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

Saturday, September 17, 2005

God's mercy and yours...

This blog will be on an extended hiatus until October 2005, mainly to allow myself some time and space in which to settle into life here and the contemplative rhythms of the community of Blackfriars, Cambridge.

Yesterday, I received the habit of the Order of Preachers from the Prior Provincial, together with one other fellow novice, calling upon God for His mercy and that of my brothers and sisters in the Order. I have taken the religious name, Lawrence, in honour of St Lawrence Ruiz, protomartyr of the Philippines. As you may already know, the Dominican parish in Dagat-dagatan where I spent 12 unforgettable months was named after him. It will take some getting used to, being called 'Brother Lawrence' and signing off under this new name! This custom of adopting a religious name was invoked because my fellow novice and I share the same baptismal name, which may have caused some confusion...

I was asked recently how I feel, having spent one week here and I could say with spontaneity and sincerity, that I feel happy! I believe that God has lovingly brought me to a good place and I pray that I will flourish here and grow in His wisdom and grace. All my initial jitters of leaving the familiarity of Skipton and coming here have faded away. Indeed, last Saturday (in Skipton) after Confession and Mass, I left St Stephen's parish with a sense of peace and re-newed trust in God.

Quite co-incidentally, on that morning of 10th September, over 20 parishioners from St Paulinus, Dewsbury (where I spent my first year as a seminarian for the Leeds diocese) decided to come to Skipton for an outing. It was with great delight that I greeted their familiar faces and received their warm embraces - something I very much needed that morning; indeed, the good God reached out to me through them! Together with parishioners from Skipton, they were able to see me off to a my new home in Cambridge. "O give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for his love endures forever!" (Ps 135:1)

Incidentally, a passage from 1 Timothy 6:2c-12 in yesterday's Liturgy gave me cause to pause and reflect. I would like to share parts of it with you here: "We brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it. If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that. Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction... But you man of God, avoid all this. Instead pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses."

There lies the programme for the pilgrimage of religious life on which I made a first step yesterday... I wish to thank you all for your prayers and support. Please continue to pray for me, for the grace of perseverance, that I may learn well to become a 'man of God'. Be assured too that you're all in my thoughts, prayers and fondest memories.

Signing off, God willing, until October: Bro Lawrence, O.P.!

May Our Lady of Guadalupe, St Dominic and San Lorenzo Ruiz pray for us!

The photos above (courtesy of Bro Angel Mendez, OP) are from yesterday's Clothing Ceremony (Vestition) and a photo taken afterwards in my room.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Off to Blackfriars Cambridge

As that Beatles song goes, "My bags are packed, I'm ready to go..." It did not take long to pack what the Novice Master called a "minimum of possessions." I had to dig out my winter clothes, wash the smell of moth-balls off my jumpers and try and squeeze them into my one-and-only suitcase along with T-shirts and some shirts. I also packed one barong Tagalog to use at the Clothing Ceremony (Vestition) which takes place on Friday 16th September.

I was instructed to take no more than 50 books and I managed to choose only 30... the rest will stay in boxes here in Skipton. I had agonized for weeks over which books to take but when it came to deciding it was fairly simple! I have of course the books requested (A New Jerusalem Bible, a Weekday and Sunday Missal, the Catechism, the complete Breviary and a small Latin dictionary) but in addition I have brought a Bible Commentary (Oxford), the Code of Canon Law (Latin/English edition), A Companion to the Catechism, Denzinger's (The Christian Faith), the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the New Dictionary of Theology (Komanchak, ed.) and a bunch of books which I'm currently still reading by De Lubac, Balthasar and Cantalamessa. No books by Dominicans there because I expect to find them in the library in Cambridge... however I do have a copy of 'God's Way to be Man' by Geoffrey Preston, OP. This was given to me by my parish priest last night - his favourite book of all time.

Finally, I have my trusty notebook - precious for its cargo of treasured photographs and music, which I have spent the last 3 days compiling!! This has allowed me to leave all my CDs behind, except for 'The Veil of the Temple' by Tavener. I'm still trying to digest it and I need the libretto with me to help me unravel this complex, mystical work.

And so, as I stand now of the threshold of a new chapter of my life... how do I feel? To be honest a little afraid but also excited. One really doesn't know quite what to expect, hence when I was packing last night, I kept wondering what I needed to bring with me. I also feel a bit uncertain because I am moving to a new community, in a new town, in an altogether different part of England. I know there is a road before me but I know not how it wends... All this uncertainty requires that one thing of me: Trust in God.

