Sunday, 30 March 2008

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Over the pass few days, men with chainsaws and excavators have been clearing a path of about 10m wide just outside the fence of our kampung. Here are the before and after photos
Forest Before 1 Forest Before 2

Forest After 2 Forest After 4

It kind of reminds me of the scene in Lord of the Rings, where the trees are cut down by the Dark Lord in Mordor. (Anyway Mr Brown already calls Punggol Mordor). And we are in the most ulu part of Punggol. There have been taxi drivers who commented as they drive down the road that leads to the 17th Avenue that they didn't know such roads with jungle on both sides still existed in singapore...(and that people actually live here.)

Maybe its part of the authorities way of finding Mas Selamat, and giving him less places to hide (Just had to add that in). But still it is quite disturbing to see more and more of the nature that surrounds the seminary disappear. Soon we might have to change the name of this blog, as it becomes more and more developed and less like a kampung.

I still remember one of my first post on my own blog when I entered the seminary, was about the nature that surrounds the seminary. And how it makes it such a nice place to appreciate God's hand in creation. But with this clearing of the land next to us, and who knows what they are going to build there, I wonder if the squirrels, snakes, spiders, woodpeckers and all the wonderful creatures will continue to drop by for a visit. How else will we have reflections like the one that Bro Cornelius did on the Silly Spider?

And just as I was walking back to the seminary from mass in the parish, I see the excavator positioned at another part of the jungle.

More destruction to come

I wonder if by the time we come back from our retreat in Majodi on friday, we will be greeted with the sight of a clear piece of land from the seminary up to the LRT line. Bro Cornelius said, don't be surprised if the concrete is already laid by then. This wouldn't really surprise me. Since I have been coming to Punggol since 1992 for school camps, and have seen how in a matter of 2 years, the land from the Buddhist Temple near Hougang all the way to Punggol MRT has been cleared and flats just shot up like that. And with the government now relaunching the Punggol 21 project that was put on hold for a while, it looks like we are going to lose more of the greenery, and serenity of this place. Hopefully it doesn't happen in the 5 more years I have left in this Kampung. But looks less and less promising.

Do pray for us as we go for our annual retreat, and that we won't have too big a shock when we return.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Alert!! Alert!!

It is the time of the year again. The Seminarians will be having their annual retreat and this year, it will be at Majodi Retreat Centre. This is also my first retreat as a seminarian and I am really looking forward to it. 
This time if the year, please pray for us that we may be true to our calling as people after the heart of Christ and that we may grow in holiness each day and serve his flock effectively.
We will be leaving tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon and will be completing our retreat on Friday.
Your prayers are sincerely needed and may we hold fast in Christ together! AMEN!

Friday, 28 March 2008

It is the Lord!

The mass readings of today (Friday in the Octave of Easter) spoke powerfully to me and this was coupled with a beautiful and anointed homily that was preached by my Rector, Fr William Goh, as he presided at our community Eucharist this morning. I thought I would pen down some of my reflections so that you can join me in contemplating the inexhaustible mystery of our Risen Lord.

In the homily this morning, Fr William reminded us that we are still in the Octave of Easter which is meant to be a “prolonged” celebration of this great Solemnity. It is as if the Church is telling us that this great mystery that we celebrate is so great and profound that celebrating it in one day would be insufficient and we are called to savour the sweetness of Christ’s victory in these joyous days of Easter. Fr William invited us to return to the Church’s great Easter Vigil which is called the mother of all vigils that we just celebrated last Saturday night. He drew a beautiful parallel between the movements we see in the Gospel of today (John 21: 1 – 4) with the pattern of the Easter Vigil. The Easter Vigil starts off with everyone gathered in darkness and then the Liturgy of Light leading to the Liturgy of the Word then the Liturgy of Baptism and climaxing in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. He proposed that this is the movement of conversion and that we see this same pattern in the Gospel of today.

