Friday, December 25, 2009

A Writer's Pain

“A Writer’s Pain”
(Random Blogging Series #7 – Friday, December 25, 2009) – Christmas Reflection

Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I got a phone call one day, asking me to write a short article in a magazine. Sensing the desperation in the caller’s voice, I said yes, even though the dead-line was just the following day. I did my best, finished the article, and e-mailed it. Then I got a phone call. With a mix of embarrassment and guilty feeling the caller told me that the editors had changed the theme, and my article simply would not be published.

There was another phone call. Same situation: a request for a short article that had to be sent within a couple of days. I put all my instincts of a writer at work. Given the very limited space, I had to edit it several times. Finally I thought that I had been able to put the best part right at the end as a surprise twist. It was supposed to be the “catchy phrase,” and I was quite happy with that (even tempted to tap on my own shoulder!).

Now imagine my reaction when it was published as scheduled. Even if I had not gone beyond the limited space, the published article had been truncated. Still worse, my best part, that “catchy phrase” that I had planned to become “the bomb” was simply not there! Of course, it’s the job of an editor. I’m quite familiar with that. Yet, still, to find that the best part of my article had completely been erased was rather unexpected.

As I was trying to reconcile myself with the pain, God seemed to show me something. How many times have I come to God, asked urgently for a help, and after it had been granted, I simply said to God, “I don’t need it any more. I changed my mind”? How many times has God given me all the best things that God could do, and I simply rejected them, for no clear reason whatsoever?

Thinking about Christmas? Well, if I can feel the pain of being used, neglected, rejected, misunderstood through my writing experience, how much more God can feel the pain writing that four letter word L O V E in the most intimate chamber of my heart? So I pray, that next year on Christmas I may be able to say “I’ve learned to let God help me; I didn’t give God too much pain.” Have a joyously blessed Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Baggage Claim... Again?

"Baggage Claim… Again?"

(Casual Blogging Series #6 – Sunday, December 13, 2009) – Birthday Reflection

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I know this is not new. I must have mentioned it several times. Recently I’ve been traveling across the globe: in October westwards to Rome, Italy, and last week eastwards to the down under, Melbourne and Sydney, Australia. I’ve earned a nickname, for better or for worse, a “flying priest.” During those trips, as had happened several times before, the baggage claim experiences turned out to be significant.

Waiting for my bag on the baggage belt can become like life-or-death experience. If after some time I don’t see my bag, I begin to worry: Is it coming? Has someone stolen it? Has it been taken by mistake? Once I see it, I feel such a big thrill. But this time something new dawned on me. Assuming that there is no malice, why on earth do people take a wrong bag that doesn’t really belong to them? I can only find one answer: because the bag itself appears to be theirs! No surprise! Many bags just look the same! [And worse, if you go to Indonesia, they don’t really check your baggage claim tags before you walk out from the airport! Oh well…]

This made me think. If I were like a bag moving on the baggage belt, who will pick me and claim me? What would be on my bag tag? Is it clearly written “Christ’s,” or what? This is what I have done so many times: I put other names on it. Here are some examples: “Career’s” – “Pleasure’s” – “Comfort’s” – “Lust’s” – “Fame’s” – “Pride’s” – “Intimacy’s” – “Success’s” and on and on and on… you name it. Whenever I put those names on top of the real label “Christ’s,” then of course, I make my life such a mess. Not only that, I hurt others as well, because I turn their sincere trust into just a cheap toy!

Yesterday, December 12, I turned 43. I thank God for so many wonderful people who have always been there to peel off other labels I have glued on my life bag tag, and make the real one visible, “Christ’s”! And when they see me being taken away, they are willing to fight for me… “God, You know me, nothing hidden to You…”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Paolo and Gianluca"

“Paolo and Gianluca”

(Casual Blogging Series #5 – Sunday, November 22, 2009) – Christ the King

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

About a month ago I had the opportunity to visit some old friends in Rome. I stayed with Alessandro and Marcella, and their two little boys, Paolo and Gianluca. Amid my efforts to speak in Italian I did enjoy my time with those little angels. One incident somehow has ingrained in my mind. I was playing with them when at one point the little Gianluca looked deeply into my eyes, and called my name, “Deshi!” (and as a true Italian he made a gesture with his hands). As I’m writing this, I can still hear clearly his voice calling me by name.

For one reason, there is this cultural thing. Here in Indonesia, little kids can’t just call adults by name. It’s considered so impolite, if not uncivilized. Besides, people simply call me “Romo” (that’s Javanese, meaning “Father”). My little nephews call me “Pakdhe Romo” (“Uncle Priest”). So, I haven’t been called simply by my name for a long time. That’s why for me that incident turned out to be a surprising celebration of who I really am. I am Deshi, that’s all. And the little Gianluca gave me that gift with his innocence. In his voice, there was that pure trust in me.

Later on, I realized that this is how God has been dealing with me. God always calls my name with that “pure trust.” No hidden agenda. God loves me as who I am, not as who I should be. More surprisingly, that memory became very strong this morning as I pondered upon today’s feast, Christ the King. Yes, in Christian belief, He is the King of Kings, of all universe, and of the whole history of humanity. For Jesuits, all the more, having been formed by the Meditation of the King’s Call in St. Ignatius of Loyola’s “Spiritual Exercises,” this feast has a special emphasis that moved us not only to love Him, but more so to offer Him our total service [oops, well, at least that’s the ideal for each Jesuit]. This is not a feast of a frightening King. I believe that this is also a feast when I hear again Christ the King calling me, “Deshi,” with a pure trust in me. The same thing also to each one of you.

Thank you, Paolo and Gianluca, for this wonderful teaching.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Not-So-Good Samaritan

“The Not-So-Good Samaritan?”
(Casual Blogging Series #4 – Wednesday, July 8, 2009) – Presidential Election Day

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I just voted. I won’t tell you whom I voted for, unless…. (sorry, I can’t say it for fear of making hidden campaign). As I was driving home from the election site, watching at my tainted finger, thinking of some other things happened recently in my life, and reflecting on God’s soft whispers I had been hearing during these past weeks, I recalled the story of the Good Samaritan. What really makes this guy “good,” that centuries of generations have been canonizing him as the Good Samaritan? At least, there are two kinds of goodness. I call them, “the goodness of stopping” and “the goodness of moving on.”

That guy saw a wounded man. [Wait a minute, did I tell you it’s in Luke 10:25-37? And make sure you look up for Luke in the New Testament. If you don’t know, you must be a classical Roman Catholic. Oops… Peace!]. He stopped and did everything he could: approached him, poured oil and wine over the wounds, bandaged them, put him on his donkey, brought him to an inn, and might even stay awake all night long to take care of him. All this is his “goodness of stopping.” Yes, he stopped from his routine. He put aside his personal plan and let himself be bothered by the suffering of his fellow human being. He might feel groggy the next day for lack of sleep.

Here comes the surprise. The very next day, he gave two silver coins to the inn-keeper, asked him to take care of the poor guy, promised to give more should it be necessary later on, and… and… and… he took off! Wait a minute. Did he really leave the poor fellow in the hands of a stranger? How did he know that the inn-keeper would really take care of the wounded man? Wasn’t he afraid that the inn-keeper would waste his money for other needs? Well, all we know is that he really took off and left the poor fellow with the inn-keeper. All that he did the next day (and God knows how many more days after that) was his “goodness of moving on.”

I believe that this combination of complementary two kinds of goodness really makes him good! Cross out one of these, and you will have a “not-so-good Samaritan.” He is good because he wants to do good with as much time and energy and love he has. Yet, if he thinks that he is the only one who can do good, and everybody else will never do such goodness, he is not really a good guy. And remember, this parable is Jesus’ way of teaching how we should love others as we love ourselves. This guy is good because he both loves others and himself totally. He doesn’t forget his own needs to do his own business. This is so amazing. Yes, even Mother Teresa had to eat, have some rest, pray, go to Mass. She was a saintly woman, precisely because she loved herself so much and at the same time loved others so much. And think about Pope John Paul the Great who always had time for skiing. He became a saintly man, again, because he loved himself and others so much. That is the real teaching in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Yet, sadly, many of us practice only the first half of his goodness. Many of us will immerse themselves in helping others without ever loving themselves much enough. Just look around. Wives who tend every single detail of their husbands’ needs, mothers who sweat all day and never believe in trusting their children to stand on their own feet, priests who never eat because they give all his time in ministry, and still many others. I believe, were Jesus here, He would have said, “Well, these people, even the most heroic ones, are in fact the not-so-good Samaritans.”

[Now, just a small note about the election. I put it between brackets. No clear insight yet. When leaders say that they will give themselves up totally for the people’s needs, many ears will hear, ironically, just the second half of the goodness. They probably would never really stop and take care, but simply ask others to do their jobs, and eventually blaming others for not doing their jobs well. I hope I am completely wrong here].

So, just be the really, really, really GOOD Samaritan.

