Wednesday, 30 April 2008

No Information Overload with Jesus Christ

I had a pretty long Archdiocesan Vocation Promotion Team meeting last night and by the time I made it back to my room after closing our seminary gate, I was pretty much exhausted. Although the temptation was just to say my Compline (Night Prayer) and hit the bed, I felt a desire to pay a visit to Our Lord in our Prayer Room late last night.

As I opened my weekday missal to listen to the Lord’s voice in today’s readings, the words of today’s scripture readings touched me deeply. The entrance antiphon reads, “I will be a witness to you in the world, O Lord. I will spread the knowledge of your name among my brothers, alleluia”

These words kind of spoke to me because I think at the back of my mind, there was this nagging thought of whether all these efforts we are making as an Archdiocese in terms of vocation promotion is bearing fruits. We always say prayer is important and I know for a fact that we are all intensely praying; yet, the young men of today seem to turn their heads away from the Lord’s voice even when he may seem to call them to the priesthood. As Samuel shared in his earlier reflection, indeed, we could beg the Lord on our knees and he too in his compassion and love for his Church could call out to many young men out there, but they may choose to exercise their God-given right to freedom of choice and still turn their heads away. So in some ways, human action, or rather human inaction is still a stumbling block to our God, who out of his total, gratuitous Love has allowed himself to allow us, his mere creatures (who are here by day and gone by night) to have a say in our lives – the freedom to choose, the freedom to not choose.

As I went in to the Prayer Room with these thoughts at the back of my mind, the Lord spoke to me from the very onset of the entrance antiphon of today’s Eucharist. Indeed, I am called to be a witness and it is my heart’s desire that God would use me to be his witness even with my limitations, weaknesses and shortcomings. It is also my prayer that, “I will be a witness to you in the world, O Lord. I will spread the knowledge of your name among my brothers, alleluia” I found it meaningful that the word used was “brothers” for I immediately thought of the many excellent young men whom the Lord could be gazing upon here in Singapore and inviting them to be his witnesses as his priests. “I will spread the knowledge of your name among my brothers!” – This is indeed a very difficult call and sometimes, I even resent it. I always joke that we seminarians are sometimes like lepers amongst young Catholic men. When they see us, they tend to run as if we were the plague because they are afraid that we would pop the question, “have you considered if Jesus is calling you to be a priest?” It’s sometimes painful for us as seminarians to play this prophetic role of inviting young men to consider the priestly vocation and it certainly makes us “notorious”. But should we stop? Indeed, the day we entered the seminary, we had declared, “I will be a witness to you in the world, O Lord. I will spread the knowledge of your name among my brothers, alleluia” Therefore, in all humility, even with the pain of being “ostracized”, we must declare the name of Jesus to our generation of “brothers” for the “fullness of life” that seminarians ourselves have experienced in responding to the call of Jesus thrusts us forward.

Then, as I read the Gospel, the good Lord brought me back to a day many years ago in my own life as if to remind me of my own struggles, confusion and pain as a young man who was considering the priestly call amidst all the demands of the “world”. Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus saying, “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth.”

I was an aspirant with the seminary for about 9 years before I entered and they were often painful and confusing years of seeking the Lord and learning surrender, patience and humility. After a few years had gone by and although my heart was already desiring to enter the seminary, my own situation in life at that time did not permit me from making any concrete steps forward in my vocational journey. I was getting a bit frustrated and impatient with the Lord and wondering if all these thoughts about the priesthood were my own human desires or was it really from God. I remember even wondering if the good Lord liked to play “hide and seek” with me and if he did, he certainly had the upper hand. Here I was being captivated by him and yet the possibility of my entering the seminary almost seemed impossible when I thought of all hurdles that I would have to cross before I could even consider joining the seminary.

At that point, I was still in NUS and it was probably around the same time of the year as we are in now. I had finished my exams and the priest I was journeying with then had asked me to come and spend a few days in the seminary to just be with the :Lord and to get to know the seminary community better. Of course there were many hesitations and fears and I had to tell my family that I was going away for a youth retreat when I was actually going to the seminary out of fear of the reaction if would cause amongst them.

Amidst all my pains and frustrations during that stay in, I decided to take it to the Lord in prayer. After all, if he was truly calling me, all my problems are his problems so he would have to take care of them for me. I was in the Prayer Room in the seminarians block and as I was speaking to the Lord, he pointed me to this same Gospel passage as today’s mass - “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth.”

