Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will."

"For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David." -- Luke 2:11

Merry Christmas to everyone! (I'm going home!)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Back from Vietnam

Back from Ho Chi Mih City last night...

(All pictures courtesy of my friends —these are from KT— because I took no camera there!) More to come soon.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Going on a holiday, sort of

I'm off to Vietnam tomorrow morning for a week. Be back with more pictures and stories!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Drawing lines

This evening, browsing Google News, I clicked on a story headline simply because its title is so arresting: "Bush got it right on stem cells". Before this evening, I did not know who is Charles Krauthammer, the author of the story; so I didn't know whether he falls under the 'conservative', 'neocon' or 'leftist' inclination, but the title itself is simply provocative. It is very rare to hear President Bush being praised for anything these days.

In the last few weeks, anyone who's watching the bioethics field, or is simply curious about the latest scientific breakthrough, must have heard of some wonderful news about IPS cells (induced pluripotent stem cells)—which are essentially stem cells that did not come from embryos and therefore did not involve killing of anyone.

Soon after this breaking news, there came another piece of even better news: IPS cells that were not created using a protooncogene, which earlier was used and was feared to induce cancer in the subjects.

Since I'm not American and do not pay taxes to the US, I have no comments regarding her president; only that Bush was right to make the stem cell issue a moral issue and draw a line. The Catholic Church, whose teaching I subscribe to, is unambiguous on this issue: life begins at conception, therefore harvesting stem cells from embryos is equivalent to killing of innocent lives, always an intrinsically grave evil.

While Krauthammer himself is in favor of a more 'liberal' policy on ESC research, he rightly pointed out that the slope is very slippery. He reiterated the need to draw a firm line, and pointed the dubious examples of 'populist' politicians who kept continuously re-drawing and 'retreating' their positions. If nothing else, Bush earned a place in American history through this one policy.

What, thought, what if, the IPS breakthrough had not come about? Prior to them, there have always been other sources of "adult" stem cells, such as those that are obtained from umbilical cord blood cells. Bottomline is, no good end can ever justify evil means.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Friendship just isn't what it used to be...

... in fact, Anthony Esolen proclaimed it dead here.

Since the topic of friendship is still fresh in my mind, this brilliant article pinpointed exactly at what's ailing our friendships today and struck a chord. He warned about the loss of friendship, especially amongst men today. Genuine, affectionate friendship has become a victim to political correctness that changes the semantics of the communal language we use in the society. Gone are the days where men form friendships like Sam and Frodo, or King David and Jonathan.

No doubt about this: If you are a modern man, a half-man, many such ideas and loves have already died in you. For as much as you can admire them wistfully, from a half-understanding distance, you can be neither Frodo nor Sam, nor the man who created them. You dare not follow Agassiz, alone, to the Arctic. You will not weep for Jonathan. You once were acquainted with Enkidu, but that was all. Do not even mention John the Apostle.

While my short reflection about friendship doesn't run along the same thread as Esolen's, I realize that many times, our "lack of availability" stems precisely from a distorted notion of friendship and ultimately, of ourselves. During my teenage days, there were those amongst my friends who suddenly became 'unavailable' because they fancied themselves in love with the person they started 'going steady' with. Everyone else in the world is expendable except for that (current) special one, and friendship suffers as a result:

The libertinism of our day thrusts boys and girls together long before they are intellectually and emotionally ready for it, and at the same time the defiant promotion of homosexuality makes the natural and once powerful friendships among boys virtually impossible.

Go read the entire article here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Friendship: that bittersweet cup

Friendship, is a notion that I took so much for granted that frankly, at this point of time, I cannot remember what it should mean. What does friendship mean? What does being a friend entail? Many times the mention of "Friend" leaves me cold, or jaded, or cynical. How many times do we say "friend" to conceal a more particular nature of our relationship with someone (whether it means closer or further)? For me, too many times.

I guess the reason why I wrote this post is that, being in friendship is not easy. Two reasons: expectations and fragility.

I recall with some sadness, several occasions when I had been let down, very much let down, by people whom I thought were friends. Part of this, naturally, has got to do with mismatched expectation. For a certain friend, being friends means you just have to be available 24/7 whenever they need a shoulder to cry on. For others, that's too much to ask even in a close friendship. In my better moments, I thought to myself, that if _that_ much (or rather, that little) is all that person has got to offer me, I'll take it up gladly anyway. "Give until it hurts," Mother Teresa once said, and nowhere do I feel this more keenly than in some friendships.

After all, it's not easy being a good friend! Another thing I associate with friendship, is both always having to, and, being able to say sorry! I have lost count of how many times I have to precede a conversation with "Sorry", simply because life or some other Passing Interest in my life, had taken up so much time that I forget this or that particular friend for many months or even years... So, for each time that I feel disappointed with a friend, I remind myself that there must be many more friends I am disappointing!

Few "self-improvement" atention is paid to developing friendships.. it is as if the world takes it for granted that everyone innately knows how to make and sustain friendships. Magazines publish articles on how to succeed better at your workplace, how to eat better, how to shop better, but hardly anything on how to be better friends. Perhaps it's true that as children we make friends naturally, but adult life definitely takes toll on friendship; and without much attention paid to our friendships, perhaps someday we may literally wake up to find we don't have real friends.

Another reason for this thread of thought, is that our life very much depends on our friendship with God. Even this relationship gets neglected in the same way that I decribe my neglect of mortal friends. How we treat our friendships is a reflection of how we treat our friendship with God. May there not be a day where we meet Our Lord and found that He does not recognize us as His friends!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Waiting in hope

My favorite liturgical season is about to start, we've just celebrated the feast of Christ the King, and there are just a few days before Advent is here. I used to think that Advent 'snucks' up on us, catching us unaware of how fast the year has gone by before Christmas arrives, and a new year follows. Often lost in the pervasive Christmas-y decorations that have gone up in department stores way before Advent is even here, is the idea that Advent is a period of waiting.

From the Old Testament, we learn that our elder brothers in faith, the Jews, are people who knows the meaning of waiting. From Abraham, who waited until his old age to see the Lord's promise of innumerable descendants, to the Isralites under the yoke of Egyptian slavery, to those who wander (and perish) in the desert for 40 years before they set their sight on the promised land, the Jews are People who wait, a People of hope. And so are we, the people who live after our Lord entered time, we are a people who hope to see behold His countenance one day.

In our daily lives, there are many moments when we hope and long for the arrival of something: birth of a child, liberation from tyranny, recovery from a long sickness, or even, an end to a long, arduous project at work. It is in these moments that we labor to bring Christ into the world. In yesterday's feast, we are reminded that Christ is King, and His kingdom, while not of this world, is in this world, and we, His soldiers, need to conquer ourselves to spread His kingdom. It makes no sense to suffer, to sacrifice and to love, if we are not people of Hope. Christ had come to redeem us, and Christ will come again.

Every year Advent comes upon us, reliving the anticipation of the drama of Incarnation, where God truly becomes one of us. Isn't this Truth something that all human heart secretly longs for? Saints lead their entire lives in anticipation, and sometimes they even lead a foretaste of an eternal life with God, where our souls no longer suffer under the yoke of the world's trials, where God wipes every tear from our faces.

Let us contemplate the humility and the majesty of our God who enter into our life as a mere child; He who could appear anywhere, anytime as anyone, chose not to reveal His glory, but to live His own obscure Advent for thirty years! Every Advent we are reminded of the ethereal nature of our lives here on earth, and it is but one lifelong Advent period to prepare for the coming of God into our lives.

(Written for a newsletter)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Random Quiz

Though I'm thousands of (genetic) miles away from being European, this quiz is fun, although its outcome is unexpected!

Your Inner European is Russian!

Mysterious and exotic.

You've got a great balance of danger and allure.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Windows woes (part 2)

I haven't felt this exasperated in many years. I've never banged my head harder than I did tonight trying to install a little application onto a Windows Mobile smartphone device.

"What does every mobile developer ultimately want to do?" Simple question, simple answer: "To get the application to run on the phone". It took me hours of poring through MSDN's documentations and technical articles to find out just HOW exactly to do that.


Alphabet Soup
"CAB", "INF", ActiveSync, are some of the terms thrown around liberally in the developers' articles. As if everybody knows what they mean. I don't know what a CAB is, I don't know why only a CAB file can install the app on the phone, and I don't know how do I make a CAB out of my executable. The only reason why I started searching for the keyword "CAB" was because I happened to remember that a year ago, that's what a colleague of mine used to run his Windows Mobile app. Now, if only these three simple questions can be answered in the same article, I think MSFT is justified paying good salaries to their technical writers.

