Sunday, 18 January 2015

Here I am

Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
1 Samuel 3: 10
Gospel of 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: John 1: 35-42

My journey in responding to the call I know I have in life is one like many of you, and today I realised it is like Samuel's call too! God called Samuel 3 times, " Samuel, Samuel!" And 2 out of 3 times, Samuel ran over to Eli and said, "Here I am. You called me." Samuel was not yet familiar with God's call as he was still young, a youth.
I think many Catholics are like Samuel too, most often we are in the first '2 times category'; we run to Eli and not to God. A very good number of Catholics till today belief that to respond to God's call we must tire ourselves to search for religious order or parish groups, we go through all the procedures for the priests/order/president of the group to scrutinize/interview us and once it finishes most of the time the enthusiastic candidate is rejected. We as Catholics, and even as ordinary people, we believe that to live this life fully we must be 'OUTSTANDING'. No, that is wrong when the fact that we each were born naked and naked we shall return to the Lord; we are in fact very ordinary beings.
Since this is the year of consecrated life let me open myself to you and share a private experience with you. Many religious orders, sadly but honestly, behave very much like the world; they play around with potential candidates. Some years now, priests have apologized to me in person for past events. I write this not to criticise them, because like us, religious and priests are also trying their best; adding to that the culprits have apologized to me in person. This was how many enquires of new candidates are played around (it also does happen with Parish Groups!) when they approach to express with call:
  1. Silence - one religious that I was brought to, made me talk for almost an hour and he gave no reply at the end of it. After a few years I got to know that this man is not very much a man of the Church; I got to know he is a little radical, believed in living outside his community of Brothers and does not agree in wearing the habit, he prefers normal clothes even at official functions while majority of Bothers dresses in the cassock.
  2. "Go and work first, go complete your Master degree, get a girlfriend" - As a young boy, 18/19 years of age, I was honestly surprised to hear this. My parents told me and ordinary people told me the same thing, but I never expected it to come from a religious/priest with whom I was so passionate in sharing God's Call with. I felt betrayed and lost.
  3. Passion and enthusiasm is not allowed - At every meeting that I had with religious to share my call with, my passion and enthusiasm was look on as not required for a candidate to religious life. Enthusiasm was even looked at as an obstacle to religious life, thus causing the possible candidate to be rejected. This I was surprised because, did not the Bible ask us to be full of life for Jesus Christ? I was surprised because Pope John Paul 2 too was so full of energy in his proclamation of the Gospel. Again when religious said I was wrong because I was too full of energy for God, it added towards my sense of lost.
Today's reading at Mass is a reminder that when God calls us, God does not expect us to be abused or to be the abuser. I think where many of us go wrong is we expect candidates who approach us to be lousy; we want candidates who are totally empty, no idea of his/her own Faith, no connection with God (do not pray, do not read the Bible). I have come across events where a candidate to religious life with a doctorate degree being rejected, because he was smarter than the Rector (Principle) of the seminary.
No, this is not the way, and Pope Francis even has said so. The Bible even have said so, that yes test the candidate at all cost, but do the testing mercifully.
Today, I encourage all of you Catholics who totally commit yourselves to God to not be afraid. Like Samuel, all we need to say to God is a simple sincere response, "HERE I AM. YOU CALLED ME!" Take the word "HERE" to heart, because God calls you to live life fully, that is to obey His will, in:
  • the HERE and NOW; where you are right now, if you hear God's voice, respond with action. Do not go hunting for organisations to join, parish groups, orders. If priests and religious and lay leaders are smart enough (sadly often not) they will invite you to join.
  • the ordinary; if where you are right now is a place of sorrow, a place of hardships, maybe you telling yourselves "I am not good enough". God has something great for you in every situation, we just have to say to God, "Here I am Lord, You have called me".

