Friday, January 19, 2007

You are kinda missing the point

Today in the Introduction to Old Testament class, we began first with an intro to the Bible. And Fr Vaz gave a very simple way to explain something we learnt in Salvation History last year. He wrote this four words on the board.

Story -> Message
Event -> Experience
Basically it means that the bible contains so many stories, especially the old testament, but what is more important is the message behind it. When we look at an event in the bible, lets say the story of Gideon in Judges Chapter 7, are we more interested in how the 300 Israelites defeated 135,000 enemies, whether they used the pincer attack, hammer and anvil (Terms I learnt in the army). Or are we really interested in the God-Message which the writer was trying to convey to us - That God was delivering His people from their enemies; that with His power 300 men can defeat a great army; and most important of all for the Israelites that He is the true God and to turn away from their idols. This is how we are to understand the Scriptures, to discover the God-Message in each passage. Once we get the message, the story fades away, and then we are challenged to apply it to our lives.

This clip from Narnia really illustrates for me in two ways this whole idea of missing the message for the story. Here the beaver is explaining the prophecy to the children, and Susan remarks that it doesn't rhyme. This must be how God must have been how the wise men must have felt when they consulted the chief priests and scribes. These guys knew the words of the prophecy, but didn't know the message.

The second way is something which is from my own experience, though some of you may also share it. As a young child, my mum would borrow the video of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe from the church library, and me and my sisters would watch the cartoon over and over again, to the point of being able to repeat the lines of the characters. But embarrassing to say, it was only just a few years ago, that I found out that C.S. Lewis was a Christian writer, and that Narnia was an allegory with Christian meanings. All the time I was watching it as a child, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the characters, but was always wondering what this show was doing in a church library. The only message I could see was good defeating the evil. I never saw Aslan as Christ who sacrificed his innocent life for the life of Edmund, the resurrection, and all those other Christian themes in the show.

It really hits hard when I realise, that as much as I can be critical of the scribes, judas and even the jewish people for failing to see Christ in front of them, this one movie sorely reminds me that it happens to me and anyone of us. So often we miss the message and just concentrate on the story. And actually what Fr Vaz wrote goes even further than just stories. Events and the Experience. Are we focusing on the event and not the experience, not just those recorded in the Bible, but those that happen in our lives. He used the example of Christmas, are we so caught up with the deco, the dressing up, the crib, the food that we forget the real experience of God's love for us. I guess this example has been "nagged" to us every year.

But another example I found very relevant to our current life is whether we are missing the point of the mass. Have we been so caught up with the mass as an event, and missing out on the God-experience. This thought came to my mind when I read a question in Zenit 17/1/2007, asking "What is the position now on people not going to Sunday Mass in their own parishes?" This is a growing phenomenon, especially in Singapore, where it is so easy to go to another parish, maybe because the priest preaches better, the choir sings nicer, more parking, aircon...the list goes on. But as Father Edward McNamara answers in his reply, while the people are not obliged to go to their own parish for mass, it is highly encouraged. Because that is where one's community is. And our faith is one which has a strong community element. But these days most people are going for mass out of obligation not because of a sense of belonging to a community. While that is kind of the first step, but then we have to move further into the meaning of the mass. Are we among strangers or experiencing the communion with our fellow brothers and sisters? Are we there to celebrate mass or to attend mass? To give thanks or to ask for favours?

Another article in tuesday's Digital Life about Singapore animators, has this guy saying that when he watches animation movies, he finds himself trying to figure out what technology and algorithms the movie was made with. Reminded me so much of when people are SO caught up with the liturgy of the mass and missing the whole experience.

Just realised that there are so many examples of missing the point. The one sermon of Fr Chris Soh that I can remember was on the feast of the 3 Archangels, during my 8 day retreat at Kingsmead Hall. He spoke about Angels being God's messengers, but instead of looking at the message, we try to figure out whether Angels really exist. He went on to explain the meaning of Michael(Who is like God), Gabriel(Strength of God) and Raphael(Healing of God). But it is so typical of us to know their names but not their message.

