Monday, 18 August 2008

Falling in Love…

We here at Kampung Punggol had our Extended Recollection last weekend. We have two Extended Recollections a year; one at the start of each new semester. An Extended Recollection starts on Friday night and lasts through till Sunday afternoon. It is meant to be a time when each of us withdraws into solitude to spend time with the Lord and to take stock of everything the Lord has been telling us and doing in our lives. There is usually a certain stillness throughout the seminary during these times of recollection and our Extended Recollection last weekend was certainly no exception.

The Spiritual Father of our seminary, Rev Fr Ignatius Huan, was our Recollection Director and his first input on Friday evening was through the screening of a pretty old movie called “Shoes of the Fisherman”. This was my second time watching this movie but it certainly conjured in me many thoughts and emotions similar to that which it stirred in my heart the first time I watched the movie some years ago. The show is a fictional show about the life of an Eastern Bishop from Russia who had been in prison under the Communist government for over twenty years but was later released through the intervention of the Vatican and brought to Rome where he was made a Cardinal. Later on, much to his protest, he is elected Pope during a conclave.

The show had many beautiful moments that touched my heart and made me reflect quite a bit about my own life. It got me thinking so much that it kind of kept me up till quite late that night after the movie in prayer and reflection and the thoughts lingered on even on Saturday morning. I would like to share one of my significant reflections with all of you.

In the show, I saw many men in love; but it’s a different kind of love than what we often talk about or are familiar with. In fact, sometimes, we might even find it a bit uneasy if we heard someone say, “My priest is in love” because the first thing that would come to mind would be something improper. However, I dare to say that in the movie, what caught my attention was that some of the priests, Cardinals and the Pope himself were in love. They were madly and radically in love.

This was concretely expressed when a young priest who was close to the Cardinal before he became Pope and was a brilliant theologian but was under investigation by the Church because his theological opinions were not aligned to that of the Church’s traditional teachings. There was a real fraternal affection between the Pope and this young priest whom the Pope had asked to be his advisor. When the outcome of the commission of inquiry on his writings was finally submitted to the Pope, the Pope had the difficult task of ordering this young priest to be silent and to prohibit him from publishing his writings. There was an emotionally charged moment when the priest said something to the Pope that I personally find beautiful, “I hate the Church……and yet I love her. I want to leave her…..but I can’t live without her”. Though it may seem as if the young priest is speaking against the Church, I think there is so much that is deeper and worthy of reflection. What this young priest was feeling was the tension of true love that invites the other to die for love. In the face of his own self-surrender to the Church that seems to invite him to die, he feels the pain and what he may describe as “hate” but nevertheless, we can also see a man madly in love.

In the end, the young priest who was also suffering from a terminal illness humbly submits in obedience to the Church and he says that he has no bitter feelings. He dies soon after. What caught my attention was that he was a man truly in love and he was very aware of that.
Earlier on in the show, when the priest was talking with the Cardinal (before he became Pope) about his theological opinions, the Cardinal asked him why he remains a priest, and the young priest did not actually give an answer. I believe he gave the answer to that question later on in the words I have quoted above. Why did he become a priest? Why did he remain a priest? Why did he die a priest? I think he was in love. He had fallen in love and was falling more and more in love each day of his life as a priest.

This brings me to one of my reflections after the movie. When we speak of the priesthood and vocations, people tend to get a bit uptight and scared. When they talk about discernment, its as if God has something he has fated us for and we have to drag our feet to find out what it is and then to painstakingly respond to it out of fear that he will punish or something like that if we do not respond. I guess this seems to be the impression many young people have and so they would rather not even entertain the thought of the priesthood. I think that this has reduced the adventure of a life lived with God to something so sad and painful. How could a God whom we have come to know through the words of St John as, “God is Love” cause us to live a life without love and passion?

