Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Pomp and Circumstance

It's Graduation time in the Philippines and everyone from day-care centres to nursery, prep and kindergarten levels and of course elementary, high school and college levels are holding 'Commencement' ceremonies and children are dressed in mortarboards and gowns (strangely in white) and be-medalled. It's all rather bizarre to see a four year old togged up like this and with a huge mortarboard on his head marching to the tune of Elgar's 'Pomp and Circumstance March' (or "Land of Hope and Glory")!

I am somewhat puzzled: why call it a Commencement when it happens at the end of the academic year? I was told it was the commencement of the rest of one's life. Well... perhaps we should have one such ceremony everyday then! I'm afraid it is yet another Americanism I shall not understand...

Looking at the mortarboards today (and I had ample time in the 4 hour ceremony!!) I was wondering why such a ridiculous looking hat should signify learning... why balance a board with a tassel on one's head?! I searched the Net but none came up with a very good reason or anything new to enlighten me. I already know that the current academic cap is an elaboration of the biretta (a clerical cap) which itself evolved from the cap used by academics (almost all clergy) to keep themselves warm and protect the clerical tonsure! The biretta (seen above) may still be used by all clergy and seminarians and indeed in the photo above, Dominican students at the CUA are seen graduating in their birettas and rightly so, that these original academic caps are used in their original context! It is said that the mortarboard evolved from the biretta, the tuft being an extension of the biretta's central pom-pom. But why the flat board?! I have yet to discover how the dignified biretta evolved this strange board that so resembles the ancient headgear of Chinese emperors!

Any suggestions?

Anyway, if you wanted to know more about the history and use of the academic cap, check out this Kiwi website...

It has to be said, the academic cap was originally for Masters, ie those who taught in colleges. Eventually, it was extended to graduates at university level. How it came to be worn by pre-school 'graduates' is a most unforseen and unnatural development of its use!!

Monday, March 28, 2005

Gaudium Paschale

One of the things I have realised during the past year in Manila, living among the poor of the city (and it was exactly a year on Easter Sunday), is that poverty means living with uncertainty and a lack of security. I think this is why the people I have met place so much of their trust in God and hope in his grace and mercy. They do not depend on wealth or power or influence or position. They do not depend on their knowledge or strength or the government and due authority. They have learnt that they can depend on no one but God because life is so fraught with uncertainty.

We too who hail from the more prosperous countries of South East Asia and the West would benefit from this lesson - to trust not in princes or in wealth but in the Lord who is risen. In the midst of the apostles' uncertainties and fears and the anxieties of Mary Magdalene, apostle to the apostles, Jesus rose from the dead, vanquishing sin and death to proclaim that he overcomes all our fears, all our unncertainties and pain. The one thing that we can be certain about because Christ is risen is this: He will make all things well; even death is not final; even the bleakest uncertainties will have an Easter outcome.

It is this faith, this certitude that the Filipino people exemplify so amply in their daily lives. In this sense, Easter is everyday here in the Philippines for these are people of hope in the hardest situations, faith even when battered by corruption, oppression and evil and Resurrection joy!

Why this meditation on uncertainty? Simply because this blog is over 24 hours late. I had wanted to share an Easter message with everyone at 2am on Easter Sunday as I came in from the Easter vigil... but the phones were dead and I could not get online. We had no idea why the phones in the entire area were dead and we did not know when we could get it back. We lived in helpless uncertainty. It is the same when the electricity is cut and we remain without for hours on end and wonder when it will come back. Or when the water supply to my room runs dry and I have to lug gallons of water from the main tap up the stairs and I wonder how many days or weeks this drought will persist. The very amenities we take for granted in the First World are the things we can not be certain will not fail us. And this is just the beginning of the list of uncertainties here in the Philippines...

This afternoon, the phones were restored. No one knows what caused their failure to begin with and no one asks. We just accept that these uncertainties are a part of life and we are thankful for their restoration. I know I am. I used to take things for granted... but now, I am thankful. I may still complain... but I am thankful and grateful for the many blessings and gifts that come from the Father above.

But today in particular, I am thankful for salvation won for us by Christ through his redeeming death and his glorious Resurrection!

ALLELUIA! This day was made by the Lord. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! ALLELUIA!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Pope John Paul II's witness

Recently, I have taken to reading 'The Guardian' online and have found quite a few of its articles to be thought provoking and helpful.

This comment by Martin Kettle, who is neither Catholic nor Christian is interesting and says something about the witness the Pope wants to give to suffering, ageing, mortality. It is a noble witness indeed and one I personally find difficult and heart-breaking to watch. But watch we must for all of us at some stage will sicken, age and die. It is part of the human condition.