I remember I was deeply moved by this passage back then as I read it in the seminarians’ Prayer Room. I felt the Lord telling me that there were many things he still wanted to tell me and that I was not ready for it yet. He could disclose them to me at that time (not that he didn’t know) but it was for my sake that he was not telling me – for I would not be able to bear it. The ever thoughtful Jesus did not want to give me an information overload. And so I sat there in the Prayer Room, feeling the invitation to trust in the Lord. That he knew where I was heading; where he was calling me and He himself would reveal every step of the way for me through his Holy Spirit - the Spirit of truth who leads me to the complete truth. So it was that my heart was still in the Lord and yet, there was this pondering in my mind – would I ever be able to sit here in that same Prayer Room as a seminarian some day? It was a question that I had but only Jesus knew the answer and he decided for that moment that it would be too much for me to bear at that moment. He would need more time to prepare me for the stuff he wanted to tell me.

That was almost 6 years ago and the years have flown by and so much has unfolded since that stay in. I completed my university studies and the Lord led me to realizing that he wanted me to go out and work and so I did until my entry into seminary over 2 years ago. The awesome thing for me last night was that after so many years, the Lord reminded me in the same Prayer Room where I had once prayed many years ago and he told me, “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth.” – he repeated those same words to me last night in today’s Gospel reading and reminded me how he was faithful to his promise. Indeed, to know about the many more years of journeying the Lord had installed for me even after that day when I did the stay-in in seminary may have been too daunting and overwhelming for me and the Lord withheld such information from me if I was truly going to be able to enter the seminary some day. But now that I am here, I see His mighty hand retrospectively leading me and shepherding me; I have experienced the Spirit of Truth leading me to the Truths of my life in Jesus Christ. What an awesome gift to share in this great adventure of vocation with Jesus! I share this with much gratitude and awe for indeed, the Lord’s ways are beyond our ways. He himself leads us to complete Truth through the action of His Spirit at a pace that we can take, lest we get an information overload! Even know, I do not know what my future holds, none of us do, but I know the Lord is saying to us even now, “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth.” The future is His to reveal and ours to live!

I thought that I would share this photo of our seminarian’s Prayer Room with all of you because it’s a place that most outsiders won’t get to see and yet, this is the central place of solace for us seminarians within our living quarters. It is here that we are recharged, find strength, share our joys and run to the Lord when we are in tears amidst our daily life. What a joy to have Jesus as a tenant in the same block we are in. It is one of the greatest privileges of being a member of Kampung Punggol :)

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Jam with the Lamb!

2 weekends ago the seminary hosted a weekend of workshop on the tools for vocation discernment. I was encouraged to see so many young men and women who were serious about finding out the plans the Lord has for them. Many questions were raised, and among those in the top-10 list is this:
“Will God punish me if I don’t follow his will?”

There are many ways of answering this question. Since this is a blog and not a theological paper, I’m gonna share a simple analogy using my own example. I took up guitar in secondary school. And since I enjoyed music, I used to practice for 1-2 hours everyday. But somehow, other than strumming some oldies tune, I noticed that I didn’t improve much in my playing. So after about half a year, I started playing the drums as well. I was surprised at my own progress, cos although I didn’t play that well, I felt natural playing the drums. Gradually I noticed that I have a natural inclination towards beats and rhythm, as I recalled that I could play the tambourines when I was in primary school.

Many years passed, and I continued to play both the drums and guitar – I was definitely much more exposed to playing the guitar cos I didn’t own a drum set. Thru those years I had the opportunities to play in small time gigs here and there. Here, I wanna share 2 particular events. One was many years ago when I played in a band for a Christmas concert in a church. I played the guitar, the band was fun, and we enjoyed ourselves. The second event was last year, when I had the opportunity to play for the freshmen orientation camp in NUS, organized by the Catholic Students’ Society. This time I played the drums, the band was fun, and we enjoyed ourselves as well. So what’s the difference between the 2 concerts? We had enough practice before the concerts, so I managed both the guitar and the drums equally well – not fantastic but at least nobody threw rotten eggs at me.

For me, the most significant difference has to do with how I felt deep within. Compared to playing the guitar, I felt more fulfilled and free when I played the drums. I knew that playing the drums was being true to who I really was; I knew that I played to the best of my potential, from the deepest of my being. I felt that I was floating in the music. I didn’t get any standing ovation, neither did I receive much affirmations. To be honest, I didn’t even think I played well in terms of skills. But all that didn’t matter to me anymore, cos I had the opportunity to be someone I was meant to be, and that was enough for me. Now, back to the question: was I being punished when I didn’t feel the same sentiment after I played the guitar? No, I merely deprived myself from giving myself to the fullest!

Yahweh told Jeremiah,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.” Jer 1:5
Like the prophet, we also have a specific plan and mission that God has placed even before we were born.

Can we choose not to follow his will?

Yes, if we believe in human free will.

Will God punish us?

No, if we believe in a loving and compassionate God.

So, what is the point of answering God’s call?

I’ll let St Catherine of Siena, whose feast the Church celebrates today, answer that question…
“If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire!”