I had similar feelings when I set out for Manila over a year ago to live and work as a Dominican volunteer... and how blessed that time was. Looking back at it all, I can still say it was the best year of my life. And so, with that same trust in Jesus and Our Lady of Guadalupe, I am setting off today on a new adventure. Come what may, I am certain that they are with me and that I am held in God's loving embrace who unfolds His gracious plans for me in His time.

And last night, as I was looking at some websites of the Dominican family, I was filled with excitement and joy as I remembered just how wonderful is the religious family God has called me into...

"Lord, you have called me and I have said 'Here I am'. Take me by the hand and lead me on. Amen."

Fortified by the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist, I will set off from Skipton at noon with a dear friend who was also a Leeds diocesan seminarian with me.

I want to thank you all for your prayers and support. I don't know when I shall write again on this blog - maybe sooner than I expect but I certainly hope to be able to post something by Vestition day. As you'll know it is my custom to write a reflection on the Sunday Liturgy, but as I have been unable to do so this week, I wish to re-direct you to Fr Cantalamessa's wonderful homily which may be found on Zenit.

The photo above is of the main entrance to Blackfriars Cambridge, my home for the next week. The address is: Blackfriars, Buckingham Road, Cambridge CB3 0DD, United Kingdom.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Lord, Here I Am

About a year ago, I made a PowerPoint presentation (using photos of Dominicans I'd met) inspired by a song written and sung by Fr Giuseppe Pietro V. Arsciwals, OP... or just Fr Jepoy as we call him. He was a Dominican priest I used to live with in the San Lorenzo Ruiz community in Dagat-dagatan but he has since moved to Paris for further study. A talented musician and an awesome singer (as Daniel Jeffries, the Dominican Volunteer to succeed me, discovered recently), Fr Jepoy has made several recordings of his music as part of his Dominican preaching mission.

On the eve of moving to Cambridge and to the Dominican Novitiate, I turn again to his song (which is based on the psalms) that inspired me then to offer myself to God as a Preacher and continues to inspire me today...

I have tried all morning to upload the presentation or to convert it into another format (Flash or Real) but have failed... I've also tried to upload just the sound clip but there are so many copyright issues that it's just too complicated for me to sort that out now! So, here's the words albeit without the wonderful music!

"Lord, here I am... Lord, here I am.
Lord, I come to do Your will.
Here I am, here I am. Here I am, Lord.

Sacrifice and offering, you do not ask from me.
Only ears to hear Your Word.
Lord, here I am!

Your commands are in the scroll you've written in my heart.
How I love to do Your will.
Your law's in my heart.

Lord, here I am... Lord, here I am.
Lord I come to do Your will.
Here I am, my Lord. Here I am! Here I am, my Lord."

There will be another post tomorrow morning before I set off for Blackfriars Cambridge (after Confession and Mass!).

May Our Lady of Guadalupe and St Dominic walk with me in my every journey.

(The photo above is of a mosaic of St Dominic that dominates the sanctuary of Sto Domingo church in Quezon City, the Philippines.)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Salve Sancta Parens!

Only three birthdays are celebrated in the Church's calendar - Christ, John the Fore-runner and the Blessed Virgin. Today, we have cause to rejoice as we celebrate the birth of she who was destined to bear the Saviour of the world. In her, the dawn of salvation has appeared! Much of what we know comes from St Jerome's 'History of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin' which is memorably recounted in Jacobus de Voraigne OP's famous medieval classic, 'The Golden Legend':

"Joachim, a Galilean from the town of Nazareth, took Saint Anna, a native of Bethlehem, as his wife. They were both righteous and walked without reproach in all the commandments of the Lord... They lived for twenty years without offspring and made a vow to the Lord that if he granted them a child, they would dedicate it to the service of God... One day an angel appeared with great brilliance to him when he was alone. He was disturbed by the apparition, but the angel told him not to be afraid and said: 'I am an angel of the Lord, sent to announce to you that your prayers have been heard and your alms have ascended in the sight of the Lord. I have seen how you were to put to shame, and heard the reproach of childlessness wrongly put upon you. God punishes not nature but sin, and therefore, when he closes a woman's womb, he does this in order to open it miraculously later on, and to make it known that what is born is not the fruit of carnal desire but of the divine generosity... So then, your wife will bear you a daughter and you will call her Mary. As you have vowed, she will be consecrated to the Lord from infancy and filled with the Holy Spirit from her mother's womb. She will not live among the common people but will abide in the Temple at all times, lest any sinister suspicion be aroused about her. And, as she will be born of an unfruitful mother, so, miraculously, the Son of the Most High will be born of her. His name will be Jesus, and through him all nations will be saved...' [Anna and Joachim] met [at the Golden Gate of Jerusalem] as the angel had predicted, and were happy to see each other and to be sure they were to have a child. They adored God and went to their home, joyfully awaiting the fulfillment of the divine promise. Anna conceived and brought forth a daughter and they called her name Mary. When she was weaned at the age of three, the parents brought her to the Lord's Temple with offerings... Having made their offering, Joachim and Anna left their daughter in the Temple with the other virgins and went home. Mary advanced steadily in all holiness. Angels visited her everyday, and she enjoyed the vision of God daily."

