Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Saints: Caring for the poorest of the poor

A great woman once said 'There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love'.
This woman cared for those who were the poorest of the poor of the ones out of the womb.
Like many Saints, she helped the sick and dying, and showed love to those who had been showed none.

The people she cared for had no bread and no other food for that matter, but that was not what had torn them apart. It wasn’t the material possessions they lacked, or the tattered clothing they used as clothes or even the poor condition of their health that made them feel the worst.

No, it was the fact that they had been left to die and as they lay in the gutter or street corner, people passed by and did not even give them a glance. These poor men and women died the most miserable deaths, and nobody seemed to care.

Nobody there it seems, except for God.

At the age of 12, Agnes Bojaxhiu felt God's call to leave what she was doing. Her wish was to show Christ's love to others as a missionary and when she was 18 she joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community that offered missions to India.
Upon visiting India, she soon witnessed the terrible suffering and extreme poverty and this had a great impact on the young lady who had just begun her initial vows to be a nun.
Agnes was certain that her calling was to reach out to the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta.

She had no funds but she believed in Divine Providence, and so she was able to start a school for the children of the slums. With time,  people heard of her school and offered to help and they also gave her financial assistance.

To understand the context in India, the ‘lower caste' people believe they are worthless, because they are taught to think that way. But Agnes, or as she came to be known; Mother Teresa, knew each one of them was valuable, and she extended her ministry to include those who were dying on the streets.

She did not want people to die without ever knowing love. She knew that they deserved better, and knew that Christ's love was for everyone.

In the Western world, it is difficult to imagine such desolation, but we need not look to India to find the homeless and the dying. In fact where I live, there are ten thousand homeless and each one of them needs to be fed, and needs Christ's love as much as or even more than us. While we watch television and enjoy beautiful music, there are men and women on the streets of our city, and they are hungry, both physically and spiritually. They need physical food, and they need the food that St Paul talks about; they need to know Christ.

So let us pray.
Heavenly Father we ask that you give us the grace to not judge, and never condemn the people who are the poorest of the poor; the ones who lack the physical bread for survival and the spiritual food for salvation. Father give us the grace to overcome our fear of reaching out, and give us the courage to go out from our comfort zone to care for and feed the homeless as Mother Teresa did, showing the compassion and love that she did. We thank you Father for the great example of your daughter, who was inspired as we are by Your example, Jesus Christ you who are our Supreme Example. We thank you also for those who are doing what you commanded them, and we ask for inspiration and encouragement from you to do the works that you told us to do in Sacred Scripture. Lastly we praise you Father for giving us what we need, and we realise that now it is time for us to give back to the world.

N.B. While Mother Teresa is not a Catholic Saint yet, she is blessed and is deserving of veneration.

Information: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1979/teresa-bio.html/


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Barriers to Sainthood: Returning to old ways

So my friend said to me “Why don’t you go clubbing with us.. like old times?”
For a moment there I considered accepting, after all it was fun. I was a good dancer, and I got attention from girls.. and some of them were really good looking. It was harmless fun... or was it?
Then my rational mind kicked in... this was a temptation, a temptation to return to my former ways.

Suddenly I replied politely “Err, maybe” but I knew there was no way I was going back to the “old times” of senseless drinking, a dress code that screamed immodesty, and the worship of the rhythmic beat. No, I would never step into that chaotic anarchic place again.

We finished our conversation, and I breathed a sigh of relief. The temptation was over, for now anyway.

The technical term for someone like me is “revert”, as in was a Christian but lost the faith, and later came back to loving God. But the definition I truly believe reflects who I am is “convert”, someone who never knew God and then came to love Him. I know I was baptised as a baby, but I only just had my confirmation a little under a year ago.
Furthermore I only started believing in God in 2006, before which I had only prayed when things were grim, and not because I loved God, but because I thought my will was the only way. I did care for the people I prayed for, but the prayer lasted about a minute a day, and it was out of desperation, I prayed with the “I’ll give it a chance” mentality, nothing more.  Besides, I never read the Bible, and was a theist at best, lacking the gift of the Christian faith.

Like most people before their conversion, I thought I was invincible, and had no fear of where I would end up, because as far as I was concerned, Hell was just a concept, a mere story that was told to frighten people.

