May 10 – John of Ávila (not to be confused with John Avila or St John of the Cross) was a Spanish priest, preacher, scholastic author, and religious mystic, who has been declared a saint and Doctor of the Church by the Catholic Church. He is called the ‘Apostle of Andalusia’, for his extensive ministry in that region. From early 1551 Ávila was in constant ill-health. He spent the last years of his life in semi-retirement in the town of Montilla, in the Province of Córdoba. He died there on 10 May 1569, and in accordance with his wishes was buried in that city, in the Jesuit Church of the Incarnation, which now serves as the sanctuary to his memory.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him bears fruit in plenty.”
Jesus employed the use of a metaphor in today’s gospel to illustrate the spiritual relationship between himself and his followers. Just as the branches cannot survive without being connected to the vine, Jesus is saying that we cannot thrive spiritually, without being rooted in him. To remain in Jesus is to develop a close relationship with him; by placing our trust in him and to abide by his teachings. The church has always highlighted the importance of a deep and personal connection to God for spiritual growth and fulfilment. But exactly how are we supposed to deepen that relationship?
Deepening our relationship with Jesus can be a very personal and individual journey. The church has always emphasized on the following methodologies — reading the bible, prayer and attending the Mass. These are extremely appropriate and rightly so, but do they really work for every one of us?
Prayer is a very personal, and the most direct, way of developing a relationship with God. By talking to Him, we are supposed to understand our Lord better and His will for us. I have been sticking to my daily 5-minute prayers for years without much progress; mainly prayers of supplication. They could have been more contemplative I guess, but the busyness and daily grind seem to take centre stage most of the time. Reading the bible is equally challenging. Since I’ve utilised the excuse of being time-strapped earlier, then the justification this time round has got to be fatigue. The bible is a tool I employ whenever I have insomnia. It works wonders and continues to do so. Hence, I had to mainly rely on Masses to sustain my connection to scriptures. Volunteering to pen reflections in this blog is also another approach to force myself to reflect on the scriptures; I may be struggling to document my thoughts most of the time, but thankfully this community is ever so forgiving and accommodative; there are always backup plans in case I fail to deliver.
Personally, I feel that the process of deepening our faith requires a constant and perpetual conversion, and to serve others in love. The conversion is perpetual because it calls for endurance. And perhaps none of us are truly and fully converted until we lie on our death bed. It starts with just being mindful of little misdemeanours that we have committed and trying to replace our vices with virtues. Another way of increasing our faith is by engaging in service to others. This can be a double-edged sword; many have also left their ministries or even the church after trying to be of service to the community. Church ministries, like many organisations, are never exempted from politics. The church is made up of broken people, hence it shouldn’t be surprising that none of us are perfect. I guess the key here is to be absolutely lucid of one’s underlying intentions to serve. We served because we felt called by God and are not compelled to do so. We serve because we truly feel that we can bring value to others even when our efforts weren’t appreciated. This echoes the recent article titled “To find joy in your life, live for others”. It was penned by Sumiko Tan in the Sunday Times in her interview with Cardinal William Goh. Although I was disappointed that the article turned out to be more of an interview on the life of our Archbishop and his thoughts on the challenges of the church, the title brought about a deeper reflection in those times when I felt true joy and motivation in life. And it turns out that most of those occasions involve a servitude to others. It may not necessarily mean that we must serve our parish community; serving our loved ones and friends can be a good starting point as well. As always, we must remember that fostering a strong connection to the vine is a process that takes time and effort. We might not see results overnight. But stay patient, committed and trust that Jesus is always with us and guiding us on our journey back to Him.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Dylan Tan)
Prayer: Dear Jesus, please draw us close to you each day and help us to follow your will for our lives. Teach us to love others as you love them and to serve them with a joyful heart. Amen.
Thanksgiving: Lord Jesus, we are grateful for all that you have done for us and for your unwavering love and grace. Thank you for always being with us to guide us through the darkness moments in our lives. Let us place our trust completely and surrender our lives to you. Amen.
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