Tag Archives: Christ

At the Foot of the Cross

As I looked upon the cross today, I asked myself: would I have stood at the foot of the cross?

St. John Resting on Jesus, Sacro Speco Monastery at Subiaco, Fresco

A friend once asked me, if I could be anyone at the passion scene, who would I be?

In a heartbeat, I said I want to be like St. John.

He was at the cross, bound by a deep love for Christ. Even when the the world deserted him, even when all his disciples and supposed friends left him, he was there. He didn’t care that the world would think he was crazy for standing up for Christ.

He knew (and possessed a very deep understanding as to) who Christ was, and if we read the entire gospel of John, it is self-evident that John knew the divinity of Christ from the beginning.

I want to be like John, he saw the Truth of the Word, the Logos made flesh from the beginning.

He saw the Truth in everything Christ did. He saw everything (always) in relation to Christ, and therein lies true Wisdom: To love Christ and to order everything in your life in relation to Christ, our ultimate end.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Two Charcoal Fires

Peter’s Denial, Carl Heinrich Bloch (1873)

There are only two charcoal fires (Greek: anthrakia) mentioned in the whole Bible, and they are both in the Gospel of John. The first anthrakia mentioned was in the high priest’s courtyard, where the gatekeeper said to Peter, “You are not one of this man’s disciples are you?” and Peter says, “I am not.” Questioned like that two more times, Peter, now warming himself at the same fire, DENIES being a disciple of Jesus two more times (c.f. Jn 18:18, 25-27).

The second anthrakia mentioned was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, apparently prepared by the Risen Christ (Jn 21:9). Here, the very same Peter was questioned; “Do you love me?” and the disciple now affirms his ALLEGIANCE three times.

Christ’s Charge to Peter, Raphael (1515-1516)

So one anthrakia sets the threefold denial of discipleship, while the other anthrakia sets the threefold affirmation of discipleship. Coincidence? Knowing John’s Gospel, such symbology is likely not by chance. And who is to say that the association does not go back to Jesus himself, helping Peter to realize that the denier is being given a fresh start in his relationship to the Lord. This beach scenario is not only a matter of astounding forgiveness; it is also of commissioning: “Feed my lambs; feed my sheep.”

I’ve once asked a bunch of friends before – “Why did Jesus mention feeding his Lambs and then his Sheep? Like, what’s the difference?” This verse is deeply theological and the Church has the best answer: Jesus is commissioning Peter here to become not just leader of the laity (lambs); but also leader of the clergymen (sheep); symbolized through the young and mature in the flock.

Peter is given an opportunity to demonstrate the love he professed by sharing in the mission of the risen Lord. Ultimately, it is going to be a matter of being led where he does not want to go. Loving the head shepherd means obeying his commandments – even if it means becoming the first Pope, which would ultimately lead to his martyrdom.

The Conscience of the Modern Man

By guest writer Kachi Ngai.

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself, but which he must obey, its voice ever calling him to love and do what is good and to avoid evil… For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God… There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.”
— Article 1776, Catechism of the Catholic Church

We no longer live in an age where truth and reason guide our principles. The mood of the current age is one of emotionalism, where a person’s feelings now become the inviolable truth for that person, and God forbid if someone else should dare to question it. The objective truth has given way to the subjective truth, provided that someone feels strongly enough about it. Take a look at how love is considered these days. The concept of agape (the supernatural, and certainly superior, sacrificial form of love) has been overthrown in favor of eros, the natural and more receptive form of love.

Variations on catchy slogans such as “love is love” and “love wins” are thrown around to somehow suggest that we as a society have thrown off the shackles of discrimination, and that only by “following what’s inside our hearts” will we find inner fulfillment and freedom. Arguments in favor of the protection of the family unit and society are pitted against the supposed personal fulfillment of the individual. If someone “follows their heart”, then they cannot stray.

I accept that I am taking liberties by assuming that the objective truth is a given, mainly because whether truth is objective is not the focus of this. I will discuss objective truth and how it is tied to human dignity in a later article. For now I will focus only upon the actual nature of the conscience, something on which Cardinal John Henry Newman spoke at great length, and how it applies to our Catholic Faith and the spiritual journey.

Newman was 15 when he experienced his first conversion which brought him into the Protestant faith. It was not until much later that he converted to the Roman Catholic Church, which he describes in his Apologia as largely due to the acting of his conscience.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman saw the conscience as the connecting principle between the creature and his Creator. He went as far as to describe it as the aboriginal Vicar of Christ (Newman, 1885). In the secular world, a certain primacy is given to the conscience, almost as if it is some infallible judge. This is a far cry from the notions Newman had.

Our concept of conscience is misconstrued these days, whereby if our conscience dictates that we can act upon our whims even if they be contrary to Mother Church’s teachings, this would be permitted provided that we are at peace with it. Newman argued that this disparity between the internal conscience and the teachings of the Church did not give us free rein to reject the Church’s teaching. When the conscience no longer points towards the external (the Church’s teachings), but instead towards the internal, instead of directing us towards God and a life of virtue through obedience and discipline, it is turned towards the selfish and interior. Instead of God being our Lord and Master, it will be as Henley once poetically described in his famous poem Invictus:

“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” (Henley, 1875)

A lovely-sounding sentiment of the triumph of the human soul over suffering, but it encapsulates the current idea that the personal conscience is the final judge.

Newman argues that conscience advocates for the truth, and that the conscience is much cruder and almost ruthless. The conscience is the compass for non-believers by which God re-directs us towards Him. The voice of conscience has nothing gentle, nothing to do with mercy in its tone. It is severe and stern. It does not speak of forgiveness, but of punishment” (Newman). This is why the redemption by Our Lord Jesus Christ is The Good News. It provides the relief for the condemnation offered by the accusing conscience. The conscience is to direct us towards where there is a particular deficiency or uncertainty in our judgement and spiritual life, and the conscience is the starting point for a particular conversion in our life.

The conscience is the call for conversion and a sign of humility. This is counter-cultural to the secular understanding of conscience as a sign of personal freedom, especially the freedom to reject the objective truth when it makes one uncomfortable (Pell, 2005). As a result of free will, man can choose to reject the prickles of their conscience, but the conscience is the beginning of the exploration and conversion through prayer and discernment, it is not some infallible judge. In Veritatis Splendour, Pope St. John Paul II describes the formation of the Catholic Conscience as a dignifying and liberating experience (Pp. St. JPII, 1993), which is why as Catholics we have a moral responsibility to develop an informed conscience (CCC 1780).

By divorcing the Catholic Faith from reason, reason becomes effectively neutered because we fail to see the impact of moral predispositions in reasoning. Simply put, the conscience can easily be fooled by our own inclinations and desires whether subconscious or otherwise, and can lead us down the path of lining up our reasoning in view of a desired result (Armstrong, 2015). This is the danger of reducing the conscience to a mere moral sense. Natural religion is based upon the sense of sin; it recognizes the disease, but cannot find the remedy (Armstrong, 2015). To emphasize the earlier point, this is where the call to conversion is required, and through this we can start to appreciate the necessity of Christ’s redemptive act.

The conscience points towards the need for constant discernment, prayer, and the turning of the heart towards the objective authority of Christ through His Church. To follow one’s conscience is not to do as one pleases, but to earnestly seek what is true and good, and to hold fast to this, as repulsive as it may appear. Only then can we truly and honestly say to our Lord: Speak Lord, your servant is listening (1 Sam 3:10).

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References:

Armstrong, David (2015). “Newman’s Conversion of Conscience and the Resolution of the Crisis of Modernity.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible.

Henley, William (1875). Invictus. England.