At this time, I fell into a lot of sin especially around my early teens, and believe you me, the devil even now keeps reminding me of it, in order to make me feel guilty. But then I remember that I have repented and confessed those sins to a Catholic priest a long time ago, which means I can move forward.

So why am I saying this? Because perhaps some of you have been devout Catholics your whole lives, and God bless you for that. But some of you may be just like I used to be.

But one thing has always given me hope is that God always gives us chances to change, and a great example of this can be seen with the life of St Augustine of Hippo. St Augustine was not a devout Catholic Christian his whole life, in fact before he lively saintly, he used to have wild parties at his house. These were the equivalent of the promiscuous teenage parties we see on the news, or perhaps worse. He had a faith but he was so cheeky that he used to pray “God, help me become Holy” but then added the words “But not yet”.

He was having too much fun in earthly delights of the flesh. He wanted instant gratification, like many of the Generation Y of today. But one day, he gave it all up. He heard a story about St Antony, and felt terrible shame, stating “Unlearned people are taking Heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!"”

Doesn’t this sound like what is happening today? And this is why I mention this quote. Just like in those times, the people who supposedly know so much, yet do not know that which is important. It’s quite ironic, in a sad way.

Humans have a thirst for knowledge, knowledge is power apparently.
The same with me, I knew a lot, but the very thing I didn’t think I needed, that being a Christian faith and values, a relationship with God, and a holy life, was and would become the most important area of my life.

So St Augustine changed his whole life by God’s grace, became a Bishop and after his death was declared a Catholic Saint.

Was he tempted to return to his old ways? Certainly, but he persevered, and now rests in Heaven. Like St Paul the Apostle, he converted and now sees God face to face in the beatific vision.

Maybe you think you are a hopeless case, or that you’ll never make it to heaven, let alone be canonized a Saint.  But let me tell you, Augustine by his own admission kept rolling around in the mud of his sins, but God helped him become one of the Greatest Saints in history. God did that, so he can certainly help you.

Believe in the infinite power of God’s grace, and soldier on, persisting in faith, hope and love towards the place in Heaven that Jesus has prepared for you. And one other thing, you have Saints in Heaven just like St Augustine who were in your shoes originally, and they are all interceding for you.

Praise the Lord!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Barriers to Sainthood: Sin

"Death, but not sin!" he cried out passionately many times during his earthly life.

He was so strong willed and good, and he sure hated sin.

Who was he?

We might think that such a statement might have come from a man or woman who was about to be crucified or boiled alive, or about to be eaten by lions.

But no, this was no man or woman. This was exclaimed by a child who died at 14!

His name was Dominic Savio, even better.. St Dominic Savio at that. What was it about St Dominic Savio that made him detest sin?

Of course it was, as we exclaim in the confessional, that he dreaded “the pains of hell”. But more than that! St Dominic hated sin “because it offends ...(God) who is so good”.
You may be wondering how we can know how much God hurts when we sin and this is absolutely essential knowledge. This should be our own principal deterrent to sin.

So how can you tell how offended God is?

Let’s think about people: When you hurt someone, you can usually tell by their actions, emotion, or words. What about if you don’t think they are hurt, but you genuinely want to know for sure.
What do you do? You ask them, don’t you?
But what about God?
God wants to have a personal relationship with you, and he always puts in effort.

As one of my favourite preachers Aneel Aranah once challenged us at a conference “You ask your mum, your dad, your family and your friends “How are you?”... But do you ever ask God?” The audience and I were shocked!
I’m sure 99% of people there had never asked God that question. I sure hadn’t.

So one day after this conference I asked God that question, and he didn’t respond but I kept asking him every day. He didn’t respond for about a year, but I still hadn’t given up, i persisted.

Then one day I asked Him, like always, with a genuine care for Him.

What He said changed my outlook on sin forever.

I said “God, how are you?” and He replied: “In the innermost pains of agony”

Suddenly I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of sorrow and started to cry. At that moment, I realised the horror of sin, and a little of the pain that God felt with every sin committed.

Therefore I made a resolution: I would take that prayer I said in the confessional, and I would “try my best not to sin anymore”. But this would be my real best, not the second rate “best” I had been opting for in the past.