Whether or not all this happened or even if much of it is the embellishment of pious legend, we can rejoice in Mary's birthday and greet our dearest Mother with songs of praise, Rosaries of prayer and actions of love and humility, in imitation of she who is the "highest honour of our race".

As they would say in the Philippines: "Happy Birthday, Mama Mary! Mabuhay!"

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Palaver over Pell's Cappa Magna

Someone (and I suspect this person is a Dominican friar) commented on my post of Cardinal George Pell swathed in the cappa magna, that it rather reminded him of the sort of attire that the papal legate who encountered St Dominic and Bishop Diego would have worn! The occasion is recounted thus:

"On [St Dominic and Bishop Diego of Osma's] journey, they met at
Montpellier the Abbot of Citeaux and two other monks, Pierre of Castelnau and
Raoul of Fontefroide who had been preaching in southern France with no success. The monks were discouraged and frustrated, for the heretics [Albigensians] proved to be unmoved by their efforts. Bishop Diego quickly pointed out the reasons for their failure. They had gone there as papal legates surrounded by all the pomp and circumstance that attended papal legates, fine horses, splendid regalia, impressive robes, comfortable living quarters and good food. The Cisterians actually lived very austere lives, but they felt they had to take on all the trappings of papal legates. As Diego made clear, this was no way to impress people whose leaders led lives of extreme austerity. Actually, the Cisterians would have been more successful if they had gone there as simple Cisterians, living their own austere lives. They took Diego's words to heart as did Dominic."

I think this commenter has a valid point, and indeed it is one that occurs to me often - that in preaching the Gospel, how we appear and are perceived by our intended audience is important. Noteworthy then, is the context of the use of the cappa magna by Cardinal Pell, who donned it for a most solemn occasion for the 'traditionalist' youth pilgrims who attended WYD 2005. This may be less appropriate and indeed may even be a cause for scandal in other circumstances...

Nonetheless, I was not the only person to have commented on this (rare) appearence of the cappa magna in post-Vatican II times. Clearly pleased by this usage of an historical garment were Andrew Cusack (predictably), Julie Robinson (who alerted me to its usage in Dusseldorf) and Fr Jim Tucker who has even started a photo site devoted to the cappa magna... Not that I'm complaining! Who am I to argue with a priest?!

Less enthusiastic was Rocco Palmo (and his commenters) whom I should thank for linking to me. This boosted my hits for the day! Rocco (unlike Fr Jim) clearly is not a fan of what we called 'ecclesiastical tat' in the seminary because he commented on His Eminence's garb again today! Rocco's blog is well worthy reading though and he has some fantastic posts.

Finally, Zadok the Roman pointed out something from Scripture (Ecclesiasticus 45:6-14) which may help Rocco and company see the cappa magna in a different light... unless of course, you still prefer to go the way of Bishop Diego, as any good Dominican would!

'Gospel-values' without Christ?

I am currently reading a little book called 'Why I am Still a Catholic - Essays in Faith and Perseverance'. It is edited by Peter Stanford and is a collection of short essays by various prominent British Catholics about their faith in their lives. In between perusing this book, I am also doing some laundry, sorting out my CD collection, locating the 50 books I can take to the Novitiate and tying up loose ends before the move down south!

There is much in this book that is interesting and enriching. I can certainly see how some of it can be encouraging for other contemporary British Catholics. However, some essays in the book can also be rather depressing reading... the Church is viewed almost entirely as a human-made institution, little reference is made to the entirety of the Scriptures and relativism pervades. Consequently, such people say that they are drawn to Catholicism because of its social action, its compassion, forgiveness etc - mere humane values - but they do not see the need to evangelise, nor is the attractiveness of Jesus Christ mentioned. What this evinces is a complete emaciation of the Gospel, reducing it to a social message, a good way to live but ultimately it's not (in the minds of some such people) the Truth! Indeed, like collective Pilates, some such Catholics turn around and challenge the Magisterium, asking the Church that cynical and faithless question: "What is Truth"? There is clearly, as Pope Benedict XVI has said, a crisis of Christology, Ecclesiology and Revelation.

