Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Rethinking Communion

Thanks to Andrew at Angry Twins, I found out about receiving Communion practices.

I am a 'recent' convert (nearly ten years ago, but boy, it seemed like yesterday, so slowly is my faith growing..), and not growing up in a Catholic family (my parents and I were baptized as a family at the same time), I had no idea what are the customs and traditions of Mass rituals and Communion. I did not know why we genuflected, why we made the sign of the Cross prior to the Gospel, or why some people received the Host on their tongue! (I wrote in an earlier post about my lack of catechization)

So it was with interest and hunger I tried to find out about these reverential customs, and an angry twin posted a link about how and why Communion started to be received on the hand, and why it is sad to see this in Masses everywhere.

Yesterday I went to two Masses, and I watched the column of the faithful receiving Communion. Perhaps only one out of thirty received Jesus on their tongue. In the morning Mass, I was queuing up to receive the Communion from Archbishop Chia, and my heart was beating so much faster, as I gathered courage to receive the Communion on the tongue, for the first time ever! It felt strange, because it made me realize deeper, how unworthy I was (still am :-|), to touch Jesus. In the evening mass, I observed that nobody took the Communion on the tongue (except yours truly, a new convert!).

In any case, one prayer came to mind immediately as I recited it with deeper realization:

I pray that this Holy Communion may not bring me condemnation and punishment but forgiveness and salvation.
May it be a helmet of faith and a shield of good will.
May it purify me from evil ways and put an end to my evil passions.
May it bring me charity and patience, humility and obedience, and growth in the power to do good.
May it be my strong defense against all my enemies, visible and invisible, and the perfect calming of all my evil impulses, bodily and spiritual.
May it unite me more closely to you, the One true God, and lead me safely through death to everlasting happiness with You.
And I pray that You will lead me, a sinner, to the banquet where you, with Your Son and holy Spirit, are true and perfect light, total fulfillment, everlasting joy, gladness without end, and perfect happiness to your saints.
Grant this through Christ our Lord, AMEN.

—St. Thomas Aquinas (one of my favorite saints!)

Sunday, April 24, 2005

"The Way, The Truth and The Life"

This Sunday's Gospel reading relates the conversation that Jesus had with his disciples, in particular Thomas and Philip, about the Father's House. This passage began saying, "Let not your hearts be troubled; Have faith in God; Have faith also in me." I attended two Masses today; and in the first Mass, I missed this phrase. In the CHOICE family, we have prayer meetings every first and second Wednesday, as well as during the retreat weekend (which ends today). We study the coming Sunday's Gospel reading, and this afternoon, I discovered this phrase that began the Gospel reading.

The Father's house has rooms for plenty of people, Jesus said, and that he was going to leave his disciples to "prepare" the house for them. But Thomas asked where Jesus is going, and how to find the Way if they did not know where he is heading? And Philip later displayed an ignorance which a lot of us today found ourselves strangely familiar with, asking Jesus to show them the Father! I could imagine Jesus trying to hide his exasperation as he patiently explained (again!) that who has seen Him had also seen the Father. He and the Father are one. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

"I am the Way"
After a silent reflection, the small prayer group turned to relate to each other how this Gospel passage have spoken to us through the events in our week. My friend told us that one of his friends from college had passed away so suddenly while training in the gym. He had been married for less than 7 weeks, was younger than my friend, and seemed to have such a promising life ahead. It seemed like, a silly death, and yet, only God knows why he is called back so soon. Our mind will never fathom the mind of God. My friend went on, saying that his life had been dominated by work, and the sudden loss of his friend is a strong reminder of the need to find meaning to life.

"I am the Truth"
I for one, do not believe in "mundane-ness" of work. I love my work; perhaps a little bit too much, because above all things, I find that by pouring best quality into my work, I am consecrating it for God. Right now, my company is in the midst of launching a service which we believe will become revolutionary after the setup period. It is an exciting time; and I often think, sometimes worrying, about how this product can be used as an instrument to help proclaim the Truth.

The Way leads to the Truth. We are called to seek the Truth, which is Christ Himself, and follow after Him bearing our tiny crosses, in all circumstances that we find ourselves in. St. Francis de Sales in his Introduction to Devout Life said that each person in his own profession, there needs to be devotion.

[The] devotion which is true hinders nothing, but on the contrary it perfects everything; and that which runs counter to the rightful vocation of any one is, you may be sure, a spurious devotion.