Saturday, 10 January 2015

He is well Pleased with You

And a voice came from the heavens,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Mark 1: 11
Baptism of the Lord, 11th January
Gospel from Mark 1: 7-11

Celebrating the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, I recall my own baptism to the Roman Latin Rite Catholic Faith; mine was a baptism in my early high school age after having experience a Divine intervention.
One thing I remind myself as I worship God this weekend is the very reality that I am a "beloved Son" of God. When I was baptised I am baptised into Christ, I become part of the covenant (promise) of God and I become a child of God; this is a reality of every baptized person. Thus, I share in God's favour - we are all a "beloved" son, a "beloved" daughter of God.
This fact, I pray I never forget! How sweet it is to have God's favour be upon us? No words can ever describe the experience I have in knowing each day that God's favour is upon me.
What is God's favour? To me, when I say to someone, most often it is my students, that "I love you". It means that the person or the group of people is one that I look up to, one that I am willing to be selfless, one that I will do as asked and that they are important to me. It is the same with God, when God's favour rest upon us God is saying to us, in a personal as well as a communal way, that you are important to Him, you have direct right/access to Him.
As the students of Stella Maris begin another year in school, I remind the students who I have taught that each of you are in my prayers and memories. Be mindful that God's favour rest on each of you, you are important to God and also to me. Do your best always, strive hard no matter how hard and dull the journey maybe, always remembering that being in God's Presence everything will turn out just fine! Each of you, students of Stella Maris past and present, I am very well pleased with you.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

God where are you?

"Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?
For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."
Matthew 2: 2
Solemnity of the Epiphany
Gospel from Matthew 2: 1-12
I must admit I have never went in search for God, it was God who mysteriously came and made me fell in love with Him. One day, without any maturity and with no one pushing me towards religion, I just said that I desire to "go to this Church"; it turned out to be a Roman Catholic Church and I was about 12 years of age that time.
Let us cut the long story short....
If I was to be asked this question: "WHERE IS GOD?" I will be very excited to answer this question not because I have already know where God is hiding at, but this isn't a question in itself. I think none of us, including myself, is worthy to give a straight to the point, a definite answer, to where God is. To say that God is in Heaven can be only partly true, but yes, Jesus prayed 'Our Father who art in Heaven...'. If we say God is in Heaven then, as many asked, where is Heaven? It is the same when we say God is in His creation, God is in the ground, God is in me...These are only clues to where God really resides.

Yes, God lives in Heaven and we see the hands of God at work in all creation and situations.
So, why do people even want to know where does God live at?
The very fact that many are curious where is God, is the first step proven that God does exist. The human soul is both immortal and spirit- the soul cannot be destroyed by any of us, and the soul is not a physical quantity (we cannot measure the spirit). The spirit in each of us, we normally call our spirit the soul, grows in appreciation of our physical surroundings through our bodily senses. At the same time the human soul is able to think about God and the Angels; we are able to go to a greater level that animals do not possess.
Let us get back to where God is?
Honestly, my answer nor is anyone's answer a perfect one. Jesus already informed us in the Bible that only He alone knows the Father (God), only He alone has seen the Father (God)...Personally to me I find God in:
  • my Worship - in worship I acknowledge the sovereignty of God Almighty, I know I am in need of God and I desire to become more like God. I find God first and foremost in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and yes, I meet God also in private/communal devotions and prayers.
  • Heaven - the human term used to describe the place where God, His Angels and all those who are saved lives in.
  • my lessons, in my students and in the poor - Jesus said the least you did to a brother/sister, you did it to Me.
  • the person of Jesus Christ - God became flesh (matter) in the person of Jesus, and He dwelt among us.
  • sacred moments of tranquillity - in moments where I am internally at peace, in joy, in thankfulness I know God's spirit is at work.
  • I see clues of God in me and in creation (***these are only CLUES because material things are not God; just like you and I are not God, but a mere reflection of God) - God formed all things and he created me in His very "image and likeness".
I hope my sharing above, with the few points of where I think God is will help you in your search for God.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Joyful Christmas

