Sunday, April 30, 2006

Help to prepare a prayer meet

I'm going to help prepare a prayer meeting this coming Wednesday for a mixed audience of young adults and few married couples. The Scripture passage is the next Sunday's Gospel reading from John 10:11-18 about the Good Shepherd. I need some suggestions of activities and reflections from anyone who's prepared similar sessions before. Suggestions/Comments please!

PS: Our Pope Benedict has answered a question regarding reading the Bible. The following excerpt is taken from the question-and-answer sessions our Pope Benedict XVI had with young people of the Latium region on April 6th in St. Peter's Square, in preparation for the diocesan-level World Youth Day. All emphases mine.

Q: I often wonder what Jesus would have done in my place in a specific situation, but I don't always manage to understand what the Bible tells me. Moreover, I know that the books of the Bible were written by different people in different ages, in any case, very distant from me. How can I understand that what I read is nevertheless the word of God which calls my life into question? Thank you.

Benedict XVI: To begin, I shall answer by stressing a first point: It must first of all be said that one must not read sacred Scripture as one reads any kind of historical book, such as, for example, Homer, Ovid or Horace; it is necessary truly to read it as the word of God, that is, entering into a conversation with God.

One must start by praying and talking to the Lord: "Open the door to me." And what St. Augustine often says in his homilies: "I knocked at the door of the word to find out at last what the Lord wants to say to me," seems to me to be a very important point. One should not read Scripture in an academic way, but with prayer, saying to the Lord: "Help me to understand your word, what it is that you want to tell me in this passage."

A second point is: Sacred Scripture introduces one into communion with the family of God. Thus, one should not read sacred Scripture on one's own. Of course, it is always important to read the Bible in a very personal way, in a personal conversation with God; but at the same time, it is important to read it in the company of people with whom one can advance, letting oneself be helped by the great masters of "lectio divina."

For example, we have many beautiful books by Cardinal Martini, a true master of "lectio divina," who helps us to enter into the life of sacred Scripture. Nevertheless, one who is thoroughly familiar with all the historical circumstances, all the characteristic elements of the past, always seeks to open the door to show that the words which appear to belong to the past are also words of the present.

These teachers help us to understand better and also to learn how to interpret sacred Scripture properly. Moreover, it is also appropriate in general to read it in the company of friends who are journeying with me, who are seeking, together with me, how to live with Christ, to find what life the word of God brings us.

A third point: If it is important to read sacred Scripture with the help of teachers and in the company of friends, traveling companions, it is particularly important to read it in the great company of the pilgrim people of God, that is, in the Church.

Sacred Scripture has two subjects. First and foremost, the divine subject: It is God who is speaking. However, God wanted to involve man in his word. Whereas Muslims are convinced that the Koran was verbally inspired by God, we believe that for sacred Scripture it is "synergy" -- as the theologians say -- that is characteristic, the collaboration of God with man.

God involves his people with his word, hence, the second subject -- the first subject, as I said, is God -- is human. There are individual writers, but there is the continuity of a permanent subject -- the people of God that journeys on with the word of God and is in conversation with God. By listening to God, one learns to listen to the word of God and then also to interpret it.

Thus, the word of God becomes present, because individual persons die but the vital subject, the people of God, is always alive and is identical in the course of the millenniums: It is always the same living subject in which the word lives.

This also explains many structures of sacred Scripture, especially the so-called rereading. An ancient text is reread in another book, let us say 100 years later, and what had been impossible to perceive in that earlier moment, although it was already contained in the previous text, is understood in-depth.

And it is read again, ages later, and once again other aspects, other dimensions of the word are grasped. So it was that sacred Scripture developed, in this permanent rereading and rewriting in the context of profound continuity, in a continuous succession of the times of waiting.

At last, with the coming of Christ and the experience of the apostles, the word became definitive. Thus, there can be no further rewriting, but a further deepening of our understanding continues to be necessary. The Lord said: "The Holy Spirit will guide you into depths that you cannot fathom now."

Consequently, the communion of the Church is the living subject of Scripture. However, here too the principal subject is the Lord himself, who continues to speak through the Scriptures that we have in our hands.

I think that we should learn to do three things: To read it in a personal colloquium with the Lord; to read it with the guidance of teachers who have the experience of faith, who have penetrated sacred Scripture, and to read it in the great company of the Church, in whose liturgy these events never cease to become present anew and in which the Lord speaks with us today.

