Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Opening to God

I just finished a book review on Thomas Green's Opening to God. This book was highly recommended to us by our Initiation Year Director, and now after reading it, I would also highly recommend it to anyone who wants to deepen their prayer life, or just trying to even make sense of prayer in their lives.

For a person picking up the book, trying to find a sure-fire way to encounter God, he will be sadly disappointed. Which is why the author devoted the first half of the book, to clarify what prayer is, or more importantly, what it is not. Through his experience giving spiritual direction, he knows the struggles we face in our spiritual journey. Thus in “Part I – The What and Why of Prayer”, he corrects many of the misconceptions and answers many questions that the person in this modern era would face regarding prayer.

After changing the mindset we have in the first part, that prayer is really an encounter with the Lord, and it is a response on our part to His drawing, the author suggests a change in approach. In the second part “The How of Prayer”, instead of the things we should do, he focuses on what we should be: “A better approach would be to define prayer as an opening of the mind and heart to God. Opening stresses receptivity, responsiveness to another.” Using his knowledge from the writings of the masters of prayer, Sts Ignatius, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, he puts it in simple language, that is easily understood by a beginner to prayer.

Personally, reading this book, has given me much to reflect on. I could identify with the person who used to think of prayer in terms of the categories: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication. And now as I move from the devotional faith, to discovering the relational aspect of prayer, it has highlighted some stages and difficulties on this journey that I was unaware I had or am going through. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, it has reminded me that the growth in my prayer life really requires time and effort. I am reminded once again not to be so impatient, expecting to bear fruits through my own effort, and not to be impatient with a God who cares for me.

The most striking part of the book has to be it’s ending, because it describes how I’m beginning to feel about prayer. That when it seems that we have truly learned how to pray, we are actually “only beginning to discover what the Spirit has to teach us of God – but it is a very good beginning.”

"The image I often use is that of a father and his year-old child. The baby has learned how to crawl, and become a very skilled crawler. Then one day the father decides to carry the baby for a walk. Suddenly the baby sees the world from the father's shoulders and moves with the speed of his father's speed. When they return home, the father puts the baby down on the floor again, and the baby is frustrated because he can only crawl. Now he knows something better is possible, and crawling is no longer satisfying.

It is like that in the early stages of our life in prayer. When we begin to make progress, it is not because we have learned to walk, but because God is carrying us. Like the baby, however, we tend to think we have really accomplished something ourselves.

Prayer becomes a joy and our faults disappear, and we think we have really learnt to walk, but the reality is that our faults have not been eliminated, but merely temporarily masked by God's grace. And when he sets us down again, prayer becomes difficult, and our failings return, and we find ourselves frustrated."

Epilogue - Opening to God
The image of the father carrying the child and walking, and the disappointment when the child is put back down to crawl, encourages me to be aware of that during my own journey, and to carry on relying on God and not be disappointed.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Our Lady of Lourdes

This week we went to the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes. From Chinese community last week to Indian community this week. Maybe it might have inspired my brother to pick up tamil for his ministry ;Þ

Our Lady of Lourdes is a very different parish from most other parishes in Singapore. Firstly because it's in the city area, surrounding it are mainly commercial buildings with some flats here and there, so in terms of local population it is quite small. The catechism classes total 30+ from pri 1 to Sec 4. Meaning that there are only like 3-4 students per level. So the levels have to be combined together.

The other difference is that the community there has a high number of migrant workers, from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Philippines, and recently Nigeria. And so the parish faces a whole different set of ministries. New people come and go, some of them stay and work far away, some only have off days once a month. The parish also does help them a lot in terms of administrative needs. Ever so often, they are abused or cheated by their employers, and we as church cannot say to them "Ok brother, we will pray for you." Like in last friday's first reading.

"If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?" Jm 2:15-16
It's quite nice to see that the parish has been catering to the needs of these fellow brothers and sisters. After the tamil mass at 8am, they gather for prayer sessions, the sri lankan maids have been allocated a room also for their gatherings. There is the soup kitchen that provides free meals, and starting a computer training centre for them to pick up new skills.