Friday, 25 April 2008

How does one explain the joy of giving up everything you worked so hard for? 

How does one explain a positive change in one's life after going through pain and suffering? 

How does one explain the peace within when you know you have been the greatest sinner of all time?

Indeed, life is a MYSTERY! 

Being a newbie in the community, all the engagements in the community sure added spice to my life. I am kinda liking it and also getting use to it. Haha...

In such a short period of time so many things had happened!! Have you been following our blog entries? You gotta!! Com'on!

However, the engagements are just one aspect of change for me. You do not really get to experience all these out there in the world. Who would live together with so many man at one time?! Army aside! Army is a different ball game altogether lo! Here, you literally live like family! 

It is really amazing how gentlemen can be so charitable to each other in such close confines! Galz out there, if you wanna find good gentlemen! Here is the place la!! Haha... But for now, we are all taken!! Why would any man wanna give up such beautiful creation like your good self to live amongst great gentlemen? Mystery!!

My life's perspective has changed slightly and my spiritual life has grown much too! I can imagine in a few more months, I would be a changed person! I am feeling my life moving away from my previous life. In some sense, it is really hard to let go and on many occasions you just do not welcome the change, yet deep within myself, I know the change is necessary, not to mention good. 

There are lots of purification taking place deep within me. In thought, affect and deed. I get into the very depth of my being. It is amazing what you can find! And it all happen so mysteriously. 

What my life is going to be hence forth is truly a mystery! To come this far, is already a mystery. I humanly cannot imagine what more can happen to me. I am both scared and excited; again, a mystery!

25th Anniversary of SFX Major Seminary

On 12th April, the Archdiocese organised the Day of Prayer for Vocation held at Holy Spirit Parish. There was a time of prayer led by the youths of the parish, the Serra Club as well as the seminarians. This was followed by Mass celebrated by our Archbishop. During the Mass, the Archbishop unveiled and officially launched the logo for the Seminary's 25th Anniversary Celebrations. (Yes this kampung is only 25 years young)
SFX 25th Anniversary logo
Explanation Of The Logo

The central figure in the logo is a priest proclaiming the Glory of the Lord. With his hands raised to Heaven in the posture of a cross, the priest is configured to Our Lord Jesus, crucified on the Cross for all of us. Resplendent in a white cassock and red stole, the priest evokes the imagery of a Teacher of the Word, Minister of the Sacraments and Leader of the Community.

The red stole and the cross resemble the Major Seminary's iconic tower, symbolising the institution's central role in forming and training priests for the Archdiocese of Singapore.

In the background, the stylised number '25' marks the silver jubilee of the Seminary.

The overall colour scheme is festive and reflects the liturgical colours of white, red and purple. Finally yellow signifies the Light of Christ radiating from the Cross.
More about the 25th Anniversary Celebrations to be posted later, but here are some photos of the event. Enjoy

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Excerpts from Pope Benedict's Address to Roman Seminarians on 1 Feb 2008

Good Shepherd Sunday has given me an opportunity to reflect and renew my joy of being called and to stand in awe of what the Lord has done and is doing in my life and in the life of my brothers. I think it is easy to become unenthusiastic about this sublime vocation the Lord has bestowed on us when we stop singing the Lord's praises for what He has done for each of us. So let us spur each other on in continuosly singing our chorus of praises!

I found this address of our Holy Father to Roman seminarians pretty meaningful for myself and I thought that I might share it with all of you who are aspiring members of Kampung Punggol. Let us grow in gratitude for the gift of our vocation and to celebrate the abundance of life we experience through our response.


"Dear seminarians, it is precisely because the gift of being adoptive sons of God had illuminated your lives that you were stirred by the desire to make others share in it too. This is why you are here, to develop your filial vocation and prepare yourselves for your future mission as apostles of Christ. It concerns a unified growth, that, while permitting you to savour the joy of life with God the Father, it makes you feel so much more the urgent need to become messengers of the Gospel of his Son Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit who makes you attentive to this profound reality and makes you love it. All this cannot fail to kindle immense trust in you, for the gift you have received is amazing, it fills you with wonder and profound joy."

"Dear parents, you are probably the most surprised of all at what is happening in your sons. You probably imagined a different career for them than the mission for which they are now preparing.

Who knows how often you find yourselves thinking about them: you think back to when they were children, then boys; to the times when they showed the first signs of their vocation or, in some cases on the contrary, to the years in which your son's life seemed remote from the Church. What happened? What meetings influenced their decisions? What inner enlightenment guided their footsteps? How could they then give up even promising prospects of life in order to choose to enter the Seminary? Let us look to Mary! The Gospel gives us to understand that she also asked herself many questions about her Son Jesus and pondered on him at length (cf. Lk 2: 19, 51).