The apostles go our fishing in the night. The darkness around them is indicative of the darkness and disillusionment they face within. Amidst this darkness, everything seems futile and expectedly, they do not catch anything. Day only arises when the night is illuminated with the rising of the Morning Star, the true Sun that brightens all darkness, the Risen Jesus who is the Light of the world. As the Apostles become present to the Risen One, they begin to experience fruitfulness in their life again. Not only has day dawned but they also make a catch of fish in obedience to this mysterious man on the shore. Yet, it is a wonder that although day has dawned and this mysterious man on the shore has led them to a great catch, it is a wonder why the apostles are unable to recognise Jesus. It is common in the post-Resurrection Gospel narratives for the disciples to not recognise Jesus initially and numerous conjectures have been attempted, but Fr William proposed a rather interesting reflection for us this morning. In today’s Gospel, it is the beloved disciple whose eyes are receptive of the Risen One. It is the Beloved disciple who is able to recognise and exclaim with that loud proclamation of Faith, “It is the Lord!” Fr William suggested that this was only possible for the Beloved disciple because it was only he who had gazed upon the crucified One. It was only the Beloved who has stood at the foot of the cross and fully experienced the passion of Jesus and it was from the lens of the passion that the Beloved was now able to recognise the Risen One. The others had fled and their eyes were closed. Similarly, only when we are fully able to stand at the foot of the Cross which Jesus and gaze upon the “One whom they have pierced” will we be able to truly recognise the “One who is Risen”. This movement from darkness to light with the necessity of standing at the foot of the Cross is what we celebrate in the first movement of the Easter Vigil during the Liturgy of Light.

Then, we listen to the Word of God. Our faith comes through hearing and God sends us heralds of the Good News just like the Beloved Disciple was for Peter. God’s messengers bring the Word of Life to us and repeat to us, “It is the Lord!” and our eyes are opened once again just like Peter’s.

As Peter hears the Word of God (Liturgy of the Word) his response is to jump straight into the waters almost naked with all his vulnerabilities. Herein is the beautiful symbol of that immersion into the waters of Faith that we celebrate in the Liturgy of Baptism. Baptism is our response to God’s call in our life; it is a response to God’s Word that opens our eyes to a new day.

As Peter reaches the shore, he hears the Lord’s invitation to bring some of the fish he has caught but it is essential to note that the Risen Lord is the one who has prepared the meal. The meal is not our doing or our right or our creation, it is a gift, it is a banquet of Love and the Risen One is the host; we are the guests. Is this not the great Liturgy of the Eucharist, that mind-blowing meal of Love which Jesus, the Risen One invites us to and prepares for us. At this meal, though we are guests; we do not come empty handed, we bring to him the fruits of our labour or maybe even the lack of it. For we bring ourselves and all that we hold within us as gift to the banquet of Love. Even when Peter and the other Apostles brought their fish to the Lord, there is no credit they can claim for themselves for even the fish were the fruits of obedience but nevertheless, they are reminders of their co-operation and need of Jesus in their life. I am sure that each time their eyes reached those fish that they caught roasting on the fire prepared by the Lord, they would not think to themselves as some of us might, “Oh, look at my catch!” but rather, “Oh, how magnificent is the Lord whose Word brought about this catch!” Indeed, even those fish would remind them of the words of the Beloved Disciple, “It is the Lord!”

I am reminded of the beautiful words from the mouth of Peter in the First Reading of today that also aptly summarises the radical transformation in Peter, the once cowardly Peter now publicly declares whilst he is on trial for curing the crippled man sitting at the Temple gate, “it was by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the one you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by this name and by no other that this man is able to stand up perfectly healthy.” These new mighty works that Peter and the rest of the Apostles were doing was the new “fish” that they were catching in obedience to the Word of the Lord in their life. Jesus had become the Word of Life in the life and they were courageous in communicating Him. And even amidst all odds, they were unwavering in declaring, “It is the Lord!”

Will we be able to do the same? If we do, then, our declaration would be none other than, “It is the Lord!”