One thing which Deacon Jivan who is attached there was telling us, is that these migrant workers are more devotional in their worship. They are not looking for theological inputs, scripture study. What they are looking for is the experience of God in their lives, to be able to praise, to pour out their sorrows, to seek comfort and healing.

And so I thank God for these opportunities to see the different cultures and needs of the different parishes in singapore. Knowing that there is no one standard "solution" or way to run a parish. Next sunday, we are off to St Stephen's, which is another poor parish. Haven't been there for mass before, so would be another eye-opener.

Ok, gotta go and study my latin. The declensions are really a headache. Masculine nouns decline one way, Feminine nouns another way, Neuter yet another way. Worst still I'm mixing up my latin and greek. Both languages, similar in structure yet so different. I might actually take a stem from one language and combine it with the root from the other to form new words.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Take Up Your Cross

Today's Intro to Christian Spirituality class began with the Gospel reading for the day. Mk 8:34-9:1 Particularly the first line where Jesus says:

"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."
Here Jesus gives us the 3 steps to be his follower, "deny ourselves", take up our cross" and "follow him". Father asked whether we take up our cross, or do we drag it along. Which reminded me of this flash animation from donghaeng. If the flash doesn't load on this page, click on this link to view it.
And what was depicted in this flash animation actually describes what was talked about in class. Father asked us, how many crosses were there on Calvary? The answere was one, the Cross of Christ, the other two were burdens, punishments, consequences. Only Jesus' Cross brought about redemption. And so the reflection is, do we cheapen the cross. So often, any suffering we go through, we call it the cross that we have to carry. For us Christians, our crosses that Jesus is asking us to carry, also has to have that redemptive power. We have to embrace it, and offer it to God. If not it is actually a burden. Like in the flash animation, the guy was carrying his burdens, and the cross was dragging behind.

One of the distinctions, is whether our suffering is self-centered, whether they make us resentful, bitter, revengeful? Does it bring misery to others? If so, it becomes a curse, for ourselves and others. And this suffering will cause more suffering. Until we decide to stop this vicious cycle, to use our suffering for good.

So how can we make our sufferings redemptive and into a Cross. First thing to remember is that it's not going to be easy, and of course we need to be careful that it is not selfish suffering, where anything that brings us out of our comfort zone is suffering. With true suffering, we can
  • unite ourselves with the suffering of Christ, for the sins of the world.
  • allow others the opportunity to show love to us. (without wallowing in self-pity)
  • by our suffering joyfully, be a sign of faith and trust in the Lord to others.
  • offer our suffering for others intentions.
We all have questions, of why there is suffering in the world? why do some people suffer more than others? why do good people suffer, and bad ones enjoy life? Ultimatly suffering is a mystery, and we will never have an answer that will truely statisfy us. We can only look at our late Pope John Paul II and learn from how he used suffering to bring himself and others closer to our Lord.

Donghaeng also has another flash video about the cross. I won't put it in this post, as both have sound effects, but it's an inspiring piece that shows us how our cross can help us in our faith journey. Coincidentally, it ends of with the same verse "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."

view/download flash animation

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Disturbance In The Force


DARTH VADER : Commence primary ignition.

A button is pressed which switches on a panel of lights. Darth Vader reaches for a lever and a bank of lights on a panel and wall light up. A huge beam of light emanates from within a cone-shaped area and converges into a single laser beam out toward Alderaan.The small green planet of Alderaan is blown into space dust.


Ben watches Luke practice the lightsaber with a small "seeker" robot. Ben suddenly turns away and sits down. He falters, seems almost faint.

LUKE : Are you all right? What's wrong?

