18 January, Monday — Of Abstinence and Adventures

Monday of Week 2 in Ordinary Time

Heb 5:1-10
Mk 2:18-22

“New wine, fresh skins!”

It has been close to two years since I decided to stop consuming alcohol. Well, I do take a sip now and then on social occasions but in relation to the amounts I used to drink in the past, my friends are not just surprised (pleasantly) but I am usually asked, “Why?” Let’s just say that I wish to preserve as much of my faculties as possible into my golden years, having seen the effects of what alcohol can do to a 70 plus-year old retiree up close and personal.

So while the health benefits came with a drying up of social invites to ‘boozy lunches’, I discovered a lot more meaningful interactions with friends, and became more available for ‘adventures’ with my significant other. With small hangovers becoming a distant memory, early morning walks/exercise routines now fuel my desire to stay fit, hearty and hale for even more exciting adventures once travel restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, we go on ‘mini adventures’ together as much as possible — even balloting for Sunday mass online is an ‘adventure’ on some Tuesdays.

When I came across today’s verse, I didn’t bother stifling a chuckle of delight. Because with the ‘fresh skin’ that I have donned, I am actually shunning all manner of wine. I liken it to how a convert starts to abstain from sin…well, at least to try his/her best to. In abstaining from sin, we inevitably end up cutting ties with those people and things that encouraged us to sin in the first place. And we end up with more time to spend with God, going to daily mass, appreciating His Word, then perhaps even deciding to give back in ministry. That’s how it all starts — the ‘reskinning’ of our old selves.

But inevitably, temptation subtly rears its ugly head — an affirmation of one’s ability (singing/organising/leadership); an appreciative word from a priest or cardinal; a certificate declaring your position within a parish/lay organisation; or unanimous agreement from others that ‘no one but you is able to lead/handle/do…’ As much as we try to abstain from sinning, it is human nature to succumb to temptation. And when we do succumb, it clouds our ability to go on various adventures with God and to let the Spirit lead us.

The past few months has been a struggle for me from a ministry perspective. Not this one, fear not. But in another where I find myself questioning my value and how, in a supposed ‘leadership position’, I am but a mere administrator, a vessel of communication. One part of me wishes to end the association and say, “You all don’t need me. You just need an administrator to do your bidding”, while another says that this is merely God trying to work within me to help unite the past and current leadership (hmm…that smacks of arrogance).

Brothers and sisters, I encourage you to take a look around your lifestyle/habits and see what is it you can give up for a day, then a week, then a month. I know of a brother who gave up his daily fix of bubble tea, only indulging once a month. His health has taken a turn for the better due to the inevitable weight loss.

Just because we abstain from something doesn’t mean we are depriving ourselves of joy or pleasure. On the contrary, we actually open ourselves up to different opportunities to go on different journeys and appreciate life, and God’s presence in it, even more.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Merciful Father, we struggle against temptation and sin every day. Give us the grace to resist and to appreciate your presence in our lives, even as we struggle to abstain from the pleasures that life affords us, or from the negative feelings that arise from having to deal with circumstances beyond our control.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you, Lord, for being a kind, forgiving Father and for giving us opportunities to journey with you each and every day in our own, personal way.

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