Instead, here I am writing in frustration at 4AM in the morning because the documentation is so fragmented and the information design obfuscated! I really don't want to nitpick, but I'd think that since on-device deployment is a common goal for all developers, creating a CAB project would be a highlighted task/feature in Visual Studio 2005. But no, to create a CAB project, you have to add another project into your existing Project, and on top of that, select it from "Other Project Types"!

Frankly I was impressed the first time I saw the collection of documentation and technical articles available at MSDN website, but very soon it's clear quantity certainly does not trump over quality.

The last hop
Getting the app to the device, after a frustrating battle to generate a CAB file, was jumping through another set of hoops. 'Impressive' was my first reaction when I saw how many delivery mechanisms Windows Mobile support for the app installation: SMS/Email/Cab Installer/ActiveSync/Push SMS, you name it. After another wild goose chase trying to find out what is ActiveSync, and whether it ships with the SDK, and whether I really need to install it, it took another half hour to figure out what is the best way of getting the device 'online' and getting it to access the CAB file.

Needless to say, I did manage to install the app and that's why I am writing this now. But the tears of blood may not be worth it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Some tech updates

This blog hits 10,000 visits yesterday! I can't remember when the site traffic meter was first put in, perhaps some 2 years ago, but still... it's a reminder of how long it's been here, since August 2003!

On other news, I've got an announcement that in the tech world may be seen as nothing short of an apostasy: I started developing software on Microsoft .NET! *Gasp* *Choke* Well, to be fair I had evaluated all my choices and it came down to economics. So a potential client came up to us and asked us to do a Windows Mobile client job. The price was good and we said yes.

So I spent the last few days trying to install the various Microsoft animals that are required to get the IDE and the SDK up and running. Let me write here briefly what I had to do (just in case I ever need to do this again... I sure hope I don't have to!)

  1. Install Visual Studio 2005 (15 minutes)
  2. Explore the IDE, find out just what can it do... (20 minutes)
  3. Complete a little application in half hour's time (30 minutes)
  4. Choose the target mobile platform (Smartphone 2003 / PocketPC 2003 / choose your animal) (1 minute)
  5. Build the project, run into a strange error (0.5 minute)
  6. It says .NET 1.1 is required (hmm.. what is that?) (0.5 day gone)
  7. Try to install .NET 1.1 Framework.... run into error! (1 day is gone)
  8. Google search says .NET 1.1 Redistributable Framework needs to be installed
  9. Try to install .NET 1.1 Redistributable framework... run into error! Even worse than before, because it was not a documented known issue (1 day is gone)
  10. Another Google search says that it's a known issue with Vista! (darn.. don't they all come from the same company??!!) and that the workaround is to do the following with .NET 1.1 SP1 (are you telling me .NET Framework needs a Service Pack too???):
    1. Download Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 Redistributable Package and Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 Service Pack 1 using links below:
    * Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 Redistributable Package
    * Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 Service Pack 1
    2. Save both installations in the same directory
    3. Ensure that the Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 Redistributable Package is named dotnetfx.exe. If not, change its name to dotnetfx.exe.
    4. Ensure that Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 Service Pack 1 is named dotnetfxsp1.exe. If not, change its name to dotnetfxsp1.exe.
    5. Open command prompt as Administrator, and change to the directory where the two installations are saved.
    6. Run the following commands using the order shown below
    * dotnetfx.exe /c:"msiexec.exe /a netfx.msi TARGETDIR=C:\dotnet"
    * dotnetfxsp1.exe /Xp:C:\dotnet\netfxsp.msp
    * msiexec.exe /a c:\dotnet\netfx.msi /p c:\dotnet\netfxsp.msp
    7. Install both Microsoft .Net Framework 1.1 and Service Pack 1 by running C:\dotnet\netfx.msi
  11. After a few days of troubleshooting, fully expecting that these animals won't get along, suddenly the same project compiles beautifully! TA-DA!

By this time, I have come to realize that the price quoted was fully justified -- the IDE installation process alone was painful enough. Welcome to Microsoftville *evil cackle*

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Universal widget?

I was not quite convinced when I saw this heading "Universal Widget", but that's what NetVibes claims they were doing with their open widget platform. They claim they support these widget platforms currently:
- netvibes
- Mac dashboard
- iGoogle
- Opera
- Windows Vista
- Windows Live
- (coming soon) Yahoo!

If this is true, it's too good to be true! Prior to making the two widgets, I had deliberated between iGoogle and Yahoo! platforms, because their user demographics seem quite exclusive (non-overlapping). Now it seems it'll be possible to port them for different platforms using similar (if not single), codebase.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Communion of saints

For many years, the Communion of saints is a Catholic concept that is probably one of the hardest things to understand for me, a convert. To me, from observing many cradle-Catholic friends of mine, the communion of saints means, roughly, praying to St Anthony for a certain kind of intention, St Jude to another kind of intention, going to novenas, visiting the shrines of our Lady for all sorts of special intentions, etc. What often came to my mind is a picture of old ladies clutching prayer cards and rosaries, and occasionally, physical penance carried out to 'bargain' with the saints for their intercession. Their piety amaze and move me, but really, is it necessary?

I suppose I did not much understand this because my life frankly, has not been one where much bargaining for divine intercession is needed. There were many ups and downs, but I trust that God knows better what's good for us than we do ourselves.

Fast forward to the present day, I share an apartment with a cradle Catholic from the Philippines, and made friends with many other cradle Catholics from traditionally Catholic countries. They expose me to these heretofore alien pious practices. And many intercessions, invocations, devotions, and Marian pilgrimages later, I realize that it has helped me form a habit to pray for other people's intentions and needs. I also realize that means I can ask many more people to pray for my intentions. It is strange for me today if there are nobody's intentions to pray for... and if friends ask me, a lowly member of the Church militant and a sinner, to pray for their intentions, why can't we turn to the saints and holy souls to intercede for us? For the petitions of the just surely carry more merit in heaven...

Through other means I have also 'discovered' the communion of saints. Since I started reading Catholic blogs, there have been so many new acquaintances made, and so many people and intentions to pray for. Two years ago, I found out that one of the twins (of Angry Twins) was about to enter the monastery and began praying for him. And the blogger formerly known as Moneybags, have also entered the seminary this fall. And the blogger who's praying for the safety of a baby in threat of being aborted. And the blogger who's praying that the San Diego fire may not harm a monastery nearby. There are many other examples through which I realize that the communion of saints is so REAL.

Today, for instance, I read a lovely story about Kate's grandfather who recently passed away and whom she remembered especially for his famous butter cinnamon toast. I don't know who Kate is, I don't know who her grandpa is, and I've never eaten cinnamon toast before... but from now on, I'll remember them in prayer whenever I eat cinnamon toast. Isn't the communion of saints beautiful?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Rosary Widget

For the month of October, my contribution to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary is this little widget (official link here). Similar to the earlier aspirations widget, it is a Yahoo! Widget (not to be confused with widgets for blogs). It was this earlier widget that started a few requests coming my way, one of them is a request for a rosary widget as a prayer aid.

A few months after the request, I finally took a few hours on a Friday night to do it. Actually the real reason was because I had been home-bound and desk-bound for the last few days and personally had trouble concentrating in the praying of the rosary, which I normally say whilst travelling. Also, I keep giving away my rosaries to people around me, that it's time to use an electronic aid...

To start, simply click on the red beads. It will scroll through the prayers (no going back though!) and display a counter of Hail Mary's said.

Some features:

- Option to turn ON/OFF the illustration images
- Option to say mystery of the day (default) or your choice of mystery
- Option to switch between English & Latin

I've submitted this widget for public download at Yahoo! Widgets Gallery and it's still now under review. (I will update this post and the link when it goes live.) In the meanwhile, if you trust that I'm not going to run some malicious code on your machine, you can also download it here (UPDATE: link refreshed). If it helps you to pray better, it's enough reward! Feedback welcome.

UPDATE: I found an article that talks about how powerful praying the rosary is. It's not the only example, but it's good to remember especially if we slip into remission. Spread the rosary!

UPDATE #2: The widget now is ready for download from Yahoo! site. The link is here

Monday, October 22, 2007

Formula One 2007 season concludes

One of my favorite sports (well, sports to watch) is Formula One motor racing, which I started watching since 1998. It's mesmerizing at a glance, and upon learning further about the sports, one gains respect for its intricacy. A hundredth of a second may tip the balance towards victory, or defeat. It's one of the sports that combines precision engineering, performance calibration, strategy, teamwork and individual (the racer's) gumption. What's not to like about the sports?