“You must be cheerful and happy, animating all around you.”
-Catherine McAuley (Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy)
Christmas this Year of Consecrated Life, add a little more meaning to me as an individual who has consecrated my existence to the Lord in private vows. Taking the words of Catherine McAuley, in line with the call to Gospel Joy of Pope Francis, a life of a Catholic Christian must be marked by Joy.
Why joy?
Joy is a sign of a people redeemed by the coming of Jesus. The love of Jesus that saves and heals us has in reality set us free from the bondage of slavery; before Faith in Jesus we were slaves to sin, sin of pride, sin of gossiping, sin of false worship. Having been saved by Jesus, we are a unique people – a people set apart, for the Kingdom of God. By setting us free, we are a people who have been embraced by God’s Love.
The Love of God, preached by Jesus Christ, is a love that the world will never be able to give. This love is a love so pure, so holy, that the person who is captivated by God’s Love becomes totally new. This newness is marked by a new way of living, a gentler way of living, a more positive way of living – ultimately the person transformed by God’s Love is the happiest person on earth.
Making joy part of our spirituality is not only about going around smiling, with sweet words. No! The Joy Catherine McAuley, the Pope, myself and many people speak of is a joy that comes as the product of our communion with Jesus Christ. As baptised Catholics we are called to be in union with Jesus through constant prayer (contemplation), the sacraments (church) and, above all, in knowing God (Bible and Catechism).
Let us bear in mind, that even the pagans, those who do not believe in Jesus can smile, sweet talk and be happy. But there is a difference between the Joy that comes from a Catholic Christian and a joy that comes from a pagan. Our Catholic Joy must be one that comes from a heart that is united with Jesus Christ, Jesus is your foundation - Jesus is my foundation.

This Christmas and in the year ahead, my prayer for you and the Church is that we become more merciful. In being forgiving, kind and supportive of others may our lives be one that increases JOY in others. Ultimately, may our Catholic Christian JOY bring healing to everyone around us.

Have a JOY JOY JOYFUL Christmas and a Joyful 2015!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The fight over the word "ALLAH"

Bear in mind, I have nothing against the use of the words “Allah” and “Tuhan” as long as we use them for the correct purpose and with a pure intention; I am neutral on this matter. Yet, on a private manner I do not think using the words “Allah” and “Tuhan” will make my Faith increase or make me a better Catholic; this is my point of view bearing in mind I received good education/I understand English (La Salle Schools) and I come from a urban/city environment.  

For those who received my weekly sharing years ago, you may have remembered that I mentioned of the day when the “Allah” issue will turn out for the worst; my predictions were correct after seeing the commotion happening in Malaysia recently. When these words “Allah” and “Tuhan” started to be fantasized by our local Church, I prayed about it and I observed (the spread of news from word of mouth and events). Seeing how these words were used, I knew it was not used totally as a means of reaching out to our Catholic community who did not understand English, I think I felt there were politics involved in the usage of these words; I always felt the insistence of using these words were not merely to assist those who were not fluent with English.
As a Catholic, living in this age in Malaysia, witnessing to the many noises I constantly see in the news and on social media about court cases to challenge the local government to allow the free use of the word “Allah”, Bibles confiscated and now returned, then again we hear that the Bibles were ‘desecrated’ and, most recently, Fr Cyril’s parish hymn books were confiscated and then returned. Honestly, I feel these events have no profound use for the Church and also for the process of ‘justice’ (if that is what as Church we are fighting for?).
I am not suggesting that the frequent noises we make in the name of the Church, and more importantly in the name of Jesus Christ, is bad; I am not saying the efforts the church puts into fighting for justice is bad.
My main concern is as much of noise we place in fighting over mere words, more importantly I hope and pray that we too as Church will stand by our own parishioners and the local people; it is life that we need to nurture and protect. Pope Francis, thanks to God, is constantly reminding the Church to first look into ourselves, make ourselves clean first, and make our systems and ministry more Merciful. This is a good call, because more than 10 years ago I desired the same, because I saw that as Church we have not put in enough effort to minister to our very own people within our church communities; there are among our ordinary parishioner who are elderly, hurt by the past (sometimes events done by the Church’s own ministers), the youths who desire a more wholesome Catholic education (better education system), parishioner who desire to be more committed to God but do not have the excess and means to do so, and health care.
As Church let us remember that, yes every religion is good, but when we represent the Church as baptised Catholics, we are called by God and Mother Church to work in the name of Jesus Christ; in mere words, we are called to work in the attitude of Jesus promoting values of the Gospel (peace, respect, love, hope…). Thus, can I suggest that we too pay as much concern and attention to the matters below:
         I.            Ordinary Catholic Parishioner (those who attend worships at our churches) – let us reach out to those who are not actively involved, those who are materially poor, those who are spiritually poor, those who have left the parish- let us go to them. We need each baptised Catholic, you, me and they are important people; we are all VVIPs in God’s Kingdom.