Newman, John Henry (1885). “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk,” V, in Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching II (London: Longmans Green, 1885), 248.

Pell, George (2005). “The Inconvenient Conscience.”

The Church of Jesus Christ

To love and believe in Jesus is to obey Him.1 When one searches the Scriptures, it is readily apparent that Jesus established a Church founded on the rock of Peter,2 a corporeal and spiritual community to which all His followers were to belong. Examining history,3 we see that it is the Catholic Church which alone fits the description of this Church founded by Our Lord, handing down the Faith in an unbroken line of visible apostolic succession and dispensing divine graces through the sacraments instituted by Christ. God has given us the Church as the preeminent means of encountering, knowing, loving and serving Him. Obedience to Christ demands full communion with His Church, the Mystical Body and Bride of Christ. To try and seek Jesus in isolation would be to arrive at a defective understanding of and union with Him, His saving mission, and the Kingdom of God.

Being a person of faith entails being part of a community of believers, those who are ek-kaleo, called out by God, a people set apart,4 united in the covenantal bond with God.5 We are the Body of Christ,6 incorporated in Him through Baptism,7 partaking of the Eucharist,8 sharing in the one Priesthood of Christ and participating in the common worship of the one Divine Liturgy.9 The Church does not merely stand for Christ but is Christ;10 as St Jeanne d’Arc said, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.11 The Risen Lord identified Himself completely with His Church, saying to Saul on the road to Damascus: “Why do you persecute Me?”12 Saul had never encountered Jesus during His earthly ministry, but was persecuting members of the early Church. Therefore, to love and obey the Church is to love and obey Jesus; they are one and the same. Conversely, to deny the Church is to deny Christ Himself, to separate oneself from the life of the Body of Christ and cut oneself off from the Living Vine.13 Those who claim to have a relationship with Jesus apart from the Church, at most have only an imperfect communion with Him.14

Christianity, being the religion of the Incarnation, is a faith manifested in the physical reality of the Church,15 which Jesus instituted to perpetuate the faith.16 The magisterium or teaching authority of the Church gives us the guarantee that the teachings of our faith are orthodox and apostolic;17 it also possesses the capability to iron out doctrinal controversies with conclusive pronouncements,18 instead of descending into disunity.19 Jesus said to His disciples: “He who hears you, hears Me, and he who despises you, despises Me; and he who despises Me, despises Him that sent Me.”20 Christ has endowed the presbyters of His Church with divine authority to “teach all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”21 In particular, Christ ensured the unity of His Church by centering the community on the rock of Peter,22 giving him administrative authority over His Church symbolized by the keys to the Kingdom;23 the Vicar of Christ is given a share in Christ’s own nature and office as the Rock and Cornerstone of faith.24 Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia, et ibi ecclesia vita eterna: where there is Peter there is the Church, where there is the Church there is Life eternal,25 which is Jesus Christ. Christ spoke of the apostles’ function of being judges or rulers over His Church.26 This applies to the successors of the apostles – the bishops,27 who are pastors (literally, shepherds) of Christ’s flock, guiding and serving believers in the life of faith. It is based on the papal and collegial authority of the Church “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets”,28 that we have the Holy Bible and apprehend the articles of faith;29 it is by the preaching of the Church, the “pillar and ground of the truth”,30 that we have the Gospel through which we know Jesus.31

The ministerial priesthood is at the service of the baptismal priesthood,32 enabling believers to encounter Christ through the sacraments of the Church:33 particularly in Baptism, where one is incorporated through the working of the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Mystical Body; in Confirmation, where one receives the Holy Spirit again in order to be more fully configured to Christ and participate in His saving work; and most especially in the Eucharist, where one is physically and spiritually united with Jesus.34 One cannot have a more personal relationship with Jesus than in the reception of the Blessed Sacrament, where He becomes our very food,35 our spiritual nourishment. Jesus commanded his apostles to perpetuate the Holy Sacrifice in memory of Him,36 and this has continued to the present day through the Church’s liturgy, which is also the principal setting where the Scriptures – telling of the life and message of Christ – are read and meditated upon. Only the Church possesses the true sacraments through which God is encountered and His grace outpoured on this earth for His redemptive work;37 and the priests of the Church are uniquely configured to Christ, acting in persona Christi so that the faithful have immediate access to Christ through them.38 The Church is not an end in herself,39 but always directs the believer to Christ and the Kingdom of God,40 through the working of the Holy Spirit.41 The Church herself is a Sacrament,42 being a symbol and means of union with God and humanity,43 manifesting Christ in the same way that He was physically present during His earthly ministry, taking on a particular human form and living among men.44 The Church and her members are not barriers between oneself and Jesus; instead, participating in the life of the Church brings one closer to Jesus in the way He intended,45 and leads to salvation.46

One’s faith is sustained by the community through its rites, symbols and customs.47 Belief must be externalized through habitualization and ritual,48 then institutionalization;49 this externalization strengthens faith, embedding it in daily life. An individual’s growth occurs in tandem with the development of the society he belongs to.50 Without the support of a community, it is easy to lose faith in times of difficulties and distress. Even Protestants, who tend to emphasize one’s personal relationship with the Lord to the exclusion of the communion of saints, in practice still end up forming ecclesial communities where the members edify and encourage each other. Catholics have an incredible source of solace in the invisible members of the communion of saints, the Church Triumphant; through them, believers are given particular models of sanctity in living Christ-like lives, as well as heavenly assistance through their intercession, perfected by their union with Christ.51 Living in Christ entails living in communion with His saints, in Heaven and on earth.52

Divine revelation was public,53 not private in character, and the deposit of faith is necessarily passed on through the public witness of the ecclesial community, the Mystical Body of Christ.54 It is not a matter of indifference as to what faith one subscribes to; it is not sufficient simply to believe in God; if so, even the devils would be saved.55 One’s belief must be backed up by genuine divine authority and the authentic witness of a Christian life lived for God and for others.56

St Cyprian affirmed: “No one can have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother.”57 Jesus is never found in isolation, and one cannot be a Christian alone. The very Godhead is a community, and the Christian life, being modeled on Trinitarian life,58 is by definition a communal way of life.59 The Lord commanded His disciples to love one another as He loved them, for by that shall all men know that they are His disciples.60 To love and imitate Jesus is to love those dear to Him – His family, His Church. This shared bond of love unites believers in a common witness to the world. Jesus’ prayer before commencing His Passion was that His followers would be one as He and the Father are one,61 so that the world may believe that the Father sent Him.62 Life in Christ is characterized by harmony and unity;63 authentic Christian faith is summarized by the four marks of the Church: One,64 Holy,65 Catholic and Apostolic.66

In conclusion, it is only through the Catholic Church, the Barque of Peter, that one is assured of receiving the genuine apostolic faith handed down from the time of Christ through Scripture and Tradition. In the sacraments, one truly encounters the Crucified Christ, not only spiritually but physically as well. To divorce oneself from Christ’s Church is to impoverish one’s faith, robbing it of the support and nourishment of the true Vine. It is possible to approach Christ outside the bounds of the visible Church, but to enjoy the fullness of life in Him is to be a member of His Holy Church, which is animated by His Spirit and fulfills His salvific mission from the Father.

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Image: Facebook

1 John 14:15.

2 Matthew 16:18.

3 John Salza, “What is the History of Your Church?” Scripture Catholic (updated 2004) http://www.scripturecatholic.com/history.html [accessed 23rd April, 2013].

4 Deuteronomy 7:6.

5 Avery Cardinal Dulles S.J., “The Ecclesial Dimension of Faith”. Communio 22, 3 (Fall, 1995) pp. 418-432, at 419.

6 1 Cor. 12:27.

