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

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Feedback on the Corpus Christi post

Feedback on the post for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ has been most positive and I admit I am very happy indeed when my random thoughts are actually beneficial to others.
Blogging is an unusual experience for me: I do share some rather personal and precious thoughts with the world at large and in a sense this is a risk. I never really know who is reading... But in a sense, I see this as the sowing of the seed of God's Word. The watering, the harvesting and the reaping is entirely His work and at His disposition.

I never really know who's life this blog touches but if it does indeed reach out to someone, I thank the Holy Spirit for this grace. It touches me and moves my faith when someone tells me that a post has helped them. And, I admit, I feel a bit proud of myself too!!

The Corpus Christi post was used by Fr Allan V. Lopez, OP (who is depicted in the photo that accompanies the post) for a talk to the Kalookan diocese for the Feast. It was then submitted by a Catechist of that diocese for publication in the Archdiocese of Manila newsletter for the benefit of the (sizeable) Catechetical Ministry of the Archdiocese.

I am indeed humbled by this great privilege, especially when I consider that the Archdiocese of Manila alone numbers more Catholics than in all of Britain. God has been good indeed to me, his lowly servant, that I may be used for his greater glory and the good of His Church.

So, keep the feedback, good or bad, coming! Thanks for reading...

Generation gaps in ideology

There has been a fair bit of ink spilt over the French 'Non' vote with regard to the European Constitution. Jacques Chirac, whose baby it was, is understandably upset by the negative vote of his compatriots. However, his approach seems to be to push it forward at a later date and he believes (along with many Eurocrats) that re-education is what the French need.

It is a strange sight, when ideologues cling to decades-old concerns which are simply no longer relevant to the current generation. The older generations who see their life's work shunned or shot down by the newer generation dismiss this as youthful inexperience or lack of education or awareness. The answer is to teach and to do so more forcefully; in other words, to indoctrinate the young to think like the older. But that, as any good parent would tell us, is not what leading means. A good parent or leader listens to the voices of today, discerns with the experience of yesterday and allows himself to share the concerns of the present age, of the young.

A similar scenario exists in some sectors and enclaves of the Church herself - formators, rectors, ideologues of a passing generation press their viewpoints and fears onto the current generation. Rather than to mould the youth in the image of Christ and his Church, who is ever "nova et vetera" (new and yet ancient), some seek to form the newer generation of seminarians and religious in the likeness of themselves. Some appeal to a spurious "Spirit of Vatican II" to bolster their arguments but ironically reject the authentic interpretation of this same spirit by such figures as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, who were actually present at the Council.In short, the spectre of the 1960s and 1970s still haunts them and they, with admittedly good intentions, seek to prepare the younger ones for an age which no longer exists. They read the "signs of the times", indeed of their time but have not carried on reading.

For the tricky thing about Time is that 'tick' follows 'tock' and it inexorably carries on without us and those who do not move along are left behind. Ideologues who live in the past are the ones left behind: visionaries of a past, dreamers of a self-contained future... Often this leaves us with a tension between the young and the older.

With regard to the above, Freddie Sayers, 23, reflects on the irrelevance of 'Europe' for our generation. It formed the impetus for this post. However, there is another reflection, by fr Timothy Radcliffe, OP - a wise leader, if ever there was one - and his words on the matter are instructive for the Church and all ages:

"This tension is ultimately fruitful and necessary for the Order. Accepting the young into the Order challenges us. Just as the birth of a child changes the life of the whole family, so each generation of of young who come to us change the brotherhood. You come with your questions to which we have not always got the answers, with your ideals, which may reveal our inadequacies, your dreams which we may not share. You come with your friends and your families, your cultures and your tribes. You come to disturb us, and that is why we need you. Often you come demanding what is indeed central to our Dominican life, but which we may have forgotten or belittled: a more profound and beautiful common prayer; a deeper fraternity in which we care more for each other; the courage to leave behind our old commitments and take to the road again... We need to be renewed by those who have been caught by enthusiasm for Dominic's vision. We must not recruit you to fight our old battles... We are bound together as a community by the stories of the past as well as by the dreams of the future... So brotherhood is based on more than a single vision. It is built patiently, by learning to listen to each other, to be strong and to be fragile, learning fidelity to each other and love of the brethren."

If Europe and indeed the Church desires greater unity, fr Radcliffe's words are a good map for the way forwards.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Mary's Magnificat

I am leading a Eucharistic Service, or what I prefer to give a more historical and elegant name, "The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts" tomorrow, so I've been working on a reflection for tomorrow's Feast of the Visitation which I include here:

"The scene depicted by St Luke which we have just heard in today’s Gospel is familiar to us. Indeed, it forms the basis of the second joyful mystery of the Rosary which we prayed earlier. It is a scene favoured in art (shown above in stained glass from Sto Domingo Church, Manila) and it culminates in the ‘Magnificat’, Mary’s song of praise. The 'Magnificat’ is probably the only Biblical text to have been set to music by such an array of composers. Ever since St Luke attributed these words to Our Lady, they have been lovingly sung by Christians of every generation and musicians have clothed the familiar words in glorious music. Indeed, the Church in her liturgy of the hours, prays the ‘Magnificat’ every evening during ‘Vespers’. It forms the highlight of that service of prayer and praise, when the baptised sing the words of Mary, which have resonated down the generations.

And this is fitting. For Mary is intimately united to the Church. As the Second Vatican Council taught: “For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother.” (LG 63). As our Mother and Model, the Blessed Virgin in her song, the ‘Magnificat’ gives us a fine example of praise and righteous prayer. Perhaps because these words are so familiar to us, we can run the risk of glossing over the very radical ideas contained within it and so, it is worth reminding ourselves again of just what the words of the ‘Magnificat’ may be calling us to.

In its structure, one can see the song echoes the Lord’s summation of the law: Love God and love your neighbour. These twin elements which can never be separated in the Christian life – and we receive very practical advice on this from St Paul in the first reading – are here in the Gospel beautifully expressed in Mary’s song.

Our Lady begins by praising God, the source and origin of her salvation. She magnifies him while emphasising her own lowliness, her nothingness in contrast to the greatness of God. She praises God and exults because she has him as her Saviour and has been looked upon with love by God. How wonderful are these words which express the attitude which each human person should have towards God, our Creator and Salvation! Truly, without God, we are nothing but because of his mercy and love towards us, we have cause to rejoice. To be truly joyful, which is an abiding interior disposition and not merely happy, which is often passing and transient. When humanity strives to become like gods, when we become over-inflated and hubristic, when we think we are our own salvation, we lose the inner joy and exultation that is ours, that Mary exemplifies. As she says “those who fear Him” will receive his mercy which reaches out to us. Perhaps a better way to understand this is to say that one should hold God in awe, for (again, as Mary says) he is holy and great. In a society which has lost that “profound respect” referred to by St Paul and even courtesy for one another, this value of awe, fear of the Lord is an important one to inculcate. As Ecclesiasticus says “To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” (Si 1:14).

However, balanced with our right relationship with God is a series of propositions on our right relationship with one another. It is the radical nature of this, Mary’s charter of social justice, if you like, that I wish to draw our attention to this morning.

The Lord will humble the proud-hearted. The translation used in the Anglican communion is indeed evocative: “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” The verbs used here are violent, forceful. The Lord will bare the power of his arm and his might (which Mary has already highlighted at the beginning) but he will not be beneficent towards those who are proud, conceited, puffed-up. Those who do not recognise their own lowliness and who lord it over others will be scattered, like autumn leaves before the wind. For those who are proud, who think themselves superior to others, for whatever reason, are proud in the “imagination of their hearts”. That is, they vainly imagine themselves to be better. The Lord will disabuse them of such vainglory and he may do so violently. In sickness, in death, in tragedy, rich and poor alike are reminded that we all share a common humanity, a great equality in the face of these great equalizers and the Lord alone delivers us from them.