PS. This reflection is inspired by Bo Sanchez’ book “7 Secrets to Real Freedom,” pp. 91-92. If you buy and read this book, tell the author that I mention him here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sea of Albs

“Sea of Albs”
(Casual Blogging Series #3 – Wednesday, June 24, 2009)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I was at the Cathedral the other day with our Bishop Cardinal and hundreds of priests. [For you who have never seen so many priests in one place together, it is highly recommended to come to the Chrism Mass during the Holy Week, or to an ordination, either to the diaconate or the priesthood]. Let me tell you a little secret. I usually enjoy such occasion, not for a pious reason at all, but rather a human one. Being among my brother priests is like being immersed in the unconceivable richness of God’s love. How so? Just look around.

You will see very thin priests who make you think that the Church do not feed them enough, but you will also see obese priests who make you think that they have taken more food portions from their brother priests. You will see priests dressed in lousy and wrinkled shirts, but you will also see priests dressed in crispy neatly iron-pressed shirts fresh from a professional laundry. You will see priests with worn-out strap sandals inherited from a deceased elderly priest, but you will also see priests walking around in their shiny Prada shoes. You will see priests with last-century cell-phones heavy like a corner stone, but you will also see priests with the ultimate feather-light model of Blackberry or I-Phone. [Well, if you know me, you can easily tell which category I will fit in]. The list can go endlessly.

Then, it was time for Mass. All took off their shirts and put on their albs. Of course, some look whiter than the others. [If you don’t know what an “alb” is, it’s the “white gown” priests wear while they’re on duty]. I had had that experience of “mass changing room” many times before with my brother priests. Yet for some reasons, it was so touching. Well, after all, we all share the one and same priesthood. That convinced me about my idea of God. For me, one adjective that would perfectly describe God is “crazy.”

God must be crazy. No, I’m not quoting a title of a funny movie decades ago. I’m saying it, because it is this God that appears in my mind every time I think of my priesthood, as well as that of others. Being in the midst of the sea of those white albs brings with it a bit of uneasiness. Yes, we wear white, while we know perfectly how our hearts are so far from white! I began to think that it is white because it is a way of saying how God always sees each and all of us. This is not a self-justification. We priests do need conversion. I’ll be the first who desperately cries to God for another deep conversion. Yet, again, if I think of my priesthood, I know for sure, that my God is indeed a crazy God. There are many good men out there, but why on earth did God pick us?

For you who have been wounded by priests (including me), I ask for your apology. May this “Year of Priests” (from June 19 this year until the same date next year) be a year of profound and sincere conversion for us priests. Believe me, while there are certainly many, many, many, good priests on this planet who far outnumber the bad ones, the idea of becoming good priests can appear to many as counter-cultural. Join us in this not-so-easy journey into the most intimate precincts of the hearts of priests.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Split-Second

“A Split-Second”
(Casual Blogging Series #2 – Sunday, June 21, 2009)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

Remember Naomi, my lovely-black-lady-car? Well, I’ve got a bad news for you. Naomi was hit by a motorcycle. I had switched the left-turn-light on, looked to my left side… clear! I had just made a slight turn to the left when suddenly a motorcycle hit the passenger door from my left side. [Well, I should have known this. Jakarta’s motorcycles are dangerous!]. Still worse, the young man riding it just ran away speeding. Well, at least, it was obvious that he knew he had been guilty. I was so so so angry. [Bad words even came out of my lips. Please don’t tell my Superior].

As I continued driving, my mind immediately began to elaborate a story about the accident. Strangely enough, all I could come up with was a list of that young man’s mistakes. Yet at the same time I knew I was not honest to myself. At last I decided to claim also my own share in the accident. You know what? Just a split-second before the accident I had put down my cell-phone after declining a request for a school Mass. So, yes, the accident took place because I was not completely focused on my driving. I remember I said this to one of my Jesuit brothers. Once I had admitted, “I was distracted by the cell-phone,” I began to feel a deep sense of relief. Peace returned to my heart.

I knew I had learned something precious: as long as I see all the wrong-doings are only somewhere out there, I will never ever gain a true peace within. I was stunned by the fact that I had even been willing to lie to myself about myself. Yes, that’s a sad irony: we are the most dangerous and deadly liars to ourselves. I still wanted to convince myself, “I’m just a victim.” The problem with that statement doesn’t lie on the word “victim,” but on the word “just.” I was in a sense a victim of that reckless motorcyclist, yet I was clearly not just a victim, since I also had my own share in what eventually led to the accident.

I also learned not only to admit that I had been wrong, but more importantly, to own the pain caused by my own mistakes. The beautiful paradox was clear: once I had owned the pain, it immediately disappeared! Just as my mistake took place only in a split-second, so did the healing! But believe it or not, so many people out there prefer to delay [some even until their death!] that split-second of the promised healing. God forgives me. The problem is: I don’t always forgive myself. Bottom line, I still want to be bigger than God. And if this is the case, learning to forgive myself is indeed a very serious business!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Silly Corrections

“Silly Corrections”
(Casual Blogging Series #1 – Wednesday, June 10, 2009)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I’m a teacher. Giving exams is always exciting. A lot of good lessons can be drawn. Here’s one. Someone can be so sure with the answer. He or she writes and writes and writes (perhaps with thanksgiving prayer to God and with a stronger belief that those candles lit in front of the statue of Mary really work!). At one point he or she realizes that the answer already written is completely wrong. I can see three options here for this student.

First, he or she can apply the correction liquid to cover all that is written with sheer white coat; then he or she write on it. Problem is, some pens are simply not made to write on those shiny-slippery white coats. Even worse, the first page will not look nice at all to the eyes of the teacher. Second, he or she can simply make a line across the first page and write the right answer on the second page. The wrong answer is still there and can be seen clearly, but that line across the page will tell the teacher not to bother with what is written there. Fair enough. Third, he or she can simply toss the answer sheet to the trash bin, walk to the teacher’s desk, and say “I’ve made mistakes. Could I have a new answer sheet, please?”

Imagine I have three students taking those options respectively. Suppose also that the three of them give the “correct answers.” Well, beyond the grading, I can see at least three different ways of dealing with mistakes. Option one: you focus on the mistakes and have a hard time to brush over them, and then pretend that everything is normal and under control. Option two: you recognize the mistakes, but you still hold on them along the way. Option three: you admit that you’ve made mistakes, focus on the new possibilities in the future, and move on.

Now, you see, that this is actually a miniature of our life-stories? Sadly, I’ve met many good Catholics who opt for number one while dealing with their mistakes. Fewer take number two, and not so many are willingly take number three. Why so? Because in a sense many of us like to feel like heroes or heroines while focusing on the mistakes. Many of us enjoy performing on the life-stage and tell the whole world that we are just victims and that we still desperately wrestle with the mistakes done to us.

We all make mistakes. The difference is, some make silly corrections, while some make smart ones. Whatever you choose, it will determine your life story after the mistakes.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sixth Sense

“Sixth Sense”
Easter 2009 – Day 01 (Easter Sunday)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

Look back at those intense days during the Holy Week (or Passion Week). We are so engaged with God through our senses. We smell the incense, eat His Body, drink His Blood, feel His touch as He washed our feet and wipe them, look at Him in agony in the Gethsemane, look at Him hanging on the Cross, kiss His wounds, see the darkness, see the new fire, see the new light from Easter candle, hear the joyful invitation to rejoice, see the newly baptized, feel the water sprinkled on our skin. As a good friend of mine said, “Roman Catholics come at full force through symbols during these days!” Yes, those symbols speak to us through our senses. God knows how to relate to us humanly!

As we stand in the empty tomb and look at the folded linen, we are faced with so many questions. This is the time when God wants to go further with us. It is the beginning for us to use our sixth sense. Yes, we go beyond our five senses. Yes, we go deeper into our hearts. Yes, we look deeper beyond the wounds on His hands, feet, and side. Resurrection is the celebration of our sixth sense. Or, more precisely, we can only celebrate the victorious Easter Sunday with our sixth sense enforced by that power of love!

These days are called the Octave of Easter. We want to extend the joy of Easter by shouting loudly “Hallelu-Jah!” We want to develop our sixth sense to be aware that He is indeed risen, alive, at work, and always present near us, even if we don’t always realize this with our five senses. Have a great victory with Jesus!

Incomplete Journey

“Incomplete Journey”
Lent 2009 – Day 40 (Apr 11); Holy Saturday

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

Here we are, right at the very last day, Day 40, of our Lenten journey. At the beginning I had a dream to faithfully write meditation every day. Yet, as you can clearly tell, I’ve not been able to do that. The last thirteen days were so messed-up. With trips and other issues to handle, I have always been behind the target. At first I was so upset with myself. But, honestly, I was upset for a very clear reason: I wasn’t able to give my best to some of you who were walking with me along this journey. The darker side of it is also clear: I was upset because I wasn’t able to present myself as a good spiritual writer. I know, my intention is still stained with some need for self-glorification, and I do apologize for this.

Later on, however, I became at peace with this. A beautiful lesson I learned from God is precisely on this point: conversion journey is always an incomplete journey, and it does not fully depend on me. Conversion can only take place because God’s grace works out my incompleteness. If any of these short spiritual notes has ever deeply touched you, it is certainly God’s work. If what you find is dryness, have no doubt, it is because I was not always attuned to the works of God’s Spirit in the process of writing.

