All posts by Noel Ethan Tan

Noel is a Singaporean working as a rehabilitation counsellor at ACC(S) Psychiatric Rehabilitation Centre. He is currently doing a part-time Masters Program in Counselling and Guidance at NTU, Singapore. In his church ministry, Noel is currently serving in a young adults' Catholic community called Anawim that does Bible Exegesis. Noel is also pursuing a Certificate in Theology at the Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore. His favorite Bible verse is 1 Peter 3:15 — “In your hearts, reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it with gentleness and reverence.”

The First Commandment

Mark 12:28-34

In this Gospel, Jesus reveals the first commandment,

“The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:29-31)

This command demands of Catholics to ‘Latria‘, which means ‘Supreme worship to God alone’. How do we do this? Simply put, by following the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. These three virtues in their totality is the epitome of what becoming a Christian means. I will be sharing and reflecting on each of these virtues through bite-sized points:

We are first obliged by Faith given through Grace. This involves three steps: 1) Making efforts to find out what God has revealed, 2) To believe and obey God’s revelation, 3) To profess God’s Revelation openly whenever necessary. (c.f. Mt 10:32).

We are next obliged through Hope. Hope is to trust with confident assurance that God will grant us eternal life and the means to obtain it. (c.f. Titus 1:1-2).

Lastly, Charity. Charity obliges us to love God above all things because He is infinitely good, and to love our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. (c.f. Mt 22:35-40).

If we can adhere to Faith, Hope and Charity with all our souls, hearts and strength, we can be sure that we ‘will not be far off from the Kingdom’.

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Originally posted on Instagram.

Pre-Existent Soul?

After studying a glimpse of Theology, I’ve come to realise that the most important prerequisite which one needs to seriously study the Faith is Christian Philosophy.

Why? Because Philosophy is the LANGUAGE in which God uses to communicate Revelation to us. One cannot do Bible Exegesis without at least a basic understanding of Aristotelian Metaphysics.

Just this afternoon, a friend in one of my group chats made a ‘theologically’ incorrect statement which was innocent by nature, but actually disastrous to the Christian Faith. He said, “Oh, back in 1980 I wasn’t on earth yet. My soul was still floating around in heaven.”

This is why Metaphysics is crucial. Such statements reflect the lack of understanding in even the most fundamental ideas of our Faith. I immediately corrected him and said that we do NOT have pre-existing souls. It is in fact, a heresy from the early 4th Century!

The notion of us having pre-existent souls would imply Reincarnation, or that God sent us to earth as if it were some sort of test. It is completely incompatible with Christianity.

“If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema.” (Second Council of Constantinople)

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Originally posted on Instagram.
Image: PD-US

Parable of the Wicked Tenants

2 Peter 1:2-7, Psalm 91, Mark 12:1-12

The wicked tenants in this Gospel passage do not just represent Israel’s leaders. Our Lord too, has left us each a ‘vineyard’ of blessings, gifts, talents and charisms.

How have we been using these gifts God has loaned to us? Have we been prideful of our abilities or do we praise and thank God everyday for them? Pope Benedict tells us:

“We should not become elated over our good deeds… it is the Lord’s power, not our own, that brings about the good in them.”

Going a step further, through Baptism, every Christian is expected to participate in Christ’s ministry as Priest, Prophet and King.

As Prophets, we are expected to share the Truth of the Gospel boldly and prudently.

As Priests, we are expected to be faithful followers of Jesus. This refers to our interiority and inner disposition. If we begin to think of ourselves acting in a priestly fashion everyday of our lives, we would undoubtedly carry out the work of Jesus — bringing justice and love into our world.

As Kings (or Queens), we are in charge of ourselves. Intellect and free will are powers bestowed upon our rational souls. This gives us dominion over our choices and bodies. We have a moral obligation to look after our temples and keep our passions under reason.

The Psalmist today gives us the simplest solution on how we can fulfill our three roles to its maximum potential: “In you, my God, I place my trust.” (Ps 91:2).

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Originally posted on Instagram.
Image: PD-US

Christian Discipleship

How do we become a Disciple of Christ? This is one of the greatest questions to ask.

Leonard Porter’s rendition of Jesus taking up His cross for the Stations of the Cross commissioned by the Church of Christ the King in New Vernon, New Jersey.

Firstly, the etymology of the word ‘Disciple’ referred to the people who used to study under great Rabbis and Teachers in the past. Thus, the essence of Discipleship means, ‘to become like the Master’.

Secondly, a Disciple of Christ requires one to be interiorly conformed to the Father’s Will. To be like Christ. How though? Answer: A RELATIONSHIP. The most fundamental criteria which everything rests on. If we think about it, being in a real relationship always entitles one to RIGHTS and RESPONSIBILITY.