Mary’s song takes on a political edge in this regard when she says that princes will be humbled from their thrones and the lowly shall be exalted. But this is no mere vision of egalitarian democracy, much less of Communist-style equality. Rather, we should be reminded of Christ’s words: “You have no power over me unless it had been given you from above…” (Jn 19:11) and again “All authority in heaven and earth have been given to me.” (Mt 28:18). What the ‘Magnificat’ affirms then is that power and authority are gifts from God and they are not to be exercised for selfish reasons but for Godly reasons. The Lord will put down those who rule his people with pride and greed. Many a corrupt regime has met its dramatic end in uprisings of the lowly poor. Mary’s words, in a sense, empower the lowly, the poor, the marginalised to rise up in God’s name to overthrow the oppression of self-serving governments; to depose haughty princes from their thrones.

The Lord will feed the hungry. Obviously he gives us the Bread of Life, the Body and Blood of his Son. But Mary is speaking here of something more immediate than just the spiritual. Her words are a reminder that all riches and goods come from him and we are to distribute these equitably. A person with a growling stomach is too distracted to listen to the Gospel being preached. Indeed, for the starving, the Gospel is being fed, being given a job, being given opportunities for a better life. Only when these basic needs have been met can they be ready to hear the Word of salvation. The 'Make Poverty History' campaign is a worthy cause indeed for it strives for precisely these initial objectives: to free the lowly from the shackles of debt and poverty, to encourage just trade structures to enable the hungry to be fed and educated and justly employed.

As Mary’s song reminds us today, we have a Christian duty to struggle with and for the poor, the hungry, the oppressed for justice and peace. When we; when the Church, prays the ‘Magnificat’, day after day, we are in fact calling to mind the radical values of Christian living which calls us to love one another and in so doing to love God. As I have said, the two aspects are inseparable. Indeed, as St Paul (in the first reading) says, we are to “make real friends with the poor” (Rom 12:16) and the Christian core of friendship is love. Again, as he says: “Love each other as much as brothers should” (Rom 12:10), and to love our brothers and sisters means that we reach out to others in love and work for a brighter, better tomorrow. In this, we have Mary, our Mother as our example, not just in the words of her ‘Magnificat’ but also in her actions – she who reached out in love to her elderly and pregnant cousin Elizabeth and “made hospitality her special care.” (cf Romans 12:13).

This example of self-giving finds its paragon in the person of Christ himself, whom we receive today in the Eucharist. May the grace of this sacrament move us to make Mary’s ‘Magnifcat’ our very own vision of the Kingdom, our charter for justice and peace. As Pope Benedict XVI said last month: “The Eucharist makes the Risen Christ constantly present, Christ Who continues to give Himself to us, calling us to participate in the banquet of His Body and His Blood. From this full communion with Him comes every other element of the life of the Church, in the first place the communion among the faithful, the commitment to proclaim and give witness to the Gospel, the ardour of charity towards all, especially towards the poor and the smallest.” (Message to the Cardinals, 20 April 2005)."

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Your grace is sufficient for me...

The Interviews are now over and I am happy to say that they went well. Cambridge was beautiful and peaceful and the community seemed joyful and welcoming. I can see myself there for a year as a novice! The photo above of St Dominic is from Blackfriars Cambridge. London was also wonderful and I find myself feeling quite at home there. The weather was hot indeed on Friday and I went to the National Gallery to seek refuge from the heat and to look at paintings of Dominicans! I was met at Leicester by a lovely lady doctor who is a friend of the Order and helps with the selection process. We had a lunch, a great chat about ourselves, families and life and then I was taken to Holy Cross Priory. The two interviews there also went well and I enjoyed my stay with the community there, including a lovely sung Latin Mass this morning and a delicious lunch cooked by one of the friars.

I am now back in Skipton and just waiting for the next steps... A good friend of mine suggested that I start a novena of prayers as I await the Coetus meeting and their decision. What a great idea! It will help to keep me sane anyway, as I am not the best at waiting patiently!

Sitting on the train today, I realised the very real possibility that I shall indeed become a Dominican novice in September this year and I considered anew all the sacrifices it will entail and indeed, the changes in my life. It is a definite step into a new way of life and I felt rather frightened. And in the middle of this fear and self-doubt I realised that the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience pushes us to a point where we need to rely solely on God and his grace.

For with God, nothing is impossible and he gives us the strength we need to live according to the ways he has called us to. If I relied on myself and my own strength, I know it would be impossible. I should be frightened! But if I learn to depend only on God he will be my strength, my refuge, my joy and my reward... And the very real prospect of one day taking these three vows of the evangelical counsels causes me to realise how much I need God's grace and presence day after day, every moment of my life and how I need to entrust all to him, surrender every area of my self to him and to hear him say again: "Do not be afraid!"

"O Lord, I am your servant,the child of your handmaid; you have freed me from my bonds. I will offer to you a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call upon the name of the Lord. I will fulfil my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people..." (Ps 116:14-16)

May St Dominic and all the saints of the Order be my guides!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Blogging from London

Here I am, sitting in an internet cafe on what is reputedly the warmest day in May since 1950! And indeed, it is rather sunny and warm today - about 30 C! I'm mad to be indoors on such a lovely day but such is my commitment to this blog and my faithful little band of readers!!

I want to thank those who have written and complimented me on the 'Corpus Christi' post. Seeing as none of the ideas are all that original, I think the credit goes to the Holy Father and Pope John Paul II. As for the editing involved in putting it together... all credit to the Holy Spirit and St Thomas Aquinas! Nonetheless, thank you for the kind comments and I am only happy that it was of some use to others.

Some people say blogging is self-indulgent but when other people find some value in what I post, I feel less guilty of this!

On the Interviews, I can say that I have been enjoying the last few days. Cambridge was beautiful and the community there was warm and friendly. I particularly enjoyed talking to the Novice Master and it was all very exciting when he measured me up for a habit! I had my interview in London (Priory shown above) this morning which again went well and tomorrow I am off to Leicester for the weekend. I hope my time there will continue in the same vein...

Of the three interviews I have had, I can disclose that all three have expressed their favourable impression of me and have also said they will vote positively at the Coetus meeting on 8 June. So... just two more interviews to go.

All this is the Lord's doing and I thank you for your prayers and support in this matter. Do continue to pray until I have met the Prior Provincial in June though and even then I hope you will keep me in your prayers as I seek to be faithful to God's call.

As ever, I entrust myself and the interviews and months ahead to Mary Immaculate, placing myself within the mantle of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Interviews Tour

From the early morning of Wednesday 25 May, the Feast of St Bede the Venerable until late on Sunday 29 May, I shall be in Cambridge, London and Leicester visiting the Dominican houses in those cities.

I shall be interviewed by 5 Dominican priests and one lay woman. These will constitute the formal Interviews for my Admission to the English Province of the Order of Preachers. I am actually rather looking forward to meeting them and to having these interviews. They all sound very friendly and joyful over the telephone!

Please pray for us as these interviews take place over the course of the week.

As such, I this blog will not be updated for the next few days but I trust there is more than enough to keep you busy reading, especially if you follow up all the links in the posts! This also explains why I have posted a reflection for Corpus Christi ahead of the Feast which falls on Thursday when I shall be in London.

I entrust the days ahead to Our Lady of the Rosary and St Dominic.
May He who has begun the good work bring it to fulfillment...

O Sacrament Most Holy! O Sacrament Divine!

The Servant of God, Pope John Paul the Great, in what would prove to be his last Apostolic Letter to the Church, called Christians everywhere to mark this year as the 'Year of the Eucharist'; calling "the whole Church to contemplate, praise, and adore in a special way this ineffable Sacrament"(Mane nobiscum Domine, 29). This would have a natural culmination on the Feast of Corpus et Sanguinis Christi - the Body and Blood of Christ.

For this Feast, instituted in 1264 was the apogee of Eucharistic devotion in the Middle Ages, that great 'age of faith'. Central to the feast is an exuberant celebration of the real and abiding Presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine. As such the wonderment of the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 4:7 takes on an extra dimension as the Christian people exclaim: "What other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God?" For indeed, ever since the Lord told his startled apostles gathered in the Cenacle on the night before his passion and death that the Bread and Wine of the Passover was his Body and Blood, and to celebrate just such a ritual in memory of him, there was a growing realization within the early Church of the great gift of love which the Eucharist constituted. As such, St John was able to reflect upon this awesome reality in his Gospel and insist that Jesus is "the living bread that came down from heaven" given to humankind "for the life of the world." (Jn 6:51).