BEN : I felt a great disturbance in the Force...as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.
Last night there was a great disturbance in the force. Many hearts crying out at injustice. Using the Star Wars analogy, we see how the decision of those in power and authority can affect so many people. I still remember using that analogy at the 2004 Confirmation Retreat, and Shaun replied with a quote from the movie Spideman, "With great power comes great responsibility". And how true that is, power has the ability to corrupt a person. In Star Wars we see how the "Chosen One who was to bring balance to the force" turned to the dark side, seduced by fear, anger, revenge.

Maybe that is why in today's Gospel, Jesus warns his disciples to "be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod." Both occupy positions of power, and their decisions affected the many who were under their authority. A reminder not to take the leadership role so casually.

In this weekend's Catholic News, there are 2 examples of leaders with the power to do both good and bad. In the whole hoohah over the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, there was a report of a muslim leader requesting for cartoons insulting the christian faith. And definitely the instigators for the protests also would have some leadership role. While no doubt that the cartoons were offensive, the reaction itself isn't justified either.

And also in Australia we have the issue of the RU-486 pill, an abortion pill, that the Australian government is debating on whether to make it more accessible to the public. Can you imagine how many lives of unborn children will be affected by the decisions of these leaders. How they can sleep at night I don't know. For more details on these two issues, read the Catholic News. I find what Archbishop Dennis Hart of Melbourne said particularly striking.
"With one in four pregnancies in Australia ending in abortion, the abysmal fact remains that the most dangerous place for an Australian to be is in the womb of his or her mother."
On the topic of abortion, I read an interesting article on another blog. It features an interview with the guy who started the US's largest abortion clinic. And he admits to making up slogans and falsifying statistics, to provoke emotional feelings, such that people would support abortion. The guy is now pro-life, but I really wonder at the amount of guilt that he has to deal with.

What the situation is like in Singapore I'm not too sure, but I think it's also happening here. As they say, one abortion is one too many.

Latest update...Australia has passed the bill to strip the control of the abortion pill RU-486 from the Health Ministry. And once again there is another disturbance in the force. This time from many who will not even be able to voice their pain.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Chinese ministry

Today, we visited the Church of St Michael's. And I kena traumatised at the beginning. We met Fr Angel, and was asking him what activities they had in the church in the morning, and so he was listing a few groups. He reached Chinese RCIA, then he asked if we spoke mandarin, and I admitted that I did. Then later at the canteen, he introduced the one of the youth council members to Jude, I thought he was also going to introduce me, when he pulled me aside, and said you two should stick together. Next thing I know, he's brought me to a table of migrant workers from China.

Wah lagi stress, at least if singaporean still can speak some english. Then finally a singaporean guy came over and introduced himself, and invited me to come and see the Chinese RCIA class so I agreed to pop by after mass. So after mass, I walked in the back door of the class, and sat next to the guy, asking some questions about the class. All of a sudden, the catechist teaching announces my presence and invites me to the front to address the class. My first words were, "Qing Yuan Liang, Wo De Hua Yu Jiang De Bu Tai Hao." (Please forgive me, my mandarin isn't very good) So long never use, other than speaking with the food stall aunties. And worst still I don't know the different Catholic terms, like how to say I'm an IY student. And I looked at the characters the catechist wrote on the board, recognised some, but mostly didn't know the meaning. Found out from the guy that it was on baptism.

So I was talking to the guy, and he was saying that there are so few priests they can call to come and do the Chinese RCIA class. And we were sharing on how the Catholic faith still comes across as a very western faith, and yet there is a large population in Singapore who speak mainly mandarin. In fact, actually our protestant brothers are doing much more outreach in this area. Which got me thinking if I would ever be able to minister in mandarin, really need to buck up then. But if Fr Fossion and Fr Frans can do it, quite a shame if I can't. Like Mgsr Lau was telling in Latin class, really need to rely on the Holy Spirit to help us learn the language.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Serra Club

Today, we went to Holy Cross for the Inauguration Mass of the Serra Club of Singapore. This Serra Club is part of Serra International, which is an international organisation of lay people dedicated to fostering and promoting vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Most of the information that I have, can be found on their website, www.serrasingapore.org or at the Serra International Website. You check it out yourself.