Seldom is this played out on the world stage but John Paul II is determined that his witness to the Cross is seen by all people. Brave, heroic and challenging in a world where the elderly are often shunted aside or disrespected.

As ever, I salute the Holy Father for his example and thank God for him.

The Mysteries of HTML

Well, it took me over an hour to figure out but I think I've got it fixed...

I was really disappointed this afternoon when I tried to show my blog to Fr Terry, OP and all I got on his computer was some text and black images saying "This image hosted by Angelfire"... and what an ungracious host it is! I scouted around the web and noted that Angelfire does not allow hotlinking, hence my pictures did not load. For some strange reason when I looked at my blog on my computer, they always loaded whether I used Internet Explorer or Firefox (now my preferred browser).

So, I looked around... I tried Flickr (whom I already had an account with) but was not too successful. So I went to Snapfish (whom I also had an account with but only to view a friend's photos.) Snapfish worked and is now hosting the images on this blog. However, they limit the display size of the image so I needed a more 'generous' host for the large title image of the blog.

I searched more and found PicPlace, a free image host. I uploaded the file and so far, so good: it is displaying and loading fairly quickly. I had to load my profile picture there because Blogger did not accept urls of over 68 characters (Duh?! Why?!!) and Snapfish has very long and convolued urls...

So, thanks to these two hosts... I hope it continues to work in the long run!!

As for HTML. It amazes me how each computer displays and interprets the code differently. Certainly, what I see on my computer surpasses what is shown on the computers in our computer centre here in the parish. I used their PCs to check the blog was working but was not entirely satisfied with the text. The font was different and there were italics where there ought not to be... Odd. Maybe I need to brush up on my HTML and tidy up the coding...

Anyone out there with advice or help, please feel free to comment or email me! It's all a mystery to me...

Witness to suffering

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.

These words by Samuel Crossman offer ample reflection on the events of Good Friday. After the emotions and tense liturgies of yesterday, there is a palpable hush today. All is quiet as we sit and reflect and await the celebration of the Resurrection.

In 2000, I had the opportunity to visit Turin as a pilgrim and see the famous Shroud which is displayed for public viewing only periodically. In fact, there have only been five 'Expositions' snce 1898. It was a moving experience to behold this long linen cloth on which is imprinted the front and back of a crucified and scourged man. Since then, it has been my custom to gaze on the image of the Shroud on this day - Holy Saturday - and to contemplate Christ in the tomb and his suffering for our sins.

Much ink has been spilt over the authenticity of the Shroud but whether it is Christ or not, the Shroud still bears witness to a man who suffered scourging and crucifixion and possibly 'crowning' with thorns. The Church has made no firm judgment either way except to say that it is a powerful aid to devotion and prayer and indeed it is. Nevertheless, this is a highly unusual relic and scientists have been baffled by it. Recently this year, a scientist who examined it in 1978 puclicly doubted the accuracy of carbon-dating tests imposed on it. To read more, click the link below:

Facts about the Shroud
is a great site that will take you through some of the scientific wonders about this item... it should satisfy the skeptic among us.

As for me, my on-going fascination and reading about the Shroud for over ten years makes me believe that this may well be the real McCoy... the very linen cloth which Luke says: "Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves..." (Lk 24:12)

Friday, March 25, 2005

O vos omnes qui transitis per viam...

O all ye that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow... (Lamentations 1:12)

Beginning at 7.30 this morning, almost fifty teenagers and young adults had gathered in church for the 'Senakulo', a live Passion play and re-enactment of the Way of the Cross. This dramatic kind of street evangelization goes out into the streets, highways, alleys and neighbourhoods of the parish. Throngs of children and adults run along, following the actors who pause fourteen times along their way and form a tableau of a Biblical scene from the Passion of Jesus Christ.

As the drama of Christ's journey to Calvary unfolds, anyone following along can get caught up in the emotion and turmoil of the journey. I feel taken back to that fateful day when Christ climbed the Via Dolorosa. People are going about their business, in cars, jeepneys, tricycles; some are at the market, others fishing in the river, still others playing basketball or just loitering. In the midst of all this irrupts the strange sight of three men carrying crosses accompanied by shouting soldiers and a riotous mob. No wonder the people stop and stare...

Some look on, curious but baffled. Others look on indifferently, irritated by the noise and chaos. Still others look on in faith or sympathy and follow along. I expect the reaction of the folk of Jerusalem almost two millenia ago was not very different. But so many look and do not see. They do not "attend" and empathise with the sorrow and suffering of the Lord. This happens too, day after day in Manila as we go our way, and ignore the countless poor and hungry who traipse the streets trying to make a living and survive...