7 Dulles, op. cit., p. 423.

8 Fr Friedrich Jürgensmeier, The Mystical Body of Christ. Sheed and Ward (New York, 1954), p. 236.

9 Paul VI, 1964, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium), 34-36 [henceforth referred to as LG]; John XXIII, 1963, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium), 14.

10 Jürgensmeier, op. cit., p. 29.

11 “Acts of the Trial of Joan of Arc”, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 795 http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p2.htm [accessed 23rd April, 2013].

12 Acts 9:4.

13 Fulton Sheen, The Mystical Body of Christ. Sheed & Ward (London, 1935), p. 239; John 15:5.

14 Paul VI, 1964, Decree on Ecumenism (Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio), 3; Dulles, op. cit., p. 421.

15 Fr Timothy Radcliffe O.P., “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” (updated 10 April, 2010) http://www.thetablet.co.uk/article/14543 [accessed 6th May 2013].

16 Fr Arnold Damen S.J., “The Church or the Bible” (updated 2013) http://www.drbo.org/church.htm [accessed 23rd April, 2013].

17 Norman Cardinal Gilroy, Archbishop of Sydney, “The Magisterium of the Vicar of Christ”, L’Osservatore Romano, 4 April 1968, p. 7 http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/MAGVICXR.HTM [accessed 6th May 2013].

18 Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 60.

19 Damen, “The Church or the Bible”, op. cit.

20 Luke 10:16.

21 Matthew 28:19.

22 Henri de Lubac, The Motherhood of the Church. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 1982), p. 276.

23 Scott Hahn, “Scott Hahn on the Papacy” (updated 2007) http://www.catholic-pages.com/pope/hahn.asp [accessed 14th May 2013].

24 Dr Thomas Mor Athanasius, “Primacy of St Peter” http://www.syrianchurch.org/Articles/PrimacyofStPeter.htm [accessed 14th May 2013].

25 St Ambrose of Milan.

26 Matthew 19:28.

27 Vat. II, LG, 28.

28 Ephesians 2:20.

29 Council of Rome, Decretum Gelasianum.

30 1 Timothy 3:15.

31 Fr Jules Lebreton, S.J., and Jacques Zeiller, The Church in the New Testament. Collier Books (New York, 1962), p. 83.

32 Vat. II, LG, 10.

33 Dulles, “The Ecclesial Dimension of Faith”, op. cit., p. 431.

34 Avery Cardinal Dulles S.J., A Church to Believe In. The Crossroad Publishing Company (New York, 1982), p. 44.

35 John 6:5-6.

36 1 Corinthians 11:25.

37 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Responses to Some Questions regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church, Fourth Question http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html [accessed 14th May, 2013].

38 Vat. II, LG, 28.

39 Yves Congar, This Church that I Love. Dimension Books (New Jersey, 1969), p. 97.

40 John Paul II, 1990, Redemptoris Missio (The Mission of Christ the Redeemer), Encyclical on the permanent validity of the Church’s missionary mandate, 18; Raymond E. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind. Geoffrey Chapman (London, 1984), p. 51; Fr Geoffrey Preston, O.P., Faces of the Church. T&T Clark (Edinburgh, 1997), p. 67.

41 Manuel Urena, “The missionary impulse in the Church according to Redemptoris Missio”. Communio 19, 1 (Spring, 1992), pp. 94-102, at 101; Vat. II, LG, 4; Ephesians 1:17; Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 50.

42 Richard R. Gaillardetz, The Church in the Making: Lumen Gentium, Christus Dominus, Orientalium Ecclesiarum. Paulist Press (New York, 2006), p. 43.

43 Vat. II, LG, 1.

44 Francis A. Sullivan, “The Evangelising Mission of the Church”, The Gift of the Church. Liturgical Press (Collegeville, 2000), p. 235.

45 Matthew 16:18, 18:18.

46 Congar, op. cit., p. 51.

47 Dulles, “The Ecclesial Dimension of Faith”, op. cit., p. 419.

48 Adam B. Seligman, Robert P. Weller and Michael J. Puett, Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity. Oxford University Press (2008), p. 37.

49 Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality. Doubleday (New York, 1966), p. 53.

50 Ibid., p. 52.

51 Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, “The ‘Communion of Saints’ as three states of the Church: pilgrimage, purification, and glory”. Communio 15 (Summer, 1988), pp. 169-181, at 176.

52 Congar, op. cit., p. 97.

53 Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 49.

54 Dulles, “The Ecclesial Dimension of Faith”, op. cit., p. 425; Pius XII, 1943, Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, 1.

55 Fr Arnold Damen S.J., “The One True Church” (updated 2013) http://www.drbo.org/church2.htm [accessed 23rd April, 2013]; James 2:19.

56 Luke 10:27; James 2:20.

57 St Cyprian, Epistle 43.

58 Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 47.

59 David S. Cunningham, “The Trinity”. The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 2003), p. 199.

60 John 13:34.

61 Lebreton and Zeiller, op. cit., p. 145; Congar, op. cit., p. 109.

62 John 17:11, 21.

63 Vat. II, LG, 1.

64 Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 58.

65 Vat. II, LG, 39.

66 First Council of Constantinople, The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

The Silence of Mary vs Endō’s “Silence”

In the Martin Scorsese film Silence, based on the book by Shūsaku Endō, the Jesuit protagonists face a terrible choice: to renounce their faith and trample on the image of Christ, or to let their flock of Japanese faithful suffer torture and death.

In saving their flock in the temporal realm, did they not risk losing them for eternity? Did they not betray those who had already been tortured and killed? The pagan Japanese have traditionally understood dying for honor, as in the practice of seppuku. The real-life Japanese martyrs understood dying for God and the eternal salvation of others. Christian martyrs have always held it a privilege to die for the Faith, participating in the redemptive death of Christ.

The Nagasaki Martyrs
Choir of La Recoleta, Cuzco, Peru

The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason that I die. I believe that I am telling the truth before I die. After Christ’s example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.
St. Paul Miki

Crucifixion with Intercessors (The Crucifixion with Sts Paul and Francis)
Luini Bernardino, c. 1530.

Let us turn to the example of Mary, our Mother.

Have you ever remarked that practically every traditional representation of the Crucifixion always pictures Magdalene on her knees at the foot of the crucifix? But you have never yet seen an image of the Blessed Mother prostrate. John was there and he tells in his Gospel that she stood. He saw her stand. But why did she stand? She stood to be of service to us. She stood to be our minister, our Mother. If Mary could have prostrated herself at that moment as Magdalene did, if she could have only wept, her sorrow would have had an outlet. The sorrow that cries is never the sorrow that breaks the heart. It is the heart that can find no outlet in the fountain of tears which cracks; it is the heart that cannot have an emotional break-down that breaks. And all that sorrow was part of our purchase price paid by our Co-Redemptrix, Mary the Mother of God!
– Venerable Abp. Fulton J. Sheen, Calvary and the Mass: The Sanctus

She knew, better than anyone else will ever know it, that the greatest of all griefs is to be unable to mitigate the suffering of one whom we love. But she was willing to suffer that, because that was what He asked of her.
– Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

Unlike Peter, who remonstrated with Jesus after He said He had to suffer and die, Mary quietly accepted this sword which pierced her heart. She watched in silence as her beloved Son, bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh, was mocked, cursed, defiled, falsely accused, scourged, spat upon, and crucified, with a crown of thorns jammed cruelly onto His poor head. All through the torture of the One she loved best, she never said a word against God. She trusted in His plan of salvation, though it tore her heart to shreds.

