Friday, December 29, 2006

A season for thanksgiving

I never gave much thought to the fact that Christmas falls towards the end of the year (apart from the necessity of its sentimental image "White Christmas" to take place in winter). This year, though, being a year of many firsts, I thought it wonderful and timely for Christmas to be near, or at, the climax of our thanksgiving season for all the blessings we have received in the past year.

Amidst the din that I heard about banishing religion from public space, was the propriety(!) of saying "Merry Christmas" in a multi-religious society. Obviously, if secularists (yes, the secularists, not other "co-religionists"!) feel threatened by Christmas celebration, there must be important reasons for Christians to celebrate it and to fight for the right to celebrate it (other than that it's "that time of the year", as some songs suggest). Looking back to this blog's archive during the last three Decembers, I found no post that reflected the significance of Christmas in my life... This year, I spent the whole of Advent and Christmas (and soon, New Year) away from home. Yes, I do miss the festivities that being at home entails; but most importantly I think it has been a blessing for me as there are less distractions when a reflection is in order.

What is the impact of Christmas, to us? Yesterday's Feast of the Holy Innocents reminded me that even at the beginning of His time on earth, Jesus' birth had brought so much changes. Thousands (possibly) of infants in Bethlehem were massacred: they bore witnesses to the birth of the Holy One. Christ came into our world without waiting for any invitation; these children, despite their tender age, shed their lives for Christ. In the words of St Quodvultdeus,

To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.

For me, the impact of Christmas did not demand such great sacrifice as these children's; it was that of contemplating the Eternal entering time. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us." This was for me a statement of depth and mystery: why? What for? A story I heard from a priest went like this:

"A man sitting in a house in a middle of a snowstorm saw that there were birds hitting the glass of his windows, attracted blindly by the light of his fireplace. Moved by compassion, he went out to light and open the door to his barn to give them shelter. But the birds, being stupid birds, did not follow him to the barn. Frustrated, he started flapping his arms to imitate them and signal them to follow him. The birds however, still did not follow him. And then he thought, if only I could be a bird for once, they would surely follow me to safety..."

And that is what God has done when the Word Incarnate dwelt amongst us! At this awesome wonder, words fail me.

Everything, everything that had come my way this year, the "chance" encounters, the friends and not-yet-friends, the opportunities to grow and to be humble, the inspirations and affections, the aridity and the consolations, the darkness He allowed and the lights He had bestowed, were all gifts.

Just last night, I was reading from the book of Tobit. In there, some of the protagonists, Tobit and Sara, launched into a praise before asking God to end their lives! In each turn of event, all of them: Tobit, Sara, Tobias, Raguel, and the archangel Raphael, launched into beautiful prayers of thanksgiving and praise. Reading these praises in my own languange (the only bible I have with the book of Tobit being in Bahasa Indonesia) made them especially heartfelt.

O Emmanuel, He is always with us, rejoice and give thanks!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Philippines trip: a journal

It's been unusually difficult to write about my trip to the Philippines. I'm not sure why; normally I try to write within days of returning from the trip, sometimes the idea of what to write has already formed even as the trip is coming to a close... but not this time. Perhaps it was because Christmas was drawing near, perhaps because work returned with a vengeance... :)

So today, a week after arriving back from the Philippines, I'm trying to articulate the experience. Some background to the trip: it is a service project to build a library and set up some computers for an elementary school in a rural area (San Roque) of Tolosa, Leyte, a province of the Philippines.

The trip literally whipped up a storm :) On the day which we were supposed to leave for Cebu, there were no less than three alarming news about the place we were going to: first, a storm was coming to Cebu and Leyte; second, there was an undersea earthquake near Cebu; and third, there was a travel warning issued in response to the threat of terrorist activities reported in conjunction with the (canceled) ASEAN summit. My own family was dead set against me going; but we said a prayer and decided to trust God and go anyway. Six of us left that day, another two were to fly in the next day.

Arriving in the Philippines, it turned out that there was a storm; just not in Cebu, but in Leyte, where we were headed. In Cebu, while waiting for the storm to end, we spent the first day on a rosary pilgrimage with a group of children who live in the urban squatters and I ended the first day by falling asleep while attending a meditation and benediction. The next day we spent the whole day with the same group of children, who seem to have the energy of two people (each): visiting their humble and happy homes, followed by a craftsmaking session putting together a Christmas wreath and then a dance-along (who can forget "Boom tarat tarat"?), sing-along, play-along which exhausted us and showed us our true age :) What struck me was the devotion of these children who braved the chilly rain and storm warning to make the afternoon pilgrimage, the friendly trust they showed us at the end of the afternoon, and the happy countenance despite the stark poverty (which means sometimes they go hungry to school) and the humble fire-hazard homes they live in.

The storm delayed our journey by a day, but the next dawn we made our way by ferry to Ormoc (on the west coast of Leyte) and continued to cross the island to Tacloban, on its eastern coast.

In Cebu I was already impressed by the beauty of the Church buildings and altarpieces in what seem to be humble neighborhoods, and by the devotion of the Filipinos who filled up the pews attending early morning masses. In Leyte I was further impressed by the (comparative) beauty of the elaborate altar pieces in the Church where we attended another mass. If I seem a little too impressed, it's because the loving attention (and resources) paid to these altar pieces' construction (and maintenance) stood in stark contrast to the generally derelict state of other buildings in the city. In Tacloban, the Church (Sto. Nino parish) was even fuller than Cebu (if that were possible) for a weekday noon mass... don't you tell me you are not impressed!

After a pit-stop consisting of mass and then lunch hosted by the friendly Mrs Juliette Romualdez, some of us went to 'sight-see' on the way to pick up some materials for the project: paint, painting equipment, book processing and wrapping materials, computer monitors and voltage regulators (more on these later!). Everyone we met was friendly: the shop assistant where we bought these items entertained us for good half-hour while we waited for our ride, answering my mundane questions about the population size ("voting or non-voting? daytime or nighttime?") and were genuinely interested to hear about our service project, though they were slightly amused that a bunch of foreign girls chose to come to a tiny village in the Philippines to do a tiny bit of good...

We continued on to Tolosa, having stopped by a black-sand beach and dipped our feet in the Pacific Ocean :) We passed by the elementary school and dropped for a late visit (sunset, after all, marks the end of the day for most people there). Having said hello to the principal, Mrs Fe Ibanez, we left and settled into the house where we were to stay for the following one week. Mrs Mildred Cruz was our local 'co-ordinator' (but more like, our local angel) who helped us with everything from being our liaison to the neighbors, to our chief driver, to our chief translator.

The house was beautiful and accomodated us well; the sofas being the most comfortable sleeping surface :) It was also in this house that we experienced our first electrical "brownout" (a slightly misleading term because it strictly meant too-low current, versus "blackout" which means there is no voltage coming from the electrical source). The first few nights I personally enjoyed the electrical supply disruption as it gave brief respite from our loud and jovial neighbors singing their lungs out at the karaoke.

The next day started at 5, with mass starting earlier than 5:30AM, the official time for morning mass, in yet another beautiful church (St Michael). To our surprise, the mass was said in the local dialect (Waray), but sharing the Roman Missal helped us a lot. We took our first public transport journey to the school, on a long lorry with a covered cargo cart called a jeepney, met the principal on the way, and soon the real work began in the school. Some of us started painting the room that was to be the library, some of us started processing the books into a database, and some of us started setting up the computers.

I cleaned up the room that was to be the computer room, and started to hook up the electrical cables after the peripheral parts were all connected when I received an electrical shock when my elbow touched the CPU tower body. To my consternation, all the towers we brought were giving static shocks because the motherboards inside weren't insulated (these were brought from Singapore, where the electrical supply comes with Earth/Ground points, while it is not so in the Philippines). Thus began my daily electric shock experience :) Out of the three CPUs we shipped, two were working and one, unfortunately, required Windoze reinstallation! The sole monitor that we shipped from Singapore, inexplicably, refused to power up :( We said a prayer and decided that if it will not boot up, then we will leave it aside with the CPU that required installation...

After the CPUs and the laptops were set up, some teachers began wandering into the room and soon I started a short session on basic computer usage and how to use M$ Office applications: Word and Excel (yes, OSS advocates, I'm sorry :p). Some of the teachers really had not touched a computer before and I realized that for some groups, I had to show how the keyboard and the mouse are to be used. By the time the last batch arrived and went, the teachers were having fun attempting to make a poster and I was exhausted :P The first day we went home early for another meditation by a priest, followed by confessions. What struck me about the priests there was their reverend attitudes and substantial homilies!