Holy Saturday is always awkward. In Indonesian we call it something like “Silent Saturday.” It is silent because we are no longer with the living Jesus, but not yet with the risen Jesus. We may not always realize this, since we are usually busy heading to the Easter Vigil. Silent Saturday is what we experience quite often in our daily life. We are in an uncertain ground. Yet, we need to stay there. We need to go through this stage if we really want to get at the victorious Sunday. Silent Saturday is a good reminder that our conversion journey is indeed always incomplete. Only when we meet God face to face we can call it complete!

Kissing Our Guilt

“Kissing Our Guilt”
Lent 2009 – Day 39 (Apr 10); Good Friday

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

[This is actually my homily on Good Friday which I delivered in Indonesian. Believe it or not, it was also the first time for me to preside at a Good Friday Liturgy]. Do you want to hear a terrible bad news? I’ve got one for you. Here it is: we have lost something precious, and we are not aware of it! What is this something very precious? Our sense of guilt! Yes, in the name of human self-fulfillment, we have become more and more allergic to the healthy and necessary sense of guilt. Why is it so? First, we have learned so well how to manipulate others by purposely incur the sense of guilt so that we can gain what we want. Look at relationship between a young man and his girlfriend. This young man can play and get what he wants from his girlfriend simply by replaying again the litany of her mistakes in the past. “Oh I see, you forgot to call me because you don’t love me anymore!” “Oh well, you always prefer your family to me!” “Right, your exam is more important than my love to you!” and on and on and on. That’s why we have no clue of what a healthy and necessary sense of guilt should be.

Second, we keep asking others to understand us. Look at the streets in Jakarta. When it rains, motor bikers will stop under the fly over right at the busy cross street, or just in the under pass tunnel. They don’t care if hundreds of cars are slowed down. All lanes are practically blocked by the parked motor cycles! Or, just look at how people stop at the traffic light. Many of them don’t care if they stop at the far left lane which is supposed for those who want to turn left. The result! All other cars behind are blocked, since there are some drivers who don’t want to wait. When they are reminded, either they get angry, or they show their miserable faces. Whatever they do, it is clear, that implicitly they say, “Please, understand me!” “Please, understand us, it is raining, and we need shelter!” “Please, understand me, I don’t have time to wait in the line!” and on and on and on. What they actually say is, “I’m not wrong! Why do you make a big case out of it?” No wonder, we have really lost our sense of guilt.

Third, we have become excellent liars against ourselves. We know that what we do is wrong, but we can cleverly find excuses, even spiritual and pious ones, that at night before going to bed, we can tap on our own shoulders and say, “Don’t worry, everything is OK!” and go to bed peacefully. This, I think, is the most serious one. Many of us have even begun to see that what is so wrong is OK! Just look at the good and beautiful and logical and theological and spiritual and psychological explanations about your wrong doings. How many times do we really say and admit honestly “Yes, I’m wrong”? Look at how easily we justify ourselves simply by saying, “Well, it just happened!” By saying this, we actually say, “I was not wrong. It was stronger than me. I was just a victim!” How many times we can say plainly, “Yes, I did it, and I know it was so wrong”?

Now, do you want to hear a soothing good news? I’ve got one for you. Here it is: even if we have lost our sense of guilt, even if we can’t say anymore “I’m wrong” or “I’m sorry,” there is a man like us, with flesh and blood who is willing to do it for us, even if this man is totally blameless. His name is Jesus! He is always willing to bear the burden of our mistakes. We even let Him do this. He lost His beautiful figure. He became so unlike any other human beings. We don’t want to look at Him! Yet, on Good Friday, we do exactly this: walking to the crucified and pay respect to Him. Some would touch, while others would kiss.

We do this not with a pity to that Man, but with a pity to ourselves. We kiss not only His wounds, but our own wounds. We don’t want to embrace our sense of guilt and let Him do this by being so inhumanly disfigured, nailed, wounded, and pierced. Yes, when I kiss His wounds, I actually kiss my long lost sense of guilt! Jesus will look from the cross and say gently, “When will you embrace back your healthy and necessary sense of guilt?”

Two Birthdays

“Two Birthdays”
Lent 2009 – Day 38 (Apr 09); Holy Thursday

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

In Italian we say “Buon Compleanno” which literally means “Good completion of [another] year. In French we say “Bonne Anniversaire” which comes from the same linguistic root that means “year.” In German we have “Geburstag” which is actually very close to our English “Birthday.” Honestly, I prefer the expression in English or German or any other languages which clearly points out the notion of “birth” and not simply that of “[another] year.” When you see a form in English, you will be asked to fill in your DoB, Date of Birth! And so every year, we simply add up the year while maintaining the date and month of our DoB. In fact, I always think that Birthday is a day about “birth,” not about “another year.”

Every year Roman Catholics have a celebration of two birthdays. On Holy Thursday, as we gather to remember the Last Supper, we celebrate the birthdays of two sacraments: the Eucharist and the Priesthood. When Jesus said “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood” He established the Priesthood and the Eucharist. For us priests, of course, this is a very special day! It reminds us about ourselves and our ministry to preside the Eucharist.

We also reenact the washing of the feet. But, notice well, the Gospel actually tells about two important actions: Jesus washed their feet, and after that Jesus wiped their feet dry. It is a big thing to bring people to conversion, but it should not end here. To help people grow is another thing. How many of us stop with the washing of the feet and forget to wipe them dry. When you wash your feet and with wet feet you just walk away, you will end up with more dirt on your feet! Moms know this well when she reminds her kids to wash their feet before bed.

So, you actually have to pose these two questions to yourselves: “Have I let Jesus wash my feet?” and “Have I let Jesus wipe my feet dry?” Then, you also need to ask: “Have I washed others’ feet?” and “Have I wiped others’ feet dry?” Conversion and growth should go together. This is what we see every year on Holy Thursday. In other words, every year, on Holy Thursday we celebrate the birth of our “yes” to Jesus to participate in His ministry of loving, serving, giving, and forgiving.

Road Trip

“Road Trip”
Lent 2009 – Day 37 (Apr 08)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I returned from the US in 2004. Since then, among other things, what I’ve been missing is the experience of road trip. My memories of driving across California came back when I drove from Jakarta to Bandung, and then back to Jakarta. It took me three hours to get there and four to get back. While I was driving along one among the newest highways in West Java, I realized one thing: I have never driven such a distance by myself. That was so far the longest drive alone I’ve ever had in my entire life. Yet, I enjoyed my time. I had a lot of time to process and get in touch again with myself.

As you know, the tricky thing in driving along highways is to know the exact moment to change lane. The first command that operates automatically in our mind is: get the fastest lane. So changing lane always means leaving the lane where the drive can be slowed down, and entering another lane where we can speed up. Getting slowed down is considered a bad thing. Just remember when in front of you there is a very slow car.

The second command is: get a better view. By this, we don’t want to keep driving behind a big trailer or bus. Why? They just block our view. For this reason, even if the other lane is slower, we can decide to change lane to get a better view. Driving slowly is still better than driving without a good view ahead.

All this driving experience took place just shortly before the Holy Thursday. It became a symbol for me. Here we are, Roman Catholics, remember and honor a Man who decidedly took the slowest lane! To gain power, He chose the lowest rank in society. Not only that, He decidedly enter into a journey where everything seems to block His way. This block is a lot bigger than the biggest trailer or bus ever existed. This block is my sin.

Yes, we want to follow that Man on the slowest lane with a big block in front of us. The good news is: there is assurance that we keep driving forward with Him. With Jesus, the slowest lane is actually the fastest, and the blocked view is actually the clearest.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Saved by Coins

“Saved by Coins”
Lent 2009 – Day 36 (Apr 07)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I brought back my Italian friend to the hotel. He put some more stuffs in his luggage. We said “arrivederci,” and I watched him leaving the hotel in a Silver Bird taxi. I looked at my watch, and I didn’t want to get caught in the afternoon traffic. Then the nightmare! I looked at my wallet, there was not much cash. Even worse, the hotel has no ATM! What should I do? I asked the guy to check with the parking gate man. After a series of phone calls, he said, “Sir, you will have to pay Rp 16,000. [Well, that’s just a bit more than one US dollar!]. I walked slowly to my car (remember Naomi?), hoping for the best. Luckily I still kept the small purse. Coins! I counted, added with some bills left in my wallet, and got Rp 16,500 total! Yes, I wanted to give my best kiss to those coins that saved my life! So embarrassing! I drove out of a luxurious hotel and paying the parking toll with coins. Yet, deep in my heart, I was so grateful.

Looking at my life, doesn’t it look just the same? I have my car key, my car works well, the gasoline is still near the full line, but I simply can’t use it and go out of the building. There are times in our lives, I believe, that we find ourselves in a very good situation, but when we want to move on, we realize that we are stuck. Honestly, for me during those few minutes, that beautiful hotel was simply a prison! I even had a slight regret that I had ever parked my car Naomi there!

How much in our lives we have similar experiences? How often what we consider beautiful and perfect can turn in a matter of seconds into a nightmare? My heart and my sympathy go to those people who were hit by the rushing water from the collapsed dam recently. Yes, life is so fragile. Moments like that always remind me of how temporary my life is. I just don’t know how much time I still have. No one knows.