What's more is that the bulk of those who have such views come from Catholic families and attended Catholic schools in Britain... The result is not encouraging. Yes, they are still Catholic, but they come across as people who are full of (unhealthy) doubt, they cite family and up-bringing as prime factors for being Catholic and ultimately, they do not wish to stand out in society and witness to Christ. Oh yes, they want to witness to Gospel values (like love, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation etc) but none of these is an explicit (or even implicit) witness to Jesus Christ; it is merely humanism. When the Church is reduced to a mere instrument of social change, a supra-national charitable organization, a community that makes us feel better as people, we're really clutching at straws. There is no commitment to Christ as "the Way, the Truth and the Life."

For such a church relies on human effort, it does not have spiritual strength and fails to rely on the Holy Spirit, who is the "Lord and Giver of life" nor is there obedience to Christ, who alone is Head of the Church. Hence, any teaching of the Church that is disliked is viewed as an inconveniece, an anachronism that needs changing, a tradition that is unenlightened by modernity and reason. Such arrogance is staggering to behold! Indeed, the words of Pope Benedict at Marienfeld in Cologne, speaks clearly of their situation and predicament:

"But to tell the truth, religion often becomes almost a consumer product. People choose what they like, and some are even able to make a profit from it. But religion sought on a "do-it-yourself" basis cannot ultimately help us. It may be comfortable, but at times of crisis we are left to ourselves.

Help people to discover the true star which points out the way to us: Jesus Christ! Let us seek to know him better and better, so as to be able to guide others to him with conviction.

This is why love for Sacred Scripture is so important, and in consequence, it is important to know the faith of the Church which opens up for us the meaning of Scripture. It is the Holy Spirit who guides the Church as her faith grows, causing her to enter ever more deeply into the truth (cf. Jn 16: 13)."

There the Holy Father not alone points out the flaws in relativistic, luke-warm, humanistic Catholicism but he also highlights the way to overcome this malady: To know Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament by the grace of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of His Church. And to truly seek God and to find Him is to come to Him knowing that we need Him, that we need to change our lives so that it conforms to His plans, trusting that He wills what is best for us. Everything else about Catholicism flows from this... all its 'Gospel values' are the actions of a person, Jesus Christ. Thus, the Church and every baptised Christian lives to make Jesus known, to incarnate the Gospel values in Christ-like action and thereby to preach His salvation to the world, with conviction that it is True.

If the Gospel is separated from Jesus Christ, His Church and His Spirit, it becomes sapped of any power to convince because it becomes just a proposition, a theory for living well, but it does not have the inner conviction of Truth that propels the mission of evangelization and gives the Church its life. As such, without a belief in the Truth of the Gospel and a deep love for Jesus Christ, "the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more..." (St Therese of Lisieux). Based on the vision of Catholicism some of the people in this book have, the Church would eventually cease to exist.

But thankfully that will not be so and such views will fade away, lifeless and Spirit-less, for the Spirit continues to abide in the Church, and her Lord and Master, Jesus Christ continues to raise up Shepherds, like Pope Benedict, after His own heart who will exhort the faithful to proclaim with conviction the love and salvation of Christ. Then, as St Therese (left) said, "I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action... I saw and realised that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting."

Do we love Jesus, His actions and His Gospel and His Church enough to make Him known?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Back in Skipton

The more I travel long-distance, the greater my dread of the experience... I just want to get on that plane, close my eyes and wish it would end quickly. I'm not afraid of flying but I do hate being squeezed into a tiny seat for 16 hours! The trip from Singapore to Manchester was prolonged by a two and a half hour delay in Zurich airport (which reminds me of a sanitized Auschwitz!!). However, this time, we were not allowed to leave the airplane, so we had to stay on-board. Reason for the delay? Thick fog in Manchester.

Indeed, when we finally flew over England, the valleys had thick clouds sitting in them, as if someone had stuffed cotton wool into the vales of England. When we approached Manchester, the plane descended still further and cut through the clouds until suddenly we were right above the rooftops of the city. Thankfully, our landing was safe and problem-free.

Next, I took the two hour train journey to Skipton... I quite like train journeys as one can just sit and see the beautiful Yorkshire countryside unfold and relax in the quiet of the carriage. The day turned out to be sunny, warm and bright after the morning fog had dissipated and familiar landscapes came into view as the train neared Leeds. Finally, I arrived in Skipton, 20 hours after I left Changi airport (and the embrace of my father and step-mother) in Singapore. The sight of the presbytery of St Stephen's parish (above) greeted me and a most welcome one it was too!