The next few days were spent in similar way: showing the computers to the teachers and during the breaks, I plastic-wrapped of the books to be put in the library. I must have wrapped between thirty to fifty books in the course of those few days!

The next day, I and Girly (of Cebu) had to go back to Tacloban to pick up more materials because we were running out of wrapping plastics and groceries and some more parts for the computers. In this short trip, I learned a few more things about Mrs Cruz—Tita ("Aunty") Mildred: looking perhaps a few days above forty-five, she is actually closer to sixty-five and is a widow, a mother of five, and a grandmother of two! She runs a water-refilling business in Tacloban and supplied us hungry camels with water daily, and sells spiritual books cheaper than what we can get in Singapore! (My biggest expense in this trip was spent on books...)

I must admit there were afternoons with frequent blackouts when a sense of despair crept in: when I realized that the electrical supply would not be consistent and several voltage regulators we brought might not be sufficient to protect the computer hardware from current surges (there was already a burning smell in the little computer room!). There were days when some teachers did not seem to be interested in what the computers can do to assist the learning of their students, and then I began to question the relevance of our "mission." But I was reminded that God's ways are not mine, His thoughts are not mine to fathom, so I resolved to not lose hope and stay faithful to the project despite its possibly bleak outcome...

The evenings were spent mostly on dinner, dishwashing (for dinners were my turn to wash dishes :p) and quiet reading time before I fell asleep soon after 9PM. There was one memorable evening when we had picnic dinner by the beach, when everyone had a turn to sing at the karaoke magic mic and enjoyed the beautiful stars, more in numbers and clarity than what you can ever hope to see in an urban setting like Singapore!

After more days wrapping books (on my part), we finally came to the last days when we had to rush the processing of books (it is really no small feat inventorizing 700+ books: try accessioning, cataloguing, labeling and wrapping them!). Some of us spent this time teaching & discussing with the teachers and student librarians on the library policies and on how to best run a library of this scale. We also had to prepare a little number to entertain our friendly hosts: the principal, the teachers and the children. Soon "Charlie" (of the Chocolate Factory fame) was put to life on a humble stage next to the school compound and our objective was to entice the students to find out what happened to our little hero friend by borrowing the book from the library.

On Friday, we started the day very early, as Missa de Gallo (novena mass before Christmas) have begun at 4AM (actually, earlier than that, depending on the priest!). It was a solemn mass, again in Waray (in which Aunty Mildred and her English missal came to our rescue); more solemn than most masses I have participated in, and the choir of few singers sang beautifully! When we arrived at 3:30AM, the church building was already packed and some parishioners were seen carrying plastic chairs to the church!

The day of "handover", was unexpectedly moving for me. Apart from starting with the Missa de Gallo, we started the day putting finishing touches to the library: finding missing books, drawing & putting up a few more posters, and making sure the computer worked. A priest was invited to bless the computers and the library in a small solemn ceremony, and then a feast ensued :)

The short program that the school prepared for us and the handover ceremony was beautiful and sincere. Despite the fact that the invited village (barangay) chief did not come, a group of students proceeded to dance beautifully. When a blackout happened, a little boy continued with his turn to sing a beautiful and sincere rendition of a Christmas hymn. The principal touched me with her humble thanks, and then "Charlie" was performed on stage. Needless to say, the children enjoyed it immensely and then the feast continued :) This time the school bought for us Lechon, a roasted whole suckling pig to celebrate the occasion.

We met Mrs Romualdez and her husband again in the afternoon and her campaigning son, Martin. They threw a Christmas beach party at San Roque beach and to my surprise, nearly everyone (even college students!) 'hid' in the wooden huts away from the bright sun. Nearly everyone in our group wilted after just one hour in the beach. We spent the evening walking about Tacloban and its market, and again I marveled how crowded the Church and the Adoration Room always seemed to be, no matter what time of the day!

On Sunday, we spent the morning at the beach, followed by a sightseeing trip to the local seminary (ha!) during its Family Day, to the Palo Cathedral, to the General MacArthur Landing Site and then to the San Juanico bridge (connecting the islands of Leyte and Samar). It was heartening to see so many young boys and men studying and discerning a vocation to the priesthood! This day's trip was made more memorable because of the rickety lorry we took: it smelled as if the cart had been used to carry fish, and there were holes on its floor and ceiling (which leaked as it rained)... oh well, we had fun there!

We woke up at 2:30AM the next day to prepare our journey back to Tacloban, to Cebu and then to Singapore. It was amazing how we could wake up and managed to stay awake for another Missa de Gallo in Tacloban.. After saying good-bye (and God-speed) to Aunty Mildred, we took a bus to Ormoc—another eventful drive in which the driver was nearly constantly in the wrong lane, to overtake, and tried to honk and scare away everybody traveling in the other direction—and then the ferry ride took us back to Cebu. In Cebu, our friendly host Mirzi took us shopping for local Pasalubong and sightseeing to the Magellan Cross and the Basilica of Sto. Nino. It was a Monday, but it was very crowded with peddlers trying to sell us handicrafts, devout pilgrims praying in the Basilica and a score of pilgrims queueing to kiss the glass case that encased the Sto. Nino statue. I got a bit of history lesson from gazing at the paintings around the Basilica that showed the arrival of the Spaniards and the following evangelization of the Philippines islands. In the evening, we left for Singapore. Part of me wished I could stay there longer, or not have to return here... ;)

Well, that's about all I can remember about the journey... as for reflection, it will have to wait another day :)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Et verbum caro factum est...

Merry Christmas to all of you, and may the joy of Christ our savior be with you and your family always!

After many years, this year is my first Christmas in Singapore! Amongst many firsts, this year is the first time I attended a Christmas (almost) Midnight mass. And this year's Christmas is the first time we (my housemates & I) ever attempt to put up our own humble Belen; the process of preparing which had been a source of unexpected contemplation :)

(As you can see, it is a very humble Belen on 4 pieces of A4 paper sheets. We'll try to do better next year...)

"Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

O Antiphons

From around the blogosphere, I found for the first time, the seven beautiful antiphons before Christmas. This is from the Church bulletin:

Beginning tonight, those who pray Vespers will sing in the opening phrase a beautiful title of Christ. These titles belong to a collection of opening phrases called the "O Antiphons" after the awe-inspired "O" sung on the first note. There are seven short verses sung before the Magnificat during Evening Prayer of the Church on the seven days before the vigil of Christmas. They each begin with the exclamation "O". Each of them ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As Christmas approaches the cry becomes more urgent.

The antiphons were composed in the seventh or eighth century when monks put together texts from the Old Testament which looked forward to the coming of our salvation. They form a rich mosaic of scriptural images. These seven verses, or antiphons as they are called, appear to be the originals although from time to time other texts were used. They became very popular in the Middle Ages. While the monastic choirs sang the antiphons the great bells of the church were rung.

There's a playful code in the titles: When you take their Latin names: Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, and so on-the titles form an acrostic when you read them backwards: "ERO CRAS." that is translated as "I will be there tomorrow!"

A curious feature of these antiphons is that the first letter of each invocation: O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dawn, O Ruler, O Emmanuel when taken in their Latin names, form an acrostic in reverse.

So the first letters of Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, Clavis, Oriens, Rex, and Emmanuel, provide the Latin words: "ERO CRAS". In Latin, the phrase spells out the response of Christ himself to the heartfelt prayer of his people: "Tomorrow I will be there". It's as if Christ were answering the prayers of the waiting people in the words of the prayers themselves.

A reflection on these words provides a good preparation for Christmas day by day:
December 17th:
O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner. O come to teach us the way of truth.
December 18th:
O Adonai and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the Law on Sinai. O come and save us with your mighty power.
December 19th:
O stock of Jesse, you stand as a signal for the nations; kings fall silent before you whom the peoples acclaim. O come to deliver us, and do not delay.
December 20th:
O key of David and scepter of Israel, what you open no one else can close again; what you close no one can open. O come to lead the captive from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
December 21st:
O Rising Sun, you are the splendor of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
December 22nd:
O King whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save man whom you made from clay.
December 23rd:
O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Savior. O come and save us, Lord, our God.

Friday, December 08, 2006

EXIF extraction for J2ME

I've been struggling with creating thumbnails in J2ME—not that it's hard to do—but given the limited heapsize and mobile handsets' processor capability, the traditional Java (J2SE) thumbnail-generation process fails when the picture whose thumbnail about to be generated is HUGE (eg. those created by >2 megapixel cameraphones).

In general, there are few approaches:

1. generate your own thumbnail (good for smaller JPEG pictures & PNG formats)
2. read (hidden?) thumbnail directories that some handsets create
3. try to extract thumbnail inside EXIF header of some JPEG pictures

The 2nd & 3rd options don't always work for all phones. Problem with #2 is that only on some handsets is the picture thumbnail generated into predetermined directories. For #3, some developers claim Nokia cameraphones do not generate JPEG formats with EXIF headers in it. Sony-Ericsson phones do, however!