As a result although I still sin, I now sin a lot less than I did before.

So was St Dominic Savio really serious when he said “Death, not sin!”? Absolutely.

St Dominic Savio knew the absolute agony that God goes through when He sees the sin of the world, probably much better than me. He was willing to die to sin by dying to himself. It’s taken me 24 years to seriously detest sin, but now I’m glad I do. I have become a much better person through this, and take offenses against God very seriously.

I encourage you to love the sinner, but as the saying goes, we should certainly hate the sin.

Are you willing to put away all evil ways and die to sin?

Are you willing to remove sin in your life to ensure God does not suffer because of your disobedience to Him?

Make up your mind now, but remember that God is “in the innermost pains of agony”, and does not deserve to suffer.

Let the story of young St Dominic Savio inspire you and when you feel tempted to sin, may you repeat in your heart: 

“Death, not sin!”

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Spiritual advisors: Most Saints had them

Before I begin, I must say that I’ve had a spiritual adviser for the past 2 and a half years, and it has been an amazing privilege and a great highlight of my life.

One of the things I love most about having a Spiritual Adviser is that I have to be obedient to him.  I find essential obedience really puts me in line, and makes me live better.  You will find that most Saints had a spiritual adviser, whom they confided everything important in their lives to. I say “a” spiritual advisor, not “spiritual advisers” because it is good to have mentors and ask advice from different people, but if we had multiple spiritual advisers, one may say “I want you to pray 2 rosaries every day” and the other might tell you to pray 1 per day. Then we would see confusion, and many other problems.  

Which brings me to my next point: obedience to my spiritual adviser offers routine in my day, and demands me to be earnest (sincere) to him. He gives me a set prayer schedule which; in addition to the standard rules of a practicing Catholic, involves one rosary a day, one hour of adoration a week, one extra (daily) mass a week, and confession every thirty days. That is the minimum, but I am encouraged to do much more than that. This routine is the way that many Saints took in striving for holiness. It makes so much sense to me to have a spiritual advisor and this prayer routine because after all I want to become a Saint, and this is the way to holiness.

Some days I may not be able to fulfil my obligation to my Spiritual Adviser, and he asks me to write down the reason as to why I did not do a certain thing such as praying the rosary, on the sheet of paper I give him every month. This piece of paper contains the details of every spiritual thing I did for the month, day by day. When he first met me, he told me strictly that if I ever were to lie about what I did in the month, it would be “wasting your time and mine”. He is completely right. Nowadays we have a great relationship, him being a fantastic male role model, and a real Spiritual Father to me.

I have come to love him as a Father too.

The bond is deep, and this is the best reason I love having a Spiritual Father. We even set aside one day a week when he celebrates mass for me, and all of my prayers for the day are for him and his work. Furthermore, we have a solemn agreement that should one of us pass away, the surviving one must pray for the other for the rest of the surviving one’s life. This is because the one who passes away may go to Purgatory, and the surviving one’s prayers may shorten this time of suffering in purification.

Why choose a Spiritual Adviser? In short, your life will take a turn for the better, by obedience you will grow to become a better Catholic.  I encourage you to choose a Spiritual Adviser be it Priest, Nun, other religious, or even a lay person but choose them well, and make sure you know them a great deal before you decide to ask them for their help. The unique relationship you have with your Spiritual Adviser will be an amazing blessing to you both, and you will grow in holiness day by day. Your obedience to your Spiritual Adviser will allow you to be that Saint that God wants you to be. 

May God bless you and help you find the best Spiritual Adviser for you!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Sainthood: God's plan for all of us

Although I was baptised a Catholic, and attended mass during my childhood, I stopped practicing the faith during most of my teenage years because I did not have a personal relationship with God. God was in the background of my life, and even though I believed in Him and had a devout and doctrinally-orthodox Catholic religious education teacher, I rarely prayed, never read the bible except in religious education class at school, and was quite sinful. Interestingly and quite importantly, I still now remember a lot of my religion teacher’s classes, and I am very grateful to him for his inspirational efforts to instruct us in the faith.

Thankfully, I came home to the Catholic Church in mid 2006 after a series of events which led to me questioning who I was exactly. Put simply, I had built my life on poor foundation (myself), just like a house built on sand. I found myself in chaos, the wind came and knocked over my house. I'll write about this in my blog later on.