1) RIGHTS: Being in a relationship with Christ gives one rights. Yes, we can ‘appeal’ to God to help us whenever we need Him. And we should all the time.

2) RESPONSIBILITY: Being in a relationship with Christ also requires us to grow responsibly. If not, why bother at all? For example, we must pray, mortify ourselves, go for mass and confession, etc. Again, not just exteriorly, but interiorly. Being truly present in heart, mind and soul.

3) CONSISTENCY: Inevitably, a Disciple of Christ must have consistency. This word is derived from the Biblical Word ‘Faithfulness’ or ‘Steadfastness’. A Faithful Disciple will always consistently persevere.

Back to the concept of a Relationship: Ultimately, when we say we want to be a Disciple of Christ, we are telling God, “We honor Your Holy Covenant.”

We are to be obedient to ALL the commandments and teachings of Jesus, not cherry-pick them. Only then, would we ‘remain in His love’, as He commanded us.

Do you still want to be a Disciple of Christ? If yes, are you cooperating with His Grace to grow responsibly and consistently?

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Originally posted on Instagram.

Suffering Servant

Mark 10:32-45

The Apostles heard Jesus preach about the kingdom many times and they believed this kingdom was to come before His death. It is in this context that James and John, two beloved Apostles in the inner circle of Jesus, asked to be seated at His left and right hand (Mk 10:37).

Jesus’s reply was not so much an answer but a statement that

“His kingdom will not be of this world, and that to sit by His side is something so great it surpasses the angelic orders — which they did not yet merit.” (St. Theophylact)

Influenced by human feelings, the remaining Apostles became ridden with envy and felt indignant at James and John (Mk 10:41). Jesus however, intervenes and ‘called them to Him’ (Mk 10:42), teaching that the greatest amongst them must be their servant (Mk 10:43). Jesus substantiates His statement with living proof of Himself, since He came down from Heaven to give His life for the world (Mk 10:45).

Christ Carrying the Cross, El Greco (1577–87)

This consistent theme of the “Suffering Servant” throughout the entirety of Mark’s Gospel is something beautiful and rich with wisdom. Jesus, like Christianity today, continues to challenge worldly norms even though the Church has always been in the minority. Catholics have been the only ones consistently speaking out against the world on intrinsic evils like Abortion, Euthanasia and Contraception. An inevitable blooming Culture of Death.

Yet, while the Church continues to guard and promulgate the Truth, she will always do so from the perspective of a Suffering Servant, not a demanding tyrant. The world will always mock and hate us, but as a wise man once told me — being hated by the world is a sign that you’re in the right Church. As the Saints have echoed through the centuries, “The Truth which subsists in the Church will always be rejected by the world.”

If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hated. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh.

If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church that is accused of being behind the times, as our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth.

Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of God as men crucified Christ and thought they had done a service to God.

Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because He called Himself the Truth. Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as Our Lord was rejected by men.

Look for the Church which amid the confusions of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its Voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly it is other worldly. since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself. But only that which is Divine can be infinitely hated and infinitely loved. Therefore the Church is Divine.”

— Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

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Originally posted on Instagram.

Eternity

2 Peter 3:12-15, Psalm 90, Mark 12:13-17

‘But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.’ (2 Peter 3:13). This is the verse that struck me today because it speaks of eternity. What exactly do Christians mean by ‘Eternity’?

In popular speech, saying that something is “eternal” means that it lasts for an unlimited amount of time. From a Christian perspective, this is incorrect because the term “eternal” means OUTSIDE OF TIME.

We could look at the first verse of the Bible to give us a clearer understanding: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1). St. Thomas Aquinas states that this single verse alone reveals that our Eternal God created four things: 1) Heaven. 2) The Angelic Order (Angels). 3) Time. 4) Corporeal Matter (Earth).

This is why we say that God is ‘eternal’. He was before Time. God simply, ‘is’. That is why when Moses asked for God’s name, His answer was, “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14). This is one of the most important verses which all Christians need to know. The ORDER of creation is very deliberate. It is important to realize that God created Heaven and Angels BEFORE Time and Earth. That is why we must believe Angels exist.

Christians who de-emphasize the existence of Angels are denying their own spirituality. Angels are continuously present from the first pages of Scripture, all the way to the end. The problem today though, is that we live in the age of man, of self-consciousness, of science. That is why the world loses belief in Angels, Heaven and God. This is why the world also loses hope in ‘Eternity’.

Reason demands angels.
— Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

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Originally posted on Instagram.