So this is the original Java library that I used to extract the EXIF header and obtain the thumbnail offset, length and the thumbnail data itself. It needs porting, however, to be able to run on J2ME. I've ported it into J2ME and the (crude!) source for the test midlet is here. Some sample pictures can be found at the original site.

More information about EXIF tags can be found here, in case you'd like to tinker with more exciting information! If anyone comes to this blog by searching for this, please feel free to download it & use as you like. Original code is copyrighted and it belongs to Drew Noakes.

I hope this helps some people out there.

UPDATE! (Apr 1 '2009):
The domain where the source is hosted has expired ;) I have updated the link to point here:

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Story of Three Ducats (and you & me!)

December's been a busy month, between Asian Games 2006, my house moving and the Philippines trip, I find it increasingly difficult to write; for time to reflect becomes ever shorter. Today I found a beautiful parable about us and our Lady, hence a Marian plug in the middle of novena to the Immaculate Conception:

The Three Ducats

He was a man like you or me, neither better nor worse, a poor wretch of a sinner. What had he done? I have no idea. A crime more grievous than the others, a sin more serious than the others, committed, no doubt, on a day when God had left him to himself for too long. And he was being led to the gibbet in the good city of Toulouse, with the executioner on one side and the Consuls on the other, in the midst of a crowd of naughty, inquisitive boys, who had no doubt come running to see what awaited them on the morrow.

Now King René was making his entrance into Toulouse that day, with the fair Aude, whom he had just married in a nearby land. As she passed by the gibbet, the Queen saw the condemned man already perched on the steps, his head in the noose. A cry escaped from her and she hid her head in her hands.

The King halted all of his train, made a signal to the executioner to stay his hand and, turning to the Consuls, said, “My Lords , the Queen asks whether, as a token of the warmth of your welcome, you would be pleased to grant mercy on this man.”

But the Consuls replied, “Sire, this man has committed a crime for which there is no pardon, and however much we may wish to please our Lady the Queen, the law requires that he should be hanged.”

“Is there then a crime so great in the world that it cannot be pardoned?” the fair Aude asked, shyly.

“Certainly not,” replied one of the King’s Councelors, pointing out that according to the custom of the land of Toulouse, any condemned person could redeem himself for the sum of a thousand ducats.

“This is true,”replied the Consuls. “But where would you expect this rascal to find a thousand ducats ?”

The King opened his money bag and took out eight hundred ducats. But the Queen, who in vain rummaged in her purse, could only find fifty ducats.

“My Lords,” she said, “are not eight hundred and fifty ducats enough for this poor man?”

“The law demands a thousand,” replied the councillors, unyieldingly.

Then all the lords that made up the retinue of the King and Queen collected what they had with them to offer it in their turn, and the sum was counted.

“Nine hundred and ninety-seven ducats,” the Consuls announced. “Three ducats more are needed.”

“Is this man to be hung for the sake of three ducats!” exclaimed the Queen, indignantly.

“It is not we who demand it”, replied the Consuls, “but no-one can change the law.”

And they signalled to the executioner.

“Wait,” cried the Queen. “Search the pockets of this reprobate. Perhaps he has three ducats on him.”

The executioner obeyed, searched the condemned man... and in the pocket of the poor wretch they discovered ... three gold pieces!

Good people! The man whom you saw in this tale, in grave danger of being hung, is you, it is I, it is man’s sinful nature! On the day of the last Judgement, nothing shall save us, neither the mercy of God, nor the intercession of Our Lady, nor the merits of the Saints, unless we have about us ....three ducats of goodwill!

——Excerpt from “Contes de la Vierge” written in the 12th century by Gauter de Coincy

For more moments with Mary, click here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Going home

For me, times to go home have always been times of anxiety and tension. Mostly because of the perception that I have LOTS of work to do and that things would grind to a halt and the sky will fall if I were not there.... etc.

Too often my trip home is not accompanied with joy. Weighted with sense of inflated self-importance, most likely. Too often also, it became an occasion of sin because of impatience, and again, sense of self-importance. Tomorrow I am going home, albeit unexpectedly, and my little resolution is to enjoy as much as He allows, time together with my family.

Before this little post turns into a public confession without absolution, let me stop here and wish you a happy weekend (and also, Feast of Christ the King!) in advance :)

PS: Friends, you know who you are, sorry for the erstwhile silence. Keeping you in my prayers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Not a monologue nor imaginary!

Whenever I'm tempted to think that my prayers may have been just monologues, God deigned to remind me that He's there; He sees me & He hears me!

Towards the end of this liturgical year, I realize so many graces have been received.. So here's just a note to remind myself to give thanks & to pray for the courage to carry out the resolutions.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Vitam Impendere Vero

To risk one's life for the Truth.

(To reduce the risk of giving wrong expectations, I must put a disclaimer here that this post, however lofty its title may be, has been in my draft for the last one month, struggling to take form, and I must finally post it because any tribute to Truth, however insignificant, should not be suppressed)

It's been awhile since I last heard of this phrase; this phrase I last saw in one of Madeleine L'Engle's children's books. Truth: What is truth? Pontius Pilatus famously asked this question to He who is Truth himself. The search for truth, for me, is nothing less than a full time enterprise that is demands both time and energy. (Well, if not physically then at least mentally!) It is little wonder that St Jane Francis de Chantal said, "Hell is full of the talented but Heaven of the energetic."

From the Church's teachings, we are taught that Jesus is Truth Himself; He proclaims himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life. When restlessness stirs in my heart, I know it is a restlessness for Truth and quoting St Augustine, our hearts will remain "restless until they find rest in God." The term "nostalgia for Heaven" aptly, although incompletely, described the way I view this longing for Truth; incomplete because nostalgia is normally used to fondly look back at things in the past that we cannot return to, but otherwise accurate because we do indeed come from the Father who art in Heaven and fortunately for us, we harbor a valid hope that we will return to where our true patria.

Our dear Pope Benedict XVI said, echoing countless mystics before him, in his Angelus address on All Saints' Day this year: "Human existence, however, by its very nature, is directed toward something greater, which transcends it. The yearning in human beings for the fullness of justice, truth and happiness is irrepressible." (Emphasis mine)

What is Truth to you?
There is an Absolute Truth that I believe in, which by its definition means it must be true for everyone and in any condition. What differs is what Truth meant in different people's lives. Natural law necessarily means for those who live according to it, are not contradicting Truth. Yet often I feel it is not enough to face the Truth that says we are created because "God loved us first"! Again, quoting il Papa: "How is it possible to remain indifferent before so great a mystery?" he asked. "How is it possible to not respond to the love of the heavenly Father by leading a life of grateful children?" There is a shining quality in Truth that must attract, and I can do nothing but be attracted. This condition creates a hunger and demands a solid response to satisfy that hunger.

For me, this restlessness has begun last year, especially after the death of our beloved Pope John Paul the Great (who could forget his echoing of Jesus not to be "satisfied with mediocrity" and to "put out into the deep"?), intensified gradually this year and sometimes drove me to the edge of impatience because I couldn't figure out what will concretely satisfy this restlessness. What would you have me do, Lord?

Living with restlessness, anyone but masochists out there would tell you, is a torturous journey. For it is against myself to let my life proceed as before, when the restlessness suggests I might look elsewhere. The path was a dark one, just like St John of the Cross wrote, for I could not see whether this is the path that will lead to the Truth. It is dark also because it didn't give one's soul a tinge of consolation nor illumination. It is a path in which I grope along in the hope that there is an end, and increasingly I realize that it is not a path where a Deus Ex Machina lifts one out of the darkness...

Before anyone thinks I might have been driven to despair, let's give thanks for the excellent witness of the Church triumphant. Who better to tell us about dark nights of the soul, about the hunger for Truth, than the saints, whose faithfulness we just celebrated in All Saints' Feast? In his homily for All Saints', Pope BXVI said (referring to the saints' way to heaven), "it is above all necessary to listen to Jesus and then to follow him and not lose heart in the face of difficulties."

Ahh.. "the little things" in life again! It is not intuitive to speak of "the little things" when one starts with "vitam impendere vero", all ready to stake one's life in the quest for truth.. only to be told that this "dying" really consists of denying ourselves everyday, in doing our little things well, in our little pinprick mortifications, in surrendering our will in every action and doing His will instead..