Personally, I am thankful for this wonderful group of people. They are originally the Vocation Promotion Team of Holy Cross Church. And they are a dedicated bunch of men and women, who have worked tirelessly over the last 4 years concentrating on promoting vocations not only in Holy Cross, but also in Singapore. They have been helping out in the Vocation Retreats and I must say it was really inspiring for me, to attend a retreat knowing that there was always a group of them in the prayer room 24hrs non-stop praying for us. Even while we were sleeping they were praying.

And as I found out, to be a member of the Serra Club really is a dedication of oneself. Not just about organising activities, it also requires each member to take their own spiritual life and Christian vocation seriously. They meet twice a month, once for planning of activities and the other for spiritual development. At the dinner they also offered our Bishop a Spiritual Cheque of Perpetual Friday Masses and 15 decades of the rosary daily. No wonder they say that to join the Serra Club is itself a calling.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Lip Service

It's amazing how the last word of my previous post resulted in emails and comments on my normally quiet blog. And ironically, this email also happens to feature a franciscan.

It all started on tuesday when the Gospel had Jesus saying that the scribes and pharisees honor God with "lip-service" (Mk 7:6). And that word led to much entertainment at our table for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So when our "Intro to Liturgy" lecturer used those words in his lesson, I had to try hard not to laugh out loud.

I was also reading our Salvation History textbook, on David and Solomon, since that has been the text of the first readings, and I learnt that although Solomon was wise, and built a wonderful temple for the Lord, he also fell away from the Lord, and thus started the downfall of the Israelite nation. During the years following, the Israelites led sinful lives, and they thought that by offering lots of burnt offerings and prayers they would be able to reconcile with God, thats why Isaiah scolded the Israelites for offering "lip-service while their hearts are far from God".

So with all this reminders of just praying with our lips but not our hearts, at today's Divine Office & Psalms lesson, we were reminded once again, that praying the Divine Office isn't about "spitting psalms" at one another. That it should not be seen as an obligation, as something that we have to fulfill. The challenge is to be able to grasp the full meaning of the reason why we pray the Divine Office, so that our morning, afternoon, evening and night prayer don't become a routine, a discipline or even worse a chore.

Firstly, the Divine Office contrary to my previous belief, is not a personal prayer. I've always been told that the Divine Office is the official prayer of the church. So I used to think that I was joining in with the whole church to say this common prayer, but it was still my prayer. So it was quite hard to relate to the psalms. How to sing a psalm of Praise, when we were struggling, or a psalm of struggle, when everything is going well in my life. But as I learnt, we are called to pray it "not so much in my own name but in the name of the entire Body of Christ". So we pray and feel with the psalm because there are fellow brothers and sisters, who are feeling that emotion. And they might not be as privileged as us to spend time in prayer to the Lord, so we pray for them.

Secondly, the more active part of it is to re-contextualise the psalm. Meaning, just as the psalms were composed by people at a time that they were giving praise or feeling burdened, can these psalms apply to the lives of people today. An example would be like the family who lost a father, or a new mother thanking God for her new-born child. This gives us meaning to why and how we pray it.

Of course it does not come easy, as has happen the last few weeks, where after the lesson, we come out with enthusiasm to pray the Divine Office, but then after that find ourselves going back into the routin of things. So have to practice this awareness of why we pray it. Today's evening prayer's second psalm 31(32), I was able to think of the people who had gone for confession today, and were giving praise to God, recognising the burden sin had on their lives, and the love and forgiveness of God.

Hopefully I can remember this or at least remind myself to keep trying when I pray the Divine Office, and in my other prayers too, not to just be self-centered and pray for my own intentions. Or even worst, to just offer Lip-Service to my God.