I am very convinced that becoming a priest is as much about falling in love as it is when a man gets married. The problem then arises – why are so few men falling in love with Christ and his Church? I must make a disclaimer here that it does not automatically mean that a person who falls in love with Christ and his Church must be called to the priesthood. There are certainly many wonderful lay people who love Christ and his Church deeply. Nevertheless, I am suggesting that falling madly in love with Christ and his Church is a distinct and necessary aspect of the vocation to the priesthood – it is after all symbolised as a marriage to the Church.

Over these two years of walking with my fellow brother aspirants, I have grown to get used to a good number of brother aspirants coming to share with me that they have “fallen in love”. And there is usually a glitter in their eyes and you know that there is a certain magic in the air. I am always happy for them and yet a nagging question arises in my mind. How come we seldom meet a man who tells us, “I am falling in love…..I am falling madly in love with the Church”. I am not saying that this never happens, but it is certainly not happening as frequently as we would hope for. Of course the truth is that a woman is a lot more tangible than the Church is in many ways and at times, I think a woman is a lot more passionate in getting the man she wants than the Church is, but still, it makes me wonder why is it that men are not falling in love with the Church?

One of my reflections on this is the fact that many lack exposure to the beauty of the Church – Christ’s Mystical Body. It’s kind of hard for a young man to accept being match-made in today’s age when affective love seems to be the normal development towards marriage. However, maybe that’s the problem with us in vocation promotion. Many men still enter discernment thinking of it somewhat like they are going to be match-made, except this time it would be by God, and they may silently resent that. The funny thing is that they forget that God is the greatest lover and relentless lover that ever existed so if he invites you to be priest, he is first inviting you to fall in love. I think that the men of today have not been sufficiently exposed to the beauty and attractiveness of the Church - the same beauty and attraction that has wooed so many hearts in the days of old. As St. Augustine himself once declared, “O beauty so ancient, O beauty yet so new”. I think we have to help men see this beauty that is so ancient and yet so new.

I certainly pray that more men are going to be falling in love with Jesus and his Mystical Body, the Church. I think we need passionate lovers of Christ and His Church in ministry today and certainly in the world of tomorrow. Many question the relevance of celibacy in the priesthood, but for me, this is a great sign of passionate love. As a priest, the man is declaring that he is so passionate and single-minded in his love that he does not take a wife for the Church is his wife. He has truly become configured to Christ in his spousal relationship with the Church that he freely lays down his life for her. When he repeats the words of Christ, “Take this all of you and eat it, for this is my body given up for you”, he does not only repeat it, he means it with his life.

I think many of us here in Kampung Punggol are falling in love. I pray that we shall be madly in love like that young priest in the movie by the time the Lord allows us to be ordained as his priests. That even in the face of challenging and painful moments in the priestly life, we shall bear it all for Love’s sake. I wish many of you would also start falling in love as we are. Please pray for more passionate Jesus-lovers and Church-lovers to come join us in Kampung Punggol. Love is certainly in the air here in Kampung Punggol. Praise be to God!

Friday, 15 August 2008

The Facebook Experience

Few weeks ago, I used a different photo for my profile in Facebook. This was actually a photo of me with shoulder-length hair, which was taken about ten years ago. The amusing thing was the many comments I received from my friends who were surprised to see how different I looked in the past. After a few days of amusing my facebook friends, I replaced the photo with my original profile photo :)

What I want to share here is the reflection I had during that few days of facebook experience. When I was searching for my old photo album to scan, and looking at myself on that ten-year old photo, I was reminded of my life then. As my friends could see the big difference in how I look and were surprised by it, I too can see the big change in myself and surprised by it. About 12 years ago I left my family and my hometown to pursue my tertiary studies. Being away from family, parents especially ;p , there was practically no limit to what I could do. Unlike my friends, I didn’t feel like I was out of prison (I am blessed with a simple and loving family and there wasn’t a need to run away from them), but it was simply an opportunity to be responsible for my own life. And so I did – I led my life the way I felt like. OK… I think I’m beginning to sound as if I had a super colourful and adventurous life, haha! No, I’m quite a boring person actually – I was never involved in gangs, or drugs or black magic ;p Let’s just say in a nutshell that, I was a terrible witness of the faith (I’m a cradle Catholic, by the way). Other than mechanically fulfilling Sunday obligations, which I’m still surprised I did, my way of life was definitely non-exemplary. I fulfilled the basic requirement of your typical naughty kid – smoked, drank, and was quite fluent in Vulgarian and sign language. I didn’t qualify for the advanced level, though… I didn’t kill anyone or rob any bank. Just the basics :) Ok la, I’m not very proud of it actually. But I’m kinda glad I went through that phase in my life. Why? Cos it is in realizing who I was and what I was doing just a decade ago that I can see and appreciate the transformation I went through to arrive at where I am now.