Well, this is the end of this rambling, meandering post. The end of this post hasn't necessarily meant this lesson has sunk its teeth within me; it will take awhile for this stubborn one to internalize it. Pray that we may share the saints'
"will to incarnate the Gospel in [our] existence through the impulse of the Holy Spirit."

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Feast of All Saints

Found this hymn For All the Saints (by an Anglican bishop, no less) online:

For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Here's a wallpaper to grace your desktop to commemorate All Saints!
Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Dei, orate pro nobis.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Another goodbye?

I'm writing this post from my beloved linux workstation... I think this may be one of the last few ever made from this machine :(

It's been awhile since this machine worked smoothly; it's now having problem just booting up & showing anything on the monitor. It could be the video card (earlier I thought it was the monitor I have at home—that was also dying!), it could be the AGP port on the motherboard... Whatever it is, I shall miss it when it finally dies.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My first family rosary

Today, precipitated by a mini family crisis, the rare occasion of my sisters and I being in the same place for a short time span made it possible for us to say our very first "family rosary"!!!! Deo gratias!

What a gift it is to be able to share with my sisters the beautiful prayer and to say the rosary together! May it be the first amongst many to come!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lunchtime reading: two good news

Lunchtime reading reveals how science reveals simple solutions to combat infection:

This article (from one year ago) described how ion-imbalanced salt solution can help kill bacteria in the most chronic wounds. Interesting chemistry there!

A more recent article on how honey (yes, that's honey!) may combat increasingly antibiotic-resistant bacteria in infections found on chronic wounds and burns. While honey may have been part of "homeopathy" for many centuries, it is only now that the "scientific" circle begin to acknowledge its effectiveness.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

October 15

I realized today, after finding out that it is the feastday of St Teresa d'Avila, one of my newly acquainted favorite saints, that THIRTEEN years ago, I landed in Singapore. Today onwards I am entering my FOURTEENTH year in Singapore. How time flies!

Happy 13th Anniversary to me.. and St Teresa, ora pro me ;)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Life as you've never seen it before!

Lennart Nilsson took amazing pictures of a baby in the womb in its earliest days. Too beautiful not to link!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

One Year On...

Technically it's been slightly more than one year since the World Youth Day '05 in Cologne. It's also been more than one year since I intended to start a project about the WYD.

It was an ambitious project (upon hindsight...) that I could no way pull off given my current work. (Especially not after board meetings when the board of directors came down hard on us!) So over these past few months, after stolen half-hour sessions (and slightly longer sessions over the weekend), I decided to focus on compiling just a SURVEY and put it together; a survey whose aim is to study the participants of the WYD and its effects, if any, on vocation.

It was inspired by stories I heard from the testimonies of those who attended the WYD '93 in Denver. Many priests & nuns and other consecrated persons I encountered online mention that they went to the WYD '93, and for some, it was a turning point. I'd like to know how far this assertion goes.

So please, anyone who's been to the WYD or who knows anyone who's gone to Cologne for WYD last year, please help me by participating in this (short & sweet!) survey. I hope to run this for one month or two and publish whatever result that may be garnered after analysis, on this site.

Any feedback or technical glitch, please write to me at catholiclinuxmonkey AT gmail DOT com. THANK YOU!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Nerd test

Hectic two weeks. More to come. Can barely write short coherent sentences. Here's a nerd test. Can't believe I took this test. And scored this.

I am nerdier than 95% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

.... and here's another one!

My computer geek score is greater than 100% of all people in the world! How do you compare? Click here to find out!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

October: the month of the Rosary

I notice I had not posted anything to this blog on the month of October for the last two years. I'd like to think that I must've been praying the rosary!!! ;)

The rosary is a dear prayer for me. I too, owe the rosary for my conversion. When I was a child, my parents went for a tour around Europe and bought us some rosaries from their stop at the Vatican. That was my first rosary; other than a crucifix and an image of Our Lady, there's nothing accompanying it to suggest it was to be used for prayer!

Many years later in high school, in Singapore, I met a group of Catholic friends and a Catholic teacher (who later became my godmother). We used to pray the rosary in an empty classroom everyday before class started. In the first few weeks, they used to 'skip' me because I didn't know the mysteries nor the 'accompanying' prayers outside the repeated Pater and ten Aves. Through this humble daily prayer meeting, Our Lady works to bring us ever closer to her Son. That teacher of mine had assisted many of her students to find their religious vocations, and I came to know and love the Church more after those two years. She became my godmother when I received the Sacrament of Confirmation at the end of those two years.

The two links below reflect on the rosary:

1. A story by a priest in China, baptized in secret and raised in persecution, about how the rosary kept their faith alive.

2. A short reflection by a Dominican, defending the rosary whom some had derided as being "the illiterate's substitute for reading the Gospel." (courtesy of "A moment with Mary")

The simplicity of the Rosary

It may seem strange that a prayer as simple as the Rosary is particularly associated with the Dominicans. One seldom thinks of Dominicans as simple people. We have the reputation to write long and complex works on theology. However, we fought to preserve the Rosary. It is our sacred heritage. (...)

But why is this simple prayer so dear to the Dominicans? Perhaps it is because at the heart of our theological tradition there is an aspiration towards simplicity. Saint Thomas Aquinas once said that we were unable to understand God because God is so perfectly simple. (...)

There is a false simplicity, of which we must rid ourselves: that is the way of simplifying everything, from those who always have an easy answer to everything, those who know all things in advance. They are either too lazy or too incompetent to think. There is also a true simplicity that comes from the heart, the simplicity that can be seen in the eyes of the beholder. One can only reach that point by proceeding slowing, with God’s grace.

The Rosary is simple indeed, very simple. But we can aspire to its wise and deep simplicity and therefore find peace.

Br. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

From his “Pray the Rosary Seminar” given in Lourdes, October 1998

3. And lastly, (how can I forget!) here's a link on How to pray the Rosary

There are so many people and intentions to remember that we can bring up in our Rosary prayers!

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The last three words

This was taken from a local newspaper. Echoing the words of the martyred Sister Leonella, one of the three executed Catholics, Dominggus da Silva, shouted "Father, forgive them!"

Kesaksian eksekusi TIBO CS
Witnessing the execution of Tibo & friends

Tibo: Jangan Ada Dendam
Ditembus Peluru, Dominggus Teriak "Ya Bapaku, Ampunilah Mereka"
Tibo: Do not contemplate revenge. Dominggus: "Father, Forgive Them"

PALU - Sungguh mengenaskan sekaligus mengharukan! Detik-detik akhir Tibo cs menjemput ajal di ujung bedil eksekusi mati pada Jumat (22/9) pukul 01:35 WITA lalu, ternyata menyimpan kisah mengharukan. Uskup Manado Mgr Yoseph Suwatan MSC kepada koran ini tadi malam menuturkan sejumlah kisah terakhir ketiga terpidana mati itu, masing-masing Fabianus Tibo, Marinus Riwu dan Dominggus da Silva.

Both hideous and heart-wrenching, the last moments of Tibo and friends before the death squad last Friday (September 22) 0135 (Central Indonesian time—GMT+8) hid a moving tale. The Bishop of Manado, Mgr Yoseph Suwatan MSC, recalled the last moments of the three death-penalty convicts; Fabianus Tibo, Marinus Riwu and Dominggus da Silva.

"Saya mau kisahkan ini dengan tujuan agar masyarakat mengetahui persis bahwa mereka bertiga sudah sangat siap batin," tutur Suwatan yang juga pemimpin umat Katolik hingga ke wilayah Sulteng dan Gorontalo itu.

"I'd like to tell this story so that people know that the three of them were prepared and ready [to face the squad]", said Bishop Suwatan.

"Yang tak kalah penting," lanjut Suwatan yang jelang eksekusi intens mendampingi Tibo cs itu, "Saya mau meluruskan banyaknya isu yang menyebutkan kalau Om Tibo dan teman-temannya itu dianiaya atau malah mati lebih dulu sebelum dieksekusi. Itu isu tidak benar," tegasnya. Sebab, berdasarkan laporan resmi yang diterima pihaknya, ketiganya sebelum diekskusi diperlakukan baik hingga ditembak mati. "Meski yang kami sesalkan adalah prosedur pemakaman Dominggus serta jelang eksekusi jenazah mereka tak diijinkan dimisakan sesuai tradisi gereja," tutur Uskup.

"Equally important, was for me to address the rumors that the three of them were tortured, or died before the execution. The rumor was not true," Bishop explained. He accompanied the three of them in the period before the execution. "We regret the funeral procedure and they were not accorded the rights to requiem mass according the Church's tradition."