The good news is clear. God can come in simple things just like those coins! When things go well I don’t appreciate them so much. Yet I know, even a small coin of a small value can bring me to freedom. Now look for those small coins in your life. Who knows, God is there waiting for you.

Excellent Liar

“Excellent Liar”
Lent 2009 – Day 35 (Apr 06)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

People have been debating for ages on the so-called “white lies.” Is it OK to lie for a good reason? Can the benefit pursued justify the lie? Where is the limit between the “white” and the “black” lie? Others argue, that white lie doesn’t mean that you tell what is not true, but you don’t tell the whole truth. In other words, you don’t really lie, but you simply hold back some truth. So here we are. When a husband is asked by his wife, “Where were you?” he simply says “I was at the office.” Sure, he was at the office. But this is not the whole truth. What he actually did at the office is another story. In other words, he said the truth, but he holds some of it. He does not lie to his wife, but he does lie to himself. This is a lot more damaging!

Honestly, this is one of my biggest fears in my spiritual journey. The more I know about faith, or God, or religion, or spirituality, the bigger the danger for me to lie to myself. I can cleverly justify and argue with myself what sin really means. I can write pages of good meditation to convince myself that everything is OK, while everybody else can see clearly that it is not so. This is the case with Judas Iscariot. He tells the truth, that the ointment that Mary used for Jesus is very expensive. He tells the truth, that it can be sold and the money can be given to the poor. Here we see a man who has really become an excellent liar, and the victim is himself. He feels that he plays it safe, but he is destroying himself. How sad.

These days we are invited to look at that Man, Jesus, who holds on the whole truth and strives hard to make us see again what it means to be human beings. So, look for the lies in your heart and bring them to light. That’s the first step to go to the resurrection.

Hotel Receptionist

“Hotel Receptionist”
Lent 2009 – Palm Sunday Year B (Apr 05)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I picked up my friend from Italy at the hotel. He had to check-out and go with me for the Psalm Sunday at the nearest Jesuit parish. I saw those young ladies at the reception desk. For the first time I was impressed by them. Not so much by their beauty (although this is also true), as by their perseverance to remain standing all the time! Out of curiosity I looked for any chair behind the desk. None! I wondered how long each shift is, and I was marveled by the fact that who ever is on the job, she or he has to stand and be alert. They are also at the front line of the hotel. Just next to us, there was a guest checking-out, but for some reason his voice rose of anger. The lady spoke calmly, always with a smile, and soon the problem was solved. I began to see this as a charism of a receptionist.

As Jesus walked by on that street entering the Jerusalem gate, I wonder how the people really saw Him. How many of them pushed their way to be as near as possible to that Man and shouted as loud as possible “Hosanna to the King!” Many did see Him coming, but not all of them were alert. Many wanted to be near, but not all of them wanted to stand at the front line all the time! Many were eager to “talk” about Him, but not all of them were really willing to “walk” with Him. Many put down their clothes and palm branches, but not all of them put down their pride. Many were “cheerful” for that solemn procession, while in reality their “cheerfulness” served to veil their “fearfulness.” The day is coming closer. We are called to talk less and walk more.

The frontline is where we find ourselves striving to stand firm in the midst of false judgments, accusations, and suspicions. It can happen any time, any where, any how. Just keep standing. We need that charism of a receptionist in order to persevere in our faith journey.

Mall Janitor

“Mall Janitor”
Lent 2009 – Day 34 (Apr 04)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

Back to the mall! Let’s go to the restrooms. Sure enough, we will find the janitors. You can tell the quality of the mall by looking at how the janitors are. I’m impressed by the janitors who keep cleaning the restroom. For my standard, sometimes it is even a lot cleaner than my own bedroom! Yet, he keeps wiping, drying, cleaning. It must be written in his job descriptions. Their job is to look at the smallest dirt, or water drops, or stains, and clean it right away. In order to do this, they have to be trained and therefore they have a greater awareness of the uncleanness.

Why clean if it is not dirty? Why fix if it is not broken? Why renew our life if it is still good? This is what I often ask. Conversion will never happen, unless God gives me a new awareness of the uncleanness in me. As long as I think that it is not dirty, I will never clean it. I have other plans to do, and I go for it.

Sometimes I compare myself with some fellow priests. They look calm, orderly, human, happy, responsible, and honest. At times simply encountering some fellow priests can be a gentle reminder from God. It is as if I have to realize that my own bedroom is a lot dirtier than the restrooms at the mall!

It’s true, as it has often been said, that to err is human, but to forgive is divine. The most difficult person to forgive is my own self. Why? I don’t always want to recognize the uncleanness within me. The good news, God is willing to be that responsible janitor and right now is waiting in front of my bedroom door. If Lent is like training time to develop a new awareness, will I now let Him in?

Pretty Woman

“Pretty Woman”
Lent 2009 – Day 33 (Apr 03)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I arrived safely at the airport and walked directly to the gate. The person who had invited me would pick me up there. Well, the truth was, we didn’t really know each other, for we had only met once some months earlier. I walked slowly, tried hard to guess which one was my host. I got near the parking lot, and I couldn’t find him. As I reached my cell phone in my pocket, I had a sense that the crowd suddenly grew in excitement. I looked up, and there she was. No wonder, a pretty woman was passing by. People behind me commented, “She must be a model.” Yes, she was tall, slim, walked nicely, and most of all she was too aware that people were staring at her. For a split second I forgot that I had to make a phone call. I did it, and you know, my host was just five steps away in front of me. [I hope he didn’t notice that my jaw dropped when the pretty woman was passing by. Oh, well…].

Then I realized that I was wearing my red baseball cap. I couldn’t recognize him and his wife, and they couldn’t recognize me either. There we were, confused, trying to recognize each other, while other people around us were attracted by the pretty woman. It made me think hard. How attractive is Jesus for me? Well, honestly, is Jesus still very attractive? What about this first Friday? All we see is that pierced side of Jesus from which flow only blood and water. There is nothing special, and it is totally unattractive. But why do we, Roman Catholics, still consider the first Friday every month (and more so during Lent) to be so special?

When we look at Jesus’ side we actually see that Jesus is not the focus. His focus is us. Unlike any pretty models that inevitably are really “attention-getters,” Jesus is attractive because He is really an “attention-giver.” So as I look at His heart I actually look at myself. It is for His love for me that He let His heart be pierced. I think, when I become a sincere attention-giver, I can beat the attractiveness of any super models ever exist on this globe.

Keeping the Promise

“Keeping the Promise”
Lent 2009 – Day 32 (Apr 02)

Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

Priests are human too. Strangely, for some, it’s hard to accept. If you know me well and live in the same house, you will immediately know what I mean. Yes, we priests, make mistakes, ranging from simply oversleeping and thus coming late to say Mass, to agreeing to preside a wedding for two different couples in two different churches at the same time! Yet, people keep coming to us priests and ask for our prayers.

A senior priest jokingly said to a group of lay audience, “When your priest says, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ don’t believe him. He won’t do it. There are too many people asking him for prayers, and he can hardly remember each of them.” I can relate to this. Sometimes I can only say in my prayer, “God, I don’t remember who exactly has asked for my prayers and what petitions they have. But I want to keep my promise, and so I offer all of them to You.”

Breaking a promise is a lot easier than making it! This is certainly true with us humans, but not with God. The beauty is this: God knows that we will break our promise to Him, and that’s why God always keeps His promise to us! Yes, I said, “that’s why.” Our inability to keep our promise is the reason for God to keep His promise. After all, in terms of keeping promise before God, we are helpless! What a wonderful God we have.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Parliamo Italiano

“Parliamo Italiano”
Lent 2009 – Day 31 (Apr 01)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

An old friend from Rome is in town. I had a dinner with him last night at the hotel where he stays. Driving through the heavy traffic, I made some mental exercises. After several years away from Italy, I had to pick up the language quickly. Then one big question came. How should I greet him? Of course a hug is the most natural thing Italians would do, but how? Americans would give one’s right side of the body as they hug. I vaguely remembered that with some French friends I used to give “a package of three”: left-right-left cheek. I was not sure about how Italians do it: is it left first, and then right? When I met him, I gave my hug, but without realizing it, I mixed it with the American way: right first, then left! Thank God, my friend didn’t embarrass me. Later as we exchanged stories at table, I kept stumbling, trying hard to find back the right Italian words to say. I was not really free as I used to be when I was still in Rome (well, eleven years have passed since I left).

Being free is not simply a matter of knowing, but more than that, it is a matter of personal engagement. No wonder Jesus had a hard time to tell His listeners, “The truth will make you free.” This is not the truth that one can read in a book. Even in the Bible you can’t find this truth. King Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t understand the truth that made Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego so free and willing to prefer the fiery furnace! Yes, this is about truth rooted in personal engagement with God. Each one of us will find it personally in a very unique way.

Even if last night I could rather proudly make those close to our table really hear that “parliamo italiano” (we speak Italian), I was not really free. I still know the language and the culture, but I miss my personal engagement. For me, Jesus’ words now sound, “Deshi, do you want to know the truth that will set you free? Just let yourself be deeply engaged with Me.” In other words, I can be free only by being chained to God’s love!