But I - we, Christians who are following this Way of the Cross have something to learn from a devotional exercise such as this: we literally become caught up in the drama of salvation as it unfolds before our eyes. Somehow, my imagination transports me to that dusty Jerusalem road and I am there, following Jesus... it is a powerful meditation on Christ's sufferings for us as well as a reminder that each day, we are called to follow Jesus by denying ourselves and carrying our cross... in the midst of life and humanity as these swirl around us. Moreover, it is also a powerful reminder of the very presence of Christ suffering in the streets of Manila and countless other places around the world. He is there in the face of the poor, faces so ugly to some that we shield our faces... (cf Isaiah 53:3)

Over two hours after we began the Senakulo with an enactment of the Agony in Gethsemane, we come off the dusty and grimy streets and return to the parish compound and watch as the three men are 'nailed' to crosses and then lifted up.

When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself... (Jn 12:32)

I hope that this day and especially the Senakulo does draw people closer to Christ, beginning with myself, a poor sinner! May the witness of so many to his great love bring even more to Jesus.

To all my readers, friends and family: A Blessed and Holy Good Friday!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Bisita Iglesia

Lent ends today and we enter the Triduum - literally, the 'Three Days'. The liturgy of the Church enters its most holy and important period now as we begin the solemn commemoration of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord. Liturgically, the Triduum is marked as one entire event or celebration hence we begin in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit this evening but no dismissal or blessing is given until after the Vigil of Easter...

Here in the Philippines there is sense of hushed busy-ness as preparations are made for the Triduum. Tonight, there will be the Mass of the Lord's Supper at which the feet of twelve men are washed and then the vigil of watching with Christ in the Garden until midnight. It is customary for each parish to set up beautiful and creative 'Altars of Repose' for this purpose and people visit one church after another all night, spending time in prayer with the Lord. The photo above is from last year's Triduum and was taken at San Jose, the oldest church in Navotas.

Even now, we are still completing our Altar of Repose and the church is being stripped of its purple Lenten hangings and replaced with white for this evening of surpressed joy. In England, the Queen celebrates the Royal Maundy (from the Latin 'mandatum' or commandment) and washes the feet of her subjects in imitation of the Lord's humble service and example of love. This is borne out in the Mass tonight as the Pope (if he were well), cardinals, bishops and priests kneel to wash the feet of parishioners and others; a clear reminder of Christian service.

As a beautiful liturgical chant (one of many used tonight) says: Where charity and love are found, there is God.

In another part of the parish, young people have gathered to practice for the Passion Play tomorrow, a live enactment of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ which is performed on the streets of the parish; a tremendous witness and act of evangelization.

All these preparations are most apt, for the Gospels also recount the apostles setting out, on Jesus' instructions, to make preparations for the celebration of the Passover; His Passover... (cf Mk 14:12-16). But even as all these external preparations are going on, I am mindful of the need to prepare my heart to witness again the acts of Christ's love for humanity, to reflect on the mirabilia Dei and to follow Christ's self-giving example. These spiritual preparations must precede all the others if the Triduum is to be fruitful for me; if I too am going to die and rise with Christ!

To aid my contemplation of these events, I am planning to watch The Passion of the Christ again... after the Church Visiting, of course!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, Hyacinths are...?

Years ago when I was living in Washington DC, I recall being quite enchanted by a black tulip. Now Midnight Mystique has been cultivated for our delectation. Biologically, I think flowers tend to have bright colours to attract insects to pollinate them. Black, the absence of colour, is thus an anomaly. However, this hyacinth is reported to have a very strong scent - indeed most hyacinth have a lovely fragrance... until they are past their sell-by date - which may compensate for the colour in order to attract insects.

This hybird has taken 16 years to cultivate and is reportedly taking the gardening world by storm. I expect it'll be much talked about at Chelsea in May - one of my favourite events on the British calendar!

I am not sure why, maybe it is the sheer rarity of the colour, but there is something breath-taking about black flowers. Imagine a display of black and white flowers - How chic! How elegant! And O! How Dominican! Of course they may also become the flower of choice for the next Goth wedding... oh dear!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Betrayed by a Friend

Holy Week is arguably the most important and eventful week in the Christian calendar. It is also the most dramatic. Beginning with Palm Sunday, people gather in church clutching beautiful fronds of plaited palm. They joyously and even riotously wave them in the air to welcome the Lord as they recall Jesus' triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. But as the hymn reminds us: "Ride on, ride on in majesty; in lowly pomp, ride on to die..."

And so we are reminded of the purpose of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem... Holy Week proceeds with a sense of momentum and escalating climax as we reach Good Friday and then enter the lull of Holy Saturday before emerging into the noise-some joy of Easter Sunday.