Menyinggung kisah terkait detik-detik akhir ketiganya, Suwatan dengan nada bergetar menyatakan kalau, baik Tibo, Marinus dan Dominggus, punya cerita menyentuh. Tibo misalnya. Ketika mengikuti Misa khusus yang digelar di Lapas Palu pada pukul 11:00 wita, sekalian menanti eksekusi malam, berulangkali memeluk istri dan anak-anaknya. Dengan nada bijak dan tanpa tekanan, kisah Suwatan, Tibo berpesan panjang lebar, "Jangan ada dendam setelah eksekusi papa. Biarkan papa pergi dengan tenang dan damai. Papa sudah sangat siap. Sudah begini jalan hidup papa. Mari diimani saja," tutur Suwatan mengutip kisah ketiganya.

The Bishop recalled that all three convicted men had a story to tell. During the mass at 11:00 (AM?), Tibo repeatedly embraced his wife and children. In a wise and neutral tone, Tibo reportedly told them, "Do not contemplate revenge after papa's execution. Let papa go in quiet and peace. Papa is really ready. This is papa's path in life. Let us simply reflect about it."

Perayaan Misa khusus dipenjara dipimpin langsung tiga pastor dari Manado yang bertugas di Palu. Yakni, Pastor Melky Toreh MSC dan Pastor Jemmy Tumbelaka MSC.
Usai misa dan ditinggal keluarga, ketiga terpidana mati, memilih berada di ruangan mereka. Ketiganya secara khusuk memilih berdoa dan terus berdoa serta bernyanyi. Ini dilakukan hingga menjelang sore. Yang menyedihkan, kisah Suwatan, menjelang persiapan eksekusi sore, suasana Lembaga Pemasyarakatan diwarnai isak tangis dari para petugas Lapas. "Semua minta maaf kepada Om Tibo, Dominggus dan Marinus," kisahnya. Saat itu, ketiganya menolak tawaran makan malam. "Kecuali minta dibuatkan gorengan buah sukun campur gula aren."

In the prison, the extraordinary mass was celebrated by three priests from Manado who were on duty in Palu: Fr Melky Toreh MSC and Fr Jemmy Tumbelaka MSC. After their family left after the mass, the three chose to remain their rooms. [Another source mentioned that in the afternoon, Fr Jemmy was supposed to come back to administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation.] All chose to pray and sing. Towards the execution, the prison guards and officers were in tears and apologized to the three. All of them refused dinner, except for some breadfruit fried in batter (a local delicacy).

Setelah itu? Ketiganya kian khusuk berdoa hingga kemudian dijemput petugas. "Saat itu, Marinus mendadak minta sisir dan parfum." Ketika ditanya kenapa harus berpakaian rapi. Marinus dengan tenang menjawab. "Ya, saya ini orang Katolik. Saya harus rapi dan harum karena sedikit lagi mau menghadap Tuhan saya." Sedangkan Dominggus, sebelum naik ke kendaraan yang akan membawa mereka dieksekusi, mendadak turun dari mobil dan menemui salah seorang pegawai Lapas yang ternyata berteman baik dengannya. "Heh, kau lihat baik-baik ya kau punya anak. Kau harus rawat dia," kisah Suwatan. Dominggus ternyata selama bertahun-tahun tinggal di Lapas dekat dengan anak-anak para pegawai Lapas.

After that, all three remained in prayers until the guards came for them. Marinus suddenly requested for a comb and some perfume. When asked, he answered, "I am a Catholic. I have to look presentable and smell good to face my God." Dominggus, after getting on the vehicle that would take them to the execution site, came down to leave a message to one of the Lapas prison officers to take good care of his (the officer's) child.

Sementara, sumber lain koran ini di Polda Sulteng di Palu menyebutkan, jelang
dieksekusi, ketiga terpidana tidak langsung menempati posisi penembakan. Sebaliknya, mereka ditanya apakah akan ditembak dengan berdiri atau duduk. "Mereka serempak menjawab memilih ditembak saat duduk saja," tutur sumber. Uskup Suwatan membenarkan keterangan sumber ini. "Memang benar saat sebelum ditembak, mereka memilih duduk saat ditanya petugas," kata Uskup. Lalu, saat mata ketiganya akan ditutup, mendadak Marinus menolak, "Saya ingin mata tetap terbuka. Ijinkan saya menyaksikan langsung." Permintaan Marinus dikabulkan. Sedangkan Tibo dan Dominggus tetap ditutup matanya.

Another source in Palu mentioned that the three were asked whether they wanted to face the squad standing up or sitting down. All chose to remain seated. When they were about to be blindfolded, Marinus refused and asked for permission to witness his own execution. His wish was granted while the other two remained blindfolded.

Tepat pukul 01:50 WITA, bunyi bedil dari tim eksekutor terdengar. Hanya dalam hitungan detik, begitu prosesi maut selesai, tiga anggota tim dokter yang sudah berada di lokasi, salah satunya adalah dokter asal Langowan, Minahasa yang bertugas di Palu, langsung diminta untuk memeriksa mereka. "Menurut dokter perempuan itu yang asal Langowan kepada saya, eksekusi ketiganya memang sesuai. Ketiganya langsung diproses dan otopsi," tambah Uskup. Sementara, sumber lain di lokasi kejadian mengisahkan bahwa saat peluru maut itu menancap di tubuh ketiganya, tubuh ketiganya tersentak dan kepala mereka sempat terangkat lalu lunglai, ambruk, tewas. Berbeda dengan Tibo dan Marinus yang tampak tenang dan diam. Tapi, suara yang diperkirakan dari Dominggus sempat berkata setengah berteriak, "Ya Bapa Ampunilah mereka!"

At exactly 0150 Central Indonesian time (GMT+8), the gunfire went off. In a few seconds, the death procession complete, three doctors on site were asked to examine the bodies. Bishop elaborated that the doctor reported that the execution went smoothly. All three were immediately processed and autopsied. When the bullets hit the three of them, they recoiled and hunched forward. While Tibo and Marinus looked quiet, Dominggus was heard shouting: "Father, forgive them."

More here (in Bahasa). The comments written on some of these pages are no less inflammatory than many found on St blogs. Requiescat in pacem

Monday, September 25, 2006

Supporting il Papa

I thought it should be obvious... being Catholics, of course we support our Pope!

Been away from the blogs for a while.. missed this round of cheerleading!

Faith and Reason

I had encountered the topic of "Faith and Reason" in the last year or so, and read more than one book that highlighted the role of reason in the development of Christianity.

It is therefore timely for our shrewd and intellectual Pope to warn at Regensburg of the danger of de-rationalization of faith (leading to fideism, one of the by-products of the so-called "Reformation"). The pope made two points about the malady that the modern world faces from the separation of faith and reason:
1. "only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific", and
2. "[it] excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question."

The part that offends a large part of the Muslim world, ironically, was a quote that illustrated exactly the absence of reason in faith, as the Byzantine Emperor (and also, the Pope) saw it: the view of a transcendent God in a particular school of thought in Islam justifies (and explains the tendency for) violent (irrational) means to spread the faith. If God does not honor reason, then it follows that nothing need to be rational (and nothing could be irrational) when it comes to matters of faith. This article dug up the history of reason within Islam—I could understand why, in Islam's history, advocates of reason was suppressed (perhaps out of fear of rationalism?): Islam has no equivalent of the Church's Magisterium to guard against potential heresies.

UPDATE: John L. Allen Jr. cautions against sound-biting an intellectual German professor's discourse and sees the pope's speech as an invitation to a frank dialog with Islam.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Goodbye ;~)

I never got around to naming my servers. Last night we completed migration from the last of the old Linux servers (named 189.. after the last triplet of its IP, how impersonal!) and this morning I found myself shutting down the server and doing an "rm -rf *" on my home directory as well as on the application directories.

[antonia@189 /home/antonia/]$ rm -rf *

Two weeks ago, we 'gave up' another Linux server (193, yet another impersonal name). Ahh.. to say goodbye to good and faithful servants is heart-rending :)

Monday, September 18, 2006


Misquoted and misunderstood? This weekend, the Vatican issued some statement that don't appease anyone: he was "sorry" over "the reactions"; some people say he shouldn't have 'apologized', some say he wasn't 'sorry enough'.

This is the original text (English translation) of the 'controversial' speech. Read it and this for yourself.

Some pictures of anti-Pope BXVI from around the world:

In London

In Somalia, a nun was stabbed in reaction to his speech

In West Bank, (even) non-Catholic churches were arsoned

In Pakistan (or India?), his effigy was burnt

Pray for our dear Pope!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

(This post took forever to write)

It's been a busy week coming back after my short trips with my family. Today is also my sister's first day at work, and my attempt to bring her along to Mass worked today (Deo gratias!), under the excuse that it'd be good for her to start a new endeavor in her life by first praying and offering it up to God.

