Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Blessed are those who keep ...

There are many other beatitudes besides the eight that we traditional refer to when we say “Beatitudes”. One which strike a chord with me as a formator is from the Gospel of Luke:
As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28)

There were a few people who asked to speak to me because they were thinking about the priesthood. I was surprised when they told me that they did not pray. If they did not pray, how could they claim that they were called by God? Yet, I understand that God can work in any way he wills. However, to enter into the discernment process, prayer is very important. Here, I am not referring to spiritual activity confined solely to praying the rosary and saying traditional formula prayers. Prayer should include the rosary, the stations of the cross and other traditional spiritual and devotional activity. However, to discern, these are not enough. Here is where this Lucan beatitude comes in. We need to pray using scripture as guide. We need to meditate and contemplate on the Word. Only then can we keep the Word of God that we hear. This beatitude also describes our Blessed Lady perfectly as St. Luke himself notes that Mary noticed these things and kept them in her heart (2:19,51) Mary pondered the things she kept in her heart. Although we had not had the opportunity to experience Jesus as Mary did, we still have the opportunity to keep and ponder the Word in our hearts.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

It rings a bell......

It is good to be back and good to be blogging again. I apologize for the late post for this event. Well, after about 2 weeks away from Singapore, here is the update of the 25th Anniversry Mass and Dinner Celebration for the St Francis Xavier Major Seminary.

Although the Nuncio could not be here to celebrate this joyous occasion with us, he still sent us his congratulatory message (yup! the one that was posted earlier). We also received the apostolic blessing from the Holy Father, which was presented to our Rector, Fr William Goh, by His Grace Archbishop Nicholas Chia.

After the Eucharistic Celebration at the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we proceeded to the school next door, CHIJ Our Lady of the Nativity, for the celebratory dinner. You can see our Rector, together with our Bishop and the head of the Celebrations Committee cutting the birthday cake!

Next... here is something that rings a bell..... ermm.... may bells actually. We, the seminarians, decided to put up some items for the dinner and one of them was this 'Bell Orchestra' performance. We were coached by Damien Lim, from the Ministry of Bells, and did two mean Christmas Carols. Guess you got to be there to hear the sweet sound of music..... it is still ringing in my ears..... *wink*

For a more casual performance, there was also a dance item put up by 6 of our brothers. Check out the cool costumes we had. This really gave the audience much comic relief.

Finally, we definitely need to thank the Good Lord for blessing us with 25 years of graces to be forming the future priests of the Church. I am confident the Lord will bless us with many more years to come......

Let us all journey towards our Mission to


Persecution and Discernment

The eighth beatitude is:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt 5:10-12)

A Christian is called, in this beatitude, to be a sort of counter witness to the anti-Christian values that pervade the world. As a counter witness, we would be persecuted. A priest is called to play that role more earnestly as a service to the Christians that he pastors. Thus, persecutions of the kind mentioned would come more intensely to the priest.

Often the persecutions we receive play a part in the discerning a vocation. We might have many ideals and be very willing to suffer injustices for the Lord. However, there is also a reality that we might be discouraged by these things we suffer. The key is not to desire something noble like suffering for Christ. The most important thing in discerning the call is to see what God wants. The Lord might want us to be in a situation where there is no real suffering at all. Our discernment is not choosing to become an exemplary Christian by our own efforts. Our discernment should lead us to the knowledge of God's will and then obey this will. Of course, the life of a priest would include many instances of persecution and misunderstanding. We need to be aware of this. However, this beatitude should lead us to consider that the call is more important than the consequences of following the call. Most people who do things for Christ’s sake would be able to understand that it is not the consequences of following Christ that are important but the fact that we follow Christ. Similarly, our discernment should not focus on whether what kind of priesthood we would live but whether we are called. There would be those who choose to enter the seminary because they have seen the standard of priests in our churches and want to improve the quality of priests. Whilst this should be a consideration during formation, it should not be a condition during discernment.

Monday, 22 December 2008


The seventh beatitude is:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Mt 5:9)

Peace in the Hebrew sense means wholeness; the Hebrew word is shalom. To be a peacemaker is to be one who provides the environment where God can give this shalom. This state of shalom is the original state of humanity at the point of creation. When we sinned, we lost this completeness, shalom. Thus, when we do reach this completeness we becomes like Adam — a son of God. Jesus came to restore this shalom to humanity. Thus, if we are able to provide the environment where shalom can be reached, we participate in what Jesus, the Son of God, did and we are also called “sons of God”.