Tomorrow, the Philippines closes down for the Easter commemorations and there is a palpable sense of tension in the air as this year, there are fears of terrorist attacks on churches in Metro Manila. Consequently, some 15,000 policement have been dispatched throughout the city's churches.

Tomorrow is known in some places as 'Spy Wednesday' and thus the Gospel at Mass recounts Judas' betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Some of you may recall how this was dramatically portrayed in Mel Gibson's movie last year. A reviewing of this movie at this time of the year would be amble meditation on the Passion of Jesus the Christ for us... Quite apart from the physical torment of the Lord on the Cross, I imagine the emotional and psychological anguish of being betrayed by one's closest friend. Judas, after all, was in the specially chosen circle of the Twelve, he ate and drank with the Lord, he saw his works and heard him preach. And still this man, misunderstanding perhaps the mission of Christ and having lost faith in him (as portrayed in 'The Miracle Maker') handed him over to the authorities in exchange for money.

I wonder how often we find ourselves in that position, when we betray a person or a cause for money or some similarly inconsequential thing. Or why do some priests and preachers lament when their efforts seem to bear no fruit? The Master himself saw one of his closest betray him in reward for his efforts... Should we expect any more? Indeed any 'success' we then find is a grace and truly only the work of the risen Lord. Non nobis Domine...

On a lighter note, it is worth noting that the name 'Spy Wednesday' is another one of these quaint English names for ecclesiastical events. Another example is Shrove Tuesday for the custom of receiving confession on that day before Lent. 'Shrove' is derived from the Middle English and Latin for 'to write' [one's penance]. On this day it is customary in England to eat pancakes in order to use up the eggs one had before the fasting of Lent which forbade eggs and dairy. Although few people fast in this manner now, many still eat the pancakes. The sacraments themselves had unique names (apart from Shriving): Christening for baptism, Priesting for ordination et al.

As a reflection this Holy week, I offer the words of one of my favourite hymns by Samuel Crossman (1624-1683):

Sometimes they strew his way,
And his sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their king:
Then 'Crucify' is all their breath,
And for his death they thirst and cry.

Monday, March 21, 2005

...Have you any wool?

Language is fascinating. I often find myself wondering how people came up with words; how we agreed that red was red and table was table (in our respective languages, of course!).

Tagalog, the dominant language of the Philippines, from which Pilipino, the national language is largely derived, is a particularly onomatopoeic language. Among its peculiarities is the pronunciation of 'ts' as 'ch'. So for example, 'tsinelas' is pronounced 'chee-neh-las' which means sandals. Or the popular spit-roast pig fiesta dish is called 'Litson', pronounced as 'Lit-chon'. Chinese people living in the Philippines are called Tsinoy... you guessed it, 'Chinoy'.

The other unusual thing for me was to see masses of vowels strung together and to have to pronounce each vowel separately. I know languages like Latin have this too but it is unusual when two or more of the same vowels are together and for one not to elide them.

'Yes' in Pilipino is 'Oo' and is not meant to sound like a gasp of awe but rather a staccato 'Oh-oh' (... you're in trouble!!?) Another one is 'Maaari' which basically means 'May I'. Each vowel is distinctly enunciated even if in quick staccatos...

Finally, a sentence that causes me no end of amusement: "Bababa ba?" which translates into 'Are you going down?". If one asked that of the lift operator in a mall, he could simply respond "Bababa!" and by the accent and inflexion of his voice indicate that he is taking the elevator down...

And all along, I thought the next line was "... have you any wool?"

Resistance is futile...

Friends have been pressing me for months now to start a blog but I resisted. My excuse was a lack of a high-speed internet connection. Instead I continued to write my odd musings in a file on my laptop and occasionally share them in a mass email to friends and family... Nonetheless, I was intrigued by what others wrote and perhaps somewhat intimidated by the eloquence, wit and sheer finesse of a lot of what I saw and read. So again, I resisted the urge. But now that we have the luxury of a DSL connection in my room here in Manila and given the sheer quantity of random thoughts that cross my mind plus the fact that friends and family encourage me to keep some kind of blog, I have decided (against my better judgment) to give it a go.

I trust this is a prudent decision to make. Nothing ventured, nothing gained or as Lao Tzu put it: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

I cannot imagine who would possibly find this blog interesting; perhaps nobody! It is simply reflections, musings and the odd (in every sense of that word) thought from the limits of my experience, readings and being. Philosophical perhaps, pondering but not ponderous I hope and light at times. There is levity in all things even if I don't always see it...

A lot of it will, I anticipate, be ecclesiastical, cultural (in the best sense of the word) and Catholic (in every respect, I hope) in the Dominican tradition. Above all, I hope it is a bit of me to the world; it is the fruit of my contemplation of these and other matters.