Having encountered the 'crucified Jesus' reflection recently, I recall reading about the finding of the True Cross by St Helena some years back, and more recently, about the wood of the Cross being of the same tree from which the forbidden fruit came, in the garden of Eden, and in today's homily, about how the Roman emperor Heraclius could only carry the Cross when he shed his royal vestment for simple garb.

Veneration of the Cross is a practice I encountered only when I came to Singapore; having been baptized only after a few years of my stay here. Although this veneration (and in general, adoration of relics) is not a practice considered latria, that is worship due to God alone, it took many Good Fridays and a few Feasts of the Holy Cross (and many, many people's prayers for me, I'm sure!) before I could appreciate the marvel with which the Church honors the cross. Today, an insight came to me before veneration: that this is the Cross through which Jesus surrendered His will; how He must have embraced and kissed the Cross as the instrument to deliver His total love!

In today's readings, Christ, died and lifted on the Cross, is compared to the healing serpent that Moses raised in the desert. In the Cross lies the bold mystery of salvation: of God who loves us so much that He sends His Son, who emptied Himself by dying through a instrument of torture. That same instrument of torture is Christianity's symbol of victory today. God could have sent lightning and thunderbolt to carry out justice, but no, He sacrificed His son on the cross instead... The Cross, that sweet Cross, always reminds me of His mercy.

How privileged we are to join Jesus, by emulating Him in carrying our own crosses (however slight they may be...)!

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Remembering 9-11

It's been five years since the monstrous tragedy happened. Peggy Noonan of Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal, wrote this beautiful tribute that recalls the victims and what's essential.

May God have mercy on us.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Nativity of our Lady

Saint Bernard (1091-1153), wrote a beautiful commentary commemorating our Lady's birth:

Rejoice, Adam, our father, and above all you, Eve, our mother. You were parents to all of us and at the same time our murderers. You who doomed us to death even before we were born, be comforted now. One of your daughters – and what a daughter! – will comfort you… So come, Eve, run to Mary. May the mother run to the daughter. The daughter will answer for her mother and will wipe away her fault… For the human race will now be raised up by a woman.

What did Adam say in times past? “The woman whom you put here with me – she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.” (Gen 3:12) Those were nasty words, which increased his fault rather than wiping it away. But divine Wisdom triumphed over so much malice. After vainly trying to give birth to the opportunity to forgive by questioning Adam, God now finds that opportunity in the treasure of his inexhaustible goodness. He gives the first woman a substitute, a wise woman in the place of the one who was foolish, a woman who is as humble as the other was proud.

Instead of the fruit of the tree of death, she offers to humankind the bread of life. She replaces this bitter and poisonous nourishment with the sweetness of an eternal food. So Adam, change your unjust accusation to an expression of gratitude and say: “Lord, this woman whom you gave me offered me the fruit of the tree of life. I ate of it; its flavor was sweeter than honey from the comb (Ps 19:11), because by means of this fruit, you gave me back life.” So that is why the angel was sent to a virgin. Oh admirable Virgin, worthy of all honors! Woman whom we must venerate infinitely among all women, you repair the fault of our first parents, you give life back to all their descendants.

Happy Birthday, our dear mother!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Extraordinary August

August seems to be the most eventful month of the year for me. This blog, for instance, was started in August 2003. My parents' birthdays are both in August. My country's independence day is in August. The country I am staying in right now has its independence day in August. I received the Sacrament of Confirmation in August. My first holy hour ever was in August. The trip to the World Youth Day in Cologne last year was in August. My Choice weekend was in August 2004. This year, I attended Choice Asia conference in August.

August: when flowers and bloggers bloom
Soon I'll join my family for a break and begin a blogging hiatus. Friends and lurkers and random readers, wouldn't it be great if, for one week, you can drop me some comments to introduce yourself: where do you come from, what do you do, how did you come to know this blog, and just a sentence to say (eg: Antonia, you write crap!), etc.? I know some of you have your own blogs, but you don't write nearly enough for me to know what's happening in your lives! Don't be shy ;) This week is this blog's "de-lurking" week: come out and bloom..

Monday, August 28, 2006

Late have I loved Thee

As we celebrate the feastday of St Augustine, I recall certain phrases when reading his Confessions: "Sero te amavi, pulchritudo tam antiqua et tam nova, sero te amavi!", that never failed to rouse me. For it reminds me that my life is finite—I have wasted so much time in my past, first as pagan, and then through all that lethargy and indifference after my conversion—too finite not to dedicate myself to a Mission entrusted to every Christian.

What is our mission really, for each one of us? On my way to catch a flight to Taiwan last week, the taxi driver remarked (somewhat uncannily, now that I'm looking back), that it seemed like my trip would be for a mission rather than a leisure trip. I affirmed, because I wasn't going on a holiday.. but a mission? It is not a claim I dare to say.

Having seen a little of the Choice Asia Conference two years ago (hosted by Singapore), I didn't think there'd be anything exciting to look forward to. I was prepared to sacrifice five days getting bored to death, if only so that the Singapore delegates could somehow benefit from my presence. But the Lord is good and generous...

Bravo had to skip his Jesuit retreat this weekend to come for the conference, but he confessed (after the trip) that the conference was worth going. The Taiwanese were most gracious and enthusiastic and warm; they cheered for us whenever we arrived and left the university dorm where we stayed, as if we have been their dear friends for the longest time! I was very happy to catch up with some old friends from Choice Indonesia who were in Singapore last September for the pioneering Bahasa Choice weekend, and met lots of new ones :)

The conference began with evening mass, and the next day we were treated to a rare 'spiritual enrichment'—in which the (now former) Choice Asia Team priest, Fr Daniele Cambielli, meditated upon the Crucified Jesus as the center of our missionary apostolate in Choice. I must confess I was blown away and very humbled. For it is as if I, who went with less than a full heart, had my darkness enlightened and cynicism healed.

Fr Daniele started with motivation for a life of mission, and asked us to identify our personal mission and our specific message ('gospel') in the Choice ministry. He then went on to compare Jesus' vision about His mission on earth and what the world teaches about our goals: relevance vs. contemplation of God's love, popularity vs. ministry, and leadership through power vs. leadership through being lead. The next challenge is to think and to see like Jesus does, by meditating about the different groups of people who mocked Jesus in his last hours hanging on the Cross. The short retreat ended with an affirmation that contemplating the Crucified Jesus gave us the necessary strength to serve our baptismal call: to let our old selves die and start a new life loving as we are loved. (I know this short summary does not do it any justice, it only served to show the depth of the reflection...)

The next day we started with mass again, and spent the day sharing with the other countries' Choice representatives about how the weekends are held, challenges they face in executing the weekend, getting presenters and participants alike; as the main national delegates 'talked business'. It was amazing, as we discovered how joyfully and faithfully they serve in the weekends (a stark contrast to my dispositions each weekend I served), and how creative they could get in solving problems on their weekends.

My personal zenith of the conference was when Fr Daniele drew a parallel between the Eucharist and the structure of a Choice weekend (something that I'd never had dreamed of on my own!) What a beautiful way to look at our mission...

The cultural night on Saturday night marked the end of the conference; it was wonderful: every country squeezed their creative juices to dress up and perform an item for all the participants. There were many other wonderful things during the five days we were there: not least of which is the Missionary Sisters of Providence (who ran the dorm)—who had perpetual eucharistic adoration on Saturdays, btw— and the countless volunteers who danced and cheered and took us out for a few hours on a city tour. The Masses were said in English, with some songs in Mandarin and Bahasa. I had great five days to practise my embarrassing Mandarin (under the excuse that I am self-taught and a recent learner).

Overall, it had been a fruitful trip (although I could not visit anyone else given the packed schedule and I'm down with flu now). Late have I loved Thee indeed, but as for realizing our mission and going through conversion again and again to serve our mission better, "Let it be now, let it be now!"

Back from Taiwan...

... the Lord is generous; everything is better than expected! More on this later.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Did anyone 'get' it?

I watched Doctor Zhivago last night. Awful stuff. It's about glorified adultery between a married man (a poet & a doctor) who couldn't resist temptation (He ran out of a train, despite danger surrounding his wife and child, just to walk through sunrays-lit forest), and a married, impressionable woman who couldn't say no to awful men, set in Russia pre- and post-Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

Critics seemed to love this movie, adapted from a Boris Pasternak novel, lauded as a post-Soviet literary star. Maybe I should've read the book first; but what is the point the writer is trying to make? I don't get what's so great about it...

Friday, August 18, 2006

Never again...