When discerning a vocation, we should seek this shalom that God provides. Many people confuse this with the idea of ‘fulfilment’. ‘Fulfilment’ is what one feels about that which completes their being or purpose in life. Shalom is the completeness that God gives. Many people feel fulfilled when they achieve something they set out to do in life. That should not be a motivation for discerning a vocation. A vocation is God’s call to a state of life. It is not an achievement. We may feel contented when we answer God’s call, but it is not a sense of fulfilment that we feel, it is shalom that comes from God. Furthermore, this feeling is only one possible expression of shalom. The true sense of shalom is the knowledge that God has made us whole. Unfortunately, as sinners, it is not probable that we would have the sense of shalom continuously. This sense may be a feeling or an inner knowledge. We can sense or know, from within ourselves, that when we answer the Lord’s call, God completes us. That would be a description of what many people mean when they say, “The moment I said my ‘yes’ to the Lord, I felt peace.”

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Pure in Heart

The sixth beatitude is:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Mt 5:8)

We gauge how pure something is by judging how clear it is. This is especially true for water. When someone mentions pure water, we think of clear clean water, with no cloudiness or particles, even though the water may have something dissolved in it. In the same vein, someone who is “pure in heart” can be considered as one whose heart is clear. As we view the spiritual things more from the heart, someone who is “pure in heart” can see spiritual things clearly. He/She can see God clearly. As Christ says that he is Truth itself (see Jn 14:6), a person who is “pure in heart” is able to see the truth.

This is so important in discernment. Discernment requires us to seek the truth that comes from God. When I am discerning the vocation to the diocesan priesthood, being “pure in heart” is important. By clearing my heart of all impurities, i.e. those things that keep me from seeing God clearly, I will be able to discover his will for me. I would need to purify my heart of love before I enter the process of discernment so that I will not be clouded by doubts, worldy distractions and personal ambitions.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Mercy on the Merciful

The fifth beatitude is:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Mt 5:7)

According to the online Catholic Encyclopedia, Mercy is said to be “a virtue influencing one’s will to have compassion for, and, if possible, to alleviate another’s misfortune.” If I were to put it in simpler terms, mercy is a habit (virtue) that has two functions:
  • stirs one to have compassion for another person’s misfortune or misery

  • motivates one to try to help remove the other person’s misfortune or misery

As mercy controls relations between two distinct people, it must also be linked to charity.

In discernment, we need a merciful heart. a heart that is habitually charitable and feels with the misfortune and misery of others. One of the reasons which many people are asked to pray for more vocations is that we have a shortage of priests and religious in the world. When making our discernment, we would need to ask if we are truly aware of the plight of our brothers and sisters in the Church due to the shortage of priests and religious. As the first function of the virtue of mercy suggests, we need to have compassion for those who experience this shortage. However, we should not volunteer ourselves for priesthood or religious life just because we feel pity for the situation. The virtue of mercy should motivate us to try to help remove this lack of vocations. If we have the call, then the virtue of mercy would motivate us to answer the call sincerely. If we do not have the call, then we would be motivated to promote vocations rather than ‘sacrifice’ ourselves.

While we can say that the priestly vocation (or any vocation, even marriage for that matter) requires a certain amount of sacrifice, it is primarily the sacrifice of our wills to the will of God. All other things that we give up, like an exclusive relationship with someone and a family, are not really sacrifices if we see them as choosing what God knows is best for us.

Even if we are not sure yet if God is calling us, we need to have that habit or virtue of mercy to help others in need. When we are in need, especially the need to know whether we have a call, then God would show us his mercy and indicate to us his loving plan.

Friday, 19 December 2008


The fourth beatitude is:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Mt 5:6)

Picture from Wikimedia. It is in the Public Domain.

Some verses down from the Beatitudes, Jesus talks about righteousness:
… unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:20)

To “exceed” here does not merely mean “more severe” or “stricter”. It means to “go beyond”. We have to reach a higher or deeper level than what the Pharisees and the scribes taught. The Pharisees and the scribes were learned men whose faults lay in their inability to go beyond what was solely on the human level. Thus, we should hunger for the righteousness that properly belongs to God.