It is inevitable that in a certain manner, the vocations of children become the vocations of their parents too. In seeking to understand your children and following them on their way, you too, dear fathers and dear mothers, very often find yourselves involved in a journey in which your faith is strengthened and renewed. You find yourselves sharing in the marvellous adventure of your sons.
Indeed, even though it may seem that the priest's life does not attract most people's interest, it is in fact the most interesting and necessary adventure for the world, the adventure of showing, of making present, the fullness of life to which we all aspire. It is a very demanding adventure; and it could not be otherwise since the priest is called to imitate Jesus, who "came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20: 28)."

"Dear seminarians, these years of formation constitute an important time in which to prepare yourselves for the exalting mission to which the Lord calls you. Allow me to underline two aspects that mark your current experience. First of all, your seminary years involve a certain detachment from ordinary life, a certain "wilderness", so that the Lord can speak to your heart (cf. Hos 2: 14). Indeed, his voice is not loud but rather subdued, it is "a still small voice" (I Kgs 19: 12). Thus, if the Lord's voice is to be heard, an atmosphere of silence is essential. For this reason the Seminary offers space and times for daily prayer; it takes great care of the liturgy, meditation on the Word of God and Eucharistic adoration. At the same time, it demands that you devote long hours to study: in praying and studying you can build within yourselves the man of God whom you must be and whom people expect a priest to be.

Then there is a second aspect of your life: during your seminary years, you live together; your formation for the priesthood also involves this community aspect which is of great importance. In following Jesus, the Apostles were formed together. Your communion is not limited to the present time but also concerns the future: the pastoral action that awaits you must see you joining forces, as though in one body, in one ordo, that of priests who, together with the Bishop, care for the Christian community. May you love this "family life" which is an anticipation for you of that "sacramental brotherhood" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 8) which must characterize every diocesan priest."

Monday, 14 April 2008

Annual Retreat 08 Photos

Here are more photos from the Annual Retreat that we had at Majodi Centre.
I'm now trying out slideshow. I prefer it to the Picasa one that I used previously, becaust it has thumbnails at the bottom. Found a solution online to get past the limitations that flickr puts on free accounts. ;Þ

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Annual Retreat 2008

All of us seminarians from Kampung Punggol were away for our Annual Retreat from 30 March 2008 till 4 April 2008 at Majodi Centre in Plentong, Johor Bahru. Our Retreat Master was Rev Fr (Dr) John Gnanapiragasam from the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur. He had very aptly chosen the theme "Mystery" for our retreat and it was a beautiful and meaningful time for us to delve deeper into the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty (Mystery of Emptiness), Chastity (Mystery of Undividedness)and Obedience (Mystery of Surrender). Indeed, this journey the Lord is inviting us on continues to be an exciting and exhilarating one even amidst the challenges we face. Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Community and Communion

The brothers have gone for their retreat and the seminary is quiet. In many respects, it has become a retreat environment for the formators as well. In one of the quiet moments of prayer, several things popped in for a visit. These became elements of a reflection that followed. As it was a personal reflection, I posted in my own blog. What I am posting here is personal but pertains more to seminary life.

Our vision-mission statement this year (as well as last year) uses the word communion. As a seminary that now houses both Singaporean and non-Singaporean seminarians, we really try to live communion. Perhaps someone might say that seminarians are forced to live together in the same house. Thus living in communion is necessary for maintaining the peaceful atmosphere of the seminary. I have to admit that living together in the same house definitely motivates people to live together harmoniously. However, communion is not harmony. Communion is not co-operation. Communion is not simple unity. Taking our cue from our reflections during Holy Week, communion in the Church is modelled after the communion between Jesus and the Father. It involves a relationship of love and obedience. It involves obedience that may demand great sacrifice. It involves knowing the truth about oneself.

As a priest, communion involves love and obedience of my bishop and my brother priests. That is why the Chrism Mass is held in the morning of Holy Thursday, not normally a time which would have the greatest participation of the laity. It's a celebration of the ministerial priesthood and its expression in the communion of the bishop with his priests. While it is good that the laity are present, the celebration is principally centred on the ordained priests, the bishop possessing the fullness of the priesthood. It is a celebration of the acceptance of the call of God to the priestly vocation.

Seminarians must experience this communion in their training. I believe that the seminary, being a place where seminarians are ‘obligated’ to live together, makes it easier for them to experience this communion. Carrying this experience of communion with them when they enter into the ministry where, as secular priests, they may be living alone, they will hopefully not become ‘singularities’. (For what I mean by singularities, please follow this Wikipedia link.) Thus, in many ways, the formation priests in the seminary work together. We may seem to have other ‘jobs’ outside the seminary, we are still working for one diocese and one Church.