I just came back from a Choice meeting and saw this post on my RSS feed reader, where Jean quoted from the book The Truth About Abortion: Confessions of Abortion Workers & Doctors.

A very deeply moving collection of reflections from those involved in this horrific 'industry'. Most are honest about their consciences in a knee-jerk reaction to what they know to be a heinous murder, but sadly, after the first few, most people quoted developed mechanism to protect themselves (thereby weakening their consciences) from the truth that the 'blob of tissues' is a human being getting ripped apart!

There's one medical student's testimony that gives me hope of the conversion of these abortion practitioners:

To begin, I must say that until yesterday, Friday, July 2, 2004, I was strongly pro-choice. I am a pre-medical student, and being very scientific, I understood that the mass of cells that forms the fetal body is not often capable of survival before 24 weeks in the womb. I am also somewhat liberal, and I believed that every woman should have the right to choose what she did with her body and one that could potentially be growing inside of her.
The cervix was held open with a crude metal instrument and a large transparent tube was stuck inside of the woman. Within a matter of seconds, the machine's motor was engaged and blood, tissue, and tiny organs were pulled out of their environment into a filter.
The tube was removed, and stuck to the end was a small body and a head attached haphazardly to it, what was formed of the neck snapped. The ribs had formed with a thin skin covering them, the eyes had formed, and the inner organs had begun to function. The tiny heart of the fetus, obviously a little boy, had just stopped—forever. The vacuum filter was opened, and the tiny arms and legs that had been torn off of the fetus were accounted for. The fingers and toes had the beginnings of their nails on them.
Never again will I be pro-choice, and never again will I support the murder of any human being, no matter their stage in life.

Our Lady, protector of the unborn, we pray for the conversion of these people!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

August 15th

August 15th through the years: some trivia...

August 15th, 1549: St Francis Xavier arrived in Japan
August 15th, 1945: The end of World War II in Asia (with the unconditional surrender of Japan)

August 15th, 2005: I attended my first Mass in German during the feast of Maria Himmelfährt in Düsseldorf
(Updated) August 15th, 2006: I am 'liberated' from a hitherto unknown bondage, Deo gratias!

Magnificat anima mea Dominum
But most importantly... on August 15th, we celebrate the joyous occasion of Our Lady's assumption, body and soul, into Heaven. What a great hope it gives to all of us in the church militant to remember that a humble creature (albeit immaculate) is so honored by the Lord! Her mantra, simple lines we repeat in the Angelus daily, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Thy word", echoed through the ages to help us in our struggle with our earthly desires for temporal achievements, suffering anxiety through it all. Mary taught us how to live in complete trust, as one who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. Her life was not easy, but great is the reward for she who trusted in the Lord and prayed!

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.

Tonight I'm experiencing a newfound feeling of freedom and pondering its meaning. Mother of God, handmaid of the Lord, pray for us!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Preparing for the Feast of Our Lady's Assumption

I'm too sleep-deprived to write anything. This post (homily from the Feast of Transfiguration) however, remind me, that tomorrow, August 15th, is the Feast of Our Lady's Assumption.

Remembering the nuclear holocaust in Japan that ended the World War II, Fr Weinberger drew parallels between the events of August 6th, August 9th, and August 15th 1945, to the feasts of Transfiguration and Our Lady's Assumption. He also mentioned specifically a inspiring tale of a survivor, Dr Takashi Nagai.

Indeed, if our souls were lukewarm, may these stories bring us closer to Him. For me, for many years, these feasts of the Church went by unnoticed. For so many years, our Lord's sacrifice meant little to me. What opportunities to grow in holiness have I missed, but may we start anew everyday! Ad Jesum per Mariam.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Firewall tracing

I learned how to configure and deploy an application server the hard way (some say, the proper way), because I had to do it over a command-line console. Yes, a web visual interface is available, but the port it's running on is behind several of the firewalls, and there are no other well-known unused port numbers I can run the service on. Saturday morning musing...?

Three years ago I wrote a patch for SSHD that a paranoid network admin (or any paranoid single-server owner) can deploy on their Linux machines to track exactly which terminal host a remote user logs in from, rather than the immediate host. (Actually, not quite the terminal host, but the last unpatched machine outside his network)

Some would argue of course, "If I'm not allowed to log-in to the DMZ host from my home PC, how'd any sysadmin do their jobs from home?" (I did mention upfront that it is for the paranoid, and therefore, will often stand on the way of the practical!) Specifically, this patch would protect against hosts in the 'grey area' (not quite trusted as in the DMZ, but not quite untrusted either—example: campus network)

Now I have a new problem: tracing firewalls. Often, my servers sit behind several subnets' firewalls: one on the machine itself, one of the immediate subnet, and maybe one more, that of the ISP's. For a development server, many ports often need to be opened to the public. Now, how does one know which firewall blocks which port? I need a traceroute-like utility (for *NIX OSes) that can track which ports are being blocked at which subnet... If anybody knows, please write me, else it's another project in the works :)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Compendium

Copies of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) in English are sold out as soon as they hit the bookstores.. I've been trying to find one; and an online version is now out here!

Man's Search for Meaning

Fr Frans has mentioned Viktor Frankl in more than one occasion, and today I finally managed to read Frankl's book called "Man's Search for Meaning". (It is not his only book, and after this I think I will read more of his works on logotherapy!)

A very short introduction on logotherapy set against the backdrop of his first-hand experience surviving not just one, but four, Nazi concentration camps including Dachau and Auschwitz, it makes for a very quick yet significant reading for anyone. In particular, Frankl emphasized on the lack of logos (meaning) as a source of ill in the many groups of patients he encountered (back in the '80s—and truer still today!)

I don't know whether Frankl was a practising Jew or a Christian; what he wrote in Man's Search sounded a lot like coming from a Church father, and echoed what the Church teaches about sanctification of our life, as well as about the incomparable worth and dignity of the human life despite, or in spite, of suffering.

"[It] did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist ... in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual."

I've read the book only once and some of his words are quoteworthy enough to brace myself in times of trials, but not enough to comment on such profound insight. There are many resources out there: this page gives a good round-up of the various ideas he mentioned in this very slim volume (which Frankl supposedly dictated in just nine days!)

Coincidentally—as if there's such a thing as coincidence!—a person I met during a meeting with the Choice group yesterday was reading the exact same book and found good things to recommend about it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Memorial of St. Teresia Benedicta a Cruce

Seven years ago, on this date, I received the Sacrament of Confirmation. For a long time, I could not remember the date, until last year when I started looking for my confirmation patron saint and found that the memorial of St Edith Stein, also popularly known as St Teresia Benedicta a Cruce (her Latin title, while the English spelling is "St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross"), is celebrated on this date, August 9th.

(Needless to say, I was overjoyed to 'discover' this saint, learning that she was canonized just one year before my confirmation, and to visit the city of Cologne, where she spent her days as a Carmelite nun—though I missed the sculpture of the 'Saint without a grave')

In many ways, St Teresia Benedicta is a model for our generation, a generation that often prides itself in being a thinking generation. In times when rationalism and intellectualism are often used to ridicule faith, St Teresia Benedicta showed how fides et ratio are not only not opposed but how our thinking faculties lead us to seek and contemplate our Creator.

Read here a short hagiography of her life.

St Teresia Benedicta, pray for us.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Dreaming of Transfiguration

Last week, my little prayer group reflected on the Feast of Transfiguration, last Sunday's Gospel reading, and shared several stories of moments when they saw (or felt) the transfiguration of the Lord in their own lives.

I cannot personally recall of any moment in my life when I perceive God to reveal Himself in such splendor as described in the Gospel passage of transfiguration. Not being a native speaker of English, the word "transfiguration" has always meant for me, Jesus' transfiguration, and is not linked to any experience I've ever had, but perhaps I can identify with "epiphany", or in my case, mini-epiphanies...

To look upon the face of Christ, to recognize its mystery amid the daily events and the sufferings of his human life, and then to grasp the divine splendour definitively revealed in the Risen Lord, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father: this is the task of every follower of Christ and therefore the task of each one of us.—Rosarium Virginis Mariae (no. 9)

While in exile on earth, many of us have to rely on dark faith, a sometimes truly opaque faith, that believed that beneath our exterior appearances, there is to behold, the divinity of each soul. The three apostles were the lucky ones to behold Jesus in His glory while still on earth!

Yet fret not, we who have not ascended the mountain, for each of us indeed has a capacity to behold hidden glory! Naturally, our feeble senses cannot perceive the glory of God, but our eyes of faith could "see". My epiphanies consist only of fleeting moments when, gazing at the face of God, He deemed to unveil Himself and made known His will for me.

