SVDP Feast Day Novena Reflections

Novena Day 9 – Accepting the Path of the Gospel even though it may cause us Problems: that is Holiness 

For Day 9 of the Novena, Fr. Valerian Cheong leads us to reflect on the struggles that come with carrying our cross, and what it truly means to accept the path of the Gospel.

Regardless of what phase in life we may be in, we each have our own struggles and difficulties to bear: whether it is exams for students, or the daily drudgery of work. But we know these challenges are necessary and important for our lives.

By focusing on Jesus, and embracing these crosses we bear, these difficult moments in our lives become the instrument by which our lives are united with the passion of Jesus. By God’s grace, our suffering allows us to partake in the Paschal Mystery and our lives become transformed and glorified.

Turning our hearts to focus on Jesus is no easy task. It means acknowledging deep in our hearts that he is the Son of God, as Peter declares in the Gospel reading. Jesus does not care what the world may say about who he is, but he cares what each of us personally says he is.

If we are able to acknowledge his Lordship in our lives, in the midst of our daily struggles, despite being caught up with work and the secular world, we are truly then able to join our cross to his, and share in his yolk.

While we may be distracted in our daily struggles of carrying our daily crosses, let us not lose focus, and continue to strive towards our salvation. With God’s divine assistance, he will bless us with the courage and purity of heart we need, to accept our crosses in hope and faith.

Novena Day 8 – Sowing Peace All Around Us: that is Holiness

On Day 8 of the Novena, we are led to reflect on the sources of disturbances in our lives, that rob us of our peace, and even to question if we are also responsible for sowing seeds of discontent and unhappiness in other people’s lives.

Fr Valerian Cheong began his homily by reminding us of the importance of having purity of heart, linking back to his homily from Day 7. As stated in the first reading by St James, when we allow impure motivation and desires to take control of our heart, like “bitterness, jealousy or a self-seeking ambition”, our emotions fall into disarray, and we struggle to hear God’s voice and his will in our lives.

This turbulent storm of emotions in our hearts is what leads us to react, rather than respond, very often spreading our hurts and internal negativity to the rest of world.

Another common source of disturbance is when situations don’t go our way. When people don’t behave the way we expect, or even when God does not answer our prayers the way we want. We lash out, and lose our inner peace.
Worse still, in this storm of emotions, we may even be tempted to gossip, or spread negativity with our words. As St James reminds us in his letter, “a great forest is set on fire by small spark”, so too is our tongue a fire and capable of corrupting the whole body.

“The beautiful thing is that we have someone to surrender such negative vibes to. We have the Lord.” Fr Valerian Cheong
But for all this potential sources of discord and unhappiness, we are not hopeless. We have a Lord who takes our suffering and complaints and negativity upon himself. And who offers us his Shalom peace.

As we hear in the Gospel, not even our locked doors, or our inner turmoil of emotions can keep away our God. Just as the disciples were locked away, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them. So too, will our God, come to us, and bring us His peace, no matter our outsider circumstances and conditions.

“Once we recognise the presence of Christ in our parish community and our home, things will be different” -Fr Valerian Cheong

The source of this peace is from the Lord. And it is not just about a lack of trouble. It comes to us, no matter what our circumstances, because of the presence of God in our lives. When we have received this inner peace, we will be able to spread God’s peace to our friends, relatives, and those around us.

Novena Day 7 – Keeping a Heart Free of all that Tarnishes Love: that is Holiness

“Holiness is how we live our lives, right down from the inside.” – Fr. Valerian Cheong

On Day 7 of our Novena, Fr Valerian Cheong calls us to reflect on what it means to be holy and pure of heart. He reminds us, that it is not simply about living sinless lives. Nor is it simply about performing acts of devotion or piety. Rather, holiness and purity of heart has to do with how we live our lives, right down from the inside: our motivations, desires, and intentions.
As Jesus, reminds us in the Gospel of Mark “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile”.
So what are we to do, if we know our intentions and motivations are selfish and impure? After all, we live in a world that has taught us to prioritise material wellbeing, and encourages us to chase after wealth and acclaim. Many of us have forgotten the meaning of “sacrificial love”, and have started to believe the watered-down version of “love” sold to us by the media and the secularised world. Some of us have become so jaded and hurt through our lives, that we start to experience spiritual blockages, and lose our desire to be pure and holy.
Yet, we need not be discouraged, or disheartened. We are held in the arms of a loving Father who embraces us and gives us the grace we need when we desire to grow in holiness.
It is God who is taking the initiative, in our process of being sanctified and purified.