Precious Defect

“Precious Defect”
Lent 2009 – Day 30 (Mar 31)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

We have an old TV set, with screen that immediately feels too small when nine pairs of eyes are focused on it. If you are not familiar with it, be very careful when you turn it on. Once it is on, the volume will reach its peak, loud enough to wake the whole house up and you will nervously push the volume button to decrease it. With good familiarity you will know how to do it right. You simply need to follow a certain procedure, combining two remote controls, one for the cable device, and one for the TV set. In any case, at least, every now and then, with such sudden loud noise, we can be sure that the TV set is still there and still works. The sign of its presence is precisely its defect!

In the desert the Israelites had to accept the fact that they were not in a nice air-conditioned room with puffy sofas and a big pitcher of cold iced lemon tea. Food and drink in the desert are certainly unlike the ones you find on a restaurant menu. Walking in the desert was always walking with all the defects. In fact, all the defects clearly showed that they were really moving forward, not backward to Egypt. The defects in the journey were actually good signs. Now think of the Cross. Christians even proudly lift it up to tell the whole world that this disgusting defect is indeed our good sign. All the imperfections in you right now are signs of your moving forward and signs that you still exist.

Go to a factory outlet and you will most probably find stuffs with all the hidden defects. Yet when you see the slight defect, you can still convince yourself that it’s OK. Why? Because at least you can join the high class celebrities who walk around with their Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, and other big legends. You don’t focus on the defect, since you want to embrace the big names attached on it. No one doubts that the Cross is the nastiest defect, yet we choose it, knowing that a really big name is attached to it, and his name is Jesus!

Good Questions

“Good Questions”
Lent 2009 – Day 29 (Mar 30)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I was a young priest and student in Rome. After some struggles I finally picked the topic I wanted to work on for my Licentiate thesis. So I courageously approached one professor. Yes, it took courage to talk to that so-called “cold-blooded” professor! With his mysterious smile he said: “Make a good question!” That was it. Weeks passed and I found it so difficult to make a good question. I struggled a lot to get my thesis done in time. Some years later, when I began to engage myself in writing, teaching, and directing my students’ theses, the wisdom of my professor became clear. Yes, a good question is necessary to help us have a clear mind. My students know it well and I can tell that a good paper is always based on a good question. If we can make a good question, it means that actually we already know half of the answer.

Good communication is often times based on the ability to make a good question. Daniel knew this, and his question was simple and sharp, “Under what tree were Susanna and her presumed secret boyfriend found?” A question like this saved Susanna’s life. Good question can be life-sustaining and life-giving! The woman who had been caught in adultery was left alone with Jesus. As if to go deeper to the woman’s heart, Jesus simply asked, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” Of course Jesus already knew the answer. Yet it was a lot more than a simple rhetoric. Good question is life-giving.

A mother was furious after she had found some drugs in her teen daughter’s closet. She began to bombard her daughter with stupid questions, “Who gave you this? Why did you lie to me? How long have you been taking drugs? Have you wasted my money? Are you so stupid?” And on and on and on…! Communication went bad! Following an advice from her spiritual director, she learned to make better questions. She tried to start with a question of love with a gentle voice, “Do you really feel that I love you so much?” With this, the whole climate is changed, trust is developed, and openness is easy. Yes, good questions are indeed life-giving.

Earlier Flight

“Earlier Flight”
Lent 2009 – Fifth Sunday Year B (Mar 29)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I arrived early at the airport for my return flight. Being so uplifted, I gave my best smile to the young lady at the check-in counter who also gave her best smile only to say, “Your flight will be an hour late, Sir.” My smile disappeared immediately. I moved to another counter to get an earlier flight. The man wrote down my name on the waiting list and said, “Please come back in half an hour, Sir” Later on I nervously stood in front of the counter, hoping against all hopes. Finally the verdict was announced, “No seat for you, Sir. This flight is already full.” I angrily moved to the previous counter, got my boarding pass, and waited with other angry passengers. [Well, I was lucky to have friends who in the meantime picked me up, treated me at a good Chinese restaurant, and dropped me back at the airport].

Looking back at how desperate I was to get a seat with the earlier flight, I can’t help asking, “I had my ticket confirmed, but why did I still fight for my fortune with an earlier flight, knowing that my chance was actually close to zero?” I did it because I wanted to beat the airplane company! Yes, we do funny and silly things when we face the probability of a long wait. It is even funnier if I compare it with my spiritual life. There I do exactly the opposite. No need to rush to become a better person! If possible, get the very last flight with many possible delays! The longer the delay, the more I feel secure.

The Israelites kept delaying themselves by continuously breaking the covenant with God. Surprisingly, God responded by making a new covenant with them and writing the Law in their hearts! No more explanations needed. When our hearts are deeply touched, we don’t even have the slightest idea of delaying. Since we don’t do it naturally, Jesus had to do the first move. He didn’t delay, knowing perfectly that a grain of wheat had to fall and die in order to live and to be life-giving. A delay would mean death for many people. If options are still open for you, choose the earlier flight, even the first one when it is still dark! Ironically, in spiritual life, we do funny and silly things for fear of being so early with God!

Poor Cab Driver

“Poor Cab Driver”
Lent 2009 – Day 28 (Mar 28)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I took a cab to rush to the airport earlier this morning. Well, nothing new, just getting late, again! [Guess what? As if just for a change, the flight has just been delayed! I’m typing this at the airport]. Once I hopped in, the cab driver told me about the nightmare he had just had. He had the night shift, and since 3 a.m. I was his first passenger! The radio communication didn’t work at all. A computer error disrupted the whole system. Usually by the time I hopped in, he had had four or five trips in between.

[I had to stop typing. You know why the flight was delayed? The co-pilot came late due to some ground transportation problems. Whatever that was, I had to board the airplane, and since then, five days have passed]. What a symbolic picture of my relationship with God. As with the operator from the central office, God has always been busy to contact me. I have been busy waiting to listen to God’s voice. Strangely, God can’t reach me, and I can’t hear the voice. So here I am, wandering with no clear sense of where to go and what to do, and none the less, blaming God, the operator at the central office, for not giving me clear orders!

Among many other computer errors in my communication with God, I can see one: I’m so sure that I already know so much about God! Jesus found the same problem in his opponents. They knew so much about how the Messiah was supposed to be, and unconsciously kept filtering Jesus with what they knew. Jesus who knew a lot better was treated like an ignorant lamb being led to the slaughter-house! What an irony! Yes, I am in fact that poor cab driver. Instead of blaming God, I need to fix my heart’s computer, by humbly saying: “Jesus, here I am, I don’t want to filter you with my knowledge. Help me to let you love me deeply.”

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Corneal Infection

“Corneal Infection”
Lent 2009 – Day 27 (Mar 27)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

It was summer 1993, my first summer in Europe. After my first year in Rome I spent the first weeks of my summer vacation in The Hague in Holland. My mom, who at that time was still active in her garment business, came with my sister to participate in a fashion show. After some days with all the good-looking models, I began to feel something odd with my eyes. [Please, don’t think it was simply a matter of cause and effect!]. Everything collapsed when I learned that it was a corneal infection. I made every body go into troubles, from ophthalmologist visit to health insurance. Even worse, my eyes became so sensitive to light. I really hated any kind of light and preferred staying in the dark with my eyes tightly shut. Even a gentle ray of morning sunlight felt like a super bright spot light directed right on my eyes! A cloudy or even rainy day was perfect!

The problem was not with the light, but with my eyes. What was actually normal and pleasant became so threatening and burdensome. Jesus moved on with His mission from the Father. People began to be more irritated by the light He offered and tried everything possible to get away from it. Instead of curing the “eyes,” they made plot to eliminate the “light.” Yes, when with God’s grace I make some improvements in my spiritual life, even the gentle ray of that initial goodness in me may appear as a disturbing light for others. This, as Saint Ignatius of Loyola suggests, is typical of how the good spirit will be hindered by the evil spirit. When you are getting better, you will hear voice within you that convinces you that it is useless. Yes, you may even be convinced and say, “I’m a sinner. There is no way I can be better. Why still give it a try? Why fight if I will lose?”

When you are good and people around you like you, it is called encouragement, and it makes you “feel good.” When you are good and people around you hate you, it is called “the cross,” and it makes you “really good,” although you feel awful. Yes, when they hate you like this, be sure, the problem is not with the light in you, but with the eyes in them! Your cross makes them feel the serious corneal infection in their spiritual sight.

Kitchen Witness

“Kitchen Witness”
Lent 2009 – Day 26 (Mar 26)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

When I was a student in Berkeley some years ago, I lived with other Jesuits on their way to priesthood, and we took turn in cooking our evening meals. Our agreement was simple: “When you cook, use whatever you need, try to clean up as you cook, others will do the rest after meal, and you are free to relax!” Fair enough. There was one in particular who always used almost everything and left piles of dirty kitchen wares. On the day he cooked, cleaning up after meal seemed to take forever! Seeing those piles, we could say without doubt “He was here!”