I am a daughter, a sister, and a CTO. In each of these vocations, there is room, plenty of room, for devotion. I am seeking the True Way by devoting myself in each of my vocations. Often, it runs against the values of the world; for who'd find profit in "God did not ask us to be successful but to be faithful"? I shared my own experience being separated from my family from the age of twelve, and having my youngest sister suddenly joining me 8 years later, and finding myself called to be her 'spiritual' reminder. I shared that it had been difficult and baffling because I am not sure what right I have, despite my parents' absence, to act as a surrogate spiritual parent to her. Deep inside, we believe in the Truth that the Catholic Church proclaims, hence the need to convince our loved ones to see the Truth and love it, too.

We ended the session with a Mass, this time having Fr. James reminding us that we are 'holy'—set apart that is— and that we need to be, in order to join the Father in His house.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI

Joseph Ratzinger!

May the Holy Spirit guide him always!

Habemus Papam!

I'm watching EWTN live from Vatican now; the bell of St. Peter's basilica is ringing, and there's white smoke!

Habemus Papam! We have new pope! Who is he??

Monday, April 18, 2005

Faith at Work—Part 1

In the past few years, there have been a cornucopia of online social-networking services. Services like Friendster, LinkedIn, and their clones. Friendster has millions of members, and until now, has no revenue other than its recent introduction of Google ads. LinkedIn, a slight variant of Friendster—you add people you know professionally rather than casual friends— had plans to charge people for successful contact request. This phenomenon of virtual social networks that have "lots of members but no revenue" puzzled quite a bit of technologists.

Sociologist Karin Knorr Cetina has propounded an interesting theory (interesting to non-sociologists, and those who work on the Internet) about social networks, or rather socio-material networks. The theory is that most 'social networks' thrive because of shared objects. Thus object-centered sociality.

How about 'blogs? Blogs are slightly different—because blogs intuitively have 'objects/materials' linking people in the social network. Most blogs today, link to others of similar interests, for instance, blogs of faithful Catholics. Heck, even in the physical world, there are always a common object/topic of interest that bind the members of the a self-organizing community together. It seems only in the virtual world it is easy to pull together a venture that lacks this essential ingredient for a sustainable business. Only sometimes this concept is intuitively grasped by developers.

My company is soon to release a service that might have a slight social-networking bent. Basically, most online services out there that require/benefit from network saturation, are a variant of social-networking service. The fact that some social networking services are more 'successful' than others is a challenge for a lot of optimistic, entrepreneurial people in the Internet industry. So there's this wonderful technology at hand. How do we make people see how wonderful it is and use it? Every once in a while, somebody comes up with what seems to be a brilliant idea, launches the product, and it falls flat. And the same idea, some time later, is picked up by another, who says, "Gee, why don't I use this for X?" and voila! s/he becomes the next EBay.

A common, almost cliched, advice that my colleague and I often get from mentors and potential investors is that, any product/service to be launched must "add value." People find this value almost uniquely from person to person in the various services.

For the 36th WORLD COMMUNICATIONS DAY (2002), the late pope JPII wrote about the Internet as a "New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel". It has begun, I think, with the emergence of the laity taking upon themselves the task of proclaiming the Gospel by defending the teachings of the Church. Those who are seeking better catechesis have a starting point, from articles and books referred to by the faithful.

So the questions that my company face now are: What value(s) (other than economic) does our service seek to bring forth? Can we help foster Christian-based values? Threat-wise, one of the most profitable businesses on the 'net is porn, and one day, we will have to face this test.

The Springtime of the Church

I wrote, on the day I learned of our beloved late pope JPII's death, that while his life had been lived fully and faithfully, his death too have brought about a fruitfulness that I suspect, is a result of what he'd already sown during life. For many people, even Catholics!, learned more about his legacy from mainstream back-to-back media wake and funeral coverage than they ever did when he lived.

Youth + springtime of evangelization + Spirit of Vatican II
JPII is renowned for his special affection for the youth, calling us the "hope of the Church". And the media covering his death and the upcoming conclave, had just recently caught on to the fact that today, more youths than ever are 'conservative' (read: faithful to the Catholic Church's teachings). And I also think, despite some objections from those who lived before and after Vatican II (and saying that the conservatives and JPII had 'betrayed' Vatican II), that his pontificate had been a fruitful effort to live out Vatican II fully.

