Monsignor Philip Heng, SJ
Reflect on the lives of people around us and in the world for a moment: Migrant workers labouring in the heat and rain, faceless internally displaced people, hopeless refugees, and in the streets around our city district, the hundreds of destitute in their makeshift shelters, huddled in dark corners against the cold.
Do our hearts yearn in pain to reach out and soothe the sufferings of these “faces of misery” in our society?
These people have suffered too much and for too long; and, in all probability and understandably so, have given up hope in life. All they see is a world that marginalises them, oppresses them, and denies them the basic necessities of life – their human rights. Our world is also rife with human suffering that extend beyond the observable – individuals and families who may have the resources to meet their physical needs and yet, are also going through their own form of “agonies”.
How do we make sense of all of these? Many years ago, a friend of mine (Janice, not her real name), shared with me the traumas of her life.
“My husband [an alcoholic, gambler and womaniser] not only abused me and my three-year old son so severely that, when I was pregnant with my daughter (Mary, not her real name), my water bag burst prematurely.
“Before I was wheeled into the delivery room, the doctor warned me that my womb needed to be removed, or I would bleed to death. He also added that either my baby in my womb or I, or both of us, could die. In total surrender to Our Lord, I prayed and drew the strength and even with peace faced whatever may come upon me and Mary.
“When I woke up the next morning to see both of us alive, I knew that as God had not taken me to heaven, He wanted me to take care of my two kids. The doctor told me that, in the 30 years of his practice, he had never seen so many blood clots in a womb.
“Mary was in ICU. All her internal organs, and both her eyes were not fully developed. She had two big blood clots beside her brain that threatened to blind her. Her jaundice was two degrees from death, and she had to have full blood transfusion on several occasions. I would visit her four times a day in the ICU, to massage her, to pray and sing hymns into her ears, through tears that flowed uncontrollably. There was little hope of survival for Mary, but in all of these, I was sure that God was with me. God was also weeping and suffering with me.
“Very gradually, Mary grew stronger and bigger, and eventually, was discharged 10 months later, weighing 1.8kg.
“However, even as joy filled my heart, returning home filled me with fears of what was to come. My husband continued to abuse all of us: physically, mentally and emotionally, over the next couple of years. He almost killed Mary on five occasions, but she survived. I realised that if this continued, he would kill all of us one day or before that happens, we might rather kill ourselves, to end the misery. Eventually, I divorced him to save all our lives.
“Looking back, I thank God that both my kids and I are still alive and are healthy today; trying to live our lives as best as we can, even though life is full of pain and sorrow. I gave up my executive job soon after Mary was born, so that I could care for my two kids. I have been without a full-time job for the past 10 years. Savings are low and often, temporary projects keep me going. Even as I am desperate, God in His Mercy, continues to provide for us, through so many miraculous ways. He never fails us. Believe me, neither will He fail you if you are in need.”
Janice’s story reminds us that God’s divine ways are often imperceptible to our human senses and logic. Our finite experiences prevent us from comprehending the mystery of the Divine that is always present. God’s unfailing providence, protective love and presence faithfully reaches out to sustain us during our most difficult moments.
Msgr Heng is the Rector of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.