Vocation Discernment Tools Workshop 2008

We give thanks for another priest!

We at Kampung Punggol had the privilege of having another of our brothers coming back to share his joy of being bestowed with the gift of Priesthood with us this week. Its the Octave of Easter and it was a double dose of joy for us to see our brother, the newly ordained Rev Fr Robert Hau Za Mung MSP from the Missionaries of St. Paul community celebrate the Eucharist of Wednesday of the Octave of Easter for us. The Missionaries of St. Paul are a locally founded religious community based in Myanmar for the mission of their local Church. Fr Robert was sent to our Seminary here at Kampung Punggol some 10 years ago and he completed his entire priestly formation here in Singapore. We fondly remember him for his avid love of sports and music and his many years of hidden service behind the organ as our community's organist.

I couldn't help but think of what the Fathers of our seminary must feel whenever they are able to con-celebrate the Eucharist with one of their students who has now been elevated to their ranks in the ministerial priesthood of Jesus Christ. This must be their greatest joy as a Formator as they responded to God's call to live this hidden life in the seminary instead of being out there in the thick of pastoral action in a parish amongst the larger People of God whom they laid down their lives for.

I think it may be hard for those of you who do not live in Kampung Punggol to feel our sentiments when we share about one of our brothers who is ordained and maybe, when a man becomes a priest, it becomes hard to recall how the one who now administers the great mysteries of Christ in the Sacraments used to at one time do all the ordinary, mundane things that we do and so I think maybe, it would be nice to share with you some happy memories of Fr Robert when he was a member of Kampung Punggol some years ago and now as he returns to us as a priest of Jesus Christ. We hope you can share in our Thanksgiving!

Fr Robert when he was a seminarian at one of our Karaoke sessions during recreation time at Kampung Punggol.

One of the favourite past times in Kampung Punggol some time ago. Would you normally imagine your priest playing table soccer? ;)

At our community outing to Redang in 2006

The joy of Formators to finally con-celebrate the Eucharist with their student

The greatest joy of any member of Kampung Punggol - to be able to present Jesus to the world!

The joy of our brotherhood in Christ!

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

I spy with my little eye......

What do you see? Christ or the linen cloth hanging on the cross?

If we see one without the other then we do not have the full picture of the Easter mystery. 
We must be mindful of both the death and the resurrection of our Lord. It is in his death that he conquered sin and it is in his rising that we will rise with him to eternal life.

Happy Easter !!!

Photos of Fr Stephen Chit Ko Ko

I've been trying to find a way of putting up more photos on the blog using slideshow, and was dissapointed to find out that Flickr had some limitations. But thankfully the good people at Google who like to make things free have Picasa, which also has a slideshow function. So just trying it out first, and if it is good, will upload more pictures of the seminary and other events like the recent Chrism Mass.

So the first trial are photos of the recently ordained Fr Stephen Chit Ko Ko's Thankgsiving Mass which we blogged about previously

Friday, 21 March 2008

Hanging on a tree......

Our sinful actions nailed his hands,

Our sinful paths nailed his feet.

Our sinful thoughts crowned his head,

Our sinful will pierced his heart.

We turn our back on God,

And he offered his back to be scourged.

With a loud cry he offered his life for us.

His death on the cross....

In life, in death, In Christ, with Christ.

Thus marks the start of the Suffering and Passion of our Lord.

The picture speaks for itself. Need I say more......

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Of Oil and Men

Blink! Blink! It is the time of the year when all the Priests gather and watch the Bishop bless 3 jars of oil in the morning and they will go and wash the feet of people in the evening. Sounds simple and mundane doesn't it. NO! There is a lot more than that.
Two thousand years ago, Christ instituted the Eucharist for us and also started the ministerial priesthood! This very day every year, on Holy Thursday, all the Priests will gather and renew their promise to be faithful in their vocation. What a reminder for us Seminarians. This will be what we are aspiring to be in the time to come.