Well, for one, this year has been a scandal-ridden one for McLaren-Mercedes (now renamed "Vodafone McLaren Mercedes"), from accusation of corporate espionage, to multiple possibilities of rules infringement such as using two sets of wet tyres and running on fuel with temperature higher than allowed. The stars of this sports don't seem to be as colorful as those of, say, soccer. Not that they are above bickering, or sometimes, less than honorable deeds like blocking a rival. But still...

This year's Drivers' Championship is won by Kimi Räikkönen, one of my favorite drivers since his days at McLaren, by just one point! What a race Interlagos was... he started the race as a Championship contender in third position. In brief, Alonso and rookie McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton tied for 2nd and 3rd at 109 points each, with Kimi at 110. More about this year's season here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Finding "God-spot" in our brains

This article amuses me to no end... some scientists are trying to 'map God' into regions of the human brain. What's amusing to me are: (1) how they try to see what's happening in the brains of several Buddhists as well as Carmelite and Franciscan nuns as they meditate / pray (or tried to pray, given that they are lying prone in an MRI scanner with electric caps attached to their heads), (2) how they explain 'away' the sensation of divine presence (and in the Buddhist cases, one-ness with the universe feeling), and then ironically, (3) how they would like to reproduce the apparent benefits associated with the practice of prayers in other (presumably non-praying) people by 'firing' on some regions of the brain to activate the 'God experience': "If you know how to electrically or neurochemically change functions in the brain, then you [might] in principle be able to help normal people, not mystics, achieve spiritual states using a device that stimulates the brain electromagnetically or using lights and sounds."

The conclusion seems a little disappointing to the scientists in this study, though not unexpected:

"There is no single God spot, localized uniquely in the temporal lobe of the human brain," Beauregard (ed: a neuroscientist) concludes. "These states are mediated by a neural network that is well distributed throughout the brain."

This is an interesting comment, although a little inconsistent, given that they did indeed volunteer themselves to this 'silly' study:

Although Beauregard had hoped the nuns would experience a mystical union while in the scanner, the best they could do, it turned out, was to conjure up an emotionally powerful memory of union with God. "God can’t be summoned at will," explained Sister Diane, the prioress of the Carmelite convent in Montreal.

To be fair, the article also mentioned that there are significant physical differences in certain areas of the brains amongst those who pray. The 'benefits' noted include alleviation of stress and sadness, as well as a slight reversal of the usual process of aging of the brain, which are still tangible benefits for anyone else who do not pray.

The reporter concludes thus:

[No] matter what neural correlates scientists may find, the results cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. Although atheists might argue that finding spirituality in the brain implies that religion is nothing more than divine delusion, the nuns were thrilled by their brain scans for precisely the opposite reason: they seemed to provide confirmation of God’s interactions with them. After all, finding a cerebral source for spiritual experiences could serve equally well to identify the medium through which God reaches out to humanity. Thus, the nuns’ forays into the tubular brain scanner did not undermine their faith. On the contrary, the science gave them an even greater reason to believe.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Uber Dorky Nerd Queen

One of those timesinks that I can't resist taking today... (h/t to Fr Erik)

NerdTests.com says I'm an Uber-Dorky Nerd Queen.  What are you?  Click here!

Looks like I need to work on the lit thingy and get a life..

PS: This is a 2.0 version of the earlier quiz

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Tiny miracle

25 week old baby weighing 10oz delivered in Hanover, Germany. She survived against all odds and have been allowed to go home after six months. While not the youngest case recorded, it's the smallest preemie baby I've seen! More here.

It's sad that in many places, Singapore is one of them, the limit for legal abortion is 24 weeks, when it is clearly, obviously, already a baby. (Yeah, it's already a baby since conception, but you can't say that 25-week-old Kimberley Mueller was a blob of tissue.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I believe in Love

If I should ever find myself in doubt and darkness, I shall read again this short but profound reflection on Mercy, drawing from the writings of St Therese of Lisieux, St Paul and the life of Our Lord as written in the Gospels.

The good God would not inspire unattainable desires; I can, then, in spite of my littleness, aspire to sanctity.—St Therese of Lisieux

This page is taken from the 2nd chapter of a personal retreat volume "I Believe in Love" by a French priest, Rev. Jean C. J. d'Elbeé, who wrote it based on St. Therese's 'teaching about confident love'. It may not be unfamiliar to most, but encountering it at this point of my life is nothing less than a caress, an oasis in the desert.

A sampler is here:

I am not telling you, "You believe too much in your own wretchedness." We are much more wretched than we ever realize. But I am telling you, "You do not believe enough in merciful love."

We must have confidence, not in spite of our miseries, but because of them, since it is misery which attracts mercy.

Oh, this word, mercy — misericordia — "miseris cor dare," a heart which gives itself to the miserable, a Heart which nourishes itself on miseries by consuming them. Meditate on this word.

St. Thomas says that "to have mercy belongs to the nature of God, and it is in this that His omnipotence manifests itself in the highest degree."

Little Thérèse perceived this when she wrote these lines which complete and crown her manuscript: "Yes, I sense that even if I had on my conscience all the sins which can be committed, I would go, my heart broken, to repent and throw myself into the arms of Jesus, for I know how much He cherishes the prodigal child who returns to Him. It is not because the dear Lord in His provident mercy has preserved my soul from mortal sin that I am lifted up to Him by confidence and love."

Again, shortly before her death, speaking to Mother Agnes, she said, "You may truly say that if I had committed all possible crimes, I would still have the same confidence; I would feel that this multitude of offenses would be like a drop of water thrown into a flaming furnace." All possible crimes, a multitude of offenses, a drop of water in an immense furnace: that is the proportion.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Happiness is...

... a warm electrode, according to modern science :)

The subject has been ill with depression for more than ten years, and did not respond to typical treatment such as drugs and ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). This DBS (Deep Brain Surgery) treatment implanted electrodes that deliver a small, regular jolt of electrical current to an area of the brain 'believed to be a key regulator of mood'. While similar treatment has been done on patients with Parkinson's disease by normalizing the 'activity in the basal ganglia and thalmus—which dictate motor control—thus reducing trembling limbs', this operation is believed to be the first to 'tackle depression'.

The article did briefly mention the ethical concern of allowing this treatment to be performed without much understanding of why the electrical pulses seem to be correlated to mood uplifting, and putting in a mechanical implant that may have to last many decades. The argument given in favor of this treatment is the seeming epidemic of depression; and how time is the enemy of depression patients, having caused many fatalities through suicide (11th leading cause of death in the US, this article says). Notably missing however, is a discussion on the implication of having this implant in a patient's head—both from the risk aspect of mechanical failure or poisoning or contamination, and unforeseen psychiatric & physiological side-effect, since this treatment only picked up in the 1990's, giving only a very brief period to study the safety and the efficacy of such medical treatment.

Also troubling in my opinion, is how happiness (albeit the author meant it with his tongue-in-cheek) has been reduced to a formula delivered through a set of physical treatment. It may not be too long before it is made available to anyone who feels the need of an extra dose of happiness. Lunchtime pick-me-up session anyone?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Six years later

I was watching "United 93", the first movie I've seen about September 11th 2001, just a few days before the memorial of six years after this tragedy. The movie is in general well written, and for the first time in my video-watching history, I actually checked out the 'Extras' at the end of the movie. In it (the DVD version), there are many families featured, who have lost someone in that flight, and how they were involved in the making of the movie. That was, I thought, the most touching part and telling, too!

One mother, interviewed in 2005, a year before the movie was released, said something to the effect that she did not know what kind of person her daughter really was until after her death. In a way the tragedy 'opened' her eyes, but she was still grieving for what could have been, what life they could have led together. Many lives were cut short that day, and I too was reminded to count on what really matters in our brief lives. May they rest in peace.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Trading truth for consistency?

If there is one thing I found negative about writing online (as in, posting a blog, not to be confused with proper, paid, writing of an online article), it is that there is too much freedom to express half-baked thoughts, or even crumbs and trails of some whimsical ideas which are not meant to convince anyone, nor to convey an idea clearly. In fact, any commenter who suggests that a particular post is too incomplete to stand on its own, or that the poster is just experiencing verbal diarrhoea and is just wasting some electrons, will be told to 'sod off', get his own blog and start rambling away there: precisely affirming that the poster was probably not intending to carry out any form of proper discourse.