Thus, we may gradually penetrate ever more deeply into sacred Scripture, in which God truly speaks to us today.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Da Vinci deception

It seems like the hype around Da Vinci code is on the ascendant as the movie is due to be released in a few months (or weeks?) time. Almost everyone around me have read the book; whether Catholics and non-Catholics (and non-Christians). And what's surprising, and troubling, is that more seemed to believe that what the book asserts as facts, were true! Some people I know have responded that this book was but a fictional work, but the masses out there didn't see it that way and furthermore, how can one get away saying it's just a fiction smears a historical (and to us, divine) figure? I would sue someone who wrote scandalous untrue stories about my mother; fiction or not.

I've never once been tempted to believe that anything Dan Brown asserted in that book, was true. Surely it doesn't take a historian, or a proper scholar, to realize that a guy who couldn't get his facts right and who throws lots and lots of historical inaccuracies & lies in a large portion of the book, is telling anything remotely true? On top of it, we know that the human mind is capable of self-deception: seeing patterns where there were none. Few years ago, I had the (mis-)fortune and the grace to experience my 'crisis' with the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church that took me to study the Church's history and claims. What I read in Brown's book was utterly poor re-telling & fabrication of history (some of which never happened!).

This latest attack on Jesus' divinity gave me great sadness: for He who has descended to become Man and died and risen for us so that we may become divine as God, was maligned! It is not the first of such attacks, and probably not the last one. Meek as we are, Christians don't issue fatwa against Brown (and Richard Leigh and other proponents of Gnosticism) for blasphemy. It is good to see a lot of responses—especially from grassroots level—from both Catholics and our separated brethren to Brown's Da Vinci Code. Last week I attended a talk given by an Opus Dei priest on this (Opus Dei does not, by the way, have any monks).

For anyone who wants to hear what Christians have to say to defend Jesus' divinity and the Church's claim from the illogical blasphemy Brown put forth: that Jesus was not really God but just another good person (if this is so—why did Brown claim the true Church was that of Mary Magdalene's?), and that the true chalice lies within Mary Magdalene who is:

1. a figure of a mistaken interpretation by modern day ignorant laypersons of the apostle St John the evangelist,

2. not in Leonardo's painting, (which has been repainted over and over again over many years), and

3. by the way, a saint honored in the Catholic Church

Check out these links and let your heart & mind think for yourself:

Cracking Da Vinci Code

Jesus Decoded

Da Vinci Code sparks debate

A (con?) artist lays bare his trade

I pray that this latest attack may get lukewarm souls to awake and for many many more souls to embark to find Truth long abandoned and much maligned in our Church.

UPDATE! More cracks on the Da Vinci Code: A mainstream media debunks one of the lies behind a multimillion dollar story

Thursday, April 27, 2006

J2ME: Write once, run anywhere?

Write once, pray it will run in more than one family of phones... that's more like it. Just collecting another J2ME anecdote that would have been funny if it's not so exasperating.

On different handsets, VideoControl has a getSnapshot(null) method that returns images of different formats. According to documentations, getSnapshot(null) returns a PNG format. Yet this returned PNG in Nokia Series60 handsets and JPG in Sony Ericsson handsets (K300i, K500i, K700i)! It might not seem like a big thing; but this means many many more lines of codes to handle different cases.

To think this escaped our notice for many months until it started crashing our black box libraries...??? Dear God, deliver us from bad API designers!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Note to myself: PHP, Pear, and HTTP_Request

Sometimes the plethora of scripting languages out there makes for a tough day... I have in the past, 'discovered' scripts to simulate HTTP form post/file upload from Java and Perl (the 2 languages I used most often in web scripts).

Today we're doing it (simulating file upload through HTTP form) from PHP. Simple enough?

require_once "HTTP/Request.php";

$req =& new HTTP_Request("http://myserver/myservlet");

$result = $req->addFile("myfile", "/myfile-full-location");

This gives error:
Failed opening required 'HTTP/Request.php' (include_path='.:/php/includes')

And for the next 2 hours, this little 'script' thing made me go through:

1. Install / re-configure PEAR
For PHP v5.0.3, PEAR comes preconfigured. But for some reason, I could not find 'Request.php' anywhere in the system using find.
Try this: upgrade a few installed packages; HTTP, Net_URL, Net_Socket and finally HTTP_Request. Also add the new path /usr/local/lib/php to the variable include_path in my php.ini file.
Your PHP does not support zlib?