That suffering silence was the silence of a strong and virtuous woman who trusted completely in the foolishness of God, which is far above the wisdom of men. Unlike the priests in Silence, Our Lady held fast to the Word of God, the pearl of great price, the Way which leads through death to everlasting Life. Let us imitate her when we see our loved ones suffering, and stay close to Christ.

…the secular establishment always prefers Christians who are vacillating, unsure, divided, and altogether eager to privatize their religion. And it is all too willing to dismiss passionately religious people as dangerous, violent, and let’s face it, not that bright.
– Bishop Robert Barron, “Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ and the Seaside Martyrs

…our world doesn’t know what to make of the Resurrection or indeed of miracles and the supernatural. And so a veil of deep silence falls over them. This, in fact, is the deepest silence in the film: that the Resurrection is not even alluded to. And so, ‘Silence’ is left with a naturalistic tale wherein the most noble goal is to alleviate and reduce suffering. This is unsurprising since the very notion of redemptive suffering makes no sense and is a scandal without the theological virtues.
– Fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., “Initial thoughts concerning Scorsese’s ‘Silence’

From that time Jesus began to shew to his disciples, that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and the third day rise again. And Peter taking him, began to rebuke him, saying: Lord, be it far from thee, this shall not be unto thee. Who turning, said to Peter: Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto Me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men. Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for My sake, shall find it.
Matthew 16:21-25

Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence. Our liturgies must facilitate this attitude of authentic listening: Verbo crescente, verba deficiunt. (“When the word of God increases, the words of men fail.” – Augustine).
– Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini n. 66

As a convert, in watching The Passion I was most profoundly affected by a new understanding of Mary, as The Mother of Sorrows.  It  recently occurred to me that her Son was only 40 days old – a tiny little Baby – when she was told that through Him “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2: 35). And yet, did she hold back? Did she choose to protect herself from pain that was sure to come? No. She never held back her love in an effort to protect herself. She opened wide the doors of Hope. She rested in the joy that this life is not the end. She prepared her soul for the glory of eternal life. And she surrendered her will to the Will of her Heavenly Father, with calm, quiet, peace.
– Vicki Burbach, “Love, Loss and the Liberty of Letting Go

…martyrdom is a gift from God that is born of profound charity. It is a specific and glorious sharing in the life of Christ… Martyrdom is the crown of a life lived with ardent love for God and the people of God.
– Bro. Edmund McCullough O.P., “Life and Martyrdom

Also see: Taylor Marshall, “The Seven Sorrows of Mary are the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit”;
Joshua Bowman, “The Last Words of 30 Saints”.

Image: Signum-Crucis (1, 2)

Can talkative people make it to Heaven?

The title of my post might sound a bit weird but this thought comes to me whenever I finish an enriching conversation with somebody. My definition of enriching means that the conversation contained no gossip, was intellectually stimulating and humanly deep, and done in an atmosphere of mutual listening and sympathy. It need not always be explicitly about God, though God and religion are very often (at least for me!) one of the most interesting topics to talk about.

Will heaven be like that? I sometimes wonder. Or is my talkativeness (and I can be very talkative, just ask Grace my wife!) simply a symptom of my deeper restlessness for deep and abiding communication with God?

To be sure, the Christian tradition places a lot of emphasis on silence and with good reason. We are reminded constantly to slow down amidst the busyness of our lives, to still our hearts and quiet the noisiness in our souls. After all, the prophet Elijah did not discover God’s voice in the earthquake or fire (noisy events to put it mildly) but only in a gentle breeze. (1 Kings 19:12-14). And when we reflect on the times we have mis-communicated with someone, we know that it is very often because our minds are so preoccupied and cluttered that we have heard but failed to listen to the other. And we proceed to give advice and to talk even before we have truly listened.

Does that mean the talkative people are to repent in sackcloth and ashes? Well I think that they should repent of being talkative without listening and try to cultivate a capacity for silence. Yet being talkative in itself, when properly understood, is not a bad thing at all. In fact, the ability to communicate is really a participation in the eternal speech of God. Jesus is the WORD of God, as we are reminded in John’s Gospel. And when the Word became flesh, hosts of Angels were singing hosannas to frightened shepherds.

Pretty chatty if you ask me.

The Trinity, Andrei Rublev (c. 1410)
The Trinity, Andrei Rublev (c. 1410)

Indeed, redeemed in Christ, we are able to speak to each other as heirs to the Kingdom, adopted children of the Father. Our sharing is characterized not by boasting but by mutual concern for each other. Conversation becomes enriching as it is free of jealousy, one-upmanship and pride. One genuinely wants to listen to the other, as the other is a brother in Christ, of infinite interest.

We know however that this is not possible on earth. To begin with, we are unable to have conversations with everybody we respect for extended lengths of time as time is finite (though with Facebook, the possibilities are extended!). So we are usually limited to conversations with close friends. And an enriching conversation in which there is mutual vulnerability and friendship seems to me a participation in the eternal conversation of the Trinity in which we are also invited. (Indeed, that’s Fr. Robert Barron’s definition of prayer.)

When I was studying theology, the joke which went around was that when talkative theology students (the kind who can spend literally hours talking about the processions of the Trinity for instance) pass on to the life to come, there would be two doors awaiting them. One would be labeled “God”. The other would be labeled “seminar about God”.  Guess which one the theology student would choose?

I began to panic as I realized that I might choose the second door. I remembered St. Augustine’s passage that the restless heart can only rest in God and know that I must be careful not to mistake theology for God Himself. Nevertheless, will that mean that I won’t be able to talk about theology in heaven if and when (God willing) I get there?

Then I read St. Gregory of Nyssa. His idea of the afterlife is a bit different from Augustine’s, as he holds that there will be no rest in heaven as we will be constantly stretched onwards and upwards towards God. “No limit can be set to our progress towards God; first of all, because no limitation can be put on upon the Beautiful, and secondly because the increase in our desire for the Beautiful cannot be stopped by any sense of satisfaction,” as Gregory puts it in one pungent sentence.

If I understood Gregory correctly, I would have an eternity to talk about theology and an eternity to communicate deeply with the Blessed Trinity and all the saints in heaven. That would include not only the hall-of-famers like Our Blessed Mother, Sts. Peter and Paul, but also our loved ones and others whom we hope have also placed God or following their conscience their top priority.

In the book of Revelation, heaven is portrayed as a wedding feast where guests will be at table, and served by the Lamb Himself. (Revelations 19:7-9)

I presume there would be lots of talking at a wedding feast.

And I do hope that you and I will accept the invitation.

I am a Catechist. I am not God’s lawyer

Sophia Cavalletti (1999, p. 4), writes that “a plan has always existed in the mind of God, the aim of which is to bring humankind to the full enjoyment of God”. The Christian confesses that in the fullness of time, that plan has a human face; His name is Jesus Christ. Revelation, which Dei Verbum teaches that is God’s manifestation of Himself in time through words and deeds, finds its culmination in Him (DV no.2).Christ, King of Kings (Greece, c. 1600)

As a Christian, I certainly did not invent this story. Rather, I am inserted into this story which is necessarily open and meant for all humanity. As the first sentence of Redemptor Hominis makes clear, “Jesus Christ is center of the Universe and of history” (RH no. 1). It is only in Him that “the mystery of man take on light” as “He fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling” (RH no. 8). I am invited to make my personal pilgrimage, to approach Him, to understand myself thoroughly “not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards.” Even in the midst of my “unrest, uncertainty weakness and sinfulness” I should approach and “appropriate and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find myself” (RH no. 10). In other words, to taste and see and testify that the Lord is really good. (Ps 34:8)

This has implications for my catechetical craft, in the area of identity and mission, i.e who the catechist really is and flowing from that, what his mission is.