The Last Shall Be First

Mark 10:28-31

This Gospel passage continues from where the rich youth rejected our Lord’s counsel to cast away his riches and thus, went away sorrowful. It is in this context that the Apostles began to inquire of THEIR reward for they had ALREADY fulfilled this precept of leaving everything behind.

However, Jesus replies with a general answer. He instructs the Apostles to prefer the Glory of God over the things of this world. Finally, He closes the discourse by telling them the famous verse which all Catholics love: “But many that are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mk 10:31)

From a human perspective, this may seem daunting, illogical and unfair. Even in the depths of my heart, I do ponder why this must be so. How is it fair that the last will become first? (The sin of envy is a very ugly sin.)

The fundamental principle to remember is that God’s ways are DIFFERENT from ours. If we can’t accept this, then we do not understand a thing about True Christianity. The heart of Mark 10:31 is God’s generosity. It’s about the way God deals with us and the way He asks us to deal with each other. The last will be first.

The world’s view is the exact opposite. The world loves winners and has no time for losers. The brightest student gets the scholarship while the weakest goes to work in McDonald’s. The world doesn’t have time for those who are last. Jesus invites us through today’s Gospel to ask ourselves: shall we act in the way the world does?

With God, there are no losers. Remember that He loves us all equally. Whether we choose to accept that love though, will always be our choice alone.

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Originally posted on Instagram.
Image: PD-US

Jesus and the Rich Youth

Mark 10:17-27

The Gospel on the rich young man is rich with meaning. It is noteworthy to point out that Jesus still loved the youth despite knowing that he wouldn’t give up his possessions to follow Him (c.f. Mk 10:21).

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, Heinrich Hofmann (1889)
Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, Heinrich Hofmann (1889)

This young man had observed the laws from his youth (Mk 10:20). Although he did not choose to take on the path to perfection (give away all his possessions and follow Jesus), he did not suffer a lessening of Jesus’s love.

It is amazing how intelligent and philosophical Jesus is as he brilliantly draws from Eccl 5:10 to illuminate the path to our perfection; “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; nor he who loves wealth, with gain: this also is vanity.”

As St. Augustine comments: “Although he did not pass the bounds of humanity, nor follow the perfection of Christ, still he was not guilty of any sin, since he kept the law according to the capability of a man, and in this mode of keeping it, Christ still loved him.”

This passage corresponds to plenty of us today, for most of us are the type who would do our best to keep away from grave sin and obey basic Gospel precepts, but we would REJECT the idea of following the Spirit’s Counsel towards Perfection.

There is a stark difference therefore, between the Perfect and Permissible Will that God has planned out for each of us.

Let us remember; when we listen to God, it becomes possible, but as long as we keep our human notions, it becomes impossible (c.f. Mk 10:27).

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Originally posted on Instagram.
Image: PD-US

Discord

James 4:1-10, Psalm 55, Mark 9:30-37

The central theme of James 4:1-10 and Mark 9:30-37 is discord. In the Gospel, we read that the Apostles were arguing about “who was the greatest”. The reason for this dispute probably arose because Jesus only brought Peter, James and John up onto the mountain where he was transfigured.

The others might have wondered if Jesus showed favoritism by passing a secret to only these three. Moreover, only Peter was promised the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven according to Matthew’s Gospel.

These snippets of the Gospel show us just how human the Apostles really were. Their behavior isn’t so different from ours if you think about the times when we too, fall so easily to the sin of envy.

A friend told me yesterday, ”We listen to the voices of angels and devils every day. Which of the two we obey though, is up to us.” So how do we discern which is the voice of God?

Indeed most of the time, God’s voice is drowned out by the world. It is not that God cannot speak loudly and clearly, but he usually prefers to speak quietly and gently because he wants to INVITE us to listen, not command us. When it comes to God, it is always ‘requests’. A loud, terrifying voice would be a mandate, not an invitation, causing a person to respond out of Servile Fear.

God does not want this. He wants us to know His soft voice and obey Him out of our own free will. This is why Jesus did not come down from the cross when challenged to do so. If Jesus had come down, the Jewish people would have been compelled to believe in Him. It would not be true Faith.

Noise is a great obstacle to hearing Jesus, who is meek and humble of heart. Finding time every day for silent prayer and listening is critical. Let us remember that when we pray, we are conversing with a LIVING GOD, not a dead god.

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Originally posted at Instagram.

Challenging God

James 4:13-17, Psalm 49, Mark 9:38-40

God cannot be an object of our concepts. We are His creatures, not the other way round. St. James writes: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (Jas 4:14). Indeed, we are nothing; and yet — we all have a purpose on earth: to fulfill God’s Divine plan. The meaning of our lives therefore, is to seek out that purpose with all our hearts. That is why St. James goes on to affirm: “If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that” (Jas 4:15).