(Now, after that long rambling preamble, I'm trying to remember what is the point of this post...) It is therefore very easy to start writing a post, and suddenly lose one's train of thought. (Like the fact that this post was started a week earlier). Sometimes, it's because there's just one bit of idea, which could be a single word, that keeps popping up in the blogger's mind; that s/he comes to the conclusion that there must be a common thread connecting all this 'light bulbs'. Well, living by the rule that since it's my blog, I'll try my best to write on topics that I want (given proper boundaries of sensibilities, of course).

Just this week, we celebrate the memorial of two great saints in the Church: St Augustine, and his mom, St Monnica. The blogosphere is abuzz (rightly) with posts about these two saints every year around this time of their feast days. I read St Augustine's Confessions once, and like someone once said about some works of the saints, it serves as a 'spiritual thermometer' to me... On days when I feel close to God, I could perfectly echo Augustine's words and claim them as my own sentiments. On days when I feel like I'm walking in a shadow, reading those words made me feel empty, their echoes only emphasizing the emptiness of myself. Well, this year it is the latter.

I've been told, many times by different people, that when in doubt, or facing a major decision, turn to Him in prayer. When feeling lukewarm or distant, call out to 'Him who never leaves you if you do not leave him'. I'm just a baby when it comes to prayer, and frankly I don't recall ever receiving a clear 'answer' to a question, or to a doubt, through prayer. Not that this invalidates the importance or the absolute necessity for prayer; for the Church teaches that any supernatural insights are often deceptive: either they come from the evil one, or from our own intellect, or they can be truly divine.

And so, comforted with this idea that praying is not like chatting or talking on the phone to God—it's more like, writing an email, or writing a blog post, somehow someday someone is going to answer you, and from my experience, neither the time nor the content of the responses are predictable—I proceed with trepidation into this 'light' called prayer. Like most 'beginners', I sometimes receive consolations, but was cautioned against expecting them regularly—as if without them the prayer is any less valid—and now am in this stage of getting used to this lack of dialog.

Now, this is where doubt creeps in. Although I am far from humble, I think I have sufficiently accepted that it is not possible for the human mind to perceive Truth, the whole Truth. It should be possible though, to strive towards truth when one looks for consistency. Consistency? Some might say that even if a sequence of logical arguments is consistent, it might still suffer—at the start of the chain—from a logical foundation error. Yet, to my mind it's easier to correct that one error than to set right every inconsistency in the logic chain.

It is consistency that have led me to where I am. If the smallest object we encounter on earth has a human creator, then it is only most probable that there exists a Creator who made the Universe and everything in it, although mathematically speaking there is a smallest chance that Everything might have come from a mere coincidence. That was the cornerstone for me. Everything else follows.

What's going to follow is not a strictly watertight Thomistic argument — so do not bash my head for this: I was pretty merely comforted by its consistency. If we have a creator, it must be a Good Creator, because nature and human being, despite the bad tendencies, are still geared towards order and goodness. Original Fall explains our soft spot for sins, and the theology of salvation makes perfect sense if one believes in the Good Creator. If one believes in St Thomas' argument for the divinity of Jesus Christ, then one believes in His revelation that our God is Trinitarian. And thus that God paid the price of our redemption. And thus one, catholic and apostolic Church as his visible body. And thus the Catholic Church as the one true church. And thus she holds depositum fidei. And thus all her teachings. And when it comes to the Church's teachings on hell and heaven, the sacraments become absolutely necessary. And the real presence in the Eucharist, thus genuflection. And the need to receive worthily, thus regular confession, thus daily examination. You see what I mean?

At the center of this pack of 'cards', lies prayer. And this is where things get a little muddy, because as all you know, prayer is anything but consistent. When one engages in prayer to God, one does not tell God that He needs to answer back in a manner that one demands! I realize that the lack of predictability, the lack of consistency in the manner of prayer was unsettling to me: the crux of the problem. I guess it is the 'weakest link' in the sequence, for how can one reasonably reason prayer and faith? All this while, faith has never been separated from reason for me; but I'm entering a state where faith seems to be above reason.

Can God be consistent? Am I imposing consistency on God? Just because the universe He made seems to follow some rational formula, it doesn't mean it is the only way He acts. I realize this question brushes the transcendental view of God that the Muslims hold, of an omnipotent God who is also totally arbitrary and not bound by the rules He himself set. The problem seems to be a matter of wanting to bind Truth to mere consistency. To want to reduce God into a logical system. To want to bind the Infinite into a finite human mind. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, said the Lord." (Isaiah 55:8)

Can Truth be wholly possessed when we are still on this earth? Our soul is made for heaven, yet we can't possess it while still here; it's as futile as trying to hold the ocean in your hands. And yet, is one to be faulted for wanting to possess Truth? "Lord you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." How true!

At the end of this long rambling discourse, I realize a few things:

- that this entire exercise has been useful only to sort out floating bits of clouds that occupy me these past few weeks,

- that I'm no good at rhetorics,

- that who am I to raise about consistency given my own poor consistency,

- and yet, despite my sins, weaknesses, aridity, lukewarmness or coldness, happiness is having God himself, and that's why we keep stumbling back, blind and grasping most of the time...

Pray that we may not trade Truth for consistency!

Monday, September 03, 2007

J2ME Polish: garden-variety bugs

I'm writing this short collection of bugs I've encountered when working with J2ME Polish (RC4) on Samsung devices, just for my personal future reference & to help anyone who found this in passing:

  1. The use of 'viewtype' midp2 (which in my case allows more flexible layout of elements) causes, in some devices, notably SGH-E900 and SGH-X820, the screen to freeze when any joystick key (up/down/right/left) is pressed.
    Workaround: Pressing the down key returns -1 as the index of the next element. Either implement your own extension of the MIDP2LayoutView class to correct this problem, or don't use it—use other view types.

  2. Title bars sometimes are not rendered in a Form. Again, not all devices are affected; title bar does get rendered on Z230, Z400, and Z720 but NOT on E900 and X820. Might have something to do with Canvas sizes and Screen sizes, and/or fullscreen issues.
    Workaround: not known. More research needed.

  3. On a Form, when implementing an ImageItem to act as a button, J2ME Polish may sometimes throw an error that the Command attached to the ImageItem cannot be executed. Again, the above devices seem to be the only ones affected.
    Workaround: The Command needs to be attached to the ImageItem via setDefaultCommand(...)

That's about it for now; this will be updated as more issues are encountered.

Monday, August 27, 2007

"Come Be My Light"

"So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them — because of the blasphemy — If there be God — please forgive me — When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. — I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?"
-- Mother Teresa, addressed to Jesus, at the suggestion of a confessor, undated

Mother Teresa, has always been this character of superhuman strength to me, yet one whose ministry did not particularly appeal to me. What is even more amazing, is that, since the darkness began at her new ministry in Calcutta, how she managed to carry out her ministry of love amongst the poorest, without consolations from God at all! There is a new book I haven't read yet, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light; it draws from her letters describing her spiritual dark nights in a very moving way, but in it some already predicted she will soon be known as one of the mystic saints.

Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Automatic Confessions

Much as I am so grateful for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and hold it in high esteem, this video is both too sad and too funny not to look at. Watching this made me want to pray for more priests and for more people to discover this wonderful sacrament!

Monday, August 20, 2007


I've been saving this post for the feast of Assumption since stumbling upon it a few months ago, but come Assumption, no internet connection was available--what bliss! Anyway, here it is, it's never too late to publish a tribute to Our Lady ;) It's a Francis Thompson poem, and needless to say, a classic! Enjoy!

'Thou needst not sing new songs, but say the old.'--COWLEY. (my note: found in the source of this poem)

Mortals, that behold a Woman,
Rising 'twixt the Moon and Sun;
Who am I the heavens assume? an
All am I, and I am one.

Multitudinous ascend I,
Dreadful as a battle arrayed,
For I bear you whither tend I;
Ye are I: be undismayed!
I, the Ark that for the graven
Tables of the Law was made;
Man's own heart was one, one Heaven,
Both within my womb were laid.
For there Anteros with Eros
Heaven with man conjoin-ed was,--
Twin-stone of the Law, Ischyros,
Agios Athanatos.

I, the flesh-girt Paradises
Gardenered by the Adam new,
Daintied o'er with sweet devices
Which He loveth, for He grew.
I, the boundless strict savannah
Which God's leaping feet go through;
I, the heaven whence the Manna,
Weary Israel, slid on you!
He the Anteros and Eros,
I the body, He the Cross;
He upbeareth me, Ischyros,
Agios Athanatos!