I tell my students that as a catechist, I do not see my as “God’s lawyer”, i.e making the case for God’s existence/God’s goodness against those who would accuse him (whoever they may be). Neither am I “God’s debator”, making the case for God to the cheers or jeers of a public audience. Rather, I understand my role, to borrow an image from Lumen Gentium, as simply a co-pilgrim, with my own restlessness and sinfulness. I am on the same boat as my students in the common journey of life.

Nevertheless, as a co-pilgrim, I have found the Catholic path to be a path of joy and hence, I want to share this with others: on why, at least as of today and with God’s help, until the day I die, I found this path, this Catholic vision of life credible and worth taking. Such an approach de-centers the catechist and centers the lesson on the Person of Christ. It is also less intimidating and “takes the pressure” off the catechist to answer every single question students might have on the spot. Not that the catechist should not try to find out and put his heart into bettering his craft. But he knows that faith is not solely dependent on being able to “answer questions satisfactorily” and he can share from his experience why a particular question does not shake his own faith even though he might have difficulties answering it at the moment.

The Catechist’s mission then is to testify to his students why he found God’s revelation credible, especially in the person of Jesus Christ. He clears the clutter so that his students may also personally encounter Christ. Personally, there are five anchors in my faith journey and whether I share them explicitly or not, they will necessarily color my presentation of the faith.

These five pillars are, namely:
i) That it seems more historically credible to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus than alternative theories.
ii) That miracles continue to happen in recent times and even today, e.g. the incorrupt body of St Bernadette, Fatima, Lourdes etc.
iii) That the lives of the saints, e.g. Mother Teresa, Blessed Miguel Pro etc., show how a life totally devoted to Christ can be a beautiful and fulfilling one and that they too struggled with darkness and doubt.
iv) A deep personal awareness (not mystical!) which occurred to me one day in a particularly clear manner that God loves me as a Father because I am “his child” and not because of any achievement on my part and inspite of the wrong things I have done. I will always be his “son” if, in spite of the wrong things I do, I still call him Father.
v) That Colossians 1:15-20 is not mere poetry but literally true that Christ “is the firstborn of all creation… in Him all things were created… in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities… all things were created through Him and for Him… and in Him all things hold together.”

The last pillar I am now finding particularly fruitful even in my own work as a school teacher. The whole of reality has a Christocentric stamp. I can show how secular subjects find their deepest meaning in Christ, thus bridging the “secular subjects” vs “religious subjects” divide which is often implicit in my students’ minds. In my catechetical class, I can do it explicitly. In a non-Catholic school, I can do it only implicitly but the insights into the human condition offered will (and has been!) “out of the box” and of interest to my students.

Ordinary things like going for a cruise, helping a poor person, having a family meal, my job as a teacher, and more dramatic things like religious fanaticism, the rise of Adolf Hitler, the Earth which is both beautiful and destructive, take on light. Their deepest meaning can surprisingly be discerned in the light of the Person of Christ. It seems to me a type of everyday mysticism.

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Image: Christ, King of Kings (Greece, c. 1600)/PD-US

The Humor of Miracles

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt (1632)
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt (1632)

When reading about the time Jesus awoke from His nap, calmed the stormy sea, and chastened His disciples for being afraid (Matthew 8:23-27), one just has to suppress a grin. Picture the scene: the disciples mortally alarmed in their storm-tossed craft; God in human form slumbering peacefully astern (maybe snoring, even), and then the Creator of the universe wakes up from His forty winks and casually sorts everything out, grumbling at His creatures for their understandable yet ultimately groundless fear.

One sees this divine humor again and again throughout the accounts of miracles down the ages. A favorite saint of mine is Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus, i.e. the Wonder-Worker, patron against earthquakes.

During the construction of a church for his growing flock, the builders ran into a problem with a huge buried boulder. Gregory ordered the rock to move out of the way of his church; it did.

When returning from the wilderness, Gregory had to seek shelter from a sudden and violent storm. The only structure nearby was a pagan temple. Gregory made the sign of the cross to purify the place, then spent the night there in prayer, waiting out the storm. The next morning, the pagan priest arrived to receive his morning oracles. The demons who had been masquerading as pagan gods advised him that they could not stay in the purified temple or near the holy man. The priest threatened to summon the anti-Christian authorities to arrest Gregory. The bishop wrote out a note reading, “Gregory to Satan: Enter.” With this “permission slip” in hand, the pagan priest was able to summon his demons again.

The same pagan priest, realizing that his gods unquestioningly obeyed Gregory’s single God, found the bishop and asked how it was done. Gregory taught the priest the truth of Christianity. Lacking faith, the priest asked for a sign of God’s power. Gregory ordered a large rock to move from one place to another; it did. The priest immediately abandoned his old life, and eventually became a deacon under bishop Gregory. This ordering about of boulders led to Gregory’s patronage against earthquakes.

(CatholicSaints.Info: notes about your extended family in heaven)

Here’s a story from Asia:

Condemned on 26 July 1644, and executed the next day, Andrew was the first Vietnamese martyr.

Father de Rhodes retrieved the body and shipped it to Macao for burial. When the transport ship was attacked by pirates, it struck a rock, and a hole was torn in the hull. A large stone rolled into the gap, held out the water, and the ship was able to deliver its cargo.

(“Blessed Andrew the Catechist”, CatholicSaints.Info)

And a recent one:

During his coma, he remembers waking up in the house he shared with his friends, and hearing someone downstairs. That was odd; he says he’s always the first one up. He investigated, and in the living room he found a young man he didn’t know.

Who are you?”

I’m George, your new roommate.”

That can’t be. I already have two roommates.”

They aren’t around anymore.”

Oh.”

He then spent a long timeless day with George. An ardent soccer player who hates staying indoors, Kevin kept trying to leave the house but George wouldn’t let him go. They fought about it, as if they were brothers, but George was adamant. He encouraged him to be patient. Kevin remembers passing the time by doing schoolwork—which he says would surprise anyone who knew him before his accident—and sitting on the couch with George playing a soccer video game called “FIFA.”

Eventually he awoke in the hospital.

(Will Duquette, “Stunning story: Miraculous recovery attributed to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati”, Aleteia)

Who in high Heaven would think of sticking the soul of a comatose patient in an ethereal house with Pier Giorgio Frassati while healing his broken body?

What kind of a God allows a ship bearing the body of His saint to be attacked by pirates, then plugs the resultant hole with a boulder? Why not preserve the ship from the pirates in the first place?

Jesus in His divine nature surely knew His disciples were panicking while He was deep in slumber, but He waited until the right moment to display His dominion over the winds and the waves.

God has perfect timing. Comic timing, even. But always perfect. Like Gandalf, He is never late, nor early; He arrives precisely when He means to.

Looking back over my life, I could have avoided a lot of worry, heartache, and stress if I had simply trusted in Him completely.

One time I did trust God completely was when my father had a stroke when I was 10. The nurse didn’t want to let me into the ICU because she was afraid I was too little to handle seeing my father in such a sorry state. But throughout his struggle for recovery, I was impervious to worry, just knowing somehow that he would be fine. (My mother had to bear the brunt of the stress.)

God’s ways are not our ways; He teaches us something each time He makes us wait, each time He allows something calamitous to occur. Through everything, He is there with us, and He will be there in the end.

God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t.
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.
― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The New Evangelization: What’s new, why now?

Evangelization: Why is the Gospel good news?

