Who was it and how did it feel?
What makes loving mercifully a ‘messy, hit-or-miss’ activity?
‘The merciful outlook is different from the judgemental outlook, the proselytising outlook, the patronising outlook, and the over-spiritualised outlook.’ How can I be merciful toward others who judge me, patronise me, preach to me, and only love Jesus in me – but cannot stand me for who I am?
How can I remind myself to always add mercy as a ‘secret ingredient’ in all my reflection, prayers and considerations to influence my decisions, communications and works? How am I consoled when my effort to love ‘misses’ its mark?
By Oliver Molina, CFC member
6 December, 2015
[i]St. Augustine's Confessions (Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5) "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."
[ii] Luke 18:13 But the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even raise his face to heaven, but beat on his breast and said, ‘God, have pity on me, a sinner!’[iii] Luke 15:7 ‘I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.’
An article written for the FILCOS group by bro Marcy Mission about CFC - Couples For Christ.
There are a plethora of ad campaigns nowadays that begin with the two words "I am". It signifies a belonging and in the marketing campaign a loyalty. Actually it is as old as the time when Moses asked for the name of the Lord. He got this reply "I am who am". You belong to me and I to you. The Lord was confirming the beautiful love story of man's relationship to God that started with Adam and Eve.
This is what CFC (an acronym that stands for Couples for Christ) is all about. It is about personal, family and community transformation to bring us in closer and deeper relationship with God. But this ideal does not exist in a vacuum or merely an abstraction. The relationshio with God has two crucial tasks embodied in the CFC mission of building the church of the home and building the church of the poor. The word "church" is important here and not merely a play of words. Church means a relationship of being the bride of Christ. The task of CFC is to bring our families and the marginalized members of our global society to a love relationship with Jesus.
The ultimate goal is expressed in the CFC vision of families in the Holy Spirit renewing the face of the earth. Once again, "earth" as our elders had penned this vision through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was not an accidental thought. From the very beginning, CFC was not meant for Philippines or Australia alone. The task is global evangelization. Thus the Vatican recognition under the canon law of the Roman Carholic Church was given for this global task of building the church of the homes and the poor. CFC is in more than 120 countries across the globe and is still growing owing to the missionary zeal of its members.
CFC is one family across the globe and has its roots and refinement of its vision and mission from the Phillipines. Moreover CFC is not just a members club or a prayer group. It is as the title of this article expresses a belongingness through loyalty to a common set of mission and vision. It is in a word - a lifestyle. I am CFC not only when I am in prayer with a group (don't get me wrong i did not say that's not important) but in all my mind, heart, soul and strength. This is how we ought to love God and CFC is our lifestyle by which we love God.
Realizing these ideals CFC is a family ministry that involves kids, youth, singles, couples and widows and widowers (widowed men). It has its work with the poor through ANCOP an acronym for Answering the Cry of the Poor. It has its mission work of bringing and nurturing CFC in other areas through its International Mission Council from the Philippines. In Australia and New Zealand this means the missionary work in the Oceania regions. Currently this involves CFC in PNG, Solomon Is., Vanuatu, Fiji, Cook Is, and Western Samoa. CFC also has its work with the clergy. In November of this year CFC will hold the CFC Clergy Congress in Australia for the first time. As part of its vision of being one with the Catholic Church, CFC has formed the ministry of church relationship. The Clergy Congress is an annual event attended by all members of the clergy involved with CFC.
God has called CFC to become witness of His love. The harvest is plentiful. Many hunger for the Word of God. Even more need a relationship with God. I am CFC is an invitation for those who are reading this page. May God be praised!