So inpired by JPII's energy, enthusiasm and devotion, I'm starting a new "project" to come up with a "game plan" for a more Christian life, with a theme of living the spirit of Vatican II through lay spirituality at work. That's quite a mouthful, huh? :)

Since most of my life is spent "at work", I figured it may be a good idea to start there! Currently, I work in a high-tech start-up company in the field of mobile communications and technology, consisting of two people—the founders: myself and a former classmate from the university. There's hardly anyone else wandering into the company—except for a few interns who come and go— so I thought to start this Project with the company vision. There are questions like: What does God want us to do? How can we live a Christian life in business where "unfair advantage" and "bottomline" are everyday key words? How can the company's product and services contribute towards a better world?

I am currently reading Introduction to Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales. Still at the introduction section, but even at this point, it is obvious I have a long way to go—literally and realistically speaking.

Will update as new insights surface...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Choice prayer meeting, April 13 2005

The following is what I wrote as a reflection to those who could not attend the prayer group with the CHOICE family. I thought it would be a good habit to report and reflect on them, since the reading is the upcoming Sunday's Gospel reading. Here goes:

We started the session with the voice of our late pope JPII (the Great!) booming from the CD player. Colin has prepared for today's session, and we began by listening to one of the tracks of the album "Abba Pater" titled "La Legge Delle Beatitudini" (the Beatitudes).

There were 13 people present. Colin remarked that the Beatitudes repeated by our late pope in Italian is difficult to understand-- as difficult to understand as its message is to be understood. How contrary is the message of the Beatitudes against the popular values of the world we live in! The beatitudes also, someone remarked, seem to contain contradictions such as being "meek" and standing up for truth. JPII seemed to have taken this message in a stride and lived his life as a "good and faithful servant"-- ever relentless in his proclamation of Truth in his teachings, no matter how unpopular Truth may be.

The Gospel reading for the coming Sunday is taken from John 10:1-10, in which Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd-- he who is the true shepherd and the gate, through which "all who come in by (Him)" may be saved. There were a few interesting aspects discussed: the shepherd vs. the false shepherds (thieves and robbers), and the true shepherd vs. the hired servant. We discussed how the Church militant lives in a 'stinking' pen, and that amongst the sheep there needs to be 'little shepherds' who can help lead the flock to the shepherd by growing the heart of the shepherd-- by faithfully following the gospel message like the Beatitudes. (A call for arms in the springtime of evangelization!)

As usual, our mid-week refresher for the soul had to have discussion of our day job! Here we shared how important it is to keep ourselves close to the Word, close to the Good Shepherd; to hear the voice of the true shepherd above the din of the worldly values and busy-ness. The good shepherd also has a sense of ownership, unlike hired servants, thus setting an example for the work that has been entrusted to us. We are also reminded to keep our prayers, do what we can for our immediate sphere of influence, and that despite the increasingly "liberal" world, we are all called to holiness and to become saints. A quote from JPII's book "Fear Not" closed our session: "Turn yourselves into saints, make yourselves holy soon."

Sunday, April 03, 2005

'Man of the century'

Sometime last year I was reading our beloved John Paul II's biography by Jonathan Kwitny titled "Man of the Century". It was a fascinating read despite its volume and anyone could not help but be awed by the life of the Pope. JPII had been one of the most famous historical figures—I read his biographies before he passed on!— and rightly, one could believe he is the "man of the century".

I am no theology expert, nor JPII scholar, so I'll just write what are my views and thoughts about il Papa.

Karol Wojtyla, was a reflective man even from his youth. He decided early enough that he was going to be a priest, and was ordained by the time he was 26. Now when I thought about my own life and how poor it became in contrast with our Holy Father's, I felt a deep sense of shame. His is a life lived fully and fruitfully—for the greater glory of God.

I have many diverse interests, from things like philosophy, literature, science, sports, and even mystic saints' writing! Sometimes I feel I don't know where I should be going towards. I spend every day getting up to get to work—which I enjoy—and still feel that somehow, there is something missing in my life. I go to mass every Sunday (and on days of obligation!) and on weekdays when I find the time. I pray before bed and when i wake up. I do my best to pray at noon, but something is missing. I don't have that fire burning within, that fire of the Holy Spirit that led many faithful and saints to God.