This Feast remembers the Institution of the great gift that is the Eucharist at the Last Supper. As the Sequence of Corpus Christi composed by St Thomas Aquinas (who is reputed to have composed and compiled the entire Liturgy for the Feast) sings:

"Dies enim solemnis agitur, in qua mensae prima recolitur huius institutio..."
'For today is a most solemn festival, recalling how this sacred banquet was first instituted...' '

But St Thomas Aquinas also reminds us:
"Quod non capis, quod non vides, animosa firmat fides, praeter rerum ordinem."
'What you can neither grasp nor perceive is affirmed by ardent faith, beyond the natural order of things.'

This Feast of Corpus Christi has been aptly called by Pope Benedict XVI a "feast of faith". For without faith, one would simply walk away from the sheer scandal of God's love; God taking on flesh in the guise of Bread and Wine. For here indeed, under the discernable forms of Bread and Wine was the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, discernable only to those with the eyes and heart of faith. In fact St John records how the initial audience of Christ, hearing this hard teaching "turned back and no longer went about with him" (Jn 6:66) but the Twelve remained steadfast and Simon Peter, whose successor Pope Benedict XVI is, gave the Lord their proclamation of faith in Christ. And to this day, those who are united with St Peter and his successors proclaim with the same faith: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life..." (Jn 6:68). Countless saints and Christians down the ages beginning with the apostles, have proclaimed their faith with St Peter in the Lord's words, that his "flesh is true food and [his] blood is true drink." In the face of such an awesome mystery, a wonderment
of faith, how can we not kneel in adoration of this great Sacrament and give thanks to God for this tremendous Gift?

As the Sequence begins:
"Lauda Sion salvatorem... Quantum potes, tantum aude: quia maior omni laude, nec laudare sufficis."
'O Zion, praise your Saviour... Make your greatest effort, because he is greater than any praises and you cannot sufficiently praise him..."

This Feast of Corpus Christi allows us, the figurative Zion to publicly proclaim that faith in the Lord and his Eucharistic Presence, to praise our Saviour and in so doing, we proclaim true Communion - our unity as the "body of Christ" (cf Ephesians 4) with and through Christ. Sadly, these days, one does not often see the Feast celebrated with the greatest of effort. Or as another translation of the Sequence puts it: "Dare to do as much as you can, giving him due praise..."

Therein lies the crux of the matter - we no longer dare to do as much as we used to! So, Fr Aidan Nichols, OP asks rhetorically in this week's 'Catholic Herald':
"Does it seem now incredible that children once hushed their games, traders suspended their business, and gentlemen and ladies reined in their horses and dismounted at the well-known sound of that bell which told that our Lord in his Eucharistic Body was passing by...? Did people then really stop and kneel to repeat words of faith and adoration whereas now One stands among them who they do not know?"

Indeed, the hallmark of the Feast is the Eucharistic procession (depicted above in the Philippines) which was first attested in Cologne in 1277. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 1981, the Corpus Christi procession is special because it "takes place publicly and on a grand scale... in the joy of the Resurrection; the triumphal procession of the Lord, whom we publicly recognize as Lord, inviting him to take possession of our streets and squares." But many Catholics in Europe no longer seem to dare to publicly recognize the Lord in this manner, often for fear of causing offense to non-believers. Is this not perhaps also a sad reflection of the waning of faith in Europe? For as the Holy Father said: "Ultimately, then, Corpus Christi is an expression of faith in God, in love, in the fact that God is love." (cf Feast of Faith, pp127 - 135). But if that faith in the Eucharist as that expression of God-is-love is not grasped or perceived, then how can we expect Corpus Christi to be celebrated with the greatest effort and with all our daring and boldness? Rather, we huddle inside our churches, in political-correctness-induced caution and literally dare not take our faith onto the streets. Fr Nichols rightly calls the Corpus Christi procession an "icon of the re-conversion of England" but first, one has to be re-converted to faith in the Eucharist. One has to know the One who stands among them.

Pope Benedict XVI has emphasised the re-conversion of Europe as the thrust of his Pontificate and this Year of the Eucharist is indeed a good place for him to begin. As he said in his Address to the Cardinals after his Election:
"How could I fail to see this providential coincidence as an element that must mark the ministry to which I am called? The Eucharist, the heart of Christian life and the source of the Church's evangelizing mission, cannot but constitute the permanent centre and source of the Petrine ministry that has been entrusted to me."

And how will the Eucharist bring about the evangelization of Europe and the world? Pope John Paul II taught us:
"The dismissal at the end of each Mass is a charge given to Christians, inviting them to work for the spread of the Gospel and the imbuing of society with Christian values. The Eucharist not only provides the interior strength needed for this mission, but is also —in some sense—its plan. For the Eucharist is a mode of being, which passes from Jesus into each Christian, through whose testimony it is meant to spread throughout society and culture. For this to happen, each member of the faithful must assimilate, through personal and communal meditation, the values which the Eucharist expresses, the attitudes it inspires, the resolutions to which it gives rise." (Mane nobiscum Domine, 24-25)

Thus, it is the Eucharist itself, attended to with due devotion and prayer, that will bring about the conversion of individuals and thus the conversion of society. Eucharistic devotion, which will transform hearts and minds, will rejuvenate the faith of Europe. And it begins with each one of us as individuals being open to the values and attitudes which the Eucharist inspires. It begins with something as simple as simply being present before the Blessed Sacrament, something which more of us should do on a daily basis! This being present in the sight and company of the Lord requires faith but until we actually try and just do it, we shall never acquire it on our own merit... It is the Lord himself who will reward our little faith with so much more. He will reward us with his very self.

This essential "mode of being" which Pope John Paul II mentions is love. Love is the essence of the Eucharist and it is love which will transform our hearts, cause us to love more and so, as leaven in the world, proclaim by word and example to all people that God is love. Love and only love will transform Europe, the world. And the quintessence of self-giving love is the Eucharist, Jesus himself.

On my own part, I have sought to strengthen my faith in and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament in this Year of the Eucharist. I love this Sacrament - it is truly the source and summit of my Christian life, without which I would be lost and bereft, for it is Jesus himself whom I am in intimate communion with when I receive the Body and Blood of Christ. It is the grace of the Holy Spirit that floods my life and soul when I receive the Blessed Sacrament and this same Spirit prompts me to kneel in adoration before my Lord and my God, living in the Eucharist. Without this wondrous Gift, I would be, quite simply, nothing... Therefore, I am immensely grateful and endlessly thankful to the Father for the Gift of his Son through the working of the Spirit in this great Sacrament. With the Virgin Mary, from whose womb the Lord took flesh, I pray that my love for the Eucharist will transform my life and that it may impart me a heart of love and thankfulness; a eucharistic heart that will proclaim what the Holy Father calls "the world-embracing power of Jesus Christ's redeeming love".

For years I have seen this transformation of love flowing from the Eucharist, thanks to the witness and mission of 'Youth 2000' and I have seen broken and wounded lives healed and made whole by the embrace and welcoming love of the Father. I have seen loving communities form around a shared love for and adoration of the Eucharist, fruit of the Virgin's womb. And I have seen these communities bear brave witness to Christ's redemption and their joy in the Spirit. Each year in August, gathered in Walsingham with 'Youth 2000' around our Eucharistic Lord, I have beheld again and again how Christ's love transforms people and how they in turn slowly transform the society around them. Each year, at the 'Youth 2000' Prayer Festival, as we sing and dance around the Blessed Sacrament, and as I see a thousand people make the "greatest effort" to praise God, I catch a glimpse and a foretaste of the promise of the Eucharist which is so beautifully summed up by St Thomas Aquinas' Sequence:

"Tu qui cuncta scis et vales, qui nos pascis hic mortales: tu os ibi commensales, coheredes et sodales fac sanctorum civium."
'You who knows and can accomplish all things and who feeds us in this mortal life, make us your chosen guests, the co-heirs and companions of your saints in the heavenly city.'