Ok, this post is getting out of hand...Going to end of with one last line, just so you get the message of this whole post.
Stop being Caught up with the Story and Missing the Message.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


This afternoon, just before our mid-day prayer, I was doing some thinking of advertisments which can be used for sessions to explain the faith or values, when the Honda advert below came to mind. I was quite delighted with that idea when lo and behold, the Scripture reading for our mid-day prayer was:

As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit - 1Cor 12:12-13.
This kind of things can really give you a WOW! feeling of God's presence.

I was thinking about the idea of community, being many different parts AND working together, which was why I thought of this ad. But as I thought further, there is also another more subtle lesson to learn from this ad. While it was nice to see the "domino" effect of the many different parts of the car from the start to the beginning, that is all it is - nice to see but going nowhere. And my realisation was that it was because the different parts were doing things that were not their intended purpose. Why is the wiper crawling on the floor? Why is the exhaust pipe spinning around? Sure they fulfilled some function, but in the end they did not move very far. Then we look at the finished product, the car. The car is made up of all those parts, used in the correct way, each one doing what they were meant to do, and the end result is that the car moves, and all the parts move together and further.

That is SYNERGY. One of those coporate buzzwords that we try to use to make our presentations more impressive and bombastic. I still remember one of my modules in uni, where there was this student we called "Synergy guy", because at every tutorial we had, he was sure to talk about synergy. Synergy is the phenomenon that takes place when two or more things working together achieve more than the sum of their individual achievements. In english, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In maths, that means 1 + 1 = 3 or 4 or 5.5...

And maybe that is what is lacking in the Church and communities. There are many different talents, different gifts, different individuals, all moving on their own and but not moving together and thus not getting very far. Some want to move, but on their own they only move a certain distance. Others are not even moving. How do we achieve this synergy? How do we move together.

Using the ad as an example, I think it really stems from knowing one's purpose. The wheel is meant to rotate, but it needs to be connected to the engine to go fast and far. The nut on the other hand shouldn't be rolling around, it should be holding the parts of the car together. The wiper definitely shouldn't be wiping the ground, it should be cleaning the windscreen to make sure the driver can see where to go. Sadly to say, we are hampered by some parts who are standing alone and not connected, some parts who are playing roles they are not supposed to be doing, or doing it because the ones meant to do it are not doing it.

Personally, I know I am probably in one of those catergories, and that is why I know I have to continue on this road of discovery of self (who God made me to be), and purpose (what He wants me to do). And the last part of fitting myself into the bigger picture of the communities I am in and the Church as a whole. Working with other different individuals so that synergy can take place, to accomplish Christ's mission here on earth, and bring all of us together into eternal life.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Fr Chris Soh, WYD '08

Now I know why my friend asked me about the wedding at Cana. Anyway I just found out that Fr Christopher Soh, S.J. has a blog which he puts up reflections on the daily readings. And I found the one on today's readings to be very good. Fr Chris is a very good preacher, and it was a joy to listen to his homilies. I can still remember the homily he preached on the Feast of the Archangels, when I was doing my 8-day retreat in 2005.

Another event that has been building up excitement is the World Youth Day in Sydney in July 2008. It is almost exactly 1.5 yrs away, or as the website says 547 days to go.

Some interesting information I found on the website

  1. Dates : 14-20 July 2008
  2. Venue : Sydney (duh!)
  3. The basic tenets of World Youth Day are:
    • An expression of the universal Church
    • An instrument of evangelization of the young
    • An 'Epiphany' of the youth of the Church
    • An effective sign of ecclesial union
    • A pilgrimage of faith, both spiritually and practically
  4. Costs of the WYD packages can be found here.
    They range from A$175 - A$395(excluding airfare)
  5. If you don't want to pay, you can sign up as a volunteer, which could be an interesting experience by itself.
  6. For a more enriching experience, there is the "Days in the Diocese" event which takes place in the dioceses around Sydney from 10-14 Jul. This is where you can spend time in one of the dioceses, and take part in special activities that they organise before everyone makes their way to Sydney. I wouldn't mind going for the Melbourne one.
  7. You can listen to Fr Roderick's Podcasts live from WYD '05 in Cologne, Germany.
Personally, I had a wonderful experience in Manila, Philippines on 1995, and I believe Sydney would be a greater one, because of the change in my own faith life and this whole idea of being part of a universal Church. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

God's wine is the best!