“We have a God who wants to take charge of each and every one of our hearts. We have a God who wants to draw out that holiness from us.”
– Fr. Valerian Cheong

As in the readings from the Prophet Ezekiel, it is God who makes the first move, and purifies Israel. Through repeated images and actions, it is God who takes the initiative and is proactively commencing the process of sanctifying her.
“Taking and gathering” Israel from all the nations; “Sprinkling clean water” upon her and “cleaning” her from her uncleanness; “Giving” Israel a new heart and a new spirit; “removing” the heart of stone and “giving” Israel a heart of flesh; “putting” God’s spirit into her, that she may follow and observe God’s laws.

We are reminded then, to cooperate with God’s actions, and to try our best to avoid whatever sin tarnishes our hearts as it keeps us from receiving God’s love freely. We can do this by listening attentively to God’s active voice and will in our lives, and by inviting his healing love into the blockages in our lives. We can do this by asking him to sanctify and purify us, so that we may be like him, and finally see him face to face when the time arrives.

“A heart that loves God and neighbour, genuinely and not merely in words, is a pure heart; it can see God. In his hymn to charity, Saint Paul says that “now we see in a mirror, dimly” but to the extent that truth and love prevail, we will then be able to see “face to face”. Jesus promises that those who are pure in heart “will see God”.” – Paragraph 86, Gaudete Et Exsultate

Novena Day 6 – Seeing and acting with mercy: that is Holiness.

What is mercy, exactly?
Is it, as is commonly understood, an act of forgiveness to those who have caused hurt? Perhaps so, but as Father Clifford Augustine believes, there is also a deeper, more compelling meaning behind it.

Many of us have also been victims of unmerciful acts. Gossip, insults, or being judged by others, can easily hurt us and make us unwilling to show mercy in return. Yet, it is a lot easier to show mercy if we have experienced it ourselves. We have the perfect example of this in God’s mercy, where we can freely leave our failings and mistakes to Him while repenting and learning from them, thus allowing us to stay humble before Him and reciprocating this mercy to others.

St. Francis of Assisi used to despise lepers. Yet, during his conversion, overcome with God’s mercy, he rid himself of his past doubts and embraced a leper he saw on a street. Perhaps St. Francis was just as much a leper himself at that moment: the disease of his past flaws and shortcomings was only cured by the healing effect of mercy.

We must recognize that mercy isn’t just about feeling sorry, but rather about recognizing the dignity of others as God’s children, and as such, being merciful is just something we were born to be as humans. As Jesus said, forgiving is not just to feel good but should be second nature; we should be kind even when we do not want to. In allowing ourselves to receive God’s mercy, as well as showing mercy to ourselves, we are filled with the grace we need to extend this same mercy to others.

“God loved us in our darkest hour; we too must love others in theirs,” Father Clifford ended off with an appeal: “May we become God’s mercy in the world”.

Novena Day 5 – Hungering and Thirsting for Righteousness: that is Holiness

Father Kamus takes us deeper into the Gospel of Luke,
Chapter 16.

“Use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, so that later on they will welcome you into the tents of eternity.” – Luke 16: 9
Who are these friends that Jesus refers to? They are those who “welcome you into the tents of eternity.”

They are those who already have a special place in the Father’s heart and house. Who are these people we need to befriend so that we too can enter the tents of eternity?

To identify them, Father Kamus takes us through one of the key social teachings of our Catholic Church:
We are all stewards, everything we have in life is God’s gift to each one of us. Even so, none of these gifts are meant for our own profits, but meant to build up the master’s kingdom.
The church supports the acquiring of private property. However, behind this acquiring of wealth and private property is also a firm understanding that whatever we have as possessions, belong just as much to the poor.

For those who are rich or comfortable, whatever we have and what we do not use, belong to poor people.
Father Kamus cites the example of wasting food. He reiterates that every time we waste food, we actually waste food that belongs to those who are hungry.

It is not enough to be grateful, thankfulness needs to give way to generosity, as it is a sign of the kingdom of God.
In essence, we give back to the poor simply because it belongs to them.

People need our time, our presence and our money. Whenever someone is hungry, sick or depressed, God counts on us to give to that person. Father Kamus empowers us in this challenging call, reminding us that generosity is good for us. Sometimes we may fall into the trap of thinking that conserving our time, talents and money makes us happy, but joy comes form giving. We were made to give freely and with love.
Thus, Father Kamus concludes that the “true friends” who help us grow in virtue and holiness are none other than the poor. They are the true friends who teach us thankfulness, gratitude and generosity.

The poor have a special place in God’s heart and eyes. The eternal tent belongs to them, and rightly so.

Novena Day 4 – Knowing how to mourn with others: that is Holiness

Father Kamus urged us to confront a difficult question during the homily today.

Singaporeans – are we greedy or generous?

How do we truly live out the message of today’s readings, which tell us that we cannot serve both God and money?

Money is absolutely essential in maintaining a certain standard of living. In fact, earning money and providing for the ones we love is also considered a loving act of service.