Talk about a lesson in humility! Lucky I rebuilt my house on the solid foundation of Christ, and the winds have come and tried to blow my house down, by it is still standing, reinforced by the 2000 year old tested and proven ways of the Catholic Church.

What about myself? I’m passionate about helping people, and I know that the best way to do this is to encourage and give hope to others. I believe that Christ offers the best inspiration, example and hope to all people.

Put bluntly, I want to become a Saint. Not so that I will be given honour, but because I know that being a Saint, especially in today’s world is life’s hardest mission and one that requires the most effort, and above all the most love. And yes, if I can inspire people then that is a great thing too.

However, I know that I can never become a Saint without the grace of God, so I try to spend a lot of time with God, mostly in prayer. Prayer is a treasure for my soul, and I love it. I never tire of praying, and I feel a duty to pray unceasingly as St Paul exhorts. I also go to visit Jesus in the adoration chapel where He is. I try to attend daily mass and read scripture daily. I guess my spirituality is a mix of Charismatic and Carmelite.

While I have considered the Priesthood as a vocation, I do not believe that it is my calling at this time. I am planning to go to Bible College next year, which is very exciting. I ask you to pray regarding my discernment of vocation and in general, and in return I will pray for all of you.

I am writing this blog because I feel that I have had quite a few diverse experiences, which I find are extremely encouraging, and that which I know which would benefit many others. Above all, I aim to encourage so my posts will mostly be uplifting.

Lastly I encourage you to give me feedback about my posts so I can make them better. You can offer suggestions for future posts, corrections, comments on them, or ask questions.

Thanks, and May God bless you

Chris Paynter

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Preface: The path to being a Saint.

We are living in the Age of Confusion, where many people find themselves lost amongst vast numbers of choices and decisions. Sometimes it is difficult to believe in the miraculous, when TV shows attempt to make the holy profane and superficial. We might think: “Are there Saints in this world? I’m not sure they even exist anymore”.

So do you feel somewhat discouraged? Do you think that you will never be a Saint? After all, you might say, I have so many faults and I do not have the qualities of a Saint. Well I’ve got news for you! Many Saints felt the same way, and some even lived terrible sinful lives before doing a 180ยบ turn into holiness. St Augustine was one of these, who had unholy parties very often before he converted. His mother prayed for 40 years that he would change, and after all this time, the fruit of her prayer was wonderful. After his death, Augustine was named a Saint, and a Doctor of the Church.

Then one might suggest Saints are people from a past era. Just consider a few of the saintly that inspire me. Like St Padre Pio (made a saint only 50 years ago); and Blessed Mother Teresa and Blessed John Paul II who are only one step away from Sainthood. We also have other Saints who were not amongst the consecrated.

The other day, even though I was aware of the stories of these amazing Saints, and even though I was aware I had improved myself very much compared with even four years ago, I felt disheartened. I said to the Lord with a sigh; “How can I become a Saint?” And He responded with the interior words and with the simple message: “Little by little”

Suddenly I felt better, and this encouragement strengthened me. Even I could become a Saint! It was possible! And what the Lord told me was that if I tried hard enough, I could become holy. I then remembered what a good priest had said to me in the confessional a while back: “Try to remove one of these faults in the next week”. The priest had told me as what did the Lord. The priest didn’t say “Try to remove all of these faults in the next week” -- he said "remove one". 

Then I remembered, in my excitement and joy, “I had not committed that sin since that last confession, and I have sinned less”. Yes, perhaps I could become Holy. Then I thought, “God you’re awesome, you’ve worked it all out so that Saints are not called Saints (with a capital S) by the obedient Church faithful during their lives, but after their death. That way they can be humble.” 

Praise the Lord!

* * * *

On closing, take heart, you don’t need to bi-locate, read hearts, be a Pope, or be globally famous to be a Saint. Of course, if God wishes, he may call you to have those gifts and means as did some Saints.

Aiming for Sainthood means living a pure, humble and honest life, and this comes through loving your neighbour. And Loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. However if in doubt remember God’s wisdom -- what it may take to improve your life is to do it “little by little”.