I am Daniel's mystic Mountain,
Whence the mighty stone was rolled;
I am the four Rivers' fountain,
Watering Paradise of old;
Cloud down-raining the Just One am,
Danae of the Shower of Gold;
I the Hostel of the Sun am;
He the Lamb, and I the Fold.
He the Anteros and Eros,
I the body, He the Cross;
He is fast to me, Ischyros,
Agios Athanatos!

I, the presence-hall where Angels
Do enwheel their plac-ed King--
Even my thoughts which, without change else,
Cyclic burn and cyclic sing.
To the hollow of Heaven transplanted,
I a breathing Eden spring,
Where with venom all outpanted
Lies the slimed Curse shrivelling.
For the brazen Serpent clear on
That old fang-ed knowledge shone;
I to Wisdom rise, Ischyron,
Agion Athanaton!

See in highest heaven pavilioned
Now the maiden Heaven rest,
The many-breasted sky out-millioned
By the splendours of her vest.
Lo, the Ark this holy tide is
The un-handmade Temple's guest,
And the dark Egyptian bride is
Whitely to the Spouse-Heart prest!
He the Anteros and Eros,
Nail me to Thee, sweetest Cross!
He is fast to me, Ischyros,
Agios Athanatos!

'Tell me, tell me, O Belov-ed,
Where Thou dost in mid-day feed!
For my wanderings are reprov-ed,
And my heart is salt with need.'
'Thine own self not spellest God in,
Nor the lisping papyrus reed?
Follow where the flocks have trodden,
Follow where the shepherds lead.'
He, the Anteros and Eros,
Mounts me in AEgyptic car,
Twin-yoked; leading me, Ischyros,
Trembling to the untempted Far.

'Make me chainlets, silvern, golden,
I that sow shall surely reap;
While as yet my Spouse is holden
Like a Lion in mountained sleep.'
'Make her chainlets, silvern, golden,
She hath sown and she shall reap;
Look up to the mountains olden,
Whence help comes with lioned leap.'
By what gushed the bitter Spear on,
Pain, which sundered, maketh one;
Crucified to Him, Ischyron,
Agion Athanaton!

Then commanded and spake to me
He who framed all things that be;
And my Maker entered through me,
In my tent His rest took He.
Lo! He standeth, Spouse and Brother;
I to Him, and He to me,
Who upraised me where my mother
Fell, beneath the apple-tree.
Risen 'twixt Anteros and Eros,
Blood and Water, Moon and Sun,
He upbears me, He Ischyros,
I bear Him, the Athanaton!

Where is laid the Lord arisen?
In the light we walk in gloom;
Though the sun has burst his prison,
We know not his biding-room.
Tell us where the Lord sojourneth,
For we find an empty tomb.
'Whence He sprung, there He returneth,
Mystic Sun,--the Virgin's Womb.'
Hidden Sun, His beams so near us,
Cloud enpillared as He was
From of old, there He, Ischyros,
Waits our search, Athanatos.

Who will give Him me for brother,
Counted of my family,
Sucking the sweet breasts of my Mother?--
I His flesh, and mine is He;
To my Bread myself the bread is,
And my Wine doth drink me: see,
His left hand beneath my head is,
His right hand embraceth me!
Sweetest Anteros and Eros,
Lo, her arms He leans across;
Dead that we die not, stooped to rear us,
Thanatos Athanatos.

Who is She, in candid vesture,
Rushing up from out the brine?
Treading with resilient gesture
Air, and with that Cup divine?
She in us and we in her are,
Beating Godward: all that pine,
Lo, a wonder and a terror!
The Sun hath blushed the Sea to Wine!
He the Anteros and Eros,
She the Bride and Spirit; for
Now the days of promise near us,
And the Sea shall be no more.

Open wide thy gates, O Virgin,
That the King may enter thee!
At all gates the clangours gurge in,
God's paludament lightens, see!
Camp of Angels! Well we even
Of this thing may doubtful be,--
If thou art assumed to Heaven,
Or is Heaven assumed to thee!
Consummatum. Christ the promised,
Thy maiden realm is won, O Strong!
Since to such sweet Kingdom comest,
Remember me, poor Thief of Song!

Cadent fails the stars along:-
Mortals, that behold a woman
Rising 'twixt the Moon and Sun;
Who am I the heavens assume? an
All am I, and I am one.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Back from hiatus

I'm back from a short almost 2-weeks break. Holiday's great, but I think what's even better is getting back to work with a greater conviction that work is GOOD :) Meanwhile time passed really fast and some update trivia:
- I cannot recognize my parents' house in Jakarta; it has been transformed completely!
- Actus Essendi is now in Rome: Arrivederci!
- The aspirations widget is (mysteriously) available for download from several sites (Softpedia, ZDNet, and from its original main Yahoo! Widget Gallery). So far there has been 1780 downloads, and some feedback include: shorter aspirations, aspirations from some requested popular saints, and one request for a rosary widget! (Coming SOON)

Meanwhile, holiday (or summer, whichever is your case) is getting over, get back to work!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Memorial: St Alphonsus Liguori

The Church celebrates the feast of St Alphonsus Liguori today. His writings have recently entered my life, and most of the aspirations I put into the widget are attributed to him. Although many saints are endearing to individual members of the militant Church because they identify with their lives with the Saints' circumstances, yet in the case of St Alphonsus, I can say that reading his life makes me feel like I know 'em (the Saints) all, major and minor. All the elements are there: suffering, doubts, scrupulosity, struggle, and suffering in particular because of our own lack of love!

Fr Tim had three interesting posts about St Alphonsus recently. I read them with fascination (not knowing much about this saint) and his writings (in-print and elsewhere!).

Someone once remarked, after a sermon by Alphonsus, "It is a pleasure to listen to your sermons; you forget yourself and preach Jesus Christ."

Catholic Carnival #130

What is Catholic Carnival? Apparently, it's been going on for a while (#130, and published weekly, this goes back to more than 2 years ago!). It's a type of Blog Carnival, and it is a "collection of blog posts from various bloggers and often from different points of view on a specific topic."

So this week I discovered it for the first time :) It contains (perhaps not surprisingly) highlights from around the Catholic blogosphere: sometimes short reflections, sometimes pieces of news, and sometimes, like my contribution this time, it's neither...

Sarah at "just another day of Catholic pondering" is hosting the Catholic Carnival this week. Do pop over to her blog to read this week's delightful posts... (including this commentary on the 'hound of heaven'!)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Human Device

"Human device" seems like a term that non-humans use to describe mechanism/tools which are human, or for those who dismiss physical mechanism in spiritual endeavor. I encountered this term when reading up about prayer. When one is absorbed in the daily tasks and work, it can be difficult to keep the presence of God. There are ways to keep ourselves "rooted" of course, such as keeping a crucifix in clear view on our desks.

Now, for the digital age that made the computer desktop literally our "desk top", there are nifty things like widgets. I personally use Yahoo! Widget Engine (now re-named Konfabulator again, after a very unimaginative name change), and have a Picture Frame widget (prebundled when you install the Widget Engine) that sometimes displays a crucifix.

Based on an advice from my SD, I start using a digital equivalent of a click-counter to keep track of the aspirations (short prayers) that one can say (in order to better keep the presence of God) in a day, and found it very nifty indeed! It can be quite revealing however, when at the end of the day, my count remains in the single-digit range!

Very often, the number stared at me and I ran out of aspirations to say. Frankly, there are some days when saying an aspiration is the last thing on my mind. So I thought, why not stand on the shoulders of giants (in our case, the Saints), and mimic their impeccable devotion instead?

Out of this burst of inspiration, I made my very first widget ever: this widget displays a random aspiration from one of the saints (well, they are mostly from St Alphonsus Liguori, and then there are some from St Teresa de Avila, St Philip Neri, and many others I did not manage to discover). Admittedly, some of their spiritual ejaculations are so POD™ (pious & overly devotional) and almost outside-of-this-world, but they made it, eh? ;) This widget, called "Catholic Random Aspirations", also keeps a counter as to how many you have said today. Clicking on the red button increases the counter and gives you a different random aspiration. Right now it's only a static collection of slightly less than 200 aspirations and can be run OFFLINE.

Any comment or feedback regarding the use of this widget is very welcome! Also, I'd really appreciate it if you can send me more aspirations. The next version of this widget will draw the aspiration randomly from an online database so that the collection of aspirations can be updated without upgrading the widget itself.

I've submitted this widget for public download at Yahoo! Widgets Gallery and it's still now under review. (I will update this post when it goes live.) In the meanwhile, if you trust that I'm not going to run some malicious code on your machine, you can also download it here (old link removed, updated below). If it helps you keep Him closer, it's enough reward!