So, I shall be here for the next four days, getting ready for the long-awaited journey to Cambridge, and to prepare for the Novitiate! I have done quite a bit of travelling recently and look forward to a more sedate and contemplative year in Cambridge... No wonder, Fr Allan Lopez, OP today called me an "itinerant blogger-preacher"! Itinerancy is tiring, and so I'm off to get some rest now!

Monday, September 05, 2005

A New Stage in Life...

Today, I spent almost 2 hours looking through a trunk full of books and memorabilia from my teenage years in Singapore. It was fun looking at old school year books, photographs and knick-knacks. Many of the books, I really had forgotten about and clearly no longer needed, so they will be given away... It's strange to be able to open up a trunk full of memories... it all seems a lifetime away. Some of the those children in the year books are now grown-up and married with children of their own! Another two of my best friends in school I had lost touch with but I received an email from one of them today and he has news that they are both in London! These last few days in Singapore, I have also met up with a good number of my friends who are resident here and we looked back with nostalgia on our years together as students, on our friendship, on over a decade of parties at my home here...

The photo above was taken at the most recent house-party on Sat 3 September (at 2am!).

And now, I am moving on to a new stage in my life. In just 6 hours' time I shall be on a flight bound for Manchester and then I shall take the train across the Pennines back to Skipton in North Yorkshire. Once there, I shall have to decide what I may take with me into the Novitiate; just what I truly need. And then on Saturday, less than a week from today, I shall move to Blackfriars in Cambridge and embark on my journey and vocation as a Dominican.

I am happy to say that the Novice Master has permitted me to keep this blog but of course, the postings may be less frequent than they now are. For this, I am hopeful that you will forgive me.

I entrust my journey tonight and all my journeys in life to Our Lady of Guadalupe and may St Dominic walk with me in my vocation. Of your charity, please spare a prayer for me too.

His Eminence George Cardinal Pell

Marvellous photos of the man who will organize WYD 2008 in Sydney! His Eminence donned the magnificent cappa magna as he went to preside at Pontifical Vespers for the Juventutem group in Dusseldorf during the recent WYD 2005. Doesn't he look every foot a Prince of the Church?!

Photos from the FSSP website.

An Outsider's View of Singapore

I came across this article on Wired 1.04 yesterday night and it amused me. It's always fascinating to see how outsiders view something and I am increasingly an observer every time I return to this island-city-state which was my home for 6 years. My father and his family still live here but I'm just a visitor in transit to see them and my old school friends.

The writer's characterization of 'Singapore Ltd' is very true. So is the social engineering present in the form of all manner of government campaigns and incentives. I've always said the country was run like a large MNC... However, having just heard the tragic news of a family friend in South Africa who has been shot 5 times in the body and who is now struggling for his life (this being his second shooting), I have to say the safety and security of life in Singapore is something to be valued and all the inconveniences and idiosyncracies may well be the price of being able to have your teenage sister come home alone after midnight and not need to worry about her safety!

The writer refers to Singapore as "Disneyland with the death penalty". This may be the case for a tourist who knows few Singaporeans, who has no friends in the city and is only taken in by the sophisticated, slick veneer of life here... Singapore even has a fantasy creature called the 'Merlion' (above) concocted for tourism's sake as a symbol of itself, like Mickey Mouse! But what I can also say is that like the 'Magic Kingdom', this is truly a unique country and one that has to be experienced. There are many benefits to being here; my favourite is the fact that my friends are all 20 minutes away and a get-together can organized with relative ease! There are also a few cons, such as the sense of claustrophobia one can get... there are so many people on the island, sometimes one just wants to be able to drive away into the open country within half an hour, as in Manila. No such luck in Singapore and the government plans to double the population of the country!

But no country is perfect and there are so many people I know who live here inspite of the difficulties (like my family!) because it's really better than many other cities of this size... But why not check out an insider's view? Read Mr Brown, Singapore's 'Best Blog.'

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Ubi caritas et amor...

"Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Temeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus.
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum:
Saecula per infinita saeculorum.
Amen. "

'Where charity and love are, there God is.
The love of Christ has gathered us into one flock.
Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.
Let us fear and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love each other (and Him).

Where charity and love are, there God is.
Therefore, whensoever we are gathered as one:
Let we in mind be divided, let us beware.
Let cease malicious quarrels, let strife give way.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.

Where charity and love are, there God is.
Together also with the blessed may we see,
Gloriously, Thy countenance, O Christ our God:
A joy which is immense, and also approved:
Through infinite ages of ages.