In discernment, we weigh our options. We see a similar image with Lady Justice with her scales. Unlike the physical scales we use in the world, which weigh quantitatively, we weigh that which are qualitative. We have the Lord’s will on one pan and our actions on the other side. Is what I am doing right now what the Lord wills of me? Could my willfulness be tipping the scales, causing it to be unbalanced? When Jesus speaks of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, He is speaking of those who truly seek God’s will. Even though our actions may be exactly what the Lord wills but if there is a little self-centredness or self-interest added, the scales will tip. When we want what God wants because we love Him, the scales will remain balanced. When we only do what God wants because “there is something in it for me”, then the scales will not be balanced. Whilst being the imperfect creatures that we are, the scales cannot be always perfectly balanced, we still have to try our best, submitting to the grace of God.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Blessed are the Meek

The third beatitude is:
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mt 5:5)

The idea of meek takes on a negative slant if we think it means being ‘weak and timid’. I do not think that this is what Jesus means here. Look up the dictionary and we would see words like “humble”, “patient” and “not resentful despite being injured”. These are words that would describe Christ in His Passion! In His Passion, Christ was definitely not weak and timid. He was strong, courageous and able to deny himself, leading to the self-emptying that St. Paul would refer to in his letter to the Philippians (2:7)

In vocation discernment, being meek is a useful trait. We actively put down the self-serving inner voice within us to allow that which is humble and receptive in us to truly listen to what God wants. A true meekness will bring down the strongest spritual pride. Only when we know that we are empty can we allow ourselves to be filled with God's spirit. We must not think that this means we should blindly follow eastern meditative methods found in Hinduism and Buddhism. Instead, we should have the disposition of the person who wrote Psalm 8:

When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou hast established;

what is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him?

Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
and dost crown him with glory and honor.

We are nothing compared to the greatness of God. Yet God allows us to consider lofty ideals. This truthful assessment of who we are would allow us to deny ourselves and allow God to take over. In meekness we allow God to take over in our prayer. In meekness we listen more than we talk.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Those Who Mourn

The second beatitude goes thus:
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Mt 5:4)

When we mention mourning, we indicate that we have suffered a loss — usually the loss of a loved one. In every stage of our lives, we make choices. Choices always involves rejection and rejection always means a loss. Every loss has its impact. It may be very small or very large. It may be positive or negative. The intensity of mourning is dependent on the kind of impact resulting from a choice. (see here for my ideas regarding choice.)

In discerning a vocation, there is always a loss of something and we have to mourn that loss. Until we have made peace with ourselves regarding that loss, our intentions accompanying the choice in discernment needs purification. In the purification of intention during the journey towards the diocesan priesthood (indeed for any vocation), there is a great need to mourn and grieve the loss that results from a choice to answer that particular call from the Lord.

This is not to say that we need a hundred percent purified intention to make that final “yes” to the Lord. I was reasonably sure of the Lord’s call when I entered the seminary and was even more certain when I applied for the priesthood. Yet, I am still mourning the loss of the opportunity to form my own family. There are times when I wonder what it would be like if I had my own family. There is a small tinge of regret that indicates to me that my mourning is still not over. However, the important thing is to identify that loss and to begin the grieving process. As long as this is not done, we will be afraid to say “yes” to the Lord and whatever He wants of us.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Poor in Spirit

Yes, it is holidays for the seminarians and the buildings at Kampung Punggol are quiet. However, I have had time of reflection. There are nine more days before Christmas. I had to conduct a recollection and had prepared a series of reflections based on the Beatitudes. I thought that I could share my reflections within the context of the vocation journey. They are short and (hopefully) useful for those in the process of discernment or thinking of entering into a discernment process for a priestly vocation.

The first beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We need to be poor in spirit to follow Christ as Christians. For the priestly vocation, this becomes more important. In the first place, one discerning has to be honest when comparing himself to the Lord who calls him. What does a creature know that his God doesn’t? Of course, the Creator knows more than His creature. In fact, the Creator knows what’s best for the creature. In the discernment of a priestly vocation, we try to determine whether God is calling us to be a priest: Is it God’s will that I become a priest? Many who are taken up by the attractions of the world would be alarmed if God called them because a priest, especially the diocesan priest, is supposed to live a life that is in the world but not of the world (see John 17:11-18). If they sincerely wanted to do what God wanted, they would have to bend their wills to the will of God. In order to do that, they would have to be emptied of their own desires and to be filled up with the spirit of God. Poverty of spirit is required to do what God wills.