With the grace of the Eucharist, that vision will become our reality. Amen!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Eric Gill

I decided to tinker around with the format and style of the blog today. I've been looking around the blog world and have been dissatisfied with the basic style of this blog for weeks now: the font size was just a little too big for my liking...

Anyway, for those of you who have the font called "Gill Sans MT" pre-loaded on your computer you will enjoy (?!) the very font I have chosen. Friends of mine will know that I only ever type letters or essays in this font. If you do not have it pre-loaded, it will display as box-standard "Times New Roman". If you are keen, you can download the font, "Gill Sans" and install it to your computer.

Why do I use "Gill Sans"? Well, I think it is a clear and beautiful, uncluttered font. It is famous for being used for clear lettering and signs, as may be seen on the London Underground. But more importantly, it is a typeface designed by the famed typographer, sculptor and designer Eric Gill who was also a Dominican Tertiary, working at Ditchling. His most highly acclaimed work can be seen in Westminster Cathedral (the Via Crucis) although it has to be admitted he has been a rather controversial character, of late. Nonetheless, his personal foibles and delectations should not detract from his genius and artistry and I am happy to use the font of a Dominican on this blog, and indeed, all my work.

This link should take you to more of his work on the Web, if you should be interested. Some of it is rather thought-provoking if not altogether shocking but much of it is beautiful and spiritual...

Sunday, May 22, 2005

O beata Trinitas!

The photo above was taken at the Graben in Vienna and shows the top of a column that stands in the centre of this pedestrianised shopping street. Surmounting this column is a gilt sculpture of the Most Holy Trinity: God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

On this Solemnity, it is often worth contemplating the sheer mystery of the Triune God. I personally like to read the so-called 'Athanasian Creed', the Quecumque vult.

However, I would like to continue the Von Balthasarian reflections which began last Sunday with another extract of his, taken from "Credo: Meditations on the Apostles' Creed":

"God's love is so complete in itself - he is lover, responding beloved, and union of the fruit of both - that he has need of no extradivine world in order to have something to love. If such a world is freely created by God, apart from any compelling need, then this occurs, from the viewpoint of the Father, in order to glorify the beloved Son; from the viewpoint of the loving Son, in order to lay everything as a gift at the Father's feet; and from the viewpoint of the Spirit, in order to lend new expression to the reciprocal love between Father and Son. Hence, the one triune God is Creator of the world..."

As he writes also in "Explorations in Theology III: Creator Spirit":

"You, Father, give your entire being as God to the Son; you are Father only by giving yourself; you, Son, receive everything from the Father and do not wish to be anything else before him than the one who receives and gives back, the one who portrays and glorifies the Father in loving obedience; you, Spirit, are the unity of both these gifts of self that run to meet one another, their 'we' as a new 'I' that rules royally, divinely over both - love become a Person! - and wishes in both for nothing else than to be crowned by the absolute love: to abandon in the gift of self all one's own acts of planning and disposing, in order to let love rule instead of them."

This is the awesome God of love whom we celebrate today in a special way and indeed, in whom "we live and move and have our being" everyday.
To the Blessed and Most Holy Trinity be praise, adoration, glory, thanksgiving and power for ever and ever!

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Make Poverty History

The 'Make Poverty History' campaign is a concerted effort by campaigners, aid groups, politicians and celebrities and all people of good will to work for trade justice and debt relief. Every three seconds, a child dies of poverty somewhere in the world. And yet, Jeffrey Sachs, Special Adviser to UN Sec-Gen Kofi Annan has worked out a plan to end poverty in our lifetime. This is outlined in his book 'The End of Poverty'. The fact is that, with the will to end poverty, we can!

Imagine my chagrin this morning to read about a Tory shadow minister who said: "If we reward failure, we encourage the idea that the West can keep bailing everyone out." I was flabbergasted by his sheer ignorance and arrogance.

Perhaps it is not too indelicate to point out that more often than not, and historically, the West has contributed or brought about much of the poverty that the world suffers from! But even if one were to discount that factor, as Sachs points out:

"The key problem for the poorest countries is that poverty itself can be a trap. When poverty is very extreme, the poor do not have the ability - by themselves - to get out of the mess" because there is no savings. The very poor are on subsistence or sub-survival incomes! Or in cases of 'debt overhang', (as in the Philippines), "debt from the past crushes the prospects for growth in the future. In such circumstances debt cancellation may be the only way to give the country a fresh start on the path of economic development." Finally, "when countries get on the ladder of development, they are generally able to continue the upward climb... The main objective of economic development for the poorest countries is to help these countries to gain a foothold on the ladder." This is what 'Make Poverty History' is all about.

But while millions die of poverty, the facing page of the newspaper reported that some women spend as much as 1100 Pounds Sterling on face creams made from "4000-year-old sea water from Hawaii"... and they buy this every 3 weeks! And here was I thinking that all sea water was as ancient as the planet and free!

It's obscene and unjustifiable for people to spend so lavishly when millions struggle to even put food on the table. The photo above shows children diving in the polluted waters of Manila Bay looking for mussles to sell in the hopes of helping their families to survive... but in doing so, they fail to receive even rudimentary education thus remaining in the cycle of poverty. But if they did not do this, they would starve to death. What choice do they have?!

We can stop poverty now and make it history. Put a face on poverty and realize it is not the poor and innocent who are to blame or failures in any sense. The failure falls on us and the likes of the insecure filthy rich who purchase con-artist creams to help when we can!

Friday, May 20, 2005

These are a few of my favourite...

Third and final blog for today!!!
Picked up this idea from Matt at the 'Shrine of the Holy Whapping' blog and thought I'd adapt it for my CD collection... many of which I shall need to sell or donate soon! I have far too many books all over the world to count!!

1. Total number of CDs owned:
Over 1000... Yes too many and I know that everytime I more them from place to place!

2. Last CD I bought:
'The Veil of the Temple' by John Tavener; interesting musical commentary on my reading on inter-religious dialogue/ theology

3. Last CD I listened to:
Piano Concerto no.1 in E-minor, op.11 by Chopin
Played by Maurizio Pollini;
perfect music, especially the 2nd movement as I did some ironing!

4. 5 CDs that mean a lot to me:
Listed by date of composition...
i) Missa Cantate by John Sheppard, as recorded by Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort;
A fantastic reconstruction (in a series of many by McCreesh) of the Third Mass of Christmas according to the Sarum rite, actually recorded in Salisbury cathedral. Brilliant booklet notes by Eamon Duffy including a diagram of the processional routes and a top recording! Appeals to the romantic and liturgist in me!!

ii) Coronation Mass by Mozart, as recorded in St Peter's Basilica in 1985 under Herbert von Karajan. The only Papal Mass recording I know with our beloved John Paul II in fine singing form and a great orchestral Mass setting. The DVD of this Mass is also spectacular.

iii) Missa Solemnis by Beethoven, as recorded by James Levine at the Salzburg Festival in 1991 for the death of Von Karajan and featuring an all-star cast of soloists! I know it's not original instruments but there is a great massive feel and I love the Wiener Philharmoniker sound. This is my favourite of the great orchestral Masses.

iv) Messe solennelle (Vierne) and Messe a deux choeurs et deux orgues & Tu es Petrus (Widor) as recorded by the fabulous Westminster Cathedral choir, which has to be the best choir in the world! The music is absolutely outrageous, very French and blazing. The motet reminds me of the tour in France with Leeds Cathedral choir singing this very piece in Chartres and other beautiful churches.

v) Satyagraha by Philip Glass. There is only one recording I know of which was made in 1985. This has been called the greatest choral opera of modern times and there are stunning pieces in it. I love Glass - so hypnotic yet exciting and unexpected at times. The theme of non-violence is one of my favourites and it tells the life of Gandhi in music. Marvellous stuff!

5. Tag five people and ask them to do this on their blog:
Errr... I'll try the Shrine and Inferno XV...

The first flowerings of Time

Hans Urs von Balthasar, in his beautiful book 'The Grain of Wheat: aphorisms' writes:
"Time is the revealer of love through its manifoldness, through its slow unfurling of millions of possibilities. Time is the fully unfolded intensity of love, since within Time love can take on the wonderful meaning of a story, of a process."