Oh yah, so where does the franciscan come in? Seeing how distracting the word was previously, I left it to the end so that you won't be distracted. Our lecturer for the Divine Office & Psalms class is Friar Clifford.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


For Speech class on wednesday, we have to prepare 2 sharings, one from our daily meditations, and the other on adapting to life in the seminary. And as I was thinking about what I enjoy about life here, one thing that comes to mind is the natural surroundings all around. The peace and quiet that we enjoy here, the fresh air (although like one brother said, we are near the malaysian industrial area just across the straits, and the air can be quite polluted). But not only that, I guess for me, the "wildlife" in this area, really brings me joy.

In the seminary the rooms macam hotel, have sea view on one side, and jungle view on the other. I've got the jungle view this year. And on one of the first few mornings here, I looked out of my room, and saw a Brahminy Kite (something like an eagle) circling over the trees. I was so fascinated by it, that I just stood there staring. By the time it dawned on me to get my camera, it disappeared. And then there's a resident squirrel which I have seen a few times that comes to eat the fruit of the palm trees. There's also the woodpecker, which sometimes flies to the classroom window, and can always hear it in the mornings, hammering away.

Just as I'm typing this a tiny grasshopper has come to pay me a visit, it's hanging on the wiremesh door leading to the balcony. Which reminds me, quite a few mornings during morning prayer, I see this same solitary ant, scuttling around my kneeler. As if it knows that it's time for morning prayer too.

Actually what made me think about all this, was the discovery yesterday of 4 small baby animals outside the library. At first I thought that they were baby rats, but somehow the shape a bit wierd. Then thought that might be puppies, but wondered how the dog came upstairs. Then realised that it must be kittens. Small furless things, one died, don't think the others will survive....Not sure if the mother cat is looking after them.

Now the only thing I want to see is a snake. According to the seniors, its quite common, just last year there was a python. Anyway, seeing all this animals and the nature, helps remind me of God's wonderful creation, although not all my brothers share my same sentiment I think. Hmm...maybe I'm franciscan ;Þ

Friday, February 03, 2006

Back to School

Today brought back memories of secondary school. First was in Salvation History class, Msgr Vaz was explaining to us how we read Holy Scripture, and how we have to understand the text in it's context, the different literary forms that the writers used - poetry, narrative, parables..., and who the author was, who were the audience, what was the situation of the time. I couldn't but help thinking back to literature back in school. How the teacher kept telling us that we need to know what came before and after the passage, what the author was thinking, what he meant. And I can still remember telling my lit teacher in sec 4 when I happily dropped the subject,

"Sir, I enjoy reading books, but I can't analyse and speculate what the author was thinking/doing/meaning at the time he wrote it."
Well looks like that statment is going to come back and bite me in the ass, just like my other statement of not studying anymore after my degree ;Þ But I guess now I do have an added advantage, the God element. I see purpose in understanding the background of the text, to learn the meaning, and application of God' Word. Hopefully that newfound motivation carries to Greek and Latin. Beginning to have some renewed interest in mandarin, see lots of use for it in the future.

The other thing that brought me back to school days was when I went jogging to 24th Ave (Yes, today is my first day jogging). I lasted only 5 mins, then had to stop and walk. Anyway, I walked to the old MOE campsite at Punggol 24th Ave, and the whole campsite has "disappeared". The buildings, toilets, obstacle course have all been removed, and the campsite, fence and gate have been swallowed back by the jungle. Walking past the place, brought back many fun memories, of my own sec 2 camp, and the many following ones that we came back to help. Wonder where Marists have their sec 2 camp now?

Well for those of you reading this who are still in school, cherish those moments, which reminds me, I have to also remember to cherish these moments here. The fun and the not so fun ones. And oh yah, try to find God in your studies, it helps if you can see how it can help you spread the Good News, and make the world a better place. Especially lit, you never know when God will call you to study scripture ;Þ

Kings David & Herod

Today's readings show us two similar yet contrasting characters, both kings, both coverted another woman's wife, both were reprimanded by a prophet, and we see they had two different responses. When David was reproached by the prophet Nathan, he immediately said "I have sinned against the Lord" and repented, but Herod despite knowing that John was a righteous and holy man, arrested and imprisoned him.