      II.            Youths – Regaining some, if not all, of our schools that were once run by religious. I think this is a worthy project when in Malaysia there is so much news about the need of better education system. Abandoned Brother’s and Sister’s Living Quarters can be converted to mission sites to run educational projects for our youths; please stop selling them away, when it is so difficult to buy lands for religious/religious-based missions – let us be creative and courageous to use abandoned religious buildings that once housed the religious brothers and sisters. We do need the youths; they are the future and life line of our Church. These abandoned living areas can also be converted to activity places for youths and the church to run projects for our own parishioners and even for the wider public.

   III.            Hospitals – Pardon me if I am wrong, but the few hospitals we have are now run as a corporation due to the dwindling numbers of religious. Yes, I admire the way the hospitals are run because it is more dignified, systematic and more professional. What I think we need to look at too is giving lay Catholics the opportunity to continue the work of Jesus Christ among the sick, the dying and the elderly? Also of concern is if there is any avenue that allows Catholics to work as volunteers, hand-in-hand with the staff of hospitals to spread the message of Jesus (and I do not mean converting people to Catholicism. I oppose this, as much as Pope Francis has advised); the message of Jesus Christ that is of God’s Love, that God cares for the sick, the dying, the lonely, the aged?
In union with Pope Francis, which is very much the desire of Jesus too, is we as individuals and, important too, as a CHURCH must behave in unison to spread the message of Jesus not through mere words, but more importantly by a Joyful way of life; a life that has Jesus within, a life that is convinced of Jesus and a life that can ATTRACT others to Jesus.

Thank you.
Bro Kenneth Mary Gan of Our Mother of Perpetual Help


Friday, 12 December 2014

Education: Poor English and why Jawi?