This beautiful antiphon is traditionally sung during the Mandatum or 'Washing of Feet' on Maundy Thursday (above, in an icon from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America). The Gregorian chant tune, which dates to the 5th century is memorable and simple and has been beautifully harmonized by Durufle, a gem of sacred music. To listen to this sublime motet, which is probably one of my favourites to sing, click here. I think the words of this antiphon and the serene music it is sung to speak eloquently of the simple joy and tranquility that may be found when Christians live and love together in the harmony and unity of Christ. As such, they are worth mulling over this weekend as we consider the Scriptures fed to us in today's Liturgy; it is this love of God and neighbour, that St Paul calls the Romans to in today's Second Reading.

A similar idea of Christian unity and concord is found in the Gospel of this Sunday's Liturgy wherein the Lord exhorts us to agreement in prayer and to gather in His name (cf Mt 18:16-17). This is essentially a call to unity, which is what it means to gather in the name of the One God. Hence, when we come to Mass together and begin in the name of the Triune God, we establish our common faith and as it were, agree to come together, united in prayer and love of God and one another. This is vital, for as the antiphon above says, where we gather in love and in charity, God Himself is found in the midst. As such, we are called to approach the altar in peace and joy and to put aside our quarrels, strife and divisions.

It is a source of great sadness that the Eucharist which is our sacrament of unity in Christ has been so often a source of disagreement in the Church. Why is this? Perhaps, more often than not, we harden our hearts (cf Ps 95) to the will of the Lord which is for love and unity. Perhaps also, some are prideful and unable to see the Truth; in such cases, there is a need for 'fraternal correction', as Ezekiel attests to in the First Reading.

This issue of fraternal correction is seldom spoken of today and yet it is at the core an act of great love and compassion. What person, seeing a brother or sister who is in physical danger, would not come to their aid? Or if a person was lost and had no map, would one not help the person find their way or provide a map? What father allows a child to drown or dwell in error, believing that '2+2=5'? Therefore, it is also love, compassion and concern for the welfare of the other that moves a Christian to lead a person out of error, spiritual danger and ignorance. This compassion (which I have written about here) was at the core of St Dominic's life and I believe motivates the Order of Preachers in their search for Truth and their eagerness to preach the Truth. Hence, when the Church teaches the Truth, she does so as a loving Mother who desires the best for her children. No wonder then, that 'fraternal correction' is considered a 'Spiritual Act of Mercy'. However, it is noteworthy that this act of love must also be done in love. There is no room for smugness or self-righteousness or an over-bearing sense of superiority. Rather, fraternal correction has to be motivated by love and thus borne out in love. And, as we well know (but perhaps seldom practice), "Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor 13:4-6).

On a final note, it is well that the Lord calls us to witness to His love in groups of two or three. Again, recalling the Maundy Thursday antiphon, when we gather in love, Christ is present in our midst. This is also a reminder that we are called into a community as Christians, we are incorporated into the Church by baptism. This communal aspect of Christian life, espressed in the Liturgy is vital. As I have written, ours is not a Faith of individualism or solitary paths to God; Christianity is not a "private" religion. This communion of love, which we are called to as a Church is essentially built upon the communion of love that is God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, when we come to Mass and when we pray, invoking the Holy Trinity, we are again reminded of the fact that we are called to communal life and faith and that we are called to live this in love and unity among ourselves and with Christ.

Today's Liturgy gives us space to pause and reflect on how well we appreciate this fact and what we may do to remove the barriers to true love and unity in our lives, in our relationships and within the Church. When the strife, dissension and divisions cease, we see Christ and share in the blessed joy of the saints (cf Ubi caritas, verse 3).

May Mary, Mother of the Church bring us closer to this goal, by her example of love, humility and obedience.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Ravages of Sinful Humanity

Following on from the ravages of nature, the people of New Orleans have been subjected to the wickedness and depravity of opportunists. The world has looked on in horror as the city, already plunged into chaos has so quickly declined into anarchy. Desperate to survive, some people abandoned all sense of civilization. Deprived of food, water and having had to live "like animals", some became less than human and behaved as such - raping, pillaging, looting.

It is troubling, this aftermath of a great natural disaster in the nation which deems itself the "Leader of the Free World". For all America's 'civilization', all it took was one natural disaster, to induce social chaos and anarchy. Even police abandoned their positions and selfishness reigned as people battled to survive, at the cost of others. Overnight, we saw "The Lord of the Flies" enacted on a city-wide scale.

