You are a Good Person (Because You are Born This Way)

*     *     I     *     *

I took this picture during an evening Mass at our local church Christ the King. Our church has a contemporary design with a huge glass cross and bronze status of Jesus hanging from the ceiling. It is a sight to behold.

Cynthia, her mother from Indonesia, and I have celebrated All Saints’ Day Sunset Mass at Christ the King last Wednesday evening.  During the sermon and to my surprise, the priest quoted Lady Gaga’s Born this Way.  Cynthia and I, together with the younger crowd, laughed as we saw him all energized at the altar.  As though he was going to dance.

We are born as good people.  Being good is the most natural thing we do.  There is nothing extraordinary being a good person.  Being good is not something that we shall expect reward.  Because it is what all of us should do.  It is not a matter if we can be good.  Do we want to be good?

How to be good?  First, start with our families.  Be good to our spouses.  Be good to our parents.  Be good to our children.  Live our life as a good person.  And I would like to encourage you to look into the mirror from time to time and remind yourself, “I am a good person”.

The priest did not drill too deep into Lady Gaga’s song.  But I think he has successfully once again, made his sermon memorable.  When the Mass has ended, before the priest left the altar area, he paused, looked at the ground, and spoke softly, as though he was speaking to himself.  He said, “I am a good person”.

More on this Catholic tradition can be found in here.

*     *     II     *     *

Open canals like this in the city is slowly being covered up making way for more roads here in Singapore.

At a not too far distance in this photograph taken by a phone is a Catholic Church.  A wake awaited.  A dear friend of my Godmother has passed away on Oct 3.  She has devoted all her life in serving the community.  I remember her child like smile and powerful prayers.  She even prayed with and for the doctors and nurses whenever she was hospitalized.  At 80+, the Lord has called her home.  While sad I am, I am delighted for her completing her mission on Earth and into Heaven she would be.  Her inspiration lives on.

Her last word to the doctor was: My work here is done.

Today, Catholics around the world celebrated All Souls’ Day.  It is a day to commemorate all the faithful departed.  And I am saying a little prayer for one of the most devoted Catholic I have met in my life.

*     *     Footnote     *     *

These two entries have been shared in my Google+ social networking site last month.  I wish to add them onto my personal website too.

It is strange, come  to think on it.  Earlier on this year, one high profile Google+ user has made a bold statement saying that very soon,  bloggers would prefer to write in Google+ instead of in their individual sites.  Back then, I disagreed.  Because Google+ is a social networking site, not a blog site.

But is it not?

Now, I think Google+ is more than a social network.  The environment encourages writing quality entries.  It is so much easier to engage with readers over there, rather than here.  I am now writing in Google+ more than I write here.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not dropping my personal website.  It is still good to ‘own’ a piece of virtual real estate and have direct control over my content.  But I can smell the wind of change, feel the shift.

Assumption Of Mary: A Personal View

Yesterday, Cynthia and I have celebrated the feast of The Assumption at the Cathedral.  Quite honestly, the Cathedral is likely the most uncomfortable place in Singapore to attend a Mass.  It is warm inside, even in the evening.  The noise from the main streets surrounding the Cathedral can be distracting.  So are the fans inside blowing at full blast.  Part of the ceiling is falling apart.  Paint work is coming out.  In short, our Cathedral is in dire need of a major renovation, if not a rebuild.

But, if you are looking for an authentic experience, the Cathedral is the place to be.  Part of the Mass is celebrated in Latin.  The choir members dressed in robes, their singing may well rival the angels from Heaven.  The priest, though old, is filled with spiritual energy.  I sat my back straight throughout the sermon, absorbing each and every word the priest said.  He often strikes me as someone who is so absolutely ready to embrace Heaven, in a mental and a spiritual sense.  If you meet him on the street, he may look like a frail old man.  But he has an amazing aura that touches people’s heart.

One story passed down by generations goes something like this.  After Jesus has died and resurrected, his mother, Mary, has lived to the age of 65.  Whether Mother Mary has died or has gone into a deep sleep – a debate we still have till today – she was buried inside the tomb of Jesus.  Thomas, the disciple who was always late for everything arrived at the tomb one day late.  When Thomas opened the tomb, lo and behold, Mother Mary’s body was no longer inside.  It was then said that her body was taken to Heaven leaving nothing behind on Earth.