Genuine Sincere Concern for Education
“Let us remember that we are in the Holy Presence of God” is the manner that I begin every lesson at school. It is a La Sallian tradition to begin very lesson by a remembrance that we are in God’s Presence, and I am surprised that even in Malaysia’s Ministry of Education ‘devotion to God’ has a place.
Regardless of religion, language and background I tell my student that remembering the presence of God is an invitation to ask ourselves if we are genuinely ready to embark on the lesson or activity that we are about to start. Do we have, as a class, what it takes to have a complete and successful lesson? Do we have the right mind, good attitude and the necessary instruments to begin the lesson?
I am grateful that for the past few days, the Star has highlighted events related to education in Malaysia. As an educator, I must say what was made news about the teaching of the English subject has truth in them. Allow me to share what I honestly feel, as a young teacher returning from Australia only in 2011, after having thought in Malaysia for the past 3 years; I teach Science in English in both International and Private Schools.
Before I begin sharing my opinions on this matter, I will first mention that the frequent changes in the Malaysian Education system on the issues of teaching Science and Mathematics in English and changes in the PBS (School Base Assessment) make ordinary teachers lose heart. The focus of many teachers is consistently on a shift due to the frequent changes imposed on them by the ministry of education, resulting in poor productivity of teachers.
I think it is not fair to focus only on the teaching of the English subject when we talk about the quality of teachers and the standard of teaching. Quality of teachers and teaching techniques cover a wide scope because I have seen many occasions where subjects other than English were not taught well too. When we speak about the quality of teachers and standard of teaching in class we need to look at the standard of tertiary education these teachers received; the standard of entrance requirements into a teaching degree and the quality of education delivered at these local tertiary institutions.
Another reason for the poor standard of English as reported in the news is the ‘attitude of teachers’. In my own experience many locally trained teachers are very prone in using their own mother tongue while communicating to other teachers and students; Chinese will be used when talking to a Chinese, Malay will be used when talking to a Malay, Indian will be used when talking to an Indian. There were also reports from parents that teachers were teaching mathematics in Malay when it was the school’s and Malaysian MOE’s directives to teach mathematics in English; the principal investigated the matter and it was proven that the parents’ report was true. This only goes to show that locally trained teachers have no confidence in going the extra mile and to move out of their comfort zones. This shows that the level of tertiary education our teachers are getting locally is not sufficient and urgently needs to be improved.
Reported too is the fact that employers are noticing that fresh graduates are ‘struggling’ with English is of real concern for Malaysia. Teaching Science in English has been very easy for me, but not so for students because of their background. Majority of local students come from non-English speaking background, while those that do come from English speaking background are comfortable using broken English. I realized that students who made a choice to use broken English are influenced by other teachers as well as their parents at home. Sadly, living with tertiary students myself, it was reported to me that the level of English used by lecturers in local colleges and local universities are equally poor. Thus, this makes students less capable to face the reality on the importance of the proper use of English when they go out to work. Employers are not looking for graduates with perfect use of English, but my own experience have shown that the level of written English is below the standard acceptable level; I honestly admit that the level of written English is very poor, while spoken English can be considered as poor. This makes fresh graduates less capable to compete when placed into a local and international environment because English is still a language of importance when it comes to communication for business purposes.
Adding to the already poor standard of education, schools are now facing the hardships of the need to include Jawi on school signboards; at least this is only true for Malacca schools, for now. I have nothing against the use of Jawi, but to my question will Jawi serve any concrete purpose to the students educational needs?
As an educationist I feel that no one must take the full blame of the poor standard of English, because there are a range of reasons. More importantly I want to stress on the role of teachers, because teachers are very important to the lives of students. If we look at our young children, they spend at least 6 hours (if they go to a government school) a day in schools and within a week they would have spent 35 hours in school. In school our children come into contact with other children as well as with teachers.
Teachers you need to remember that you are important, because you play a very vital role in the life of every child. Education must never be taken likely by you, take your role as a role given by God to shape new lives for the life of the world. Education systems can change so often and demands made by the public on teaching quality will change, but remember that as a teacher you are to facilitate the teaching process of every child. Focus on this fact, that is as a teacher you and I only facilitate the teaching process of every child; as teachers we desire only the best for every child. In facilitating the learning process we touch the lives of children, so remember too that as teachers much is expected from us in terms of our attitudes and way of life.
Parents you too have a role to encourage and facilitate your children to become their best.
I hope the standard of English will improve soon. This I know will happen because we do have good and holy teachers around, though our numbers are very few.
Brother Kenneth Mary Gan

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Fast, Faster and Fastest....

Advent! Count down to Christmas begins, amidst the many reminders of Christmas portraying as if it has all begun.

Since returning from Australia 3 years ago, I am still troubled if I have any answer yet to this question - "LORD, AM I DOING YOUR WILL? AM I LIVING MY LIFE FULLY IN THE MANNER YOU WANT?" Till this day, I worry, I wonder, I try to seek for a good answer.

Looking around me, we have so much distractions. Not only the distractions of shopping malls, buying clothes, so many new cafes coming up. I also realise much of our lives are influenced by the so many people around us; many schools, companies are growing employing new employees. The faces of our friends and neighbours (work mates too) speaking about events and gossiping can very often pull us away from what is most important to us in life; we become lost in the happening around us and we end up living very artificial life. The many distractions all around us is so instantly and frequently available. Worst thing is at so many food eateries the Wi-Fi is instantly and freely available.

