As He tempers our faith

God is “tempering” us (and our faith), so that at just the right time, we will be able to transform, to intervene, to be agents of change and unity.

Jan 20, 2023

… meanwhile” - Professor Joanne Lim

I’ve always admired Indian cooking for its aroma and how beautifully the spices mix and mingle to invoke our inner senses. The best vindaloo, fish curry and thoran require a sizeable portion of mustard seeds…tempered at just the right level of heat to enhance its flavour. A little under or a little over and you are almost assured of an unforgiving bitter dish. Little mustard seeds thrown in at the right time play such a pivotal role.

In Matthew 17:20, the parable of the mustard seed reminds us about the size of our faith and the power our faith holds… “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there’, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you”. Yet, sometimes we lose sight of what our faith requires us to do. Is this faith meant to move mountains only for ourselves?

All around us we witness much bitterness and distrust. Close friends express their struggles at staying focused on the Lord: “I’ve lost sight of Him”, “He seems terribly far away”. A family member recently stopped attending Mass justifying that “going to church isn’t for me, it is too tiresome”. A single mother was cheated of 20 years of her life savings by a rich Datuk who promised her a home — he saw an opportunity in her desperation. Two weeks ago, a student attempted to end her life because of a broken relationship followed by a tarnished reputation on social media — she became a victim of cancel culture and was ostracised by her friends. A 45-year-old entrepreneur with five children, the youngest suffering from leukaemia, received notice of termination from work five days before Christmas…his wife left home the next day. There is no denying that life is filled with unimaginable challenges — but with faith as small as a mustard seed, nothing is impossible. I ask myself, as Catholic and amidst my own struggles, do I have what it takes to respond?

Pope Francis says it best in his New Year message of Peace, “No one can be saved alone”. Even mustard seeds need each other to flavour a dish, they can’t do it alone! In that light, the biggest challenge in 2023 is perhaps not to focus on ourselves and our problems… but on others…our community, our family, friends, neighbours, even strangers. To do so, we need to honestly ask ourselves what we are doing amidst all the injustice, poverty, and discrimination we see around us? Are we mostly standing by, watching, doing nothing?

We need to appreciate that we are all called to make a difference — are we going to witness a fellow Catholic leave the faith, shrug and say “ah well, that’s his choice…he must have been misled”. Are we going to sit and watch as socially “powerful” people ruin the lives of others who are weaker, torment, cheat and strip them of what’s left of their dignity and self-worth? How many more suicides must be witnessed to realise that there is a perpetuating psychological problem that plagues our society – perhaps due to an overly individualistic culture? Haven’t we had enough of talking about ourselves and parading our lives on social media so others can eat their heart out? Are we done with being pretentious and appearing to be “holier than thou”? I sometimes wonder, do I fall into this trap as well?

I visited Vietnam recently and realise their deep sense of accomplishment and togetherness in all they do. A country that was ruined to bits and pieces picked themselves up without show, pomp or false supremacy. Maybe we do have a lot to learn from communities like this. Catholic/Christian communities in places like Vietnam and nearby Singapore are growing in many tangible ways. I sometimes wonder as I enter a local church post pandemic, can we in Malaysia attest to a growing faith, or are we turning people away because of our petty indifferences on matters like prayer projection and song selections?

There’s so much more to do even here in Malaysia among ourselves and for others; I engage with young people daily and they need new inspiring ideas to keep their faith alive; the plight of people living on the margins, the migrant, and refugee; when was the last time we saw them beside us in church? Do we all sometimes look good, hale and hearty? Who sits beside you week-in and week-out in church? Is it the sick, hungry or terminally ill…the widow, the single parent, our brother who is contemplating conversion to another faith. Do we pray enough for them at Mass? Are we equipped enough in our faith to lead people (back) to the Lord? They need us as much as we need them, we cannot get saved alone. God is “tempering” us (and our faith), so that at just the right time, we will be able to transform, to intervene, to be agents of change and unity. Do you hear that call? Did COVID-19 teach us anything at all? It certainly cannot be all about money or influence, popularity and fame.

…meanwhile, can I put aside my flaws and failures to be one with the last, the least, the lost, and the little? Will you help me as we journey through 2023 together? Like mustard seeds in this dish together, we need to look out for these (many) opportunities, to be present not only for ourselves, but more importantly, for others. Because a recipe never calls for a single mustard seed…it needs to be of adequate quantum to be seen, tasted, and heard crackling in the pan… likewise our faith must be shared in order to bring about God’s salvation.

(Professor Joanne Lim shares the faith in Catechism and music in Church. She is Deputy Dean and lectures on media and society at the University of Nottingham Malaysia)

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