Also, on this day, His Grace ArchBishop Nicholas Chia also consecreted and blessed the Holy Oils. These oils will be used for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, ordination and the anointing of the sick. These oils will be distributed to all Parishes for use this year.
This evening, the Priests will also follow in the servanthood of Christ when he washed the feet of all his apostles. 
Finally, quoting from our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, he said, "In administering the sacraments, he no longer represents himself and no longer expresses himself, but speaks and acts for Christ. For that reason, priests must continually configure themselves to Christ, something that is symbolized in the liturgical vestments they put on.
The amice, which traditionally covered the shoulders and head, reminds priests to concentrate on the celebration of the Mass and on the figure of Christ, and not to let their thoughts wander. 
The stole and alb evoke the festive clothing given by the father to the tattered and dirty prodigal son in the Gospel parable. They should remind priests how far they are from Christ and "how much filth exists in our lives".
The chasuble, the main liturgical garment worn over the rest, symbolizes the yoke of Christ and his burden of suffering. All priests should continue to learn "mildness and humility" from him.
The vestments above all should symbolize love toward God and neighbor."

My dear people of God and my dear Brother seminarians, how aptly put and how beautiful the Priesthood!! (And that is how many of us are in formation. Just eight Singaporeans, with Bro Joseph from China)

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Lelong! Lelong! Jesus for Sale!

All of us at Kampung Punggol have gone home for our quarter break this year which was specially arranged to coincide with Holy Week so that we would have the opportunity of celebrating these great days of Holy Week with the parish communities that had nurtured our vocations.

This morning, as I heard the long Passion Gospel being proclaimed, the following words caught my attention: “And they took the thirty silver pieces, the sum at which the precious One was priced by children of Israel”

And these words kind of stayed with me. Thirty silver pieces was the price of the “precious One” that was “priced by the children of Israel”. It got me asking myself, what is the “price of the precious One”?

I think in my own life, I am consciously and unconsciously placing a “price on the precious One”. As much as I would like to disassociate myself from those “children of Israel” who seemed to have placed a price on the “precious One”, I am forced to realise that I too inevitably put a price on him.

When I choose to pay instead of receive the price of the “thirty silver coins” in my life, I am saying to the world that Jesus is truly “the precious One” and “thirty silver coins” is incomparable with him. In that sense, I am placing the maximum value of “thirty silver coins” on the “world” instead and saying that all the lures of this world is only the value of that measly “thirty silver coins” which I am willing to forego. However, each time I am willing to throw Jesus out of my life for the “thirty silver coins” that are presented to me, I am placing the price of “thirty silver coins” on the “precious One” instead and as wrong a choice that seems, it is still so real in all our lives.

At the end of the day, either I am willing to place the value of the “thirty silver coins” on everything else other than Jesus and choose to follow Him or by turning away from him, I say that he is only worth “thirty silver coins”. The crux of the matter is that either way, there is price that must be placed. There is no escape. We cannot hide behind the illusion that we will not have to give a price to Christ and the world. We cannot hide from the reality that it is a price that we must each give a value to and no one else, not our parents or siblings or friends or someone else would be able to do for us. Sometimes, we hide from wanting to give a price because we are too afraid that in admitting that there is a price to be paid, we would have to face the truth of the cost it will have in a personal way to us. I believe Economics has a very interesting concept we can employ at this moment called, “Opportunity Cost”. The opportunity cost of Jesus is the “world” and the opportunity cost of the “world” is Jesus. Either way, we must face up to the fact that there is a cost to be paid and it is paid with much sacrifice. Whom shall we forego? The “precious One” or the “world”? What is the value of “thirty silver coins” in our life?

Only after coming to a realization of the price that must be decided on and the cost that must be paid can we even say what the apostles said in today’s Gospel, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” Indeed, following Christ shall cost us not only the world but our life. Only when we can forego life itself, will we be able to embrace Life. Indeed, “If Christ calls, it is to die.Lelong! Lelong! Jesus for Sale! What is your bid?