I’m definitely not a saint now, very far from it actually, but if I were to compare those days with my life now, I can see a huge difference. And the only explanation I can give for my transformation is of course… God!

A friend, after knowing a bit of my past and the company of people I was with, recently asked me how I managed to remain faithful to God all these years. My answer was – I didn’t. God was the one who was ever faithful. With the lifestyle I was living and the people I was mixing with, I could have easily gone beyond the safety zone and messed up my life. But God is like a good father who allows the naughty child to play but still keeps a lookout in case he falls off a cliff and dies. And our God is the perfect Father! It was purely through his mercy that I was spared from falling off the cliff; purely his compassion that took notice of me, a nobody, and invited me into his vineyard to serve; purely his grace that accompanies me into my fifth year in the seminary. I didn’t do much – I just enjoyed his loving presence and went with the flow :)

Whenever I think about me being called into priestly formation, I can’t help but to be amazed and amused by God’s weird sense of logic. Me, imperfect and sinful, being called to be a disciple of his son who is perfect and sinless? You gotta be kidding! It’s like a CEO risking his business by hiring a substandard worker lor… In his homily this morning, Fr Kenson Koh said that God, although himself is perfect, is not a perfectionist. So I guess God doesn’t really mind using a substandard instrument because in the end it is his skills that matters and not the condition of the instrument. Wah, thank God he’s not a perfectionist, otherwise I wouldn’t qualify to be his instrument la! So my song of praise ever since my first year in the seminary has always been the Magnificat, the song of Mary:

My soul glorifies the Lord,

My spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour.

He looks on his servant in her lowliness,

Henceforth all ages will call me blessed.

The Almighty works marvels for me,
Holy is his name!

[Luke 1:46-49]

It is overwhelming, even as I write, whenever I think about God, who looks on me in my nothingness. I’m not here to share with you how terrible I was in the past, but to be a testimony of how good and wonderful God is. All I am and all I have today is a pure gift from God, given out of his goodness. Indeed, the Almighty has done great things for me! My dear friends who are reading this blog, I’m also sharing this with you to tell you that God sees something special and beautiful in all of us – yes, including YOU, even if you may not believe it at times.

Today, the Church celebrates the Solemn Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Magnificat is truly her song of praise because she was chosen to be the Mother of God not because of what she did but because of who God is. In her lowliness, Mary was given the gift from God to be free from the stain of sin, to give birth to the Emmanuel, and to be taken up body and soul into the glory of Heaven. The gift, as we know, is free. All Mary did was to accept the gift with an open and humble heart, and “believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” [Luke 1:45]

Roadshow to Holy Cross Parish

On the weekend of 1-3 August 2008, the seminary community was at the parish of Holy Cross in Clementi for our second roadshow in conjunction with the year long celebration of our 25th Anniversary this year.

Our weekend at Holy Cross parish started off with a Holy Hour for Vocations on Friday evening and we were present at all the masses that weekend starting with the sunset mass on Saturday. Fr Kenson Koh, the Procurator and Dean of Studies of our seminary preached at all the masses whilst we seminarians were on hand to give catechism students a tour of our panels, to address the congregation at all the masses and to introduce our 25th Anniversary trailer, we conducted a forum for young people and to be meet the people after every mass. It was an exhausting but fulfilling weekend. It is indeed a joy for us to meet God's people, they are certainly part of the reason why we are walking down this road.