First day back in the seminary, and taking a short break from all the cleaning up that we have to do. This year we are low on manpower, only 14 of us compared to 23 seminarians last year. So more work to go around.

This morning I read a sms from a friend, asking me something about the Wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1-11). He asked "What is the significance of the line "Everyone serves good wine first......but you have kept the good wine until now."

The first thing that came to my mind, was that it was emphasizing the power of Jesus, to not only turn water into wine, but into good wine. Then as I was unpacking my stuff in my new room (we change room in the seminary every year) I saw a book I bought in the Philippines - Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament. In it I found a commentary on the Wedding at Cana, and a reference to the wine. It compared the wine of men which had run out with the wine that Jesus gave.

We want the wine of life, we want to taste something better than the daily drudgery which the world and cheap religion offer us.... We thought we had something good, but it turns out to be cheap wine compared with what he offers us. The relationship he invites us into is more than we ever could have expected. It sets our heads spinning! It makes us drunk with gladness! It's like gallons and gallons of the best wine!
And just before I started this post, I saw a referrer to my blog. Someone searched google for "homily + the miracle of changing the water into wine" and came to my blog.

I guess it is God's reminder for me as I begin this new year, that this is what I have in store for me this year... the best wine. Now all I need to do is to follow what Mother Mary told the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

Thank you Lord for this reminder of your promise to give the best to us. Help me to always surrender to your will, even if it were something as illogical as filling empty jars with water. As I strive to follow your will, fill me with your joy and peace which is like the best wine that nothing and no one else can give. Amen.

Monday, January 08, 2007

I Live My Life For You

On 3rd Jan 2007, I was invited back to Maris Stella, my Alma Mater, to give a sharing to the students and staff on the first day of school. They were launching the theme for the year - "I Live My Life For You", and the teacher-in-charge wanted to use me as an example of a Marist who has gone on to live his life for others.

This all started when I got a sms from my ex-teacher, Mr Kwok. This was a man who could just stand on stage and stare quietly and the whole hall will be silent. Some bit of that "respect/fear" still remains to this day. So he asks me if i would answer some questions on my life that he would be able to use for his introductory presentation of the theme on the first day of school. And then after I emailed him the answers, he drops the bombshell, whether I could share that in person, on stage in front of the students and staff, on the first day of school.

In light of my latest catchphrase "Say Yes First, Ask Why Later", I look back at that event and can see all the answers to my Whys after saying Yes.

The first amazing thing was how wonderful our God works. First I meet Mr Kwok in OLPS when I was there on my one month pastoral in june. I never knew that he was Catholic. And just before I got his email, I met up with Fr Gerard Louis, CSSR, who was just ordained and he was telling me how he was celebrating mass back at his Alma Mater. This got me wondering, what can I do for Maris Stella? I will probably have to wait till I'm ordained before I would be able to go back to say mass or hear confessions. And then the email came. Great timing or what. This realization really only hit me, when I was on stage and sharing how this whole thing had taken place. My nervousness of my stage fright changed to an amazement of God's hand in it.

And this sharing was also not only about me giving back something to Maris Stella, I found myself gaining much more from it. As I stood at the side of the hall waiting to be called onto stage, I was listening to the presentation of the theme, and the challenge to live our lives for others, and when Mr Kwok introduced me as a Marist who is living that life. This has really caused me to stop and reflect. Am I really that example? Am I really living my life in the service of others? Sometimes it is so easy to take that for granted and to forget it.