And so, my present stage of waiting has come to a close. Last night the Novice Master of the English Dominicans rang me to say that the Coetus (the board of six who advise the Prior Provincial on admissions, from the Latin meaning 'congregation') will meet on June 8 and they would like to fit my application into that meeting. As such I have to visit London, Leicester and Cambridge next week for interviews with the members of the Coetus. Since then, I have been trying to arrange times and dates for these interviews next week.

A school-mate of mine once said: "We rush to wait and then wait to rush..." and it struck me then and now as a truism!

As Cardinal Von Balthasar says so poetically, life is a story, a process, a journey that is slowly unfurling in the grace that we call Time. The past weeks of waiting has helped me to appreciate this better and now slowly but inexorably, like a flower opening to the sunshine, the possibilities are being revealed... in God's time; the revelation of his loving plan for us.

It is rather like the picture above taken on the island of Corrigedor, the Philippines. Behind, one sees the Mile Long Barracks, bombed in the Second World War. But in the foreground blooms a splendid "Flame of the Forest" tree (Delonix regia) framing the sad ruins. So too, God in Time, brings beauty and life out of apparent ruin, death and destruction. After all, is he not the God of the Resurrection? But all this takes time, just as it has taken years for that tree to grow, reach and blossom so flamboyantly.

There are still the interviews to undertake, then waiting for the Coetus to meet and then waiting for the Prior Provincial's decision - so this is but the initial flowering. Of your charity, please continue to pray for me and for those who will help me to discern God's will.

I entrust us to Our Lady of the Rosary and St Dominic.

The age of Frankenstein?

I was horrified to read the paper this morning and discover that scientists in Newcastle at the ironically named 'Centre for Life' had "created three human clones, the most advanced being a female five-day old embryo..." and in South Korea, scientists had cloned thirty (!) human embryos. "They then dismantled the embryos to grow the first lines of patient-specific embryonic cells." This is PC jargon for: 'They then chopped up the babies to get the bits they needed to make millions of dollars from desperate sick people'!!

Disease and illness are ever present in this life but never before have people been so desperate to cling to life and the dream of better health that they are willing to sacrifice hundreds of innocent human lives... Are people to become Frankensteins, composed of parts of other human beings?! This is the cult of health and non-suffering at any cost... But the cost is truly too high.

Deep down, we must surely realise this is wrong. Why else is the language used so euphemistic, so clincical? The term "dismantled" is disturbing for its objectification of the person. It treats the 'embryo' as a mass of tissue and cells that can be taken apart and used for essentially selfish purposes. It struck me as odd too that if a woman has a miscarriage, we bemoan the loss of the baby, but if another woman has an abortion, we say she has "terminated the pregnancy" or refer to the baby as a foetus/embryo. Again, the terminology reveals a desire to hide from the obvious: that human life has been ended.

I do not often venture into such issues but I think the "culture of death" which Pope John Paul the Great spoke out against is really widening. This must stop!

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Protectress of the Unborn, pray for us!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Genius of China

I have never actually been to China although I would love to. Even as a child, I was fascinated by ancient China and its culture and heritage, much as chinoiserie so enchanted the Europeans. As I grow older and especially living in the UK, I began to realize that I really should find out more about the country my ancestors came from. Sadly I do not read Chinese (and so many people have asked me to read things for them and I have to say I can't with embarassment!) and I speak rudimentary Cantonese and some Mandarin. Nonetheless, there is a growing interest in China and I am particularly keen on the history, culture and philosophy of imperial China. Recent movies like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "The House of Flying Daggers" has piqued that interest.

Yesterday, I stumbled across an article on the BBC website that said Chinese people were polishing jade with diamonds 2000 years before anyone else thought of using diamonds as a polish.

This reminded me of just how many great inventions and ideas the Chinese nation had come up with but which they kept mainly to themselves. As such, later Europeans inventors thought they were the first on the scene but they had been pre-dated (sometimes by millenia) by the Chinese. An amusing account is told of how the English during the heinous Opium War were using paddle-wheelers against the Chinese. When the latter brought out their own paddle-wheelers (invented by the Chinese in 418AD) the British remarked on how well the Chinese had imitated their invention!

The great tragedy of Chinese inventiveness is that they often failed to pass on records from one dynasty to another and they did not exploit it on the scale that Europeans did. As such the great ideas lapsed into obscurity or had limited reach; much like silk or tea which would have remained within China were it not for European missionaries and explorers who initially smuggled them out of China.

The book '1421' has aroused some controversy in asserting that Chinese navigators circumnavigated the globe, discovered the Americas and charted the North Pole decades before Columbus, Magellan and other European sailors. Needless to say, this would revise world history considerably and many historians have attempted to refute the findings of Gavin Menzies. The debate continues... Personally, I find the book convincing and fascinating but perhaps I am biased?!

However, one need not look to Menzies for evidence of the sheer genius of China. Joseph Needham of Cambridge University, a renowned Sinologist has researched and written volumes on the inventions of China and this has been condensed and edited by Robert Temple into a fascinating and beautifully illustrated book called "The Genius of China". Temple also asserts that these inventions influenced later European discovery of the same, although sometimes this is a little tenuous.

Among the fascinating inventions described are the iron plow, sun-spots, cast iron, the suspension bridge, essentials of steam engines, paper, the umbrella, matches, diabetes, 'Pascals' triangle, compasses, spontaneous combustion, the hexagonal structure of snowflakes, the parachute, the helicopter rotor and propeller, equal temperament in music, the crossbow, gunpowder, chemical warfare and much much more!

I think many people are generally unaware of the genius of China simply because of its remoteness and inaccessibility - much more needs to be translated for our usage. However, we also fail to recognise the sheer engineering feats of the ancient Chinese. Everyone knows the Great Wall of China but what about the Grand Canal of China? This "extends nearly ten degrees of of latitude on the globe, attaining a length of nearly 1100 miles, and achieves a summit height of 138 feet above sea level." It was complete by 1327. By comparison there were only 630 miles of canals in all of France by the end of the 18th century. The early 19th century canals of England (some of which cross the town of Skipton) were only 5 feet deep and 45 feet broad. By comparison the Grand Canal is between 10 and 30 feet deep and often 100 feet broad!

And just one more interesting fact: the Chinese are said to have distilled brandy about 500 years before Europe. Consider the fact that brandy is called shao chiu or 'burnt wine' in Chinese. This is exactly what the Dutch brandewijn means, from which the English word 'brandy' is derived. Similarly in German: branntwein...

For more, you'll simply havr to get a copy of the book mentioned above! But the reason I cite the examples above is not to say that the Chinese are superior but rather as a corrective to a rather Eurocentric world view that still predominates. It is said that history is written by the victors and certainly, the European powers defeated a corrupt and inefficient Qing dynasty. However, as China now awakes, it may be helpful to reassess our received histories and be familiar with just how China dominated the world in the past and may well do so again!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Glossolalia and chant

As we bask in the glow of Pentecost, I have been thinking about this spiritual phenomenon most commonly associated with the charismatic movement and hence, the Holy Spirit: glossolalia. This is the technical Greek term for what we call "speaking in tongues." Indeed, the word rather onomatopaeically means "to talk" and "tongue".

The phenomenon is not new: it is in fact recorded in Acts as first occuring on Pentecost day and then mentioned by St Paul in his first letter to the Church in Corinth. It has in fact persisted down the ages albeit viewed with suspicion by some in the Church, as indeed (it must be admitted) it still is. Some saints have written of mystical experiences in which they practiced glossolalia and others have commented (positively) on it.

However, what strikes me, is a view expressed by Fr Rene Laurentin, that over the years glossolalia did not disappear in the Church; it became stylised and written down as music we now call Gregorian chant! An interesting prospect and not unlikely, given the Roman bureaucratic penchant for formalizing and stylizing everything! Anyone who has listened to the "the chant proper to the Roman liturgy" (as Vatican II calls it), would notice the ebb and flow of the music which becomes especially ornate on a single syllable. In the study of chant (Gregorian semiology) this is called a jubilus or melisma.