Somehow, civility and social rules do not translate as a true transformation of the person. As such, the basic sinful impulses still control the person and as soon as an opportunity arises, the person breaks loose in acts of depravity. It matters not that these people come from a rich country, a powerful First World country with more education and opportunities than most... because they have not learned to live in Christ and be transformed by the Spirit, they are still prey to the dreadful ravages of sin! I cannot help but hear the words of St Paul: "While they claimed to be wise, in fact they were growing so stupid that they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an imitation, for the image of a mortal human being, or of birds, or animals, or crawling things... Since they would not consent to acknowledge God, God abandoned them to their unacceptable thoughts and indecent behaviour..." (Rom 1:22-23, 28).

Many of the degrading and unacceptable conditions described by the people of New Orleans, holed up in the Superdome, I have seen on a daily basis among the very poor in Manila. But there, among the poor and humble, in a nation struggling for economic recovery, I simply cannot imagine such anarchy and vile opportunism. Time and again, the Philippines has been struck by disaster, but they cope with hope and dignity in the face of adversity. Whole villages were wiped away by mudslides only a year ago but despite all the devastation and desperation, I never saw nor heard of victims attacking and violating other victims. People did not rape others, loot stores and attack the innocent - that is unthinkable in the Filipino milieu. That is a peaceable and a truly humane and civilized people who achieved a major revolution (against Marcos) without a single gunshot or shedding of blood. Sadly, this is not so in New Orleans...

So, civilization is not about wealth or what one has; it's about how we truly respect other human beings and live or suffer with dignity and principle. This basic principle of humanity is enunciated clearly in tomorrow's Sunday Liturgy, wherein St Paul exhorts the Romans to love one another: "Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law." Indeed, a theme of tomorrow's Liturgy could well be solidarity and unity among God's people. The terrifying display of anarchy in America, this aftermath of the hurricane, has served to reveal just how rotten the core of individualistic Western society is and how far we are from that Gospel vision... and thus, just how much it needs the healing and transforming grace of Christ.

Meanwhile, may I recommend Happy Catholic's round-up and links to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

ADDED ON 4 SEPT: I continue to pray for all the victims of this tragedy and all involved in relief, aid and recovery operations. This post is not a criticism of America at all, nor of its government. I wish to stress again, my sympathy and indeed, empathy for the people of America affected by these tragic events. I have always refrained from 'USA-bashing' and even 'Bush-bashing', no matter how tempted I may have been (particularly in the latter case).

Rather, this post is a musing on the issues of sin, grace, transformation in Christ, poverty and humanity, which touches each of us, as people of God. I think the anarchy that took place after the hurricane, shattered the illusion of civilization and the 'First World' and revealed (again) the sinfulness that still reigns in our hearts and societies. It also revealed the poverty that still exists even in the USA, an "uncomfortable truth" commented upon in The Times.

Or perhaps I am just reading too much into the situation?! Gen-X Revert has this basic piece of common -sense about the goings-on in New Orleans and it may well be that the disaster has only magnified the basic struggles of the human heart between 'good' and 'evil'...

Anyway, the ever-reliable Against the Grain blog has superlative round-ups on the news and views with regard to Hurricane Katrina and is well worth a visit.

Close Encounters with a Triregnum

The Asian Civilizations Musuem in Singapore has been hosting an exhibit of artifacts from the Vatican Museums, entitled "Journey of Faith". Intrigued by Michael Dunstan Feng's reaction and report on the exhibition and bearing in mind that my last trip to Rome did not afford me the time to stand in line and visit the Vatican Musuems, I decided to take this opportunity. After all, it's only the second ever time that the Vatican Museums have allowed an exhibition in Asia. I believe the first one was in the Philippines.

Braving the rain, I made my way yesterday afternoon to the Museum and was pleased to see that the exhibition was part of a larger celebration of church art which included a festival of sacred music. Sadly, I shall not be in Singapore for that...

Once inside, I made my way to the gallery and immediately encountered a group of school girls from a major convent school in Singapore being shown around the exhibits by a very loud teacher. It seems I had chosen a day popular with the local schools as there were quite a few other school groups milling around; there was no quiet hush of the musuem here!

Nevertheless, I did not allow this to spoil my visit. Indeed, I was rather glad to see quite so many teenagers being introduced to church art and history and the guides were reasonably well-informed and accurate... or at least the parts I overheard were! The theme of pilgrimage which was given to the exhibition seemed rather apt, as we were brought to Rome, through the exhibits. There were quite a few paintings, icons and sculptures and statues of Ss Peter and Paul and one saw sketches of the tomb of St Peter and the old and new basilicas which were built over that sacred site. As such, I could stand before these images, relics of the True Cross and other relics of the saints, and pray - a pilgrim indeed.