UPDATE! The widget is now available for public download at Yahoo! Widgets Gallery. This is the direct link. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A generation waking up?

From Godsbody: "This is a double platinum album, and the number one iTunes download in ALL of Canada--not just the Quebec Province. i think it strikes the young single crowd profoundly."

Here's an alternative translation

"But he's got high hopes..."

I'm a big believer in self-motivation. That's why I'm such a sucker for things that can inspire. Take this song, for instance, a rendition of Frank Sinatra's "High Hopes" by a chubby guy in a goofy green t-shirt. If your day hasn't been that bad yet, it's ok, there'll be a time when you find this song cheers you up!
(HT to uncle jim of Adoro's blog)

Next time you're found, with your chin on the ground
There's a lot to be learned, so look around

Just what makes that little old ant
Think he'll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can't
Move a rubber tree plant

But he's got high hopes, he's got high hopes
He's got high apple pie, in the sky hopes

So any time your gettin' low
stead of lettin' go
Just remember that ant
Oops! there goes another rubber tree plant

When troubles call, and your back's to the wall
There's a lot to be learned, that wall could fall

Once there was a silly old ram
Thought he'd punch a hole in a dam
No one could make that ram, scram
He kept buttin that dam

'cause he had high hopes, he had high hopes
He had high apple pie, in the sky hopes

So any time your feelin bad
stead of feelin sad
Just remember that ram
Oops! there goes a billion kilowatt dam

All problems just a toy balloon
They'll be bursted soon
They're just bound to go pop
Oops! there goes another problem - kerplop!

Monday, July 16, 2007

One Christianity or many?

I was reading an article by Fr. R. Cantalamessa, the Pope's Household Preacher, about the figure of Jesus: "between history and.. history". He references the Pope's latest book "Jesus of Nazareth" as an original entry in the field of those who search for the historical Jesus—because it is written from 'a genuinely theological interpretation', an obvious contrast from the many secular (sociological or anthropological or historical) treatises of Jesus—clearly limited in their own methods when they explicitly discount the actions of the Holy Spirit post-Resurrection as theological—which are unable to come to a coherent conclusion about who Jesus is: "a type of first-century shaman figure; [or] a Cynic-sort of wandering wise man; [or] a visionary radical and social reformer preaching egalitarian ethics to the destitute; [or] a Galilean regionalist alienated from the elitism of Judean religious conventions (like Temple and Torah); [or] a champion of national liberation and, on the contrary, [or] its opponent and critic."

This short post isn't about the book—which I have yet to read—it's about an interesting section of the article subtitled "One Christianity or many?" The inability to scientifically pinpoint and prove beyond doubt who Jesus is, seems to find a parallel in the Christian world today: between the Catholic Church and all the other Christian 'communities', there lies a difference of opinion about what and how to teach & spread Christianity. An outsider would say that if Christians can't even agree who Jesus Christ is, it stands to believe that there can be many (forms of) 'Christianities'. Others would say that the different non-Catholic denominations grew in rebellion to the orthodoxy that Rome allegedly imposes.

I still need to come to the issue raised by those who say that in the beginning there was not one Christianity, but many, that is to say, many different interpretations of Christ's message, gradually eliminated one by one by the growing weight of the orthodoxy imposed by the church of Rome. It is possible -- why not? -- to speak of different Christianities, but then of course we need to say the same of nearly every institution and of the great novelties of history. In that sense there was not one Jewish religion but many Jewish religions, nor one Renaissance but many Renaissances, nor one French Revolution but many French Revolutions, and so on, because each of these realities were the result of the processes of the interaction and refining of various factors and tendencies. Sociologists teach us that that is what usually comes about in a movement's development from its nascent status to the establishment that is its final result.


The notion of an orthodoxy that emerged victorious by eliminating its competitors under the powerful guidance of Rome is a pure legend. Orthodoxy was not established in its origins by way of a movement from the centre to the periphery, but on the contrary, by movement from the periphery towards the centre. The struggles against ebionite beliefs, docetism, and encratism did not move outwards from Rome, but all arrived in Rome from Antioch in Syria, from Asia Minor, from Alexandria in Egypt, from Carthage and from Lyon in France. Rome in the first two centuries and a half of Christian history was more the arbiter between the parties than a leading force in the struggles against heresy.

Read the rest of the article, and find his logical conclusion about this attempt to separate the 'historical' Jesus and the 'theological' Jesus, and the role of the Church in this quest.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Marian plug of the day

I remember seeing a Marian post every Saturday by Enbrethiliel at her (now defunct) blog Sancta Sanctis. I think it's a wonderful way to cultivate our devotion for her. Since right now I have nothing original to say about Our Lady, let me just quote this short poem (prayer, more like it) to her:

Our Lady of the Road (Patrice Garczinski, 1925-1950)

Our Lady of the Road,
Teach us not to rush to external roads
And to sometimes wait in silence for
“The One who must come, the One who cannot not come.”

Our Lady of the Road
I entrust myself to you, after having heard in silence the call of
“The One who must come, the One who cannot not come.”

Our Lady of the Road
When we must make a choice,
When we must journey outwards in order to fulfill our call, Pray for us.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Motumania & the Papacy

Since July 7th, the Pope's Motu Proprio letter Summorum Pontificum had made headlines everywhere, prompting some poorly-researched, some hysterical (check here for Fr Z's excellent response), some trite responses from the usual suspects and the rest of the journalist denizens.

Yet, since mentioned before, I have not been to an "older" form of the Mass, nor have there been a mention of it by any of our parish priests in the last few days, this post isn't about joining the throng of voices that debate whether or not this is the right move for the Church to step into. No, I think the issue here is about the perception of power game and the lack of obedience. Does the average Catholic think that the Pope really just wake up one day deciding that he misses the 1962, older (more beautiful?) form of Mass and that those similarly inclined amongst the laity should also have this upon their whim? Or that he has been plotting all this while to 'turn back the clock'? More passionate & analytical minds have analysed the motives, better still, the Pope himself had written an explanation letter accompanying the Motu!

Once again, the little book Simon Peter offered a wonderful meditation about St Peter & the chair his successors inherit:

"The momentary weakness of Peter, foreseen by the Master, proves to us that in giving His Church a monarchical foundation, Jesus had weighed up all the risks. He knew that all the successors of Cephas would not be saints, that some would be the victims of ambition, of cupidity, or of less avowable passions still. However saddened we are by the indignity of a very small number of bad popes, it is a fact at least affirmed by historical documents, that not a single one of them was led away by the disorders of their private lives to relax the least precept of the moral law, not a single one among them tried to forgive their errors by letting the deposit of dogmatic truth be encroached upon.
Should the faults of some make us forget the virtue, the science, the zeal of so many other pontiffs?
A man, a single man, even if he is a saint, will never get rid of his personality. His opinions will always be influenced by his cast of spirit, his manner of governing will also depend on his temperament. ... It is true that every Pope, however respectful of tradition, directs the Church in a certain spirit, that each reign has its ruling idea or ideas, and once can see, without any difficulty, difference of orientation from one pontificate to another. Differences, yes; divergences, no, and contradictions, less still.
As to the fact of finding out whether, different as they are from one another, each is the authentic representative of the authority of Christ, history makes the reply that each pope comes at his hour, and that his genius accords providentially with the necessities of the moment.
The respect with which we speak of the Pope will dispose us to obeying him more perfectly. [L]ike true sons, we will listen attentively to the simple counsels of the Father of the faithful and we will apply ourselves to putting them loyally into practice.
It may come about that one or other of the pontifical directions may interfere with our spiritual habits or claim the sacrifice of temporal interests that we believed were basic to us. In such a case, instead of pretending that we have a monopoly of truth, would it not be wiser if we first of all tried to understand our head's thought well? The Pope sees higher and farther than us. This is why his word has an import that surpasses our particular views and such of his instructions as can astonish you respond in reality not only to the problems of today but also the difficulties of tomorrow.
Imagine for the moment the problems that pose themselves to the conscience of the Sovereign Pontiff. He knows that the least word he says will have gone around the world in a few hours: is he not going to weigh each of his words carefully—to avoid everything that might give rise to confusion—to soften, even if some (and there are always some) think the qualification excessive, to soften an expression which, incorrectly understood, might cause more harm than it would shed light? It is not only his authority that he exercises in issuing an order or a defence, he knows that his will shall be executed by hundreds of thousads of the faithful whom one inopportune command could put astray.