St Augustine noted that at times the chant in the jubilus "liberates itself from syllabic limits". As Dom Daniel Saulnier OSB of Solesmes writes: "It is a song beyond words, beyond the somewhat narrow concepts that the words evoke."

It strikes me that this is precisely what glossalalia does: ecstatic utterances in praise of God over-flowing beyond the bounds of words through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Many people who have this gift sing in tongues... and yet in a real sense, this sung glossolalia has been transcribed and prayed for centuries as Gregorian chant. Indeed this may not be surprising as it is the same Spirit who has inspired such sublime melodies married indissolubly with the sacred texts of Scripture (themselves written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit). The picture above from Quarr Abbey shows the Holy Spirit (in the form of a dove) dictating the music to Pope St Gregory the Great, after whom the chant is named.

Thus the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II recognised in 2003: "Among musical expressions that best respond to the quality required by the notion of sacred music, especially liturgical, a particular place is occupied by Gregorian chant."

And what are the qualities required of sacred music? Pope Benedict XVI tells us:
1. "In liturgical music, based as it is on biblical faith, there is, therefore, a clear dominance of the Word; this music is a higher form of proclamation.
2. "The Holy Spirit leads us to the Logos, and He leads us to a music that serves the Logos as a sign of the sursum corda, the lifting up of the human heart. Does it integrate man by drawing him to what is above, or does it cause his disintegration into formless intoxication or mere sensuality?
3. "Yes, it is the cosmic context that gives art in the liturgy both its measure and its scope. A merely subjective "creativity" is no match for the vast compass of the cosmos and for the message of its beauty. When a man conforms to the measure of the universe, his freedom is not diminished but expanded to a new horizon."

And it is clear that His Holiness indicates that the Church pre-eminently recognises these qualities in Gregorian chant. How many of us can say the same? After all, it is the one art that still links us to the Jewish song used by Christ and the apostles, and it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, who caused the Christians who first sang the chant to burst forth into jubilus!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

News from the paper

Two bits of 'news' in 'The Daily Telegraph' tickled me today and rather than lump them at the end of my previous blog, I thought they'd be better as a separate entry.

The first is about the growing trend in New York of using Brit slang. Coming back to Britain, I realize a-new how much of slang is used in everyday conversation and I often think how baffling it must be to a foreigner learning the language. Most Filipinos already found my use of proper terms in English (eg: trousers instead of pants) difficult. Thank goodness I did not unleash any Brit slang on them!

The second is amusing because it reports on a survey asking Europeans what they thought of the French. The poor French missionaries I met in Manila will not appreciate the views contained in this article, I expect! It was rather startling to see that not only the English (as is expected, given over 1000 years of rivalry) but almost all European neighbours of 'Le France' had a generally negative take on the French! I admit, so did I, until I met the wonderful people at 'Tahanang Puso' or 'Heart's Home' in Dagat-dagatan.

Waiting is precious

It is said that patience is a virtue and I have to admit, I have very little of it! Since my trip to London I have been waiting to hear from the Dominicans about my interviews for admission to the Order. There will be more waiting to come even after the interviews are complete as I wait for the Prior Provincial to make his decision. Often, this experience of waiting is an agony for me. Indeed, the First Sorrowful Mystery and its key-phrase: "Not my will but yours be done, Lord" becomes very vivid to me in a period of waiting.

A wise priest told me yesterday that "waiting is precious" and I pondered on this for a day. Indeed, waiting cultivates patience, as a farmer waits for his crops, or an expectant mother awaits the birth of her child. But more than that, I think the reason why I find waiting so difficult is because it engenders and requires humility. When we await something, especially a decision, we become essentially helpless. There is nothing one can do to expedite the process and one does not even know how long one must wait. One simply waits.

The people of the Philippines had much to teach me about patience. I noted, while I was there, the humour and stoicism and patience with which they bore with uncertainty, difficulty and hardship. Almost everyone I met waited patiently for things to happen, for things to be done. I remember how we waited over 2 months for our ADSL connection to be installed but here in England, waiting 2 weeks seems rather too long!

And indeed, the readings at Mass this morning really hit home as Ben Sira wrote: "My son, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes. Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honoured at the end of your days. Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient." (Ecclesiasticus 2:1-4)

And again, the response to the psalm: "Commit your life to the Lord, trust him and he will act." (Ps 36:5)

It is a real grace when the readings given by the Church cuts to the heart so truly in one's own life. As one who aspires to serve the Lord and who has committed my life to the Lord, I feel that those words of Scripture speak eloquently to my situation. In particular, I note the injunction to be patient (and humble) in the face of uncertainty, to steadfastly trust in the Lord and most importantly, to accept whatever happens as his will. As if by clarification, the Gospel today has our Lord hold out the child as a model of humility. I believe that the image is one of powerless-ness and vulnerability, something I saw especially among the countless poor children in the fishports of Manila, who are shown above.

I pray that these words from the 'Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach' are inscribed into my heart as I try to wait patiently for the Lord's will to be manifest and in all things, I commit myself into his hands through Mary Immaculate. With Christ, I say: "Father, not what I want but what you want." (Matt 26:39b).

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Veni Sancte Spiritus!

Today, to mark the great feast of Pentecost, I would like to share the words and prayer of Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of my favourite theologians and a spiritual giant of 20th century theology. The words are taken from "Explorations in Theology- III: Creator Spirit" published in translation by Ignatius Press (1993) and is entitled "Prayer for the Spirit":

"Be rain that falls on our dryness, be the river that flows through our landscape, so that it may receive in you its center and the cause of its ripening and bearing fruit. And when your water produces blossoms and fruit in us, then we do not wish to consider these as our own shoots and produce, since they come from you... They are fruit from our land but they are brought forth by you, and you can use them for yourself or for us... For no tree enjoys its own fruits; the only concern of the tree is that the stones fall into the right ground and a new fruit tree comes into being; but the sweet flesh of the fruit that the tree produces with so much care and skill - for whom is it? For the birds, for the worms; and finally, for the one who owns the tree. And still more finally, for every hungry person who passes by. You trees, O God, know this, and we do not. They bear in themselves a mystery of the gift of self that we must first learn. They do not say "I"; but we say "I", and we must first learn how to say "you"... You yourself are the disposition of love that we ask of you."

Or, as the sublime 'golden' Sequence for Pentecost, the 'Veni Sancte Spiritus' says:

Where you are not, man has naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour Thy dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:

Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.

Amen. Alleluia!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Cross purposes

Libby Purves, writing in The Tablet has a rather humourous article on the media's lack of comprehension of religious events. It sort of follows up on what I have blogged on before about the press coverage of the recent Papal funeral and Election. It is also a telling indication of just how much of a mystery the Church and our faith is to the secular world...

Apparently, none other than the International Herald Tribune, referring to a picture of the deceased John Paul II lying in state, said: "The 84-year-old John Paul was laid out in Clementine Hall, dressed in white and red vestments... tucked under his left arm was the silver staff, called the crow's ear, that he had carried in public." Granted that the technical name of a bishop's crook/staff, the Crozier is rather specialist in nature, but surely an editor should have stopped and wondered about it... After all, do crows even have distinguishable ears?!

Another example she gave highlighted the BBC's Subtitle Service used by the hearing-impaired. Apparently, present at the funeral was a group of "Karma Light nuns". I am sure that even in our age of inter-religious dialogue, such a group has not yet evolved and most certainly not from Mount Carmel! In fact, the BBC was referring to the Carmelites... It took me a while to figure that out. Incidentally, crows (or ravens) are a feature of the iconography of Elijah, patron of the Carmelites!

And of course there is that strange notion the press bandies about that Father So-and-so "conducted" Mass. Since when was the Eucharist a symphony orchestra? Why can "said" or "celebrated" not equally suffice?!

Anyway, such incidents only highlights the great need to preach and to explain the faith in all its manifestations and fullness to our friends and neighbours. It seems that all too often, we are at cross purposes with the media, especially when they mis-inform.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The journey of a thousand miles...