The converse is also true. There are those who want to be priests but it is not what God wants of them. They are attracted to the priesthood and so they pursue it. Being a priest is a good thing except when it is contrary to what God wants. A true poverty of spirit will lead them to realise that which God wills.

Thus in discernment, we need to be very sure which is our will and which is God’s will. For a true poverty of spirit, God's will must have a priority over our will. Even if what God wills is the same as what we desire, there is a difference between the following two statements:
I want what God wants.

God wants what I want.

We have to ensure that God’s will is prior, or takes priority, over what we desire. For all of us who are discerning, we must first honestly differentiate between what we want and the will of God. Then in a true poverty in spirit, submit to the will of God.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Homily Preached at Our 25th Anniversary Mass

Homily delivered by His Grace Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, Apostolic Nuncio on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of

St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary, Singapore

- 1st December 2008 -

Your Grace Archbishop Nicholas Chia, Archbishop of Singapore,

Your Excellencies,

Reverend Father William Goh, Rector of St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary,

Reverend Fathers, Religious Brothers and Sisters and Seminarians,

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I rejoice at being with you as we come together to celebrate with love and thanksgiving the 25th Anniversary of St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary. I thank His Grace Archbishop Nicholas Chia and Rev. Fr. William Goh, the Rector for inviting me to grace this occasion. And, I wish all of you, “A Happy Anniversary!”

We are celebrating today the 25th Anniversary of the Catholic Major Seminary in Singapore and the feast of its Patron Saint, St Francis Xavier, with the theme “Proclaiming the Glory of the Lord as Teacher, Ministers and Leaders”. This chosen theme is a very fitting one for this great Jubilee Year dedicated to St. Paul, a teacher of the Gentiles, an Apostle and herald of Jesus Christ. As the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI said, “the task of proclamation and the call to suffering in communion with Christ are inseparable in the life of St. Paul. Yet, what most deeply motivated him was being loved by Jesus Christ and the desire to communicate this love to others” (c.f. First Vespers Homily: Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, 28 June 2008).

We also commemorate today the solemnity of St. Francis Xavier, the apostle of the Far East, missionary and patron saint of the missions - the patron saint of the Catholic Major Seminary in Singapore. St. Francis Xavier is being recognized as a most remarkable person, fired with enthusiasm and love for Jesus Christ. While teaching at the world famous University of Paris, the question: “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul?” profoundly touched him and brought him to such a compelling missionary enthusiasm and love of Jesus. Because of his unwavering zeal for the proclamation of the Gospel and heroic labors for the greater glory of God in Goa, South East Asia (we might include Singapore as well), Japan and the islands near China, the Church made him the patron saint of all the missionaries and missionary work.

St. Francis Xavier was indeed inspired by the love of God and wanted to share with other people that peace which comes from knowing that we are loved and guided by God's truth. This missionary spirit empowered him to set out for a continent whose diversity of languages and cultures was not familiar to him. He rejoiced in afflictions and sufferings and said that one who had once experienced the sweetness of suffering for Christ, will ever after find it worse than death to live without a cross. Thus, he kept in him the horror of sins committed by the world and took upon himself acts of penance for the forgiveness of the sins of others. The spirituality behind the missionary activities of St. Francis Xavier consisted of “the glory of God, the paschal love of the crucified Christ and the salvation of souls which also guided his apostolic personality” (Card Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State of His Holiness on the occasion of the conclusion of the 500th anniversary of St. Francis Xavier at Pontifical Urban University, Rome, on 5 December 2006).

In today’s Gospel, taken from the liturgy of the feast of St. Francis Xavier, Jesus, before being taken up into heaven, commanded his apostles: "Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:15-16).

Jesus' departure and ascension into heaven was both an end and a beginning for his disciples. While it was the end of Jesus' physical presence with his beloved disciples, it marked the beginning of Jesus' presence among them in a new way. Jesus promised that he would be with them always to the end of time. As the glorified and risen Lord and Savior, ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven, Jesus promised to send them the Holy Spirit who would anoint them with power on the Feast of Pentecost, just as Jesus was anointed for his ministry at the River Jordan. When the Lord Jesus departed physically from the apostles, they were not left in sorrow or grief. Instead, they were filled with joy and with great anticipation for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus' last words to his apostles point to his salvific mission and to their own mission: to be witnesses of his saving death and his glorious resurrection and to proclaim the good news of salvation to all the world. Their task is to proclaim the good news of salvation, not only to the people of Israel, but to all the nations because “the Lord” as today’s first reading from the prophet Zephaniah said, “will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord” (cf. Zephaniah 3:9). Thus, God's love and gift of salvation is not just for a few or for a nation, but it is for the whole world – for all who will accept it. The gospel is the power of God, the power to forgive sins, to heal, to deliver from evil and oppression and to restore life.