We end up with more questions and we are constantly restless until we rest totally in God.

Till today I am still restless, I feel as if I have not done enough for the Kingdom of God. I have the desire to do more, even when my mission work is going very well. I desire more, more, more...Many desire more money, more property. Myself I desire to become more holy, more efficient...This makes me restless. Like you, I find it difficult to settle to the reality that in a given day God has given me sufficient graces to do my best. In reality that is all God needs, God just needs me to do my upmost best for the day even when what I do seems little and insignificant. As Blessed Teresa said, "God has not asked me to be successful, but to be faithful." As a human being, I find it restless to accept the fact that very often it is faithfulness that counts, and not the significance of my duty/work/life style.

Advent to me is a season of waiting, but one that is different from Lent, because we await in HOPE for the coming of Jesus Christ. I hope that like me, many of you will observe fixed times for prayer, meditation and works of mercy. "I will observe 15 minutes of communion with Jesus in prayer every morning before my breakfast," is a good start. This Advent I hope to put in more effort to be at peace, to cease being restless, and allow myself to rest in a Faithful God.

'God is faithful,
and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord.'
1 Corinthians 1:9

I hope that all of you will have a meaningful Advent

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Joy the key...Mercy the path

Dear friends in Christ,

I thought to give you a little sharing to aid all of us, official religious (public vows), laity and lay consecrates (private vows), in making this Year of Consecrated Life a meaningful one. Let us bear in mind, as we read this sharing, that though we are many we are ONE BODY in Christ Jesus. Let us bear in mind that each of us are different- various worries, various happiness. Yet, taking scriptures we remember that Jesus, Our Lord has invited you to unload your worries unto Him because He looks after you.

A True Story, 2014 (happening only like 3 months ago): A non-Catholic in a private school, he is the Head of Study for Science, after talking to me he immediately said, "USE YOUR FAITH TO WORK HERE!"

My friends, I use this real story happening to me, to invite you to challenge yourself about:
A) If you are a religious (public vows): "WHAT does it mean to be a religious? DOES it make any difference to take public vows today? Can I CONCLUDE that my life is significant for others?"

B) If you are a religious (Private vows): "WHAT significance does my vows bring to my relationship with others at work and in society? Analysing my life, can I add that I strive to perfect the living of the Gospel? Have I taken steps, despite the business of everyday life, to focus on prayer life?"

C) If you are a laity: "Is the role of religious in Church play any signficance for me? Does the presence of more religious help me? What will be my inspiration to promote or not promote an increase in religious life?"

You know, my dear brothers and sisters, the words from that non-Catholic teacher above, SHOCKED as well as INSPIRED me.
**SHOCKED because I never thought a non-Catholic will say such a statement to me, and adding to that I have NEVER HEAR that invitation from my Parish Priest, nor any religious, worst still not even from Catholics.
**INSPIRED because I am able to practice, put into actions, my Gospel convictions! In an environment (non-Catholic!!!!) that is modern, supportive and paying me better salary (supporting my life style).

The bottom line is, this Year of Consecrated Life, I am sure, was not called by the Pope for no purpose. The Pope has invited us as a Church, a SINGLE BODY, to reflect on the IMPORTANCE of religious men and women.

Personally, I feel the Church still needs religious...Not important if they are public or private profess. The importance is as what the Pope is calling for, "MERCY!"

As a Church have we ever said to a young man/woman, "COME USE YOUR FAITH HERE- HERE TO SERVE!" I think this is the only single thing we can honestly ask ourselves, because if your answer and my answer is "NO, I HAVE NOT AND WILL NEVER ASK ANYONE TO DO THAT!" Then, no point for us to think about the Year of Religious Life.

Happy Advent!

In Christ, St Francis and St Clare,
Bro. Kenneth Mary Gan

'Mercy is about forgiveness, kindness, good will - the principal path pointed by Jesus Christ'