I often channeled my urge for order to the drawer where we kept the silver wares. Every now and then I would arrange spoons, forks, and knives into a perfect lining! When someone opened the drawer afterwards, he could say “Deshi was here!” This is true with others. When I found the mixer had been used and nicely washed I knew who had just made his favorite brownies. When I found raw ox-tails on the kitchen counter, I knew exactly who had just been there. Yes, what we did in and to the kitchen witnessed about who we were! That’s an unbeatable kitchen witness!

When the Israelites are leaving Egypt, they say “God is here!” Soon afterwards, having no clue about Moses’ where-about, they say “God is gone!” Jesus’ opponents demand a clear explanation, but Jesus’ works clearly witness about who He really was. Moses reminds God to be merciful and forgiving. Jesus shows who God is by being merciful and forgiving. When we know about God, but we don’t experience God’s mercy and forgiveness, not surprisingly, our deeds will never witness about God.

If things are messed up, I hope that no one will say “Deshi was here.” If they do, my deeds clearly lack for mercy and forgiveness. It’s no witness to God! Our Berkeley kitchen knows better how to witness!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Lent 2009 – Day 25 (Mar 25) “Annunciation”

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

It’s hard to make a good group photo in these days of digital cameras. With five cameras trying to make a perfect picture of twenty people, for example, the result will probably be a picture of twenty people looking at five different directions. If you have asked someone to use your camera and do the shot for you, there is a higher probability that you will stare with your best smile at your own camera! The problem of focusing used to be that of the camera lens or of the photographer. Now, being defocused is mostly the problem with the people themselves.

Our world is so defocused. We are so defocused. I’m so defocused. Inevitably, my vision gets blurred and blurred. But surprisingly, it can suddenly get so focused when it has something to do with me. Who cares about other cameras? I want to look perfect in the picture from my own camera. After all, I can crop it and toss away other faces! So the question is: how do I want to be focused? Being defocused is just therefore a modern term for the centuries old self-centeredness or selfishness. I can remember perfectly, even as I’m typing this, how my being defocused has made me miss great opportunities to love and serve others.

Amidst our defocused lives, one day in the history of humanity, God came to a young woman from Nazareth. God is focused to Mary, since she is focused to God. Feast of Annunciation is a feast of this mutual focusing. It’s the feast when God as the best photographer comes to our group with the best camera and says, “Keep your cameras. Look at My camera! I guarantee you an award-winning picture of the year!” Yes, when we are all focused to God, we become indeed a perfect photo. Feast of Annunciation invites us to stare with our best smiles as one single group of humanity and together say “Cheers….!”

Monday, March 23, 2009

I Wish

“I Wish”
Lent 2009 – Day 24 (Mar 24)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

When I experienced my first life-changing conversion as a teenager many years ago the only thing I wished was to be a holy man! It seemed that I was already in front of the pearl gate to holiness. How wrong I was!

I wish to deliver powerful words as Jesus did to the paralyzed man at the Sheep Pool in Jerusalem, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk!” What makes Jesus’ words so powerful? Very simple! In Jesus there is no contradiction whatsoever. That’s obviously not my case. I can’t even count exactly the contradictions in me. So many!

I wish to flow like the water from the Temple that creates lives wherever it goes. That too is not my case. My words, my deeds, my attitudes, my choices, even my feelings, sometimes even kill the good seeds that God has planted around me. Feeling sorry always comes late. It always comes after the damage has been done. So many!

The water that used to be salty is in the process of becoming fresh. The paralyzed man who has just been healed is still limping and needs to learn how to walk straight. That not-yet-fresh water, that limping man, is me.

To all of you who have been wounded by my contradictions, I deeply apologize. Your ceaseless forgiveness gives me hope to keep striving for holiness. Spiritually I’m just a limping man who makes his best efforts to help others walk better. I want to be hope for others by limping graciously, and I thank you for letting me do just that.

When the Bamboo Broke

“When the Bamboo Broke”
Lent 2009 – Day 23 (Mar 23)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I warn you, this is embarrassing and disgusting! It was early 70’s and I was just a little kid. We lived in the suburbs of Jakarta. Vast rice fields and ponds were still found at the back of our house. It was customary that people would go to those ponds whenever the nature called. Yes, we had those “toilets” over the ponds. One day, as I was squatting and “doing it,” the bamboo underneath my feet broke and I fell directly to the water full of the dirty “waste” that my body had just released. I was literally in the midst of human “waste,” mine and everybody else’s. The next thing I knew, I was already at the well. My body was literally covered with human waste and our house maid was washing me through. She had bravely jumped into the disgusting water to save my life! Even today I can still hear the crispy laughter we both shared at that well. I’m forever grateful to her.

That is what God has been doing for me. Every time I sin, I spiritually jump into my own dirty waste, and God will immediately jump to save me. What a great God! This is basically the pattern that is repeated on and on throughout the Scriptures. Not only that. God even promises to create new heavens and new earth for us! Even more! God will exult in us! We are invited to share that crispy laughter as God washes us through! Think about this. God will rejoice over you, no matter how messy your life is now. God wants to heal you, and wants you to believe.

Even if there seems to be no sign that our lives are getting better (since we find ourselves repeating just the same sins again and again), God wants us to believe that we are not alone sinking in that disgusting water. God is there with us. All we need to do is letting God grab us and pull us out! Once we are out, we will also see that God mends and replaces the broken bamboo! God will smile and say, “Be careful! But be sure, even if you fall again, I’ll rescue you!”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Turn It Off!

“Turn It Off!”
Lent 2009 – Fourth Sunday Year B (Mar 22)

You go to a medical check-up. All the reports clearly show that you have a serious but curable illness. The doctor instead tells you that there is nothing wrong, and simply says, “You are burnt-out. Take some rest!” You are happy with this, and you convince yourself that you’re really fine. Another doctor who is your best friend reads those reports, and honestly tells you, “You are seriously ill, and you must go for treatments if you want to be cured.” You have two options. First, you go to the first doctor, scold him for being a liar, sue him, and bring him to the court. Second, you are mad at your best friend, accuse him for making it up, cut off your friendship, and hold on to the false diagnosis from the first doctor. Here actually you have two big questions: “Do you want to accept the fact that you are ill?” and “Do you want to accept the sincere love of your best friend?”

That is another modern version of my relationship with God. Scriptures clearly show us that God never ceases to tell each one of us, “You are seriously ill, but with Me it is curable!” You can count the number of prophets whom God has sent. God knows that my life is so dark. So God comes as Light, but my sinful instinct says, “Turn it off!” (I even forget to add the polite word “please” at the end!). In fact, what I say is, “I’m fine. I’m not ill. I’m OK in the dark. I don’t need doctors. I don’t need light. Go away, God! You are making it up. You don’t really love me! If You keep telling me that I’m ill, I’ll go to another doctor, and I’ll never come back to You!” Wow, wow, wow…! Yes, this is our sinful instinct! We want God to say only the nice things that make us feel good.

One reminder that always makes the thick wall of my defense fall is: “Deshi, you are such a hypocrite!” You must be familiar with a specific phrase that is like an arrow being shot right to the very center of your heart. That harsh statement comes actually from God who simply wants to say, “I love you and I really care about you!” All I need to learn to say is, “Thank you doctor for telling me the truth. I’m ready for any necessary treatments,” or, “Thanks for the light. Keep it on!”

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Winner or Looser?

“Winner or Looser?”
Lent 2009 – Day 22 (Mar 21)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I was driving to give my evening lecture yesterday when I saw a tiny city car waiting to get in. I slowed down, let that car in, and felt good about it. However, as we were approaching the traffic light and I saw that it was green, my attitude changed. I began to be anxious, kept looking at the green light, and impatiently honked several times as I angrily said, “Come on lady, speed up!” That tiny car in front of me had just passed through, when the green light turned yellow, and immediately red. I stopped angrily. “This is what I got for being nice!” After that, when I saw a car waiting to get in, I sped up and honked aggressively. I did it twice. Hooray…! For a moment, there was a sense of victory. I lost the battle against one tiny car, but I won the battle against two bigger ones! This actually means: “I lost when I was good; I won when I was bad!”

The more I drive in this chaotic Jakarta, the more I realize that city streets can become a battlefield between “a looser” and “a winner.” However, the real battlefield is in my own heart. How I want to win the battle? By being and doing good, or by being and doing bad? The Pharisee believes that he is a winner, because he has done many good things. Another man, a tax collector, believes that he is a looser, because all that he has done were bad. Yet, in terms of honesty before God, the Pharisee is a looser, and the tax collector is a winner. How come? When I sin, I wound myself, but God will bandage my wounds. When I sin, I become a looser, but when I admit and confess my sins to God, I become a winner. Loosing and winning doesn’t depend simply on a list of bad or good deeds. It requires a personal heart-to-heart relationship with God.

Holiness is not just about avoiding what is bad, but also about doing what is good. Never buy the city street wisdom “When you are good, you are a looser; when you are bad, you are a winner.” Embrace the real truth: “When you are good, you might become a looser in the eyes of people around you, but you are a winner in the eyes of God!”