Now, that is just a story.  A story shared by the Priest with repeated reminders that this story is not Gospel.  It is not until November 1, 1950 when Pope Pius XII solemnly declared the following:

By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

As a dogma, we Catholics must believe that Mother Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven.  But why is it so important to the Catholics where Mother Mary’s body and soul has disappeared to?  To answer that, we have to go back to Garden of Eden.

In the beginning, God created Adam.  Adam took a piece of his rib bone and created a woman.  He named her Eve.  Both Adam and Eve were having a great time in Garden of Eden, the paradise until the snake tempted Eve (and later on Adam) to eat the forbidden fruit that opened their eyes.  God was angry.  Adam and Eve were forever banished from the paradise.  For dust you are and to dust you shall return, so said God.  Just like that, they have lost their immortality.  From Adam and Eve onward, we bore the Original Sin.  Each of us die to our Original Sin.  Generations by generations, until …

… Jesus Christ came and has freed us from sin by his ultimate sacrifice on the Cross.  His resurrection has showed us that death can be conquered and those who follow Him will get to Heaven.  All is well, but here is one question.  If Jesus was born as a man, wouldn’t he too inherit the Original Sin from Mother Mary?

To tackle this question, we have to first look at where Jesus came from.  Catholics believe in the Trinity aspect of Divinity.  There are three aspects of Divinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  To me, God the Father is not bounded by time or place, exists everywhere and throughout the scale of time.  When God the Father sent his Son to us more than two thousand years ago, that aspect of Divinity was bounded by time and place.  God made man – Jesus, his Son – lived with us and taught us love during His stay in flesh and blood before returning to Heaven.  God was physically among us.

Now, since Jesus was born as a Divinity, at and from the time of His conception, Mother Mary must have been kept free of Original Sin.  Because Jesus is without Sin (hence, the dogma of Immaculate Conception).  Since Mother Mary was free of Original Sin, she must have triumphed over physical death.

But that is not enough.  By Mother Mary’s actions as recorded in the Bible, we believe that she must have ascended to Heaven.  Therefore, she must have triumphed over spiritual death too.  What is spiritual death?  It is things we do that forever deny us from entering Heaven.  In another word, Mortal Sins.

Why does it matter to us that Mother Mary has assumed into Heaven, body and soul, and that she has triumphed over both physical and spiritual death?

It does.  Mother Mary is our role model and if we keep our body and soul pure and follow the teachings of Jesus, we too may enter into Heaven when the time comes.

Below was the first reading during the Feast of the Assumption (Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10).

Then the sanctuary of God in heaven opened, and the ark of the covenant could be seen inside it.  Then came flashes of lightning, peals of thunder and an earthquake and violent hail.

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, robed with the sun, standing on the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.  She was pregnant, and in labour, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth.

Then a second sign appeared in the sky: there was a huge red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and each of the seven heads crowned with a coronet.  Its tail swept a third of the stars from the sky and hurled them to the ground, and the dragon stopped in front of the woman as she was at the point of giving birth, so that it could eat the child as soon as it was born.

The woman was delivered of a boy, the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron sceptre, and the child was taken straight up to God and to his throne, while the woman escaped into the desert, where God had prepared a place for her to be looked after for twelve hundred and sixty days.

Then I heard a voice shout from heaven, ‘Salvation and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ, now that the accuser, who accused our brothers day and night before our God, has been brought down.

PS. I am not trained in theology.  This blog entry is based on my personal view and understanding.

Musing Over Galatians 5:16-25

To be frank, I am not a devout Catholic.  Yes, I go to Church almost every Sunday and attend every Day of Obligation that falls on a weekday if I can.  In between the weekly Masses, I seldom think about spirituality and divinity.  Sure, I say a little prayer of thanks before my meals.  Most of the time, I am distracted by so many things out there.  I do not even have time for self-reflection.  How then would I have time to listen to the divine whisper?  Like in this very moment, I would rather play some video games, or join my family and watch TV.  Where is my self-control?  Temptation is everywhere.

Last Sunday was the Pentecost Sunday.  It is a day of Solemnity according to my faith.  A celebration of the descend of the Holy Spirit upon the Disciples and over a hundred others thousands of years ago.  The same fire that spreads to all corners of the world today.  Some describe Pentecost as the birthday of the Church.  To my surprise, the second reading during last week’s Mass has left a deep impression upon me, as though the passage talks to me.  A Biblical passage that was written many years ago and yet, still relevant today.  Regardless of your tradition or faith, I urge you to take a look, with an open mind.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.  But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.

Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

If you read the above passage with an open mind, you would see a list of negative attributes alongside with another list of positive attributes.  It does not matter where you come from, you should – I hope – agree that our world can be a better place if more of us are on that positive list, rather than on the negative list.  Yet, if you look around, you may see people being selfish or in anger.  If you look inside and be totally honest, you may even see more of those negative attributes lying within.  Why is it so?

The answer lies in the desire of flesh.  Our body naturally desires to lean towards those negative states.  If we let our bodies go on an autopilot, we will be consumed by those desires.  Temptation as some may observe.  It seems so right, yet so wrong.  Opposition of such negative desires takes great effort and it has to come before our Spirit bears fruit.  We cannot love others if we do not first cast away selfishness.  We cannot attain the state of joy and peace if we are overwhelm by envy and jealousy.

Perhaps, the path to holiness is that the next time our bodies desire us to do something, we should pause and ask ourselves: Is this what the Spirit desires?  Fighting off our bodily desire is hard.  But the good news my friends is that the Holy Spirit dwells within us.

Feast of the Ascension

Cynthia and I, to be frank, picked Cathedral of the Good Shepard due to convenience.  A six thirty evening Mass in town on a weekday was just nice.  Our Cathedral is the oldest Church in Singapore.  It shows.  Part of the ceiling is falling apart.  There are cracks on the walls and there is no air conditioning, unlike the modernized neighborhood Churches.  Maybe the crowd comprises of mainly tourists or short term visitors, I often find that there is a lack of passion in the community compares to the enthusiastic neighborhood crowd.  The fans that regulate the airflow tend to be exceptionally noisy.  So is the traffic outside.  I can barely hear what the priest says through the mic.  The echo does not help.

Today, we were pleasantly surprised.  I arrived before Cynthia and was greeted by the students wearing Catholic banners ushering worshipers into the Cathedral.  Seventh row seemed agreeable and so, I was seated close to the alter, next to the choir.  Cynthia joined me shortly.  Before the Mass began, the students who wear the banners handed us the song sheets.  We saw music notes.  This is so old school!

The choir, was magnificent.  Jaw dropping it was.  The harmony, the dynamic range, and the tone accuracy.  There were three organists.  Church music is meant to inspire, giving us a feel of divinity.  More often than not, Cynthia and I cringe hearing those who sing in Church.  The pamphlet says the the resident choir is Cathedral Choir of the Risen Christ.  Could this be that famous choir in Singapore?  It could well be.  The last time we heard their music was at Toa Payoh, Church of the Risen Christ.  After the Mass, Cynthia turned to me and said, “Perhaps we shall from now on attend our Sunday Mass here?”

Perhaps.

This evening we Catholics celebrated the Feast of the Ascension.  It is the the fortieth day of Easter, always on a Thursday.  Jesus was ascended to Heaven on this day, thousands of years ago.

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” ~ Acts I 6-10

The priest who gave the sermon looks old.  The little hair he has left was silvery in color.  Yet, there is such energy and fire radiating from within.  Instead of diving into Jesus’s ascension, he started with a rocket launch back in the sixties when everyone was glued to the television watching the lift off.  Eventually, that rocket took the astronauts to the moon and back.  There was excitement, and anticipation.  It was a successful lift off.  People screamed.

What about Jesus’s ascension?  Are we excited, in a trumpet blast?  Or are we dwelling too much with our worldly matter and have forgotten that with our love and bonding with God, we too are having a piece of Heaven on Earth?  The priest then reminded us: Look up to Heaven as you walk!

It is a powerful reminder that wherever we go, God is with us.  All we need to do is to gaze upon Heaven, with love.

What Does Corpus Christi Mean To Me?

Try this out the next time you and your partner have an argument: Hold his or her hands while you argue.  I first heard about this idea from Wedding Encounter years ago.  Holding someone’s hands or even hugging that someone while trying to be mad at him or her is, believe it or not, very hard to do.  There is something special about physical touches.  And that extends beyond the scenarios of confrontation.  Couples, siblings, parents and their children – those