For me, after those all-too-short epiphanies, come an awareness of new eyes of faith. Through these, I began to 'see' that beneath each person's appearance, there is a being of infinite worth. Each person becomes more than an accident, more than a statistic, more than an irritant, more than an economic unit, more than another pair of hands; he is a child of God! It is ironic that our bodies, meant to 'make visible the invisible', could limit our views to what our physical senses perceive.

"St John tells us that the other enemy is the lust of the eyes, a deep-seated avariciousness that leads us to appreciate only what we can touch. Such eyes are glued to earthly things and, consequently, they are blind to supernatural realities. We can, then, use this expression of sacred Scripture to indicate that disordered desire for material things, as well as that deformation which views everything around us — other people, the circumstances of our life and of our age — with just human vision."—St Josemaria Escriva, Christ is passing by

Our cry Domine, ut videam! becomes a proclamation of faith, a faith that has not yet seen but seeks to unveil the face of God.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Memorial of St John Vianney (Aug 4)

St John Vianney, famously known as the Curé of Ars, wrote Instruction on the Catechism, one of the first few spiritual works I've read on my journey to become a little more than a Sunday Catholic.

His life of humility and devotion made for a good role model.

St John Vianney is also a patron saint of parish priests and confessors. St John Vianney, pray for my confessors.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Upcoming Day of Recollection (August 20th)

The theme is "The Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World"; it is a short recollection with a talk by Prof. Donna Orsuto of the Pontifical Gregorian University.

 More details here

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Easier and more systematic infanticide...

... if the FDA approves "morning-after" pill to be an OTC item.

More news here and here.

MSM reporting cites pregnancy as a 'risk' and another claims that Plan B 'prevents conception'.

Check out the arguments brought forth in support of this abortifacient being available for anyone of any age, and how it has instead increased occurrence of STDs.

On Chastity

As the Church celebrates the memorial of two great saints, St Ignatius of Loyola (July 31st) and St Alphonsus Liguori (August 1st), I found some articles which helped me contemplate this virtue of chastity.

I had a harrowing experience recently, which led me to this contemplation. The Church's teaching on Chastity, often misunderstood and deeply maligned, is beautifully summarized by the Cathechism:

The Integrity of the Person

2338 The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.

2339 Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. "Man's dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end."

In an epoch where one can get embarrassed (if not downright ridiculed) if he or she is found out to live a chaste life, or worse, a self-proclaimed virgin, it is useful to analyze why and how the world came to resent this virtue of chastity.

While some would argue that to the choice to live chastely (ie: celibate if one is not married) is partly upbringing, partly cultural, and partly natural; most would need intellectual and perhaps even supernatural insight to rediscover the importance of this virtue.

Fr. John Hardon, in his article on Chastity and Eternal Life mentioned that St Alphonsus Liguori has written that in his judgment, most of the souls in hell are there because of unrepentant sins against chastity, and that St Ignatius converted from his former unchaste life largely due to his fear of losing his soul.

The Church reminds her children that chastity is important because chastity protects our love from our concupiscence, and love as we all know, is what we need to practice in order to gain eternal life.

2346 Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God's fidelity and loving kindness.

2347 The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends, who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality.

Lastly, I am reminded that our fallen nature made us so susceptible to self-love. Thus chastity is a virtue we can pray for and ask from God, especially through the intercession of Christ's Holy Mother Most Chaste.

2345 Chastity is a moral virtue. It is also a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort. The Holy Spirit enables one whom the water of Baptism has regenerated to imitate the purity of Christ.

SELinux: is it really more secure?

If you're out of touch with recent Linux development (like me), chances are you might have encountered SELinux—Security-Enhanced Linux (probably in a bad way) while trying new distros or maintaining/updating your favorite packages.

I'm all for better security, having been a sysadmin in the past, but I must confess SELinux baffles. The idea seems simple enough: introduce security context for subjects (processes/users) and objects (files/devices), utilizing all 'the security-relevant information available', and not just rely on 'authenticated user identity'.

What I still don't understand (I'm a little lazy right now to sit & read through mountains of documentation) is how older programs and packages are supposed to work with SELinux? Last week I installed Qmail+Courier+Squirrelmail, and every individual package troubleshooting page would contain a note about disabling SELinux!

This is reminiscent of how J2ME security model ends up being an obstacle to user adoption rather than increase the sense of users' security when installing an application on their mobile...

More links here on SELinux.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Feasts of St James the Apostle (July 25), and Sts Joachim and Anne (July 26)

St James the Greater, patron Saint of Spain, is a fine model of apostolic zeal! A comprehensive post on him and his legend here. St James, we pray that inspired by your zeal, we may aspire to be a little more apostolic in our daily lives.

Sts Joachim and Anne: parents of Our Blessed Virgin Mary.
Yesterday Msgr Lau mentioned in his homily of St Anne, a patron saint for mothers and childless people. Tradition taught that she was childless for a long time, but what gracious answer God gave to them by giving them as their child the most perfect human being: Mary. She is often pictured teaching the scriptures to Our Lady as a child.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sunday afternoon work note

Some things never change:

- qmail still rocks

Some things always change:

- Keep yourself updated: My last three Linux OS server installations were in early 2004; there were two RedHat 9 machines and before that, Mandrake 10. Since then, all RedHat's products have now become commercial, so we're left to use minimally Redhat-supported Fedora. Mandrake has closed down and been renamed Mandriva!

- Fedora Core 5 ships and uses GCC 4.1. Some applications (quite a few of them, eg: Java EE 5 package) that were compiled with an older GCC 3.2 will require compatibility libraries (such as: compat-libstdc++-33, compat-libstdc++-296)

- In Fedora, yum is recommended for package installation instead of rpm.

- In Fedora, yum needs an OS key before it can install or update any package. Key needs to be obtained using:
rpm --import /usr/share/doc/fedora-release-X/RPM-GPG-KEY*

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Placental Stem Cells

There seems to be a bias in MSM reporting against the less glamorous adult, or placental, or cord-blood stem-cells. I'm no expert in stem cell research: some have argued that while these placental stem cells' lack of plasticity seems to have avoided the cancerous growth, they may still face rejection from the body's immunity once they have differentiated into the different types of cells. Yet so far, it seems like these stem cells, not as plastic or totipotent as embryonic stem cells, have yielded concrete result in real treatment.

It is thus refreshing to read this article from, which is normally a very liberal outfit that is pro-everything-in-stem-cell-research.

Full article here

Monday, July 17, 2006

Fishy, fishy...

I was researching on the "morning after" pill after a friend enquired about the morality of taking this after a non-consensual intercourse took place. From my limited bioethics knowledge, as far as I know, the "morning after" pill almost never prevent conception; because by the 'morning after', it's usually too late. So taking this pill usually resulted in killing what life might have already been conceived. But I was curious...

Doing a Google search, I found a pro-life site at the top of the search result. This is an interesting description Google put underneath:

Site asserts that "morning after" emergency contraception is just another abortion approach that kills...

A little technical info: the description below a search result item is normally taken from a Meta tag of the site, or an excerpt (usually the first line) of its main page. Being a pro-life site, there is absolutely NO WAY that site would describe itself in that manner! Conclusion: somebody else put that description for them.

I think this may have to do with Google trying to be PC; after the snafu, where a customer complained that Amazon was being too 'right-wing' when his/her search for items on the subject of abortion, and the alternative suggested keyword returned by Amazon (usually when there is a spelling error/high correlation) was adoption! LOL.


I was initially hesitant to cite from this site, because it is taking data from 1999 and before... Looking up a recent 'morning after' pill product however: Plan B, explains how they prevent pregnancy (note: not prevent conception) in an almost identical language as the site described. So these assumptions still hold.

One page explains that this pill normally contains hormones (as found in birth-control pills) and works in three ways:

1. Ovulation is inhibited, meaning the egg will not be released;
2. The normal menstrual cycle is altered, delaying ovulation; or
3. It can irritate the lining of the uterus so that if the first and second actions fail, and the woman does become pregnant, the human being created will die before he or she can actually attach to the lining of the uterus.

A link from this site goes on to explain a possible case why the pill might just precipitate ovulation, and a host of other conditions, such as altering of the endometrium, which led to the failure of the fertilized ovum to implant. (Read: abortifacient)

Beginning four days before ovulation, the average likelihood of conception from intercourse jumps from 0% to 11%. It rises to 30% on the day preceding, and day of, ovulation, before dropping to 9%, 5% and 0% on the three subsequent days. ... If an ovum is in the Fallopian tube, the process of fertilization may begin within 15 to 30 minutes after intercourse. The 'morning after' is already too late for any contraceptive effect to intervene.

Citations are available at those links. Read it for yourself and marvel how much infanticide has prevailed.