Friday, March 20, 2009


Lent 2009 – Day 21 (Mar 20)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I had just left my house yesterday when I realized that I had forgotten something. The U-turn spot was just three minutes away. It would not take more than additional fifteen minutes to get the whole thing done. Yet I thought, “Making a U-turn now is a waste of time. I can get the stuffs later.” So I went home at lunch time, had a quick lunch, got the stuffs from my room, and hit the road again. The whole trip took more than an hour! As I was stuck in the terrible traffic jam, I said to myself, “I should have made the U-turn this morning. But why I didn’t do it?” Then I realized that I didn’t do it, because I knew that my Jesuit brothers were still in the dining room, and they would probably have made fun of my forgetfulness. I knew that I had to return, but I preferred to save my face!

We are strongly warned not to fall into idolatry, into worshipping others than God. I didn’t make the U-turn, because I wanted to hold fast on my own pride. By doing that, I made myself an idol. The danger of idolatry lies not out there, but in here. Conversion, or returning, or coming back, or making a U-turn to God, is not always appealing to our modern ears. It might be judged by others as a sign of weakness, of the defeat of the most important idol, namely, “I.” When we pray “Deliver us from evil,” it also means “Deliver us from our own pride! Deliver us from our own resistance to make a U-turn to You!” But many people say, “I’ll come back to God when I get older.” It actually means, “I want to be holy, but right now, my pride is a lot more precious!” How sad!

The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength. If we are focused on God, our pride will melt. That’s the power of love. When our pride is melted away, we can really love ourselves as God loves us, and in turn, we can love others as we love ourselves with the very love of God. Now we think that many more U-turns still lie ahead, while in fact there might be none. God knows.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Coffee is Brewing

“Coffee is Brewing”
Lent 2009 – Day 20 (Mar 19)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

Are you a coffee lover? There are two things that I find very unique in waiting for coffee. First, when the boiled water goes through the filter filled with coffee ground and begins to drip into the clear glass container, it creates a very unique noise. When I hear that noise my expectation grows. I can be sure that soon I will enjoy the coffee. Second, when the coffee is brewing, it sends a very unique odor. When I smell it, I know for sure that someone in the house is preparing coffee, and who knows, I can have some of it too! Now, what is more powerful, the noise or the odor? For me, it is the odor. I can be far from the kitchen, even on the second floor, that I can’t hear the noise from the coffee machine, but the odor can break through the wall and hit the senses in my nose. The odor can be very strong that I spontaneously sniff with tremendous joy.

In the Catholic tradition we have a Latin terminology “odor sanctitatis,” which literally means “odor of sanctity,” or “scent of holiness.” This refers to a certain odor that the body of a holy person emanates, either during his or her earthly life, or accompanying his or her dead body. Have you ever known a person whose life is so devoted to God, that whenever you meet her, or him, there is a tingling in your body that tells you that there is something beautiful with that person? I’m obviously not that kind of person (well, at least not yet). It’s striking that the language has never coined a terminology like “noise of sanctity.” Why? Simply it is because “odor” is a lot more powerful than “noise.” Try to drive people away with your voice, and try to drive them away with a very bad and disgusting smell. You don’t even need a single word in the second case!

Seen in this perspective, holiness walks hand in hand with silence and quietness, not with noise. There is no holy person who has no intense experience with the deep silence. Saint Joseph is one example. He never said a word in the Bible, but through the ages people can still sniff his “odor sanctitatis” with tremendous joy. If you want to gain a spiritual strength, aim for the odor, not the noise, of your personhood. They will know, that indeed within you, “coffee is brewing!”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can You Hear Me?

“Can You Hear Me?”
Lent 2009 – Day 19 (Mar 18)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I called my mom and dad on their mobile phone yesterday. For me their voices were clear, but they kept asking, “What? What?...” Finally dad said, “I can hardly hear you.” To which I reply, “Never mind. I’ll call you back later.” I came late to my office this morning. [Not a good example. Please don’t tell my boss]. I had to make some important calls. First call: the voice from the other end was clear, but the response I got was “Sorry, he is out of town.” Second call: it went through easily. Yet as I began to speak, the other began to tell me, “Your voice is not clear!” I was a bit frustrated, but thank God, between several “what’s”, I managed to deliver the message. Third call: better than the first two? The voice from the other end was so clear and crisp, but the only words I got were: “Hello? Hello?...” Then, as I was trying to raise my voice, he hanged up.

My relationship with God can be described as “Who calls? Who hears?” The Bible abounds with this image. God is experienced to be a very close God. It can even claim that no other nations have a God so near like ours. Yet for me, it is always frustrating when I call God in times of trouble, but God seems to be absent, distant, indifferent, and worst of all, deaf! There are times when I even ask God, “Can’t You hear me?” It means: “Hey God, You’re not doing your job!” I try to imagine how many times God has tried to call me. How many times I have replied, “Sorry, I can’t hear You!” Or, even worse, I just hanged up. Or, worst of all, I tell God, “I can’t really hear You! There must be something wrong with Your phone!”

I usually don’t like the term “laws.” Even the laws from God create a feeling of being controlled, observed, under surveillance. Yet if I think that the laws are those attempted phone calls from God, then things will appear different. The problem lies within me, with my inability, or my unwillingness to really stop, slow down, take a deep breath, and listen carefully. When I do this, there is no need for the frustrating “what’s” since God’s voice will become clear and crisp.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fax Machine

“Fax Machine”
Lent 2009 – Day 18 (Mar 17)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I had just finished typing a very urgent document to be immediately e-mailed when the least expected happened: the electricity was gone! Fortunately I had also printed a sample of that document. So I turned to my Blackberry, typed the whole thing as an e-mail message then sent it. After a while I checked the addressee only to get a reply: “Sorry Father, the e-mail has not gone through! Please re-send!” Fortunately the electricity was back, although the internet connection was still down. So as my last hope, I turned back to the fax machine. [Oh how much I fell in love again with that machine in these days of e-mail and Blackberry]. Done! Well, not really. A few hours later I got a phone call on my mobile phone: “Father, there is no e-mail, no news from you!” To me that sounded: “Father Deshi, you are being irresponsible.” I was a bit irritated when I learned a moment later that they had not checked their fax machine, although I had informed them through a text message. That very urgent document has been there for hours! What I thought to be a business done in time, turned out to be half an hour late.

A day like that sounds familiar to you too, I believe. That is one of those moments when I feel that everything goes against me! A few moments earlier everything seems to be perfect. Just a little something out of the plan can easily turn it to be horrible. OK, that fax story is over now. But as I look back, it dawns on me that it is just a mini version of my life. Imagine what God thinks of me: now I’m very good, a moment later I’m a terrible sinner. Sometimes the boundary between what is good and what is sinful is just a thin line. I am reminded to what St. Ignatius of Loyola taught about sin: “It creates disorder!” If God forgives me, it means: “God recreates order.” The same thing happens with other people around me. If I forgive them, I participate in God’s work: “I recreate order in their lives.” No wonder I’m asked to forgive seventy times seven. No limits! Why? Simply because it is about participating in God’s very act of recreating order.

Back to the lovely fax machine that saved my face today, isn’t it true with God’s forgiveness? It’s available for us, but we don’t realize that it’s there because we’re still too focused with the disorder. “God forgives you” says fax message sent to you. Your job is to walk to the fax machine and find the message and believe it. Let God recreate order in your life.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Horror Movie

“Horror Movie”
Lent 2009 – Day 17 (Mar 16)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

Had you come to my place at one o’clock A.M. during these past two days, you would have met three of our young Jesuits awake in front of the TV. To everybody’s surprise, these young men have suddenly become fascinated by horror movies! I’m not really a fan, but I can tell that a horror movie can be so attractive precisely because of its constant surprising uncertainty. The more uncertain you are drawn to be through the movie, the more exciting it is. Before long, you begin to think: “Wow! That was scary and unexpected, now give me something scarier!”

Welcome to one of human paradoxes! Facing real life, we want everything to be certain. We even lament when life becomes so uncertain. Strangely, we can be entertained and even relaxed by horror movies with all their uncertainties. Unconsciously we are often torn apart in our own expectations: “certainty” or “surprise”? Naaman, the commander-in-chief, has to learn about this. He needs to learn to accept that sometimes God’s ways are no surprise at all. Instead of being asked to wash himself in a beautiful river, he is asked to go to the Jordan River. Oh please…! No surprise? Too simple! Too certain! Give me something bigger and more uncertain!

Same thing happens to Jesus’ hometown’s people. They know Jesus too well. No uncertainty, no mystery, no hidden surprise about this man. Had Jesus lived in this age, He would have said: “No prophet is accepted and respected by his own friends on the Facebook! All these friends know his every ‘status.’ No more surprise!” When God becomes so simple and certain, we can even doubt: “Is this really God?” Yes, we may be off-track if we always apply the enjoyable uncertainty of a horror movie to God.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Nobly Destroyed

“Nobly Destroyed”
Lent 2009 – Third Sunday Year B (Mar 15)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I’ve just come home from a wedding party of an old friend. Everybody was happy. Finally at the age of forty-three this dear friend of ours decided to settle down, get married, and start a new life. Some of us came with their wives and children. Looking again at old faces always thrills. Those faces represent different sets of choices they have made along the way, willingly or not. During those precious minutes together we were brought back to a distant past when we used to sleep in the same dormitory, eat the same food, drink the same water, and yet at the same time we were also silently marveled by the differences life has created on each one of us.