Friday, 7 March 2008

Our Joy in Welcoming an Old Member of Kampung Punggol

We at Kampung Punggol had the joy of seeing yet another of our brothers being blessed with the sublime gift of the Ministerial Priesthood. Rev Fr Stephen Chit Ko Ko of the Diocese of Pathein, Myanmar, was ordained on 10 February 2008. He came back to Kampung Punggol on 6 March 2008 to celebrate a Thanksgiving Mass with the community that had walked with him through his years of priestly formation. We always have fond memories of each of the brothers the Lord gives to us as companions on this journey and continue to remain united with them in prayer even as they leave us to fulfil their greater mission amongst God's people. It is with much gratitude that we praise God for calling ordinary men like ourselves in Kampung Punggol to be used in extraordinary ways by Him for His Universal Church. Praise be to God!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Lord, I believe!

Over the weekend of the Fourth Sunday of Lent, our little community here in Kampung Ponggol were blessed with the company of 25 wonderful brothers in the Lord who had taken time of their busy schedules and daily routines to come away to join us in being with the Lord during our recent Vocation Discernment Recollection. I love these gatherings of our aspirants because they are wonderful moments of grace for all of us when we can renew our commitment to one another as fellow companions on the journey which we are all undertaking with the Lord. During the short hours we spend together during the Recollections, we share intimate moments of communal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament as well as have moments of deep communion when we share with one another all the mighty works the Lord is doing in our lives as seminarians and aspirants.

The last Recollection was no exception when I could clearly see the mighty hand of God moving in our midst especially amongst the brothers who are continuing to persevere on the journey despite the many challenges they have to overcome. It was also amazing that we had a good number of new brothers whom the Lord had touched and had opened their hearts to courageously join us as fellow companions on this journey. I thank God for each of them and give praise to the Lord for what he is doing in our midst. Indeed, we are awaiting with great anticipation for the Lord to raise up a new generation of passionate and zealous Shepherds after his own heart for the local Church of Singapore. It was also wonderful that our Archbishop who has been extremely dedicated to facilitating the flowering of new vocations in Singapore also paid us a surprise visit and joined us during our Holy Hour. Many of us were deeply edified that the Apostle of our Land should come to be with us as we gathered together in prayer around our Eucharistic Lord. It was certainly a reminder of the scene of the first Pentecost when the Apostles were gathered together in intense prayer in the Upper Room awaiting the Lord’s empowering through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

That night, as I updated our brother aspirants about my own journey thus far, the passage of scripture narrating King David’s Call (1 Sam 16: 1-13) came to mind. My own call to possibly serve the Lord as his priest is always a mind-blowing revelation for me. In my own littleness, I shared with them how I could relate to the call of Kind David when the Lord did not choose any of his other brothers who certainly seemed to be more suitable for the post. The Lord says to the Prophet Samuel, “God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.” I felt the Lord repeating these same words to the group of us who were gathered together at the Recollection that night.

The Recollection went on smoothly and I was grateful to the Lord for touching each of us in some way at that Recollection. After the Recollection ended on Saturday afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised when I opened my Sunday Missal to read the scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent the following day. The same passage of David’s Call which had come to me the night before was the first reading of the Sunday. As I was praying with the scripture readings of the Sunday, I couldn’t but help feel the call to deepen my earlier reflection of the beautiful Recollection that had just ended and to look at my brothers, both seminarians and aspirants, through the lens of the scripture readings that were providentially chosen for the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

As I reflected on the awesome journey the Lord was inviting me and my fellow brothers on, I could not help but see all three readings of the Fourth Sunday of Lent having a special place in our hearts and journeys.

Many of us are indeed simple and ordinary disciples of the Lord and can certainly relate to the deep emotions that must have welled up in the heart of that simple shepherd-boy David when the Prophet Samuel anointed him as the new King of Israel. Furthermore, as we continue to respond to the Lord’s call to deepen our understanding of our special and unique life mission and vocation, the exhortation of St. Paul in the Second Reading (Ephesians 5:8-14) echoes in our hearts as we hear St. Paul saying to us, “You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord; be like children of light, for the effects of the light are seen in complete goodness and right living and truth. Try to discover what the Lord wants of you….” Is this not what each of us is persevering to do in our lives? Are we not those who have come to the light in the Lord and are trying to discover what the Lord wants of us?

The Gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Lent was really the crowning reflection of all that I had experienced during the weekend of the Recollection. As I pictured the blind man in the Gospel who sat begging, I was reminded of myself and of my brother aspirants and seminarians. Just like that blind man in the Gospel, we too were once blind and oblivious to the presence of the Lord in our lives. Then, one day, Jesus entered our lives and radically changed our entire lives when He opened our eyes to the reality of his presence and his call for us. Many of us are still not completely healed but we know that the Lord is continuously placing the “paste with the spittle” on our semi-blinded eyes and he is sending us to wash our eyes in the pool. As we get distracted by the many blind spots in our lives, the Lord himself intervenes and asks us to wash ourselves again in the pool. Is this pool any other pool but the pool of the waters of baptism that each of us has been washed in. Each of us discovers our sight again only when we come to re-discover our baptismal vision of life.

What really caught my attention was the ending of the Gospel when Jesus found the blind man he had healed and asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” and the now healed blind man replies, “tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.” At this Jesus says, “You are looking at him; he is speaking to you.” I find that these words aptly summarise the journey of my life and that of many of us who are on the journey of discerning our vocations. We have somehow experienced restoration and wholeness in our lives through Jesus and with this concrete experience of his mercy and compassion in our lives, he asks us individually and personally, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Sometimes, we seem to forget what the Lord had just done for us slightly earlier in our lives and we ask again “tell me who he is so that I may believe in him”, only to hear Jesus reveal his identity patiently to us again and again - “You are looking at him; he is speaking to you.”.

At these words, our entire being cries out with that same response of the blind man that we heard about in the Gospel. What other response could we make but to cry out, “Lord, I believe!” There is no longer any need to look back or to think twice about this profession of Faith. “Lord, I believe!” These are the same words that I hear resounding from my own life and I see this same profession of Faith also arising from the lives of all other men and women who have allowed Jesus to enter into their lives and have encountered Him who opens their blinded eyes to an awesome new vision of life that they would have never otherwise seen. “Lord, I believe!

Monday, 3 March 2008

Story of a silly spider

There was a spider in the seminary. It was about as big as my little finger and built its web in the palm tree, held up by its swaying branches. Every day, I would make a point to pass by and visit this new ‘tenant’. A big and sturdy web it did build, at least about 2 feet wide. After a course of a few days, with the strong winds and rain, the web was damaged till it is only about the size of the palm of a child, held up by a few strands of webbings. Every time there would be a breeze, the web would sway and look as though it would collapse any time. Sometimes, I even wonder if the spider still remained on the web or will it be blown away should a strong breeze comes along. I wondered if it were dead but its little movements of the legs convinced me otherwise.

I was thinking to myself, what a fool this spider is. It can build it web among the strong branches of the trees nearby (there were two more big webs with equally big spiders in the forest nearby). Why stay and be subjected to the elements of the weather in the never still branches of the palm tree. I was in fact looking to the day when I would just see the remnants of the web with the new ‘tenant’ gone.

What a surprise I had one day. It has rebuilt a web. A stronger and sturdier web in the same palm tree. It is no longer as shaky as the first web. I was happy for the ‘tenant’.

This caused me to reflect deeply into my own life. God builds a web in my life, though how shaky it is. As the rigors and distractions of everyday matters come along, the web is worn down till all that remain are just a few strands. But God hangs on to us, in the heart of all things, waiting for the calm to come again where he will build another web to hold it all together again. A stronger, sturdier web…. Only if we find time to calm and let him work. This is the Love of Jesus. Never letting go, always hanging on, even though it may look useless and futile. I should always find the calm to let him build his web of love in my life.