Dear brothers and sisters, what drives these individuals whom we call "Saints" - like St. Paul and St. Francis Xavier - to give up everything in the pursuit of their mission of proclaiming the Gospel? They believe in the message and call of Christ because their faith tells them that it is the only hope given to us for our salvation. St. Paul, in today’s second reading, wrote to the Romans: “By believing that Jesus is Lord from the heart, you are made righteous; by confessing with your lips you are saved” (cf. Romans 10: 9-10).Yet, primarily it is their love for God and for humanity that keeps them going and doing the things that they are committed to pursue for the greater glory of God and for his Kingdom.

This is the great commission which the risen Christ gives to the whole church as well - to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation (cf. Mk. 16:15). All believers have been given a share in this task - to be heralds of the good news and ambassadors for Jesus Christ, the only savior of the world. Let us heed and be encouraged by the words of St. Paul, the great Apostle and herald of Jesus Christ: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:16). We are not left alone in this task, for the risen Lord works in and through us by the power of his Holy Spirit. Even today we witness a new Pentecost as the Lord pours out his Holy Spirit upon his people to renew and strengthen the body of Christ and to equip it for effective ministry and mission world-wide.

Finally, as the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in his message for this 45th World Day of Prayer for Vocations said: “the Church is missionary as a whole and in each one of its members; because of the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, every Christian is called to witness and to announce the Gospel – the gospel of love”, I wish to encourage all of you - particularly seminarians and young people involved in a vocational journey - not to be afraid but to be open to Christ, who is inviting each and everyone of you to be, like the apostles, St. Paul and St. Francis Xavier, living witnesses of Jesus. The Holy Father prays for you, dear seminarians and young people that “you may indeed feel the attraction of definitive choices, of a serious and demanding formative process as the high standard of discipleship alone fascinates and gives joy” (Piazza della Vittoria, Genoa, Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Sunday, 18 May 2008).

I sincerely pray, together with you, dear brothers and sisters that St. Francis Xavier, the ‘Patron of Missions’ and a great apostle of Evangelization may help and inspire us to continue in his footsteps of preaching the good news to the whole world that the Word of God be able to reach the utmost limits of the earth! May it be, indeed, able to find its way to every human heart!

While wishing all of you a joyful and meaningful Silver Jubilee Celebration, invoking the maternal protection of Mary, Queen of the apostles, and the intercession of St. Francis Xavier, I convey the Apostolic Blessing of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on each and every one of you.


Dear friends,

Sorry that we have been pretty quiet here at Kampung Punggol blog. Its been a terribly hectic time for all of us. We were having our exams which only ended on 28 Nov 08 which was immediately followed by our seminary's 25th Anniversary celebrations. The celebration was a time for us to welcome back many treasured friends of our seminary and it was especially a time of giving thanks for God's faitthfulness over these past 25 years.

Our year end holidays began with the end of the 25th Anniversary Dinner on Monday night and I think all of us seminarians were certainly glad that it was finally time for us to take a breather and to wind down from the months of our hectic schedule. The past few days were spent cleaning up our rooms in seminary and shifting into our new rooms, for most of us Singaporean Seminarians, whilst most of our Malaysian brothers have already made their way back home.

We certainly hope to update all of you, our dear friends of Kampung Punggol blog ,about our past few months in the days to come but do be patient as holidays are usually just as busy for us as well :)

In the mean time, do keep us in prayer as all of us return home to our families to celebrate the birth of our Saviour and also return to our home parishes to be amongst the parish communities which helped nurture our vocations. Do also pray for 4 of our Alumni of our seminary; one of our brothers will be ordained a priest on 8 Dec 08 for the Catholic Church of Brunei and 3 of our brothers will be ordained Deacons for the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur. So do join us in praying for them as well.

Wishing all of you a blessed Advent!