2. Re-installation of PHP
This time, remember to configure it with these support flags: --with-zlib and --with-libxml (another roadblock: the version of libxml2 I had was too old).
Oops! Forgot the old configure flags --with-mysql and --with-apxs2.
Repeat this and repeat Step 1.

3. Still not working?
The message on the error page still hasn't changed! Wait a minute... I've recompiled & reinstalled PHP several times and nothing changes?
Try this: $ sudo apachectl graceful

Finally the problem is nailed... thank God!

I'm writing this note to myself just in case I need to open the car hood again :|

<rant>Everybody seems to run into this simulation process sometime. Why don't we make something new to spare the newer programmers and write a language-agnostic library or something?</rant>

Friday, April 21, 2006

Jiu Gong, RIP

My grand-uncle (jiu gong), just passed away after recently diagnosed with lung cancer. The youngest of the siblings, he was the first to pass away. He had had various complications and was slowly dying these past few weeks.

Eternal rest grant him, o Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.

Kindly remember him in your prayers, for the repose of his soul.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Mane nobiscum, Domine

In my semi-regular prayer meeting with people of the CHOICE weekend community, I heard the sharings of many Catholics about Easter: how they celebrate Easter and what it means to them. For the first time, I learnt about my fellow 'journey-ers' and the different 'moods' of faith they experience.

Tonight we meditated over today's Gospel, one of my favorite Post-Passion Gospel passages about the two disciples meeting Jesus on their way to Emmaus, as well as this coming Sunday's Gospel, about Jesus appearing to doubting Thomas in the upper room.

Abraham Bloemaert
"The Emmaus Disciples"-1622

Luke 24
29 but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.
31 And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.
32 They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?"

As much as the annual 40 days of Lent are supposed to prepare all the faithful, individually and communally, to die to our sins and rise anew in Christ, most of us are trapped our own 'cycles' of giddy joy and lowly blues in our relationship with God. And as such, some of us find that the Church's "peak" over Easter does not coincide with our own peaks.

I heard some sharing how touched they have been this Easter, how they reflected anew the meaning of resurrection in their own lives, and how some did not even attend Masses for any of the solemnities. It is with sadness that I heard how for some, Easter Sunday feels just like another mass, and with remembrance of how lukewarm I too had been in my celebration (or non-celebration) of Easter in the past.

As for 'sync-ing' my mood cycles with the solemn mood of the Church, I think right now it's a bit like the stock market graph—lots of daily & weekly fluctuations—but in general, thanks be to God, it's on the upward trend.

This Easter though, I felt something special; as if there's something joyful inside that's bursting out. A reader might give a wry comment that a Christian life should be lived with that kind of joy all the time ;) Honestly it has not been that way for me and I'm working on it!

Those who have read several of my posts in the last few months probably realized I'm in some kind of discernment period. This year's Lent was different precisely because I never had to, never felt the need to discern before, and this year I had to. I identified very much with the two disciples who met Jesus on the way to Emmaus, save for the bit where they saw the Lord breaking bread. They must have felt frustrated and desolate when Jesus died being crucified and then his body went missing by Sunday morning. I too felt frustrated in my discerning process because though I know and believe Jesus is the Messiah, my acknowledgement of this did not seem to set my life on the 'right track'.

Although my eyes of faith know that Jesus is with us always, there were times when, like the two disciples, my feeble senses could not quite believe or recognize Him in my daily situations. I remember reading reflections after reflections, writings of saints and bishops on Catholic websites, wanting so badly to perceive, to recognize, to feel, but could not, some kind of signs that would guide me to be immersed in God's presence, and ultimately, to know His will, and to will His will to be mine and to do it.

For many months I had struggled on my own strength, to discern and almost despaired in the hope of finding it. These last few weeks of Lent, I realized that one requires an attentive prayer life (that I do not yet have) to discern properly and lots of support from people I trust. My search for an answer had been reduced to something akin to finding Jesus' body: is it in the tomb, or is it somewhere outside? I missed the big picture: He is risen! My question now has become, what is God's will for me right here and now? Like the two disciples, I felt my heart burning when I recognized the desire to find the Truth; but as yet unable to make it out. Like the two disciples, I could only feel certainty when in the breaking of the bread, Jesus gave Himself for all of us, in communion, to eat.