The word “evangelization” comes from the Greek “Euangelion” meaning the announcing of good news. St Paul and the apostles were excited about the person and message of Jesus. They had encountered Jesus as a Savior, who by His cross and resurrection, has triumphed over sin and death, and who has sent His Holy Spirit to accompany His followers in all things. The command by Jesus to “go teach all nations” was not felt as a burden imposed upon them, but as a joyful obligation. They had experienced true freedom in the Gospel “for freedom Christ has set us free”, and they wanted to proclaim this to the world, that God has made adoption as His children possible in Christ.

Through the preaching of the apostles, those who became Christian in the early Church felt the same freedom. St. Justin Martyr felt that Christ was the fulfillment of his vocation as a philosopher. St. Agatha felt herself to be a spouse of Jesus. To preserve her vow of virginity, she refused marriage to a pagan noble and suffered martyrdom as a result. St. Augustine, after living a chaotic life, famously declared after his baptism, “You have made us for ourselves O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The ancient world was stirred by Christ and His message. The human person has a royal dignity and a direct link with the Creator. God in Jesus Christ is the friend of the human person. And the countless Powers—gods, spirits, demons—weighing upon the soul with all their terrors, now crumbled into dust.

Why a “new” evangelization?

If evangelization is the announcing of good news, why the need for a new evangelization? John Paul II, who first coined the phrase “new evangelization”, clarified that the message of the Gospel has certainly not changed. What has changed however was the fact that

i. A growing number of Christians, in traditionally Christian countries, no longer experience Christianity, especially its moral teaching, as liberation but as a burden. They practice their religion “as if they have just returned from a funeral.”

ii. Increasingly educated and exposed to science and reason, the doctrines of Christianity were also experienced as somehow pre-scientific and having no rational basis.

Two convenient options

Faced with these two challenges, a Catholic can take the “soft” option. He can (at least in his own mind) “water down” the Church’s moral teaching, especially its difficult and inconvenient ones. Faced with accusations that he is being “pre-scientific”, he could also discard the seemingly incomprehensible “supernatural” doctrines of Christianity (the resurrection or the virgin birth, for example) and focus on what seems to be “reasonable.”

He can also take the “hard” option. In the face of a hostile world, he can retreat into his private Catholic space, with other like-minded Catholics, viewing the “hard” teachings as a necessary burden to attain heaven in the next life and diagnosing Catholics who have difficulties in believing as somehow lacking in faith. “If only they pray more and have more faith and don’t question too much.”

The teaching of the New Evangelization proposes a third option. John Paul II declares that the new Evangelization must be new “in ardor, methods and expression.” Let’s look at these in turn.

New in Ardor

Ardor refers primarily to enthusiasm and excitement. This is something that cannot be “faked”. It has to be real. It has to flow from an encounter, or a re-encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. Hence, Singapore Archbishop William Goh’s emphasis on the “conversion experience”, where one recognizes that he is a sinner in need of grace. Jesus Christ is experienced no longer as simply a great moral teacher but one’s personal savior. To continue fanning the flame of conversion, the Archbishop insists on the cultivating of an intense prayer life and on-going formation so that the converted disciple can better share the Gospel with others.

New in Method

There is a move away from teaching Catechism as simply “doctrines to be learnt” or “moral teachings to be followed.” Rather, at the heart of Catechesis is to facilitate for the child an encounter with the person of Christ. Doctrines and the Church’s moral teaching flow from that encounter. They liberate the person to live a new life in Christ. They point to Him. They are not ends in themselves. The catechist is not “the teacher” but a “facilitator.” Christ is the Teacher. The catechist is there to facilitate the encounter. He is not “God’s lawyer.” Rather, he is a co-pilgrim with his students in the journey of life. He has nevertheless found Christ in his pilgrimage of life and is thus there to share this with his students.

I remembered one incident that might illustrate this new approach. I bumped into my student who was hanging outside church and not attending Mass. In my earlier years as a Catechist, I would actually have focused straight away on his non-attendance at Mass and tell him that what he is doing is very wrong and that he should go for confession and then for Mass the next time. This time, I did something different. I said hello and asked him if he would like to chat a while as he seemed to have things on his mind. What followed was a 30 minute conversation where he shared about how he felt that Church teaching is restricting his freedom and that his family situation is unhappy. I acknowledged his feelings as very real and shared with him how, in my own experience, I too had these feelings but had gradually found Christ to be a source of freedom. I did not focus on what he “did not do.” A year later, while preparing another batch of students for confirmation, he waved at me and said that he too has decided to get confirmed. He too had experienced the love of Christ for him and found in the Catholic faith a source of true freedom. While I would never dare to take any credit for his conversion, I nevertheless shudder to think what might have happened if I had “scolded” him for not attending Mass during our first encounter, out of a sense of misguided zeal.

New in Expression.

Icon written by Br. Claude Lane, OSB, Mount Angel Abbey, Saint Benedict, OR, USA

It is easy to simply reduce the phrase “new in expression” to the need for Catholics to be “up to date”, especially in the use of social media (Facebook etc). While social media is certainly an important means of evangelization, the call for a “new expression” is deeper than that. It is a call to re-present the person and message of Christ in a manner that is comprehensible, challenging and compelling to a new generation. It would be no use for instance to say “Jesus Christ saves you from sin” when the culture has lost a sense of sin. Rather, a patient dialogue about the nature of right and wrong would be an important first step in precisely recovering such a sense, and then showing how Christ saves us from the burden of an overwhelming guilt. The art of learning how to understand the cultural situation in the light of Christ would require formation. But the acquiring of such knowledge is not simply “book knowledge” but flows from the fervor to make Christ known to others.

Conclusion: Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization

On 27th Sept 2014, Archbishop William Goh consecrated Singapore to Mary, the Star of the New Evangelisation. In this, we ask not only for our blessed Mother’s powerful intercession, but also through the studying of her life, we will know how to go about our tasks of evangelizing. As the Archbishop declared in his pastoral letter, it is from Mary that we learn i) that the New Evangelization is urgent. That it is ii) principally a witness of love. That it must iii) begin from a contemplation of the Word of God and that iv) it must possess a spirit of poverty and the recognition of the primacy of grace.

____

Image: Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour

The Archived Life: On Scrapbooking, Catholic Liturgy, and Transitional Justice

By guest writer Melvyn Foo.

On all my holidays this year, my routine when I return to our accommodation is the same. I transfer the photos from my camera’s SD card to my laptop, I edit and select them, and then I upload them to Bonjournal1 and complete my travel log.

In the course of this most recent trip, I have come to call this routine ‘reaping the harvest’. By corollary, then, the day’s experiences are the seeds sown, the harvest of which are the memories that I immortalise in the web.

I have been asked repeatedly why I am so obsessive about archiving my life. I sometimes reply, “The unarchived life is not worth living.”

Remove the double negatives, rearrange, and you get something less tongue-in-cheek and more defensible: life is worth archiving.

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Scrapbooking is the epitome of archiving memories. You choose the happy snapshots, you write nice words, and you frame everything in a pretty page – exactly how you would like to remember those moments.

I am not good at scrapbooking. I took a course years ago, and since then, I have concluded that I have no natural talent for it. I take hours to do what the artsy girls can do in minutes (e.g. choosing paper). I work laboriously (e.g. take exact dimensions) to do what they do by sheer guesstimation. I use science (e.g. rule of thirds, triangulation) to do what they do by feel. (I have since learnt that you can’t really plan every detail out, so you just have to make decisions and improvise along the way. This works sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. After all, just like jazz, improvisation requires talent, which I lack.)

It does not help that I have color disorder.