How do we straddle that liminal boundary and create that balance where God, not money, is at the center of our lives? Ultimately, money is not evil, it’s the inordinate love of it by men that is evil.

Father Kamus proposes this degree of self awareness, as a means to live out this call to serve God and God alone. What drives our motivations for money? How much of our earthly income is used to build God’s kingdom and to serve our fellow brothers and sisters?

Since we cannot live without money, we can use the gifts, talents and resources we have to truly bless those in need.
We are all stewards in life who have been allotted roles and positions either in the workplace or at home. These have been given to us by God.

We can use these resources wisely, like the wise steward that pleased God. One way to do so is through the virtue of generosity, which requires us to do more than just give.
Father Kamus emphasizes that it means to ‘place ourselves’ at the feet of others when we give, and to form authentic friendships with them, and to partake and share in their sorrows. In so doing, we mourn with others. We mourn with others not from a place of superiority, but an interior disposition that understands that all good things we receive and own come from the Lord’s hand, and that we are merely giving back to the poor what is owed to them.

As challenging as it may seem, we ask the Lord for this interior conversion of mind and heart and to live out this call with courage, knowing that the Lord will help us to slowly enthrone Him as King, and at the center of our lives.

Novena Day 3 – Reacting with Meekness and Humility: that is Holiness

“In Jesus Christ, we encounter a firmness that is not shaken by the environment He was in, a firmness that is based on the truth. So firm about what he stood for that he was able to express himself appropriately without being influenced or toppled by the pressure of the situation he was in.” – Father Jude

How do we respond to hostile realities with meekness and humility, without being taken for granted?

We were privileged to have Father Jude David share with us on how to strike a balance in challenging situations where discernment and wisdom are necessary.

Father Jude tells us that sometimes loving means being firm, sometimes it means being gentle. When we are firm, we are clear about what we desire for ourselves and the other person. We want what is best for ourselves and for them and are able to manage our emotions when we express ourselves.
If we express our discontent harshly, we create a culture that contradicts what is communion, which is at the heart of community. With self control and cooperating with the Holy Spirit, we learn how to respond with gentleness and meekness.
However, this can seem like an impossible task for many of us, depending on the unique situations we find ourselves in.

In these cases, Father Jude urges us to look at the example of Jesus Christ and to draw wisdom and strength from learning how He spent his time on earth.

Jesus loves us infinitely, but he could also be firm and convicted, especially with what he stood for. Although his status was divine, His fidelity to the Truth was what led Him to meekly and humbly mount the wood of the cross.

We are not called to become pushovers or doormats. Slowly and gradually, through our prayer life and closeness to Christ, we are better able to stand humbly with the Truth, without losing self control or simply giving in to please others.

“The truth remains in firmness and gentleness. The Son hanging on the cross is the revelation of the Father to us, an example of truth and meekness. In the humble and meek God we encounter on the cross, our hearts are moved to conversion.” – Father Jude

Novena Day 2 – Being Poor of Heart: that is Holiness

On Day two of our Novena, Father Adrian Anthony used powerful examples of men and women who were “poor in the sight of God.”

In the Old Testament, the Prophet Jeremiah was steeped in fear when the Lord called him to mission. He saw himself as a mere child, a man of unclean lips. God lifted him up from his lowly estate, purified his lips and sent Him off to proclaim the word of God as one of the most powerful preachers of his time. He was the poor of Yahweh.

Another beautiful example of the poor of Yahweh was Mother Mary. When the Angel Gabriel appeared to her, she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” Father Anthony clarified that handmaid means slave..a prisoner of the Lord. She was poor before the Lord and depended totally on Him.

“Yahweh in the Old Testament was known as ‘Anawim Yahweh’- in Hebrew, this means the ‘poor of Yahweh.’ Although they were unfaithful, God never abandoned them. They were poor in the sight of God and put their full trust in Him. He brought them out of the land of slavery.”
– Father Anthony

Novena Day 1 – The Beatitudes: Our Roadmap to Holiness 

We are ever grateful for Father Adrian Anthony, who took us through one of the most impactful lessons Jesus gives throughout the course of his ministry; the Beatitudes.

Referred to by the late Pope John Paul II as the “Magna Carta” of Christianity, the Beatitudes in a nutshell represents the ideals that we as children of God should strive to emulate in our lives.

Now, it might seem simple, but as Father Adrian emphasises, we often replace them with the “Beatitudes of the world”, which causes us to look down on the handicapped, dismiss the less fortunate and ignore the bullied as if it were normal.

This, he says, leads to spiritual bankruptcy, as in the process of doing so we relinquish the qualities that Jesus himself lived by, such as gentleness, kindness, humility and meekness, among others.

Lord, we pray for the grace to live according to the values and virtues you espoused while on earth. We need your help and strength to live out the Beatitudes in the way you desire for us!