Do you not think he can forget his responsibility? If he were only a man like one of us, he would only want to open his mouth after having consulted and interrogated, collected all opinions, and having personally studied and reflected. Which of us would dare to raise our voice in such conditions? Would we not prefer to remain silent? The Pope only speaks because he has a duty to do so, an imperative duty attached to his charge. Also he does not content himself with these long conferences with his conscience; he converses longer still with God, in a prayer in which his whole soul gives itself over, and only wants to give itself over, to the Holy Ghost. What is at stake for those who will not obey his word, is perhaps their eternal salvation. Who would suppose that he is going to speak lightly, or under the influence of human considerations? It is on his knees that he meditates the doctrine of his encyclicals. The condemnation that he must issue would never see the light of day if he had not the certainty that he must speak in the name of Christ.

I am convinced, Brethren, that there would be no more dissidents among the Catholics of our day if all would only try to reflect on this: the Pope has a conscience, the conscience of an honest man, the conscience of a Christian, the conscience of a head (and what a head!) the representative of Christ before all Christians.

You need not look for any other proof that the Sovereign Pontiff is conscious of the other responsibilities that are his, than the insistence with which he demands that we fulfil our third duty in respect to him, that of praying with him and for him. No Mass is celebrated without our mentioning his name."

Oremus pro Pontifice nostro BENEDICTUS!

Monday, July 09, 2007

St Augustine Zhao Rong & 119 Chinese martyrs

Today in Singapore (and I'm not sure where else), we commemorate the feast of St Augustine Zhao Rong & 119 Chinese martyrs—commonly called the "120 Chinese martyrs", who died between 1648 and 1930.

The Catholics in China has had three centuries of suffering & persecution. These 120 are just a small number of native Catholics & missionaries, from as high an estimate of 30,000 Catholics killed in the Boxer Rebellion alone. Here are some remarks attributed to them:

"The door of heaven is open to everyone"
--Anna Wang, 14, before being beheaded.

"Every piece of my flesh and every drop of my blood will tell you again that I am a Christian."
--Chi Zhuzi, 18, as he was being skinned alive.

Our late Pope John Paul II canonized them in 2000, saying that he prayed for them daily, saying that they are "spiritually united with us", and that they "understand that this is a special moment of grace for the whole church and for the entire Catholic community in China". Our pope Benedict XVI recently issued a pastoral Letter to the Catholics in China (a letter which, the Great Firewall of China together with some government officials, tried its best to block from reaching the faithful). According to Fr Raymond de Souza, this marks a 'hard-earned victory' for the Chinese Catholics: (my quips in blue)

Some 50 years on, the situation has changed. China’s totalitarians have softened, permitting religious freedom in some regions in practice if not in law. More to the point, the clandestine church has not gone away — it is strong, vital and courageous. And the patriotic church, ironically enough, has clandestinely reasserted its union with and fidelity to Rome. All but a handful of patriotic church bishops have asked for approval from the Pope and thus been “legitimized.” It is not quite the ideal — secret union with Rome is not exactly full, visible communion — but it is clear that the patriotic church does not see itself as a Chinese alternative to Roman Catholicism. There are not two churches in China, but one, and one that is part of the Church universal. At the cost of great suffering and much blood, the Catholics of China have not permitted the communists to divide-and-conquer after all.

Well Done, good and faithful servants!

Benedict’s letter encouraged the Catholics of China to live now as they will one day live after the Chinese communists follow their ideological brethren into the dustbin of history. He judged that the Church in China is sufficiently united and faithful that it no longer needs the special provisions made earlier to accommodate what were perceived as two churches; Chinese Catholics can adequately function now with the same law as governs the rest of the Church.

Benedict’s letter encourages the large majority of “patriotic” bishops who are in communion with Rome to make this fact public. For the clandestine bishops, he asks the Chinese state to recognize them; after all, if the “patriotic” bishops are already in communion with Rome, why should the clandestine bishops have to remain underground to do the same thing? To the Catholic community as a whole, Benedict encourages them to reconcile with each other and to forgive the injustices of the past. It would hand the communists a belated victory if the divisions they sought to sow were allowed to produce a harvest of recriminations.

This reminds me of the time when the heretics of old renounced their heresy and wanted to be received back into the fold: there was much bitterness on the part of those who held fast & suffered. But Benedict is right: for the Catholic faithful to remain separate would constitute a victory for the communists.

There almost certainly are more Catholics in China than there are in Canada, and qualitatively, the Chinese Catholics are more vibrant and evangelical than their counterparts here or in Europe.

"Sanguis martyrum, semen christianorum"!

(Btw, the painting is done by Li Chien-Yi, a Buddhist painter. It hung at the Vatican during this canonization ceremony in all its 13-foot-high, 8.5-foot-wide splendor)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

MP: is it really here?

I first heard of the MP (motu proprio) (which could be about anything, but in particular here, about the derestriction of the Latin mass) from Fr Z at WDTPRS about nearly a year ago. He and other supporters of the 1962-style Mass, had been following the rumors and reading Pope Benedict XVI's chessboard-like moves to predict just when is this MP going to 'liberate' this 'traditional' Mass—currently, if I understand it right, priests require their bishops' permissions to celebrate Mass ad-orientem and in the traditional style. (Exactly what this means, I have no idea apart from the videos i've seen on Youtube, since I was born & later entered the Church way after the Novus Ordo Mass was established as a practice.)

After this letter was given to about 30 bishops last week and the release date set to be for July 7th, it's finally here! I don't know whether there are any 1962-style masses in Singapore, but it'd be at least interesting to attend one.

Friday, July 06, 2007

J2ME Woes

Have I ever mentioned I hate mobile phones? Yes, that's right. It's helped revolutionize our lives, I'm sure, but it's been a source of misery for the lot of developers who has the fortune (or mis-fortune) to attempt development of "write once, run everywhere" (i.e. the motto of Java programming). Not to mention I have been using so many test phones that I am nearly schizophrenic when it comes to phone keypads and most certainly paranoid when calls from unknown numbers (unknown, because the more recent contacts were not in the SIM card) arrived...

Before going further, it must be said that this is a late afternoon rant after a few days of being entirely submerged in the exasperating world of standard-less mobile devices. The landscape of software development for mobile devices today, looks a little like pre-DOS era of personal computers. Sloppy & non-compliant implementations of JVM on the mobile litter the mobile market.

Some J2ME Polish bugs encountered, either fixed or evaded:

losesFullScreen: an issue that affects Samsung SGH-D500, in which the screen rendered on the phone is cut-off at the top & the bottom. The catch is, using J2ME Polish, one has less control over the direct Canvas implementation. Hence even my Forms ended up getting cut.
Status: UNFIXED, left to the manufacturers to fix their device, or better, the mercy of God!

SoftKeyMappedToFire: an issue that affects the navigation keys of many Samsung devices--sometimes pressing the soft key results in the default command being selected. If the default command for that item is not defined, good luck to you :) Anything from screen freezing to a Samsung version of BSOD is likely.

MIDP2LayoutView: Pressing any key on any affected screen throws an ArrayIndexOutOfBounds exception. Initially I tried what the mailing list suggests, that is, to override J2ME Polish' MIDP2LayoutView class, but ran into further trouble trying to reference this class from the secondary compilation of StyleSheet. I gave up on this, threw "midp2" view out of the window.

There, here's a fulfilment of my quota at being Good Samaritan this week! (in view that most of this blog's visitors don't come here to read my spiritual blurbs but to read HOWTOs and battle stories about J2ME & Linux) If there's any bright lining in the dark cloud of J2ME woes, it'd be this maxim I've since taken personally: "Write once, pray it will work everywhere."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

When the night is catchless

The last Choice meeting was not the first time we discussed the lack of numbers; that caused three weekends this year alone to be canceled. The big question seems to be whether to concentrate on recruitment, or to concentrate on improving the quality of the weekends offered.