Despite my difficulties, I am still drawn to scrapbooking. I have a drawer full of materials, I have a Paper Market membership card (which may have expired), and I scrapbook a cover page for each year’s journal (which comprises largely of blogposts that I compile and print out).

Why? Why is the past – not just knowing what actually happened but remembering what happened – so important?

cover-pages


An answer may be found in an unlikeliest of places: Catholic liturgy.

In every Mass, Catholics take Jesus’ words literally to “do this,” – i.e. to eat His body and drink His blood – “in remembrance of [Him].”2 This is not just symbolic. The Church holds that the Mass re-presents Jesus’ sacrifice on Golgotha.3 Father Jude had thus alluded in a talk on how there is only one Mass and “one single sacrifice”4 – the one on Golgotha – that we remember and re-present in all our Masses.

This remembrance and re-presentation is called anamnesis, which comprises the heart of the Eucharist.5 The word, sharing a similar etymology with ‘amnesia’, means “a calling to mind, remembrance”.

This word is also used in philosophy and in medicine. In philosophy, it is a Platonic concept which conceives of learning as a rediscovery of knowledge within us from past incarnations. In medicine, it refers to a patient’s medical history which a physician needs to know in order to diagnose and care for that patient.

Regardless of context, the point is the same: when we recall the past, we affect our present and our future. This is the power and the importance of memory.

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Transitional justice is an emerging field which increasingly recognizes the critical importance of memory (alongside the four traditional elements of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence). This field studies the various processes by which a community recovers from large-scale human rights abuses. With the hindsight from Rwanda, Timor Leste, the former Yugoslavia, et al., it is now incontrovertible that criminal prosecutions alone, while necessary, are far from sufficient. More is required.

Memorialisation is one such process.

Professor Ariel Dulitzky thus wrote that “[c]ertain standards of the United Nations insist on the duty of remembering, educating about the past and rejecting negations of atrocities. They also highlight the role that archives play in the search of truth and justice, and they are also essential for recovering and building memory.”6

This is not just pure sentimentality. Professor Dulitzky quotes the UN Rapporteur on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-recurrence, who says that “[it] does not suffice to acknowledge the suffering and strength of the victims,” and concludes that “ultimately, the challenge for a policy of memory is not building memorials or installing sleepy statues, but creating more fair, egalitarian and democratic societies.”7

Again, the point here is: remembering the past determines the present and charts the course for the future.

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And yet, if all that is required is to recollect objective historical facts, it is surprising that judicial rulings are insufficient. After all, the trial is democracy’s most potent fact-finding procedure. Why is more – in the likes of film, theatre, museums, etc – required?

In 2001, my family and another family got into a bad accident in South Africa. Both families were traveling together in a single vehicle. The tyre burst, the vehicle ran off the road, hit into barbed wire, and flipped a couple of times. We later learnt that the other family’s dad had been thrown out of the vehicle, and the vehicle had crushed his lungs, killing him instantly.

Two years later, they sued my dad, who had been driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. The judgment arising from the suit is reported as Loh Luan Choo Betsy (alias Loh Baby) (administratrix of the estate of Lim Him Long) and others v Foo Wah Jek [2004] SGHC 230; [2005] 1 SLR(R) 64. It is 18 pages long, and it goes through the evidence in detail. It mentions so much.

And yet it mentions so little. It does not mention the red-stained t-shirt that my mum had used to soak up the blood that had welled out when she performed CPR on their dad, which I had included in an essay based on this accident that I wrote in Secondary 4. It also does not mention a detail that I always talk about when I shared about this accident, that is, how fine the sand was, and how it got into my fingernails when I knelt down and clutched at it, praying to the patron saint of hopeless cases St Jude to make this all a dream.

And it does not even ask that most pressing of questions – where was God in all this? The answer becomes more layered as the years pass.

Examining the different processes of truth-finding, history-telling, and formation of collective memory, Professor Chrisje Brants and Professor Katrien Klep conclude: “The legal truth, laid down in the rulings of an international criminal court is, by definition, not open-ended. The verdict of a court is definite and authoritative; in this context, closure, not continued debate about what it has established as the truth, is its one and only purpose – indeed, on this its legitimacy depends. But then, also by definition, its contribution to history-telling, collective memory, and justice for victims is limited indeed.”8

In this regard, the learned writers also point out that “[h]istory and memory change as time goes on, and are never ‘finished.’”9

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Remembering the past, then, is not just a scientific and once-and-for-all endeavor of ascertaining the 5Ws+1H. It is also an art of attributing meaning and finding a narrative in the events that have happened.

Beyond the context of transitional justice, there is a word for this art of dwelling on the past: klexos. And of this artform, the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows echoes: “Maybe we should think of memory itself as a work of art—and a work of art is never finished, only abandoned.”

There are therefore two key elements in klexos: accuracy and meaning.

To speak of accuracy in recording the past is trite. Dates, names, sequence of events – these matter. Research on the fallibility of eye-witness memory highlights the grave consequences when we remember wrongly.

But to think of memory merely as a recording device is misconceived. In Elizabeth Loftus’ TEDtalk on the reliability of memory, she confirms that when we remember, we are not so much playing back what our senses have recorded. Instead, we reconstruct the past.

Beyond the factual data set of what actually happened, we make sense out of our past experiences, we connect the dots, we construct and reconstruct narrative arcs. We infuse an objective timeline with subjective meaning.

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The forms that the archives of our lives can take have evolved with the rise of social media. At the most extreme, Snapchat and Stories inveigh against the very idea of permanence, since the pictures and videos (allegedly) vanish forever after some time. Instagram heralded the prioritization of pictures over words. Twitter limited any expression of thought to 140 characters.

Perhaps it is inaccurate to conceive of these social media initiatives as archival tools, since they seek more to share and to capture the moment rather than to reflect on the past. All through a screen, of course. As one article puts it, “For Generation Z, there is no struggle to make sense of things. There is only the impulse to share.”

But there seems to be a counter-movement arising. Amidst the FLFC-culture of our times, slow journalism is gaining ground. A New Yorker staff writer opined: “We binge on instant knowledge, but we are learning the hazards, and readers are warier than they used to be of nanosecond-interpretations of Supreme Court decisions.” In 2015, The Huffington Post launched Highline,10 a magazine dedicated to running only cover stories based on months of investigations. Even our local newpspaper Today now has a section called the ‘Big Read’,11 which publishes longer and more thoughtful pieces.

While speed, brevity, and the power to grab attention will still remain foremost news values, slow journalism recognizes that readers also hunger for insight, for immersion, and for analysis. And the Web is taking notice.

But prose is not the only or even the best medium to archive, to reflect on, or to just make sense of life.

As a blogger, I am naturally a proponent of longform journaling. But as my Gen Z friend (who studies linguistics) counter-proposes, “Just cuz there r fewer words doesn’t mean we think less.”

Indeed, many of the Gen Z Instagram accounts that I follow are often filled with musings – be it through photos or captions or something in-between like typography – about life. One 20-year-old I know even has a third account (two is common among Gen Z – one ‘main’ account as a curated public persona and one ‘spam’ account for closer friends to follow) dedicated to more introspective posts.

While sheer wit and conviction certainly drive much of the content that Generation Z produces, not everything is simply “big, colorful, and hysterical”. There is depth and maturity too.

instagram


Be it blogging, scrapbooking, or instagramming, a question persists: are we being merely self-indulgent? Archiving the great events or the lives people that have shaped history is uncontroversial. But what of the grain of our own lives, so lost and so insignificant in the sands of time?

Vanity is undoubtedly a temptation, against which the easiest way of resisting is to keep our archives private.