Which brings me to the last thing that occurred to me - This Blog. This whole episode has inspired me to start blogging again after such a long break. While this blog was started out to help me in my reflections, and to improve my writing skills, there is also the element of sharing and testimony to God which could benefit those who read it. I must remember that if I blog, it is not only for myself, but that whoever reads it may be touched or inspired by God's working in my life.

I just found out that someone emailed my blog address to another person, and realised that my blog is getting around. In that email he talks about various ways that blogs can be used for ministry. Somehow that perspective has slowly been forgotten. Ironically I spoke about it at IHM two years ago. So thanks to Maris Stella for challenging me to "Live My Life for You" and Daniel too for reminding me of this ministry.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Novena - Say Yes First, Ask Why Later

Dear brothers and sisters, we just celebrated the new year on Monday, which means this is the first novena of the year. I am sure that many of us over the course of the last few days have been reviewing the year that has gone by, and come up with resolutions, decisions, to change something, to do something. I too have gone through that process, of thinking how I can better live this year.

But this year as I was doing my new year resolutions, I have had a revelation in my life that I would like to share with you. I found myself asking “How am I going to live as a better Christian this year”. Actually it all started when I watched the movie “Nativity Story”. It is a really good movie, especially for the Christmas period, because it gives us an idea of the thoughts, the fears and the struggles that Mary and Joseph must have faced.

In the Nativity Story, there is one scene, where Mary and Elizabeth are grinding wheat and making bread. Elizabeth asks Mary, “Are you afraid?” and Mary replies “Yes”. Then Mary asks Elizabeth, “Elizabeth, Why is it me God has asked? I am nothing.” This question “Why is it me God has asked?” has been going through my mind ever since. “Why me? Why not someone else? Who am I? What have I to offer?” And the answer I got was, “If not you then who? I made you for a purpose, you are not some random act or an accident.”

And that is the amazing thing, my dear brothers and sisters, that God has a purpose, a reason for each and everyone of us being here today. There is a reason why we are all here in 2007, in Singapore, working or studying at a particular place, with the friends we have. All so that we can be like Mary, and bring the light and love of Jesus to the people around us and to the world.

I just read in yesterday’s NewPaper, a story about a man, Wesley Autrey, who jumped in front of a train to save a man who had fallen onto the tracks. In the interview he said, “I saw someone in distress and went to his aid”. And his mother added, “He was there to help somebody who needed help more than him. He didn't think twice. He dived in, like he said. He helped the guy and God helped them.” Notice the words “He didn’t think twice”, I think if I was there at the train station, I might have thought twice, “Why me, why do I have to be the one to jump onto the track to save the guy?” And by the time I think and think, the chance would have been gone. It really made me reflect on the many times I have hesitated, I have questioned God that I missed the opportunity.

I can recall a few instances of on the bus and MRT, when I see an elderly person needing a seat, I think should I, should I not? And by that time, someone else has already offered their seat. Too often I spend more time thinking of the Why God is asking me, instead of the more important question of What God is asking me? We see Wesley Autrey who did what he had to do. We also have a perfect Christian model in Mary, who said Yes to God. She only questioned later, Why her, not because she wished it was someone else, but the wonder and awe that God would choose her who is nothing.

So my brothers and sisters, the question that we need to ask ourselves as we begin this new year is “What is God asking?”. What is God asking me to do this year? What is God asking me to do in my life? Who does He want me to reach out to?

It could be a simple gesture of visiting an old folks home to bring joy to the residents there. It could be to bring reconciliation among family members. These are only examples, because as I said earlier, each and everyone of us is unique, in our own different circumstances. And God is calling each of us to be Light of the World and Salt of the Earth here and now.

For me I know God is calling me back to the Seminary after my holidays, to continue my formation, to continue to grow in my relationship. I ask that you keep all of us seminarians in your prayers, and also to continue to pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life. That more young men and women will find out what God is asking of them, and that they will have the courage like Mother Mary, to say Yes first, and ask Why later. Amen