Personally I'm in favor of renewal of the program itself; because nothing works better than the word of mouth from "satisfied customers". 'Marketing' still needs to be done, but I believe that in apostolate, it is the Lord who sends us souls. So renewal and lots of prayers are in order! At the same time, I was reading a couple of chapters from Georges Chevrot's "Simon Peter"; and an excerpt here (heavily edited by me) seems very applicable:

"Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing, but at Thy word I will let down the net." (Luke 5:5)
Men of any craft can never stand laymen giving them advice on matters relating to their profession. First of all, there weren't any fish; secondly, what a time to go fishing, in the middle of the day! They had just spent a wasted night and tiredness made them feel even more than they had given themselves bother to no purpose!
Jesus has to convince [Peter and his companions] that with Him they can even undertake the impossible. Simon had already understood it: "in verbo tuo (at Thy word)".
Begin again... the secret of all progress and of every victory is, in fact, to know how to begin again, to learn from a failure and to try once more. [Common sense and experience alone] should be enough to convince us that one needs to begin again. But there is the terrible contradiction of the facts, the 'bad luck' that dogs our footsteps, the very faults that are repeated, the failures that regularly bring our enterprises crashing down. There are also the days when one has a good mind to chuck the whole game. What good is it beginning again only to founder every time? Let us repeat [St Peter's] three little words: " In verbo tuo."
Yes, humanly speaking, everything is finished. I can do more, and I do not want to do any more. But it is You, Lord, who order me to set out again. I will set out again therefore, not because it seems reasonable, but because You order me to do so. We begin again, not in order to succeed, but to obey. It is not my work that I am accomplishing, it is Yours.
If we wish to obey God only, then we are on the true road to holiness. God raises us higher than our hopes. St Paul says it: "He whose power is at work in us is powerful enough, and more than powerful enough, to carry out His purpose beyond all our hopes and dreams." Similarly, He will perform marvels through our apostolate & ministry, if we are not preoccupied with succeeding but only with obeying.
When the apostle is not ambitious, when he is only absorbed in the sorrowful thought that precious souls are being lost, souls redeemed by Jesus Christ like his own, it is no longer the man who acts, but Christ Himself, and the unlikely [catch] is no longer impossible!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sts Peter & Paul

After two weeks of hellish schedule running around with my family members in town, I stumbled into an evening Mass yesterday at Novena, only to find that they were celebrating the feast of Sts. Peter & Paul. I did say I had two rough weeks, didn't I, but I think I know the feast was to be celebrated on June 29th and not yesterday.

It'd be interesting to know why the Church put the two saints, of different characters and at times, at odd with each other, together in their commemoration day. Anyway, at the same time, I'm in the middle of reading Georges Chevrot's book called "Simon Peter" (translated from French, originally Simon-Pierre). St Peter is an endearing figure to me, and many Christians out there I'm sure, the personification of a madly affectionate soul who is at the same time aware of his own weaknesses and wretchedness.

Simon Peter fell down and caught Jesus by the knees: "Leave me to myself, Lord", he said, "I am a sinner".
[S]imon Peter has another feeling, no less lively, for instead of backing away as his words might lead one to expect, he throws himself at the Saviour's knees. (St Luke does not say that he kneels before Jesus, but that he throws his arms around His knees). He tells Jesus to go away from him, and at the same time he stops Him by holding His legs. "Leave me to myself, Lord!" and he hugs Him tighter.
--Chapter 3, Simon Peter

Doesn't that resonate for you? I know for me it happens often!

Year dedicated to St Paul
And just yesterday, our Pope Benedict XVI jut announced a special jubilee year dedicated to St Paul, in order to 'invigorate' the Church, which 'needs modern Christians who will imitate the apostle's missionary energy and spirit of sacrifice'.

While I still don't know why these two illustrious pillars of the Church are put together, I think their working together in the vineyard of the Lord is a bit like faith & reason as two wings beating together to bring the soul up to God.

And this, is the beautiful solemn blessing at the end of today's mass:

The Lord has set you firm within his Church,
which he built upon the rock of Peter's faith.
May he bless you with a faith that never wavers. Amen.

The Lord has given you knowledge of the faith
through the labors and preaching of Saint Paul.
May his example inspire you to lead others to Christ
by the manner of your life. Amen.

May the keys of Peter, and the words of Paul,
their undying witness and their prayers,
lead you to the joy of that eternal home
which Peter gained by his cross, and Paul by the sword. Amen.

Sancti Apostoli Petrus et Paulus, ora pro nobis!

Friday, June 22, 2007

St Thomas More & St John Fisher

Today we commemorate the feast of St John Fisher & St Thomas More, more famous for his martyrdom than what he accomplished in his life. Read here for fascinating glimpse of his life, as well as some history about other English Catholics persecuted during the time of Henry VII and the secession of England from the Church.

I condemn no other man’s conscience: their conscience may save them, and mine must save me.
-- St John Fisher

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pluripotent vs embryonic stem cell reseach

The US President, George W Bush, has just—once again—vetoed a bill that would allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell (ESC) research. While it's probably not surprising, given his nominally pro-life voting records, it's curious why the same bill is "resurrected" over such a short period of time. So it got me started to read some recent news about ESC.

Some curious facts and issues surrounding this veto:

1. Renaming of the "Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry" to the "Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Registry"

Along with the veto, he also signed an executive order, in support of so-called "pluripotent" stem-cell research— touted as alternative, ethical, sources of stem cell research.

2. Definition of Pluripotency

If my limited knowledge and memory serve me right, the term 'pluripotent' is typically applied to non-embryonic stem cells. An embryo is made up of totipotent cells, which contain the complete genetic information needed to 'manufacture' all the cells of the body, as well as pluripotent & multipotent cells. To simplify the meaning of this terminology: totipotent cells are found in the earliest stages, the pluripotent cells are found after 3 or 4 divisions, and multipotent cells are created after further divisions. Totipotent, pluripotent, and multipotent cells are all present in the embryo, but only pluripotent and multipotent cells can be found in adults.. How they differ exactly and why most supporters of ESC seem to be after the highly plastic ESC, are beyond my field.

It just seems as if the use of this term is deliberate, to stress that the source of this line of stem cells is not embryonic.

3. Definition of Embryo

The article above, seems to highlight recent discoveries of making adult stem cells behave like ESC through a process called "altered nuclear transfer". While stem cells obtained through this way is not technically destroying human embryos, there is a question of whether the adult cells reprogrammed to act like embryonic stem-cells are 'sometimes able to develop into full embryos again' by a process known as "regulation" - then what is present is potentially a human being... which makes this line of stem cells no different than ESC.

4. Definition of Life

It seems to me that restricting federal funding for ESC research is not sufficient if Bush truly believes that ESC are indeed human beings at embryonic stage! To still allow ESC research on private funding would be like saying, privately-funded killing is morally fine but the state will not fund such deeds. The supporters of ESC research would see through this duplicity and keep pushing the bill. To be consistent to the definition of life ("life begins with love"--George W Bush, 2006) at conception, it demands no less than a total ban.

Some links to articles that summarize the reprogramming of adult stem cells (in mice): here, here and here.

And a link to article about using the morality of using 'dead' ESC here.

More articles here & here.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Memorial: St Anthony of Padua

June 13th was yesterday: my namesake's feast day. Here's a quote attributed to him:

Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak. We are full of words but empty of actions, and therefore are cursed by the Lord, since he himself cursed the fig tree when he found no fruit but only leaves. It is useless for a man to flaunt his knowledge of the law if he undermines its teaching by his actions.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Hound of Heaven

"The Hound of Heaven" is a beautiful poem I encountered some years ago. Francis Thompson, the poet, seems to live an interesting, if too brief, life. For many who were enthralled by this poem of his, it would seem that Thompson fulfiled his purpose, if only one more soul finds God through this work.

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."

I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followèd,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)
But, if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of His approach would clash it to:
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars:
Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o' the moon.
I said to Dawn: Be sudden—to Eve: Be soon;
With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over
From this tremendous Lover—
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue;
Or whether, Thunder-driven,
They clanged his chariot 'thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o' their feet:—
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat—
"Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me."

I sought no more that after which I strayed
In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children's eyes
Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
"Come then, ye other children, Nature's—share
With me" (said I) "your delicate fellowship;
Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine you with caresses,
With our Lady-Mother's vagrant tresses,
With her in her wind-walled palace,
Underneath her azured dais,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring."
So it was done:
I in their delicate fellowship was one—
Drew the bolt of Nature's secrecies.
I knew all the swift importings
On the wilful face of skies;
I knew how the clouds arise
Spuméd of the wild sea-snortings;
All that's born or dies
Rose and drooped with; made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine;
With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day's dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning's eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven's grey cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
These things and I; in sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
The breasts o' her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
And past those noised Feet
A voice comes yet more fleet—
"Lo! naught contents thee, who content'st not Me."

Naked I wait Thy love's uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenceless utterly.
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o' the mounded years—
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist.
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must—
Designer infinite!—
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou can'st limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i' the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpséd turrets slowly wash again.
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man's heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
Be dunged with rotten death?

Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
"And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught" (He said),
"And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man's clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child's mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!"
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
"Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me."
Francis Thompson (1859-1907)