But as Brené Brown says (and the Gen Z instagrammer above quotes), “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

These words resound with those of us who share regularly: we are honest with ourselves, we share with others, not necessarily in that order. To the extent, therefore, that the sharing of our lives intertwine with our pursuit of authenticity, perhaps we should be willing to endure some pretentiousness as the price of knowing ourselves.

For myself, blogging is many things. It is a way to make myself available to others. When people ask me a question about my life, the lazy (though admittedly lesser) alternative to sharing with them in person is to send them a link. It is also a way to make myself available to myself. It is amazingly convenient to have a compendium of my life to refer to at any time, to frame a more articulate sharing, to recall a personal story for a session, or just to remember what I went through before.

Perhaps, most importantly, it is a way for me to make sense of my world. To echo Gaiman, “All too often I write to find out what I think about a subject, not because I already know.”12

When my dad and I got into another bad accident in August 2014, I wrote about how I had lost faith in miracles. In September, I wrote about how I had to content with finding God in the ordinary, if I could not find Him in the extraordinary. In July 2015, I wrote again, but this time about how the accident formed part of a period of desolation, which was in turn, part of a larger narrative arc of learning to trust God.

The archive of my life thus becomes a lens through which I see the world. And if we can see the world in our grain of sand, we can move from klexos to sonder, to the humility of realizing that every person’s grain of life is as rich and as varied as our own.

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Moving beyond the individual, the wisdom of transitional justice underscores that klexos is not only relevant to individual lives, but to communities as well.

Just three weeks ago, I was surfing through our community’s spiritual bucket list, and I realized that some of us have already checked items off the list. To some extent, 1Cor12’s narrative has been captured in Mere Community. BASIC will be celebrating their 10th anniversary soon, and their ten years of journeying together will be digitally engraved into the blogs and Instagram accounts of their members.

Other memories are worth preserving. Consider, for example, OWL’s formation, journey, and eventual dissolution. There are precious shards here that I would love to see pieced together into a panel of stained glass.

Stained glass, after all, is a common sight in the Church.

In the final analysis, perhaps stained glass should be the ideal that all our archives aspire to. Because all our lives are broken and fragmented, and will remain so, regardless of how we curate or scrapbook our memories. It is only when we let Christ’s light shine through our past, into our present, and to guide our future, does beauty emerge.

Perhaps, then, it is not so much the unarchived, or even the unexamined life, but the un-examen-ed life, that is not worth living.

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1. Bonjournal is a minimalist travel logging app. It has a clean interface and limits the number of pictures per post to three. I have been using it since 2014, and will probably continue to do so.
2. Lk 22:19.
3. See CCC 1366.
4. CCC 1367.
5. See CCC 1106.
6. Ariel Dulitzky, “Memory, an essential element of transitional justice”, 20 April 2014. He was a member of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2014.
7. Ibid.
8. Chrisje Brants and Katrien Klep, “Transitional Justice: History-Telling, Collective Memory, and the Victim-Witness”, International Journal of Conflict and Violence Vol. 7(1) 2013, pp.36-49.
9. Ibid.
10. See e.g. “Mothers of ISIS“, a paradigm-shifting angle on ISIS recruitment.
11. See e.g. this article covering the glut of lawyers, providing probably the most comprehensive and insightful analysis on the situation. 
12. Neil Gaiman, “Some Reflections on Myth (with Several Digressions onto Gardening, Comics and Fairy Tales”, in A View from the Cheap Seats.

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This article was originally blogged at Mel.

Melvyn Foo is a Singaporean ex-lawyer. He is supposed to be a young adult, but he is really a lot more young than adult. He committed to God while sitting alone before a small and unadorned tabernacle. Since then, everything has pretty much fallen into place. You can visit his blog at http://melvynfoo.wordpress.com/

Words please, not only actions: Catholics and Evangelization

During a teacher training course last week, I caught up with an old colleague who is a devout Protestant. As we were chatting, he commented that I was the only Catholic he has met who has ever talked to him about Jesus and the importance of evangelization. He asked if it was the teaching of the Catholic Church that we do not evangelize.

I replied that nothing can be further from the truth. That Pope Paul VI stated in his exhortation on evangelization that “the Church exists in order to evangelize“.

I admitted that unfortunately what happens on the ground is very different.

Catholics have heard from pulpits and elsewhere that we evangelize best by our actions. There is also the phrase attributed to St. Francis, “Proclaim the Gospel always. If necessary use words.

There is no doubt that our credible actions and transparent witness form an indispensable foundation for introducing people to Jesus Christ.

Pope Paul VI states:

…through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization.

Nevertheless, the problem is that we often take this as the “Catholic way” and use this as an excuse not to open our mouths and talk about Jesus. We forget the second part of Pope Paul VI’s exhortation. There must be proclamation. If Christ our Lord lived the most perfect life and still had to use words, then what about us?

Pope Paul VI again:

Nevertheless this always remains insufficient, because even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified — what Peter called always having “your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have” — and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.

How can we start? Here are some suggested concrete steps:

1. If Christ or His Church does not excite you, ask yourself why this is the case. Pray for grace and fervor to fall in Love with Him and His Church.

2. Familiarise yourself with very helpful Catholic evangelical tools on the internet. A good place to start is Word on Fire, by Bishop Robert Barron.

3. Put out into the deep. Pray daily: “Lord Jesus, help me to encounter You again; give me the chance to share the good news.” You will be surprised how many opportunities the Lord will open up.

Finally, remember the quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi? That is a myth. He never said that. How could he, when the Lord he loved preached for three years?

While it is true that we should respect others, not be pushy, and be sensitive to our local context, it can never be an excuse not to proclaim.

Let us pray for the privilege to be able to share the Gospel of Jesus today.

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.
We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
— 2 Corinthians 5:20

Preach the Gospel. Words are always necessary.

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Image: Altarpiece — Sermon on the Mount, Henrik Olrik. Sankt Matthæus Kirke, Copenhagen /PD-US

Walk In Her Sandals: A Book Review

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Plan now to get some of your favorite girlfriends together this Lent to read this book!

Walk in Her Sandals is a deep and unique look at Christ’s Passion and the events after His death from a woman’s perspective. Each chapter contains numerous reflections on various aspects of Holy Week and beyond. There is something for everyone in this book. There is a fictional retelling of the events of the Passion told from the perspective of a woman who watched it all unfold. There are reflections connecting these foundational events to aspects of our feminine genius. There is a guide to pray through important scripture passages using the ancient practice of lectio divina. There are good reflection questions to discuss as a group. The book features authors that most Catholic nerds are familiar with, like Teresa Tomeo, Lisa Hendey and Pat Gohn, as well as many more authors whom you will want to learn more about.

I was a little surprised to find that one of my favorite parts was the fictional retelling of the Passion. I’m usually not a fan of that kind of thing (funny, because I do enjoy writing it, but that’s another story). Stephanie Landsem clearly did her research bringing stories such as the Last Supper and Pentecost alive. You could really sense that these women could have actually been there, were actually the kind of people you would have expected to see there. I had never heard of her before and I’ll have to look her up and try some of her other books.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to pick this book up again as part of a book club. That would be awesome! I’ll have to tell you about it when I do. Not to say that the book isn’t good to read on your own. I certainly enjoyed it.

I got the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review through my membership in NetGalley. Thank you Ave Maria Press! This book just came out yesterday and is available from your favorite bookseller now.

NOTE: I have been informed by the wonderful people at Ave Maria Press that there will be at least two online book clubs this Spring (just in time for Lent!). One will be held at CatholicMom.com and the other will be at WomenInTheNewEvangelization.com. Join me there!

This blog post originally appeared at True Dignity of Women.