I am always surprised with some of the things that the Jewish people keep a record of. King David's story is one of them, here is a great king, annointed by God, highly respected and admired by the people, and yet they keep an account of how he took another man's wife and sent him to his death. But although in the book of Samuel we have the story of his affair, that is not what he is remembered for. As we can see from today's readings, it is full of praise of the king who brought victory to the Israelites (In fact only one line says anything negative - "The LORD forgave him his sins"). Why, because he was humble enough to realise his mistake and to atone for it. On the other hand, we have Herod who will always be remembered for his affair, his beheading of John the Baptist, and the part he played in Jesus' trial.

So what will people remember of me, positive or negative? Will the positives outweigh the negatives? Using David as an example, I realise that only one thing matters, to love the Lord.

"With his every deed he offered thanks to God Most High, in words of praise. With his whole being he loved his Maker and daily had his praises sung" (Sirach 47:8)
That was the main difference on why David could repent, and Herod could not. David sincerely sought the Lord in his heart, and when he heard the voice of the Lord through the prophet, he recognised it, and realised his fault. Herod wasn't seeking the Lord in any way. He liked to listen to John, but was perplexed by what he said. It can be said that sin had so corrupted him, which led to his decision to excute John, and in the end, he could not recognise the Lord, when Jesus was brought to him.

And this brings me to my last point, which is that recognition of the Lord. In our liturgy class we contrasted two other people, and the results of their encounter with the Lord. Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman (Jn Chp 3 & 4). Nicodemus, a pharisee, came to Jesus by night (in darkness), and left unchanged. The Samaritan woman, encountered the Lord at the well, and it changed her life, and she went and spread the news to all in her town.

And so it is in our liturgy. When we encounter the Lord in the celebration of the mass, do we go back changed? Can we be like David, who changed when he heard the Lord's word. Or are we like Herod, we like to hear it, and it perplexes us, but then we go out unchanged. After yesterday's post, where I mentioned Fr Rector's sermon, it was challenging to me, nice to hear, but I'm reminded today, that if I don't act on it, I will just be like herod. Am I really seeking God in my life.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Initiation & Divine Office

Today we were officially initiated into the seminary, before that we were "statusless" ;Þ And so we had a mass in the evening, and with Jude and my families attending, where we were presented with our cassocks. Our brother Joseph also began his novitiate with the disciples of the Lord (CDD)

It was a special day, especially since it was the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, making our initiation much more meaningful, and much to reflect on. This day also, the Church celebrates the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life. Or as someone refers for all our "consecrated virgins" in the religious orders.

Fr Rector's sermon also was very challenging. As from the readings, the shadow of the cross starts to make its appearance early in Jesus' life. So we too have to be take up our cross, and be generous, to make sacrifice, to embrace suffering. And most importantly to consecrate our lives to God in the service of others. That they too may recognise Jesus as Simeon did.

Talking about Simeon, something that we learnt in the Divine Office class. Ever wondered why we say the Benedictus at Lauds, Magnificat at Vespers, and Nunc Dimitis at Compline. The Benedictus is the prayer of Zechariah (Lk 1:68-79) at the birth of his son John the Baptist. It is a prayer of expectation and hope, of the salvation that God has promised to us, Jesus, and so we too, in the morning, pray that we in the day would herald God's salvation to the world.

Then in the evening, we pray the Magnificat, Mary's prayer (Lk 1:46-55) because she is filled with the presence of our Lord in her womb. And we too acknowledge Christ presence with us, and give praise to God. And at the night prayer, we pray the Nunc Dimitis, which is the prayer of Simeon (Lk 2:29-32) who is so overjoyed to have seen God's salvation. Thus at the end of the day, we do our examen, where we reflect on the day that has passed, and where and how we have encountered and been with the Lord. Did we have the eyes of Simeon to be able to recognise His presence in our lives. We give praise for the times we did, and express regret for the times we were not open, and pray for continual growth in our lives.

This has really helped me make more sense of the divine office, and help me get into the mindset of what I'm really praying for each different time.