This Easter, I resolve to say Yes to whatever He wills, although I don't know what it is as of now, trusting that in His time and His mercy, it will be done. Pray for me that I may gradually recognize God's promptings in every little situation and faithfully choose to carry them out.

John 20
27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing."
28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"
29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Birthday to il Papa!

April 16th is our Pope Benedict XVI's birthday, I thank God for the gift of our shepherd and here's wishing him God's blessings as he continues to faithfully lead us his flock.

(Mildly Offensive) Linux Joke

When trying to set this picture file as my desktop background in Linux,

[antonia@evenstar image]$ ls "Jesus cross crucifixion.jpg"
-rw-rw-r-- 1 antonia antonia 281204 Apr 16 13:17 Jesus cross crucifixion.jpg
[antonia@evenstar image]$ bsetbg "Jesus cross crucifixion.jpg"
Jesus does not exist
(<-- WHAT?!)

(And they say IT folks are agnostics...)

Jokes aside folks, I affirm Jesus does indeed exist and He lived and died and is risen for you and me!


Exsultet: Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Sion sing, break into song! For within you is the Lord, with his saving power!

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, our King is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

It is truly right that with full hearts and minds and voices
we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful Father,
and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam's sin to our eternal Father!

This is our passover feast,
When Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night,
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slav'ry,
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is night,
when Christians ev'rywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night,
when Jesus broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy.

Night truly blessed,
when heaven is wedded to earth
and we are reconciled to God!

Therefore, heavenly Father, in the joy of this night,
receive our evening sacrifice of praise,
your Church's solemn offering.

Accept this Easter candle.
May it always dispel the darkness of this night!

May the Morning Star which never sets
find this flame still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star,
who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Gloria in excelsis Deo
Et in terra pax hominibus bone voluntatis

Friday, April 14, 2006

Easter Triduum

As we enter the Easter Triduum, here's wishing everyone a blessed Easter celebration.

PS: Sorry for the late posting, just came back from a short family vacation ;)

Friday, April 07, 2006

Written in our hearts

In the past few days, I have encountered the phrases "unwritten law" and "law in our hearts" multiple times in my readings. It is a reminder of my unresolved discernment question.

Jeremiah 31: 33 - 34 (Last Saturday's reading)
[33]...I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
[34]And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD..."

Again, while reading William E May's Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life, Pope John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae, about the doctrine that killing innocent life is always gravely immoral:

"[this is] based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart"

And last week, Fr Frans quoted in his homily, that the human heart has an infinite capacity for self-deception. Thus, when we are true to ourselves we will find, upon deep searching, God's will 'written' within our hearts.

Contemplating God's will always brought to my mind the example of Our Lady, who seemingly without hesitation, gave her Fiat to the angel Gabriel, and to our God. I stood facing a statue of our Lady in front of the church after last Sunday's sunset mass; and it just dawned upon me what courage it took her to say Yes to something she does not understand. As I thought about the path that led me here—my discovery of the potential of IT and the Internet while in Singapore, meeting so many people on the 'Net and (sometimes, face-to-face, like in the World Youth Day) because of the 'Net—it is a path, no? Not just a series of quirky choices.

Perhaps in the search for God's will we are not asked to understand what it is. I'm beginning to think that our feeble minds and senses are not meant to fathom God's ways, but to recognize it when we find it before us and to follow it faithfully. This restlessness I feel may never go away, not when I keep hearing our belated Pope John Paul the Great say: (my favorite quote!)

"Do not be afraid! Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."

With a prompting like that, who could remain uninspired? Yet dear Pope John Paul II allowed himself—lost himself, surrendered himself—to be guided by the Spirit to fulfil God's plan, not his own.

After this coming Sunday, Holy Week is upon us; Lent is ending, and time for Jesus will come. May we say our Fiat to Him this Easter :)

Sunday, April 02, 2006

In Memoriam: Pope John Paul II the Great

One year ago today, April 2nd, our beloved late Pope JPII the Great, passed away. As I had written before, it was him who brought me 'back'; it was his writings which got me interested in the Church and its teachings after many years of wandering and spiritual aridity. May he always intercede for us the Church Militant.

Today we pray for the repose of his soul and for the cause of his canonization. Santo Subito!

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.