Yesterday, I had a session with an angry client who kept questioning God. ‘Why did God let this happen to me?’, ‘Why did God allow this evil to happen?’, ‘Why do bad things only happen to me?’. I think I heard a total of about twenty ‘Whys’ in that short 10 minutes of his ranting.

I fully empathize with everyone and anyone who is suffering. We cannot think when we are overwhelmed emotionally; especially while experiencing such irascible emotions like anger, frustration and pain. However, once we are calm and reasonable; we could look into the ‘Whys’, for they are good questions that deserve good answers.

Of course, Jesus never loses. In all instances when He was challenged, Jesus manifests His divinity powerfully by REVERSING the relationship in which his questioners put on Him (Peter Kreeft).

“Shall we stone the adulteress or not?”— “Let him without sin cast the first stone.”

“Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?”—”Give God what is God’s and Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

“Who is my neighbor?”—”Go and be a neighbor, like the good Samaritan.”

Whenever we try to test Jesus, he tests us. He is the teacher and we are the students, not vice versa. Sometimes, we only need to simply look at our wretched and broken lives to find out what went wrong. Have we truly been walking in Faith and obeying the Commandments of God? Do we thank God secretly for blessings but curse Him when bad things happen to us? Do we live hedonistic lifestyles and then complain when things come crashing down? Areas we should all reflect on today!

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Originally posted on Instagram. Image: PD-US

Hell

James 5:1-6, Psalm 49, Mark 9:41-50

Hell is not just a theoretical possibility according to the Gospel reading on 24 May and many more passages in scripture.

“The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” (CCC 1035)

Although Hell is real, prudence must be exercised when we teach others about it. St. John Paul II gives us a helpful reminder to all Christians: “The issue that some will go to hell is decided, but the issue of WHO in particular will go to hell is undecided.”

Sandro Botticelli, Chart of Hell

I particularly despise people who proclaim things like, “You are going to hell if you don’t convert to Christianity!” Such people are arrogant and presumptuous.

It is important for us to know our place. ALL of us will be judged, Christian or not (c.f. Mt 25:31-46). We are not the judge (c.f. Jas 4:12). Claiming with absolute certainty that someone is going to hell is the grave sin of presumption because they assume the role of God.

That is why up till this day, the Catholic Church has never definitively declared who’s in hell — because the truth of the matter is, she doesn’t know! Yes, even non-believers and the worst sinners.

Many today think that this is just a politically-correct answer. To such people, let me ask a simple question: “How would YOU know that even the greatest sinner did not, at the last second of his death, cry out to Jesus to save him?”

This is the essence of the good thief in Luke’s Gospel. The story’s purpose is to show that God’s mercy is limitless.

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Originally posted on Instagram.

Divorce

James 5:7-12, Psalm 103, Mark 10:1-12

The Gospel on 24 May teaches a Hard Truth about Divorce. I’m going to spell it out because I won’t distort the Church’s teaching: Divorce, understood as the dissolution of a marriage, is NOT possible between two baptized persons.

Guess who said this? Jesus Christ Himself (c.f. Mt 19:6, Mk 10:8-9), echoed by Paul (c.f. 1 Cor 7:10-11). The Church has always been clear that “a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death” (CCC 2382).

The Catholic Church has tons to say about divorce, but I will not write them all down here. However I will reflect on two points.

1) Useful Litmus Test: If your Church leaders teach that divorce is permissible, wake up and see the Truth! No True Church of Christ will twist the words of Jesus to suit secular norms.

2) What if there is abuse involved in the marriage? The Code of Canon Law states:

“A spouse who occasions grave danger of soul or body to the other or to the children, or otherwise makes the common life unduly difficult, provides the other spouse with a reason to leave, either by a decree of the local ordinary [e.g., bishop] or, if there is danger in delay, even on his or her own authority.” (CIC 1153)

This inherently means that the Church values life above all. Cases of abuse are complex and usually endangers the life of the abused party. In such situations, the Church considers civil divorce to be the EQUIVALENT of a LEGAL SEPARATION and tolerates it for JUST CAUSE (such as to ensure personal safety and/or the safety of children).

Under the eyes of the Church however, the ‘civilly divorced’ person is still considered validly MARRIED and may NOT remarry in the Church unless an annulment is granted.

The issue of divorce is a very clear example on why the Church needs all three aspects to function prudently: Liturgy, Law and Revelation. Taking out any one of these will result in the fall of the Church because each has a necessary role to play. Much more to say on this, but I’ll end my reflection here.

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Originally posted on Instagram.