Life appears to be continuous alterations of “building” – “destroying” – “rebuilding.” It is painful to start building from ground zero up. It is more painful to accept the fact that what we have built has to be destroyed in order to be rebuilt anew. Each stage demands a decision. Though at times the forces out there feel so overwhelming, we have to make a decision on how to go through. God builds a relationship, a covenant, gives a set of norms to be obeyed. We destroy the relationship by doing precisely what is forbidden. God rebuilds. And the story goes on. The magnificent temple has been built over the years, but it turns out that it will be destroyed only to be rebuilt into a completely new and unimaginable one. Along these alterations, we learn how to make better choices.

That blood-stained wooden cross speaks loudly to the world about the high price to be paid so that our building of sins can be destroyed and a new building of virtues can be rebuilt. If I think that to be destroyed is painful, for God it is more painful to see my resistance to be destroyed. God sees a lot more the better building. I simply do not want to see it at all right now. This destruction can be very painful precisely because it is a noble destruction.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wasting for Investing

“Wasting for Investing”
Lent 2009 – Day 16 (Mar 14)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

“Waste your time, invest their trust!” This is a simple wisdom that I have made as a reminder for myself. I am blessed with so many young Jesuits around me. I am aware of my own limitation and woundedness as a human being. Yet at the same time I have been entrusted with these young and promising Jesuits under my care. This logic of “wasting for investing” at the same time also train me in the virtue of patiently waiting.

I wonder how much God has wasted time with me. I wonder how long God has been patiently waiting. I wonder how much trust God has seen developing in me. Any story of conversion is a story of how an investment begins to show the benefit. When a son who out of a sudden decides to run away from home we may think that he is completely lost. What will change the story is the amount of time that his father has wasted with him. It will take time before his son eventually realizes that he can completely trust his father. Then there will be an unstoppable power within his son to say: “I’m coming home, Dad!”

So, start with “wasting,” and you will see that you are actually “investing” something priceless, namely “trust.” In the meantime you learn how to do a good “waiting.” For God, the name for such “wasting” is “mercy,” the name for such “trust” is “conversion,” and the name for such "waiting" is "life." What a great God!

Placing the Puzzles

“Placing the Puzzles”
Lent 2009 – Day 15 (Mar 13)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I am blessed with a caring elder brother and a loving younger sister. Yes, there is no perfect family. My mom and dad must have been working hard to make the three of us so closely knitted together. That’s why I always think that one of the saddest tragedies on this planet is the enmity, hatred, jealousy between siblings. I always cry deep in my heart whenever I hear how someone has managed not to speak to his or her sibling for years!

Of course there are times when I really wish that my brother or my sister were different. I have no doubt that there are also times for them when they really wish that I were different. Conflicts exist. Misunderstandings cannot be avoided. What makes us close to each other is that somehow we see each other as puzzles that have to be there to make the picture of each one of us complete. Suppose you have orderly placed 2,999 puzzles and you can’t find that missing puzzle. What an ache you feel within.

A more tragic irony is that when Jesus came to me as my brother, as the missing puzzle I actually need, I pretend not to see Him, not to need Him.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Attractive Dependency

“Attractive Dependency”
Lent 2009 – Day 14 (Mar 12)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

Believe it or not, a good number of people have asked me: “So, tell me honestly Father, what kind of woman do you find attractive?” I usually ask back: “And you are asking this to a celibate Roman Catholic priest?” However, for the sake of honesty, I then continue without hesitation: “A very independent woman.” Yes, I always admire an independent woman who shows an inner power that makes the world around her turn properly.

Ask a similar question to God: “God, what kind of person do You find attractive?” God will certainly say: “Any kind.” Then try to ask further: “Don’t You find an independent person more attractive?” At this, God will smile and say: “Not really. In fact, I often find a too independent person is more difficult to deal with.”

For us modern people, being dependent is not a quality we want to strive for. Yet before God, we do need to develop “a right sense of dependency.” A tree planted near a river will be fruitful since it has the right amount of water it is dependent to; not too little, not too much, just right! The poor man Lazarus is so dependent to others, and this helps him to be dependent to God. On the contrary, the rich man is severely punished not because he is rich, but because his being rich makes him lose any sense of dependency to God.

An independent person who has a right sense of dependency to God will in fact be a much more attractive person. Your sacred, healthy, and balanced dependency to God is a quality this world is badly longing to find.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Treat Yourself

“Treat Yourself”
Lent 2009 – Day 13 (Mar 11)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

We are called to be happy; we are not called to make everybody happy. The good we do will always create division: some will be happy, some will be mad at us; some will love us, and some will hate us. When we do what is really good, people will have to choose how to react to such goodness. The challenge for us: we don’t always see the end result immediately. We might feel betrayed if the immediate result is the hatred of others that make us feel really down and unhappy.

If you keep doing what is good, those who hate this goodness will eventually try to trap you by using your goodness. Some people are just too scared to do good because her or his goodness might eventually kill her or him. If you want to be happy, drink the cup of bitterness, hatred, envy, not because you are a masochist, but because this is the good thing to do. It is good simply because this is the same cup that Jesus drinks. The time will come, when you will sit with Jesus in heaven and drink the best drink. [I wonder whether in heaven they will provide the best Cabernet Sauvignon. Well…that’s my favorite wine].

We need to learn to choose to be happy by doing always and only “what is good,” not by doing always and only “what makes people happy.” Treat yourself always and only with the “true happiness,” by doing always and only “what is good.”

Monday, March 9, 2009

An Active Business

“An Active Business”
Lent 2009 – Day 12 (Mar 10)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I’m afraid that if Jesus were preaching today, He would give this warning to His disciples: “Listen to what Father Deshi says, do what he tells you, but don’t ever do what he does!” Yes, preaching is one thing, practicing what I preach is another. In fact, for me as a priest, preaching the Good News is more enjoyable than practicing it in my own life. You’d better hope that Jesus wouldn’t say this to your kids: “Listen to what your parents say, do what they tell you, but be sure, don’t do what they do”?

There is a responsible question to ask every night before falling asleep: “How much of my preaching have I myself practiced?” In my case, at times I have become too passive in my conversion. The Good News that says “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” always comforts me. Yet, I pretend not to look at the other side of the coin: “Stop doing evil, learn to do good…!” I want to passively get God’s love for myself, but I don’t want to actively show it to others.

Unexpected thing that happens – like when your Dad was rushed to the emergency room – may serve as a reminder: “Do what you teach…learn to do good…” Actually I’m not always aware of such soft whisper from God. Conversion is also an active business.


Lent 2009 – Day 11 (Mar 9)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

The English word “addiction” comes from Latin “addicere,” which is a combination of “ad” (to) and “dicere” (say). Literally, it means “to say to (something),” or more precisely “to say yes to (something).” Hence, an addict is nonetheless “a devotee.” If you are addicted, you are “devoted” in the very meaning of the word. Yet, if initially “addicere” points to your freedom to say yes, today it points to your lack thereof. It means just the opposite. When you are addicted, you are dependant, chained, enslaved, not free!

Someone says that if we want to change the world, we can begin by bringing back the original meaning to every word. If this is true, I can proudly say “I am a forgiveness-addict.” It works both ways. I realize that I’m really dependant on God’s forgiveness as well as others’. I can’t live without forgiveness. The moment God or others stop to supply me with forgiveness, I certainly die. Yet, at the same time, I have to renew my choice everyday that I want to devote myself to be forgiven and to forgive.

Forgiveness is the life-giving blood of the covenant between God and me, a covenant between a faithful God and an unfaithful me. Should I measure up others or myself, that measurement is forgiveness. If I am a real forgiveness-addict, I’m on the right track to be set free.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Twist in the Plot

“A Twist in the Plot”
Lent 2009 – Second Sunday Year B (Mar 8)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

What is a bad movie? It’s when you can tell right from the beginning how the movie will end, and you’re right. What is a good movie? It’s when you keep guessing how the movie will end, and you only know the answer when the movie ends. What is a very good movie? It’s when you’re sure about the end, but toward the end there’s a twist in the plot, and you are totally surprised by the completely unexpected end. If life or faith life is a movie, it is indeed a very good one.

Abraham has to go through such a twist in his faith life when out of the blue God asks him to sacrifice his only and beloved son, Isaac. The disciples on the mountain are so sure about how Jesus’ life story is all about. Jesus reminds them not to be so. A lot needs to unveil. The disciples will only know Jesus on another mountain. This one is called Golgotha! Yes, if you really want to know Jesus, wait till you are shocked by the twist in the end.

Blessed Mother of Calcutta is known to have said: “If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans!” Then after God is done with the laughter, God will tell you: “My child, wait until the twist in your life story.” Lent is a wonderful time to train our faith to be ready for any twists. Jesus is the unexpected twist in the history of the whole humanity. It is precisely this twist that makes it “a very good movie” of all ages.