St. John Mary Vianney Feast Day Celebrations

Most of us seminarians have been very occupied with numerous projects and events that have been happening in Kampung Punggol these past few weeks that we have not been able to share much about the happenings here with all of you our dear readers. We shall attempt to update you on some of these events in the coming days.

Here are some photos from our recent St. John Mary Vianney feast day celebrations. St John Vianney is truly a role model for us Diocesans and he is the patron of parish priests. His life and example continues to be an inspiration for us as we aspire to the Diocesan Priesthood.

This year, we had the joy of celebrating this feast with our Archbishop, some young priests and some of our aspirants who came to Kampung Punggol to grace this occasion. St. John Mary Vianney, pray for us!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Power of God's Calling!!

If anyone of you think that God's calling is only for the priesthood or religious life, think again!!

When we begin to accept the fact that each of us are called by God for a purpose, we begin to operate and live our lives, not only in search of that purpose, but also finding ways to live it, regardless of the life circumstance that we are in!!

Many of us feel that when life sucks, when life is difficult, when we see that there is no meaning, when we are deeply hurt, etc... we find it hard to see the God's calling in all of the mess... truly, I am guilty of it too...

In view of this Olympic season, I came across this video in Godtube! Very inspiring, very touching, very motivating! It only makes me want to continue to be faithful to God and to never give up in fulfilling my God's purpose in life, and to give all glory and honor to Him!

May God Bless You and speak to your heart as you watch this video! Scott Rigsby!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

First stop Sydney! Next stop Madrid?

World Youth Day. An event where hundreds of thousands of Catholic youths gather and celebrate with the Holy father. Is it just an event or an experience with Christ?

Looking back at the two weeks spent in Australia, maybe I was privilege to be able to spend the time with a different contingent, unlike the other brother seminarians who were all with the Catholic Students Society of the National University of Singapore. I was with the contingent from the Catholic Archdiocesan Youth Centre. Besides the 7 other pilgrims from my parish, most of the others were new faces to me. There were a lot of new faces to meet and a whole new 'community' to live in for the two weeks.

We had our Days in the Diocese in Melbourne and were hosted by the parishioners in their homes. This is an occasion where I felt the universality of the church, where I am in a strangers' home, sharing meals together and also having many conversations of our common faith. This is truly what being Catholic is all about.

We had two days of seminars where the ICPE mission group launched their youth arm, FireBrandz. We joined youth from Korea, Malaysia, America and India in this programme, proclaiming our one faith and one mission of evangelization.

As we moved from Melbourne to Sydney, we experienced a drastic change in our living conditions. From cosy homes, we were now living out of our sleeping bags, sleeping in the classrooms of a school. There were 3 shower stalls shared by about 100 males. This is a true test of patience and tolerance and we were challenged to persevere on in our pilgrimage, rather than checking into a hotel with all the modern facilities and comfort. The final night at Ranwick Racecourse (called the Southern Cross Precinct) was about the same, just that we did not have a roof over our heads.

Did I experience anything during all the events organised for the WYD? Sad to say, not much. The power of God only manifested on the final event: during walk to Ranwick Racecourse, the open air sleep-out and after we back from the final mass with the Pope.

On Saturday morning, I was with my brother Seminarians at the special mass where the Pope consecrated the new altar at St Mary's Cathedral. I did not join my contingent in the walk to the racecourse but made my way there on my own. It was a good 4-5km walk and I was just walking along with whatever group that came by. I was chatting with pilgrims from all over the world. Just being Catholic made you belong to their family, or rather, we all belong to a big family. Truly, Christ unites to himself, all those who believe in him.

There were rumours that the night was going to be a few degrees warmer than the usual. This has so far been a prediction by the meteological station but until the night comes along, no one can be sure. It may not be much but believe me, between 4 and 7 degrees, it is a world of difference. That night, I was looking up into the sky and I noticed an exceptionally large amount of cloud cover, something I had not seen since I arrived in Australia. That night was cold but warm enough for us to sleep comfortably. I guess the Lord knows what we need and will provide for us even if we do not ask of him.