There is a Chinese proverb that says, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If only I knew it in Chinese... but alas the above translation is all I have!

Today, the memorial of Our Lady of Fatima, marks that first step in a long journey. I have sent in my formal application to join the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans). It is with my hand in hers and once more under the mantle of her protection and motherly care that I set out on this journey.

Since Vatican II and the imagery of Lumen Gentium, there is an increased sense of life and the Christian life in particular, as a journey, a pilgrimage. This is a beautiful vision and analogy for life. As in any journey, the road has many turns and can sometimes leads us to unexpected places or situations; it is sometimes bumpy and sometimes smooth, and along the way we will meet many people, see many things and experience much. Sometimes, we lose our way but we are helped by fellow pilgrims to find the right path again.

To those who read this blog, thank you for joining me on this journey. I am blessed to have Our Lady as a guide on this journey and dedicate myself to her Immaculate Heart that she may lead us to her beloved Son.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


The Dominican Volunteers' handbook has a rather apt reflection that re-entry into one's home culture may be more gruelling than initial culture-shock when venturing abroad as a volunteer. I have, to some degree, found that to be the case.

Returning to England, having been away for 16 months, has been rather fascinating as I discover anew and re-integrate myself among the English. Thankfully, there are aids for people like me who have an ever curious mind and who wish to understand things from an 'academic' perspective. I have long been a 'fan' of anthropology and I recently discovered a wonderful book called "Watching the English" by Kate Fox. The writer is a professional ethnographer as well as English and she writes with panache and wit on the topic of English-ness.

She also insightfully comments on how English-ness (and indeed any other cultural mores) can be adopted by foreigners with great success and she also comments on how one may pick up bits of American-ness, French-ness etc as one travels and lives in different countries; one then adopts and drops these cultural traits at will. Coming from my rather global perspective and diverse background and experience, I totally identify with that.

It also helps me understand why a friend in University, commented over a glass of sherry on a Sunday afternoon, that I was more English than he, a Somerset lad. Indeed, Ms Fox notes that her most 'English' friends are 1st generation immigrants from India and Poland.

This book is an engaging read and is in any case, a worthwhile diversion on my more 'heavy' reading on Christianity and world religions!!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Noli me tangere...

"Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father..." (Jn 20:17). Apart from being the title of the seminal work by Jose Rizal, national hero of the Philippines, those words of Christ are somewhat poignant and touchingly seen in Fra Angelico's depiction of the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene, longing to see the Lord is told that she must not cling to him because he has to return to the Father. Christ has to leave in order that the Spirit, the tremendous gift of God, may be poured upon us; something better is to be poured upon the Church.

In the account of the Lord's Ascension given in Acts (1:9-11), there is a sense of grief as the apostles stare into the (now empty) sky. The Lord has indeed been taken from their sight and they stare into the sky, as parting friends look longingly for a final glimpse of the one who is leaving; one frequently sees such scenes at airports... But the sadness that we now experience in these days after Christ's Ascension is filled with hope of Pentecost. We have come down from the marvellous event of Christ's incarnation and Resurrection into this sad moment of waiting so that we may come to an even greater joy - the life in the Spirit.

In another poignant scene - the Transfiguration (shown above in stained glass at the chapel of Caleruega, the Philippines) - Peter says: "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here..." (Mt17:4). But the Lord is transfigured in glory and then reassures Peter and the two disciples, saying "Do not be afraid". It is said that the Transfiguration was a form of encouragement for the disciples, that they be not afraid in the events of Christ's death which were to come, but rather remember the glory of the Transfiguration and be reminded of the promise and hope of the Resurrection. Again, the theme is one of not clinging to a good thing but rather to experience it and then to move on, for something better is to come. The assuring words "Do not be afraid" are particularly worth remembering in moments when we come away from a wonderful experience and find ourselves clinging to memories and wishing for more.

On a more personal note, I too am experiencing this state of transition and missing that which was. Over a month after I left Dagat-dagatan, I still miss friends and students left behind and I look on the joyful and eventful months I spent with them as a high point in my life. There is a tendency to want to cling to our happy experiences, to will them to go on and to return to them but that would prevent us (and indeed me) from living in the present moment which is also God's gift to us. I am now in that state of waiting, hoping and promise and I am confident that God has something else, something more, something better in store for me and I pray for its out-pouring on my life soon.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

For England, Harry and St George?!

Every parish I have been in has at least one - a pious little old lady whose only purpose in life seems to be the recitation of the Rosary. There is one rather particular and forceful such a character here in Skipton. She's Maltese, as she often explains to us who are somewhat puzzled by her behaviour...

Anyway, there's a marvellous story of how on the Solemnity of St George, she comes into church and sees candles burning in front of the icon depicted above. Quick as a flash, she accosts the priest and says: "Why have you got candles burning in front of a picture of a horse?!"
The priest, somewhat taken aback, explains that it is not a horse but the Patron of the Realm astride a horse.
She doesn't appear convinced and returns to her seat, grumbling...

I suppose one can't blame her too much - it is a very big horse!

Speaking of St George, my parish priest here in England often likes to say that St George is not, contrary to popular belief, the patron of England. That is St Edmund. Rather, St George is the Patron of the Realm, the personal Protector of the Sovereign. He is also patron of the Knights of the Garter whose 'spiritual home', the chapel at Windsor Castle is named in his honour.

Monday, May 09, 2005

London and Back Again

The last few days in London have been very nice... There's always something exhilarating about going to London and coming from the quiet and idyllic market town of Skipton, I feel like the proverbial country boy in the big city when the train pulls into Kings Cross station. Incidentally, they've installed a "Platform 9 & 3/4" with a luggage trolley half-way inside the wall at the station. Unsurprisingly, there were many kids and tourists around it.

Arriving in London, one is faced with a barrage of faces and languages. I am immediately struck by how London is truly a global city - people from all over the world converge in London and almost all the waiters and baristas I encountered over the next few days were non-English. It is said that only 50% of Londoners are white English and in some parishes, over 200 languages are spoken!

It was a delight for me to live with the Dominican community at St Dominic's, London for 2 nights. The picture above is from the Priory church's Lady Altar. The atmosphere at the Priory was convivial and I was particularly bowled over by Fr Columba, OP who is 89 years old - he was very alert and still showed a sharp wit and incisive mind. I realised after I left, just how much I missed the community life I had in Dagat-dagatan with the Dominican fathers. Fortunately the Fathers in San Lorenzo still keep me involved with regular email updates, many of which have me in fits of laughter. While I was in London, I also had the chance to attend a school Mass at St Dominic's primary school on Ascension Thursday. I was impressed by the children's behaviour (much better than in my school in Manila) and was amused when one (Ultramontane) child gave the reply "Pope Benedict" to the question: "Who is the ultimate King?"

I stayed another two nights at Ealing in west London with a friend whom I have known for 5 years. It was most enjoyable and also enlivening. While in London, I also met up with my cousin who is a lay assistant at All Souls' (Anglican) church and another old friend from Singapore who is doing a Masters in Classics at KCL. It was a pleasure for me to meet up with them and simply catch up.

One piece of news caught my attention. I seems that not so long ago, a certain seminary in the north of England (which now languishes with 17 students) had rather ill-advisedly decided to discard with their old library books. Admittedly some were duplicate copies but they could have been sold or offered to students. Instead they were, with the disregard for antiquity so typical of that place, dumped in a skip and readied for burning. The burning of books is a very symbolic act and in this case, all too apt for describing the mood and feel of this place. Among the books discarded were the complete works of St Augustine (in Latin) and the (masterful) 1921 translation of the Summa Theologiae of St Thomas Aquinas. The place in question had not shown much regard for the Doctors of the Church in recent years and so it is not uncharacteristic for them to throw out and incinerate the works of such people. Apparently, this was just what was saved by my friends... much else was lost to the Philistines! Trawling through the second-hand bookshops of Charing Cross on London, we saw books dumped by that place which were being sold for as much as 50 Pounds Sterling a volume!