The idea of pilgrimage was carried through in the section on Jubilees which included bricks used to seal the Holy Doors and a trowel and hammer used by the Pontiff. I was interested in the fact that Pope Paul VI ceased the walling up of the Holy Doors and instead the doors are locked. Some may well bemoan the cessation of the older custom but I feel there is greater symbolism in the keys which the Successor of Peter wields...

There was another journey of faith being traced in the exhibition - that of the evangelization of the peoples of Asia. The exhibit actually began with frescos and sarcophagi lids dating to the Roman era and what was clearly seen was the level of inculturation in early Christian art. The exhibit then closed with inculturated Christian artifacts from South East Asia, including a fascinating house altar erected by the Peranakans (Straits Malays) and a Vietnamese depiction of the Last Judgment. Two paintings of St Francis Xavier and smaller pictures of missionaries to Singapore represented their mission to bring the Gospel to Asia. The theme of inculturation in the Christian arts is one close to my heart and it was certainly interesting to see the artifacts and items used to aid the preaching of the missionaries to the peoples of this region.

And tucked away in a section of the gallery was an exhibit of the former material glories of the papacy - golden vestments, a papal throne used by Pio Nono, a pair of huge gold and silver keys given to Pope Bl Pius IX for his tenth anniversary as Pontiff, Eucharistic vessels and missals and the elusive papal tiara! Incidentally, the one on display was first used by Pope Blessed Pius IX and later by Pope Blessed John XXIII (shown above with the fanon). I had a close look at this splendid symbol of papal authority, which Pope Benedict XVI has now even banished from his official coat of arms. I suppose, it now truly belongs in a museum...

But not all of the items I saw on display are museum pieces. Many can still be used for worship and for the greater glory of God... In fact, one of my misgivings about (some) museum exhibitions of church art and history is that it can make Christianity seem like a thing of the past, pious myths expressed in song and art, like Greek legends or the 'Ramayana'. However, I don't think that was the case here because the exhibition clearly showed the links of the ancient faith, from its roots in the Faith of the apostles Peter and Paul and the Church in Rome, to the Church in Singapore and Asia, born of St Francis Xavier's zeal. Moreover, the exhibit ended with a lovely portrait of Pope John Paul the Great, painted in 2000 by Natalia Tsarkova(right). Anyone contemplating the face of that Servant of God, would surely know and recall the vibrancy of the Faith and the Church two millenia after the life of Christ, for whose glory all this art and these artifacts were produced.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Domine, miserere nobis!

I have just been speaking to my mother via the wonder that is VoIP on Google Talk and been reading blogs and the news webpages and finally realized just how big Hurricane Katrina is! I've been off-line for almost 2 days, with 31 August in Malaysia being our Independence Day and a public holiday and I've spent much of today on a coach trip to Singapore. I'd not really seen much news either in the local papers or the television about the devastation in America, so I was only vaguely aware of the advent of the hurricane in New Orleans. Only tonight did I get the time to sit down and catch up on news and talking to my mother, I quickly went to view the CNN images of destruction and read the statistics and I am shocked!

My father, who is here in Singapore with me, just commented that it looks worse than last year's tsunami... and I am inclined to agree. I only hope the death toll is nowhere near as great but in the meantime, there is still many to be rescued, helped and eventually aided in getting their life back together. This will require yet another effort of global solidarity and generosity and I hope we will rise to the challenge.

In times like this, it is very hard to make sense of it all. We will spend months and even years debating issues of theodicy as we did after the Asian tsunami. I am filled with wonderment and dread too in the face of such 'acts of God' and as I sit here and watch the news, my heart goes out to the people who have been affected and indeed the peoples of America, who have become friends by way of this blog. In the face of suffering on this scale, one can only reflect on the Lord who suffers with and for us on the Cross. Suffering is indeed a great mystery in God's plan of salvation but one that no one is alien to, even God...

Moniales OP has been tracking the welfare of the Dominicans in the affected area (via DomLife) and they have a prayer to Our Lady of Prompt Succour, patroness of New Orleans. I can only join them in their prayer and implore the Lord's mercy on New Orleans and on America.

For more on what can be done to help and what's going on, read Amy Welborn.

Lord, have mercy on us!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

On the move...

My pilgrim journey of Life moves on again! I'm off to Singapore today for another five days before I set off for England and the Novitiate. On the cards in Singapore is a quick spree of meeting friends (which means more food! Oh dear!!) and a party at home with a small group of my old school friends and family friends. More when I get there...