Experiencing the warm hospitality of the Australians in the cold winter, I was often reminded of the drought Australia was facing. At the final mass, I made a special prayer to ask the Lord to bless this land with the rain they needed so much (and after all, so many of us were using up their precious water). That very night, it poured. Maybe it was also because the Holy Father also prayed for rain for the great land of the Southern Cross. For me, I see the might of the Lord to give to those who need it and he is just and fair in his rewards.

The two weeks were a real enriching experience for me. I had seen the might of the Lord and the universality of his church. I also see how much is needed to be done pastorally to feed the need for the youths, to help them have a personal experience of the Lord. I am also more convicted in my faith and my calling to serve him as a priest. May the Lord continue to draw all to himself.

Erm... one more thing.... Madrid 2011...... anyone??

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Miracle Experience... Faith Walk...

Have you ever wondered what it is like to leave each day in faith? My group sure had a wonderful experienced...

From the early days of the WYD program proper... our leader was already down with a temperature... she had to be confine at home where we lived... the group decided to forgo the Youth Festival "Urban Legend" talk for that day and to return home to accompany their leader, so fondly known as Carmie...

We bought food from the supermarket, and our group had a wonderful time bonding together and breaking the ice with one another.

Later that week... our cute little princess of the group had a bad sprain at her ankle... and this was the day just before the Pope's mass... she cannot even walk. can you imagine her morale? less to mentioned the group's morale. BUT, the spirit of the group did not die... we persevered and pushed on!! by God's grace, she was given a wheel chair by Friar George from the ASIANA Centre, where we lived...

From then on, our spirit's lifted and prayers got more powerful... our faith as a group and later the contingent grew in strength and solidarity... check out this video...

After a night of braving the cold and the Pope's mass... our group emerged victorious!! SATAN lost!!! We went against all odds!!

To top it all off... on the way back, leaving the race course... while everyone had to follow the human traffic and walk back along the pilgrim route about an hour to the train station.... our group was directed to the bus stop at the race course to be shuttled back to the train station!! WOW!! how cool is that!! we didn have to take that one hour walk back like everyone else did!!!


Friday, 1 August 2008

God's gentle assurance on eagle's wings

It's been months since I've posted on this or my own blog. During which there have been so many things happening: Vocation Retreat, Pastoral attachment to the Missionaries of Charity Gift of Love Home, staying in Holy Spirit Parish and the trip to Sydney for World Youth Day. Many of which I thought of blogging about, but have been putting off.

But there was one incident that happened yesterday, which was for me so simple and yet so powerful. I was walking in the seminary during the evening, on the road going towards the chapel for vespers, praying my rosary. And God blessed me with many "companions" as I walked along. The lizard on the palm tree, the 3 small yellow birds which added their singing to my prayer, the green parrots with their speedy flybys. And I was thinking to myself as I looked up into the sky, all that was missing were the white-bellied sea eagles that glide in the sky, which I was so fond of.

After finishing my rosary and searching the sky for the final time, I walked up the steps to the chapel, when I just felt a prompting to turn around. And I just thought to myself, "Why this urge to turn around?" And there in the sky was an eagle slowly gliding by. I tell you...that feeling I got was one of being loved by a God who knew even that small little desire of mine in my heart that I didn't even ask him for, and he tapped my shoulder, and showed me His love for me in the form of an eagle. I really felt as in the song, that he was raising me up on eagle's wings, and holding me in the palm of his hand.

And I know that if I delay this post any longer, I will never get down to it. So Praise and Glory to our wonderful God, who knows us inside and out, who knows our every desire, and who knows the simplest things that will make our hearts melt. And as we learnt in our Scripture class, that the Gospel of Matthew has the theme of Emmanuel - God with us. I experienced God's loving presence with me on eagle's wings.


I waited nine years for this! Finally got this close to His Holiness! It was really an experience. I cannot imagine what it is like sitting in there. Also, the risk of being hurt too is really high. Gosh! Even the thought of it scares me! In the same breath, the faith and trust he place in the Lord must be tremendous too. That is inspiring. Human limitation towards faith and trust in our Lord at times can be challenging, but he sure is an example!