Speaking of Philistines... on Friday, we went to watch "The Kingdom of Heaven". It was very disappointing and indeed, rubbish! Apart from a fascinating depiction of seige warfare, the film was wildly inaccurate and made no sense as a story! From start to end, it floundered aimlessly and employed music and costumes which were out-of-place and misleading. In particular, I wonder why the Patriarch of Jerusalem was depicted in white papal robes (which only evolved after the Renaissance) and why Dominicans were seen loitering in Jerusalem in 1187 when St Dominic was still an 8-year-old child and the Order not even in existence?! The Templars are no longer around to defend themselves but they came across as blood-thirsty fanatics and the Patriarch was a cowardly apostate, clinging to power and prestige. The knights had 21st century pre-occupations and bias. On the whole, the film was unsympathetic to its inspiration, disrespectful of history and had bad plot lines, ridiculous dialogue, weak acting and characterisation and disappointing sets.

A final thought... on Saturday, a housemate of my friend commented albeit in jest: "Oh, guests are such a pain!" Although I think she was joking, it was a comment which stung. On reflection, I realised that even if it was said in jest, it should not have been thought of in the first place. From my experience of Filipino and indeed Asian hospitality, such a notion would never have crossed their minds. In the Philippines, a guest is an honour to have at one's home, a blessing, a joy; never an inconvenience or a burden or chore. This is true hospitality and a key Christian principle. May we seek to cultivate that kind of love in our homes.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


The 0708 train to London tomorrow morning will find me (somewhat bleary-eyed, I'm sure) on it and I have an appointment with fr Leo Edgar, O.P., the Vocations Promoter for the English Dominicans at midday at St Dominic's Priory.

While I am there, I will also meet up with some friends and my cousins, so I shall be in London until Sunday, the 8th of May.

So... this blog may not be updated until I return to Skipton. Enjoy the break!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Sub tuum praesidium...

May is the month of Mary and is of relatively recent provenance but as with so many of these devotionals has rather more ancient and pagan roots. A traditional rite during May is the crowning of an image or statue of Our Lady with flowers and in the Philippines, the procession in honour of Mary is called the Flores de Mayo; the May flowers. Spring is truly upon us and flowers are in blossom all around, so it is a lovely time of year to celebrate our Blessed Mother with flowers.

In my own way, I wish to offer the lovely photo above of Our Lady crowned. It is from the Dominican novitiate in Manaoag, the Philippines. The image of Our Lady holding out her mantle (known in Orthodox liturgy as the 'Protecting Veil') is one of my favourite images of Mary as she is shielding us in her mantle, a popular medieval image and one reiterated by Our Lady in her beautiful and motherly words to San Juan Diego. The image of Our Lady shielding me with her mantle accompanied me on my mission in Manila and continues to comfort me.

On Saturday, a friend who is an aspiring Trappist monk told me a lovely story/ joke:

"A Dominican friar who made it to heaven was rather concerned when looking around he saw all the Orders - Franciscans, Benedictines, Carmelites, even Jesuits - but he did not see any brother or sister Dominicans!
So, he approached St Peter and said: 'St Peter, I became a Dominican on earth but here in heaven I don't see any! Why?!'
The Gate-keeper told the worried Dominican: 'Oh, you'd better see Our Lady about that!'
The friar hurried to see Our Lady and told her about his concerns.
And Our Blessed Lady just smiled at him and unfolded her mantle to reveal joyful Dominican sisters, nuns, brothers, fathers and laity within the protection of her mantle. He rushed in to join them in the embrace of Our Mother..."

What a beautiful image and the photo above shows just that.

May Our Blessed Mother, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary continue to protect the Order of Preachers and guide the Church.

We can all pray the most ancient prayer to Our Lady, dating from the 3rd century:
"Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix. Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus nostris, sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper, Virgo gloriosa et benedicta. Amen."

'We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.'

Greetings from England!

Yesterday's The Sunday Telegraph had a rather startling but indicative article about modern Britain. Apparently the largest greeting card manufacturer in the UK is now producing cards which will cater to the modern British family:

"To Mum & Dad on your Wedding."
"To a special Step-Mum."
"Happy Christmas to Mum and boyfriend."

These are just some of the new line of politically-correct cards which will include cards for nannies, classroom assistants etc. Why a plain card with your own message for whoever ('To my dear dog-minder') would not suffice is beyond me! But then, I suppose the card company would not be able to cash in on society's woes...

I accept that the reality of relationships and families in the 21st century are complex, whether here in Britian or in the Philippines. However, there is a further step taken of not just understanding and tolerance and compassion but celebration when a card is given. It seems we are now to celebrate divorces, broken marriages and irregular relationships!? European initiatives to institutionalise 'gay marriage' has this same outlook. While I recognise that discrimination against homosexuals is contrary to Christian love and the advice of the Church, it is going a step too far to celebrate gay relationships as equivalent to marriage. I would say, 'yes' to certain rights (eg: inheritance) for homosexuals but 'no' to any form of celebrating that puts it on par with the marriage of a man and a woman which is a sacrament...

Just to put some things in perspective: Britian has the highest divorce rate in Europe, with 154,000 couples divorced last year (almost 50%). Moreover, 41% of children born last year were born out of wedlock. This is the reality of the situation, but do we have to make cards celebrating the fact? Is it being realistic and opportunistic (as most companies are) or is it just all rather cynical?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Open the eyes of my heart...

Yesterday, the feast of the Dominican Pope Pius V, one of my best friends was ordained a Deacon in Cleator Moor, a most beautiful part of Cumbria. There, surrounded by hills and craggy dales and as Philip undertook his sacred ministry, I recalled the psalm: "I lift up my eyes to the mountains: from where shall come my help? My help shall come from the Lord who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1) Indeed, may the Lord come to his assistance as he begins his diaconate and serves God's holy Church.

Speaking of the eyes... returning to England after a year in the Philippines and some time back home in Singapore and Malaysia has been enlightening; my eyes have been opened, as it were. Often when we are so immersed in a place or situation it is difficult to see the plain reality. Some time away is needed. It is similar when one writes an essay or a letter; it is often best to come back to it later and re-read it with a fresh perspective. A reflection by Kahlil Gibran which really struck me as a teenager said that friends are like the hilIs, distance from them makes us appreciate their beauty better, just as one appreciates the splendour of the hills better from afar. In other words, absence makes the heart grow fonder...

Perhaps that too is true of all things: some distance and time away helps us to return to them with fresh appreciation and perspectives. And so it is with my return to England and yesterday's Mass of Ordination was a good opportunity to meet up again with many people whom I have not seen for almost 2 years! Talking to them, I could see myself how my viewpoints and perspectives on life and faith had been changed by my time in Dagat-dagatan. I thank the Lord for that.

As we journeyed to the Ordination yesterday and looked up at the thick overcast sky, I realised why people in Britain envied the sunny tropics I had left behind. I'd never felt this desire to see the sun before! However I am loving the cool weather! It was lovely to see the moors stretch out as far as the eye can see and I saw how green and fresh the hills are from all the gentle English rain. How different from the dry, dusty and over-crowded streets of Manila!

Rummaging through my boxes and possessions here in Skipton has also been a new experience. I have been rediscovering books, CDs and items I had forgotten I had... and there are also things I am still looking for (such as the 1st volume of my Latin breviary!!). If I was asked two years ago if I had too many CDs, I would probably have said 'No' and proceeded to defend the reason I have 1000+ CDs.

Now, I look at the vast array of music, an almost bewildering amount and I am aware that I have too much. After all, there is so much I have not even missed in my time in Manila - what need have I of them all? The same can be said of some of my books; many I read and love and would want to have on hand as a resource but some are simply not missed. Every time I move from place to place and find myself packing boxes and boxes, I realise: I have simply too much stuff!

Lately, I have come to a realization that what I should spend my money on is not more stuff but on the truly precious things in life - people. I should spend money on that train fare to visit a friend in Beverley or to attend another friend's ordination in Durham. I should buy that lunch with an old school mate in Leeds or a phone call to my family. These will last and when my friends are absent from my life, they shall be missed; my CDs and books, generally, are not.

Even now, I feel the Lord is preparing my heart for a life of poverty. May he continue to change my heart and conform it to his!