I am honored to live during the service of JPII, and count him as one of my personal heroes and role models. It was by reading his works I was first drawn to explore more deeply the teachings of the Church beyond "Sunday Catholicism". I yearn to see Christ in my daily life as he did, I yearn to serve as he did. Yet I could not see Christ in what I do— I could not see how I serve doing what work I am doing. It is sad, no? There are books I read that motivated me for a while and gave a spark to my life. Yet it gave fire that lasts not.

I have spent nearly all of today grieving. JPII left no one unmoved. His passing is more than just an end of an era; it is felt strongly by all Catholics in this world as if a favorite grandfather and the family patriarch has just died. Sometime this afternoon I realized that by our efforts alone, the search is futile. Something tells me that I need to pray for the Holy Spirit to illuminate the way God has prepared for me.

So while I have yet to see the way, I am going to live each day conscious of my actions and choices.

Thank you, il Papa, for the gift your life and death has bestowed.
Vaya con Dios!

"Well done, good and faithful servant"-- John Paul II (1920-2005)

Our beloved Holy Father passed on peacefully this Sunday pre-dawn Singapore time. He'd been gravely ill for a few days now, and the faithful had been keeping watch outside his apartment in St. Peter's square for some evenings.. For some reason, When I woke up this morning, I just knew he'd passed on.

Karol Wojtyla, our late Pope John Paul II (affectionately referred to as JPII), had been the only pope during whose service I was born, and received into the Church. He'd always be "il Papa" and "my pope" to me. It is a strange sensation— what I am feeling today— I felt grief like I never knew before, and at the same time, amidst the flow of tears, there is a deep sense of joy too. We Catholics have had the privilege of JPII's leadership for the last quarter century. Here is the pope of many "firsts": first to enter a mosque and a synagogue, first to travel to at least a hundred countries during his papal years, first to record a CD! (it gave me great comfort to listen to his sermon and singing during trying times), first to be on the Internet, and many other "firsts" that will prove a big shoes for his successor to fill.

A few Catholics on the 'blogosphere' have quoted Samwise Gamgee (of Lord of the Rings, Tolkien):

"'How do I feel?' Samwise cried. 'Well, I don't know how to say it. I feel, I feel' — he waved his arms in the air — 'I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!' "

"All the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness."

I could not stop the tears from flowing, though deep down we all know JPII has come to the end of his race. It was a good race. He had been a good and faithful servant. We pray that the Heavenly Father's loving embrace awaits his soul.

Petrine succession
Most media outlets are now giving airtime to JPII's history and legacy (some would say they have prepared the materials for a few years now—given His Holiness' "ailing" status conferred upon him since a few years ago). The next topic is the question of his successor.

Many people, including my own circle of Catholic friends, have brought up the question of Orthodoxy and JPII's influence on the Church's doctrine. It is unsettling for me to hear the question whether the next Pope would be more "liberal" and "modern", or "radically conservative" like JPII had been. As Catholic laity around the world becomes more properly catechized in the Church teachings, there is an increasing awareness of our role and participation in the Church body. Yet, I for one, am perfectly happy to hear and accept the Church's teachings as they were. Two thousand years of Church teachings have not changed their essence radically. Sanctity of life was, is and will always be, defended by the Church. So is sanctity of marriage and the conjugal act. JPII had always been a staunch defender of Orthodoxy. His treatise called "Love and Responsibility"— one of the major works that form the basis of his widely acclaimed "Theology of the Body"— will be considered a force majeur works of theology of the 20th century.

Now, I do not believe there is ever an appropriate time to ask the question whether the Church will bend to allow abortion, or to tolerate gay lifestyle, or to tolerate to any other "modern issues" of our time. I think as a Catholic we should ask ourselves whether it is appropriate to ask the Church to consider these questions. We are dealing with fundamental teaching of the Church! Can we call ourselves Catholic if we disagree with the teachings of the Church? Would we consider ourselves Catholic if we engage the Church in dialog to "persuade" the teachings to bend closer to our comfort?

JPII has left us bereft—and blessed at the same time, with the huge body of theology he had left behind. Many decades from now the faithful will still be poring over his works and continue our spiritual journey with his theology as a guide. The cardinals, a group of priests from whom the next Pope is chosen from, are his handpicked men. He had carried his cross —and completed his journey— in the Church militant, and his successor would rightly recognize the state of the Church left by JPII, and find his own papal mission, starting from where JPII has left off.

Now let us pray for the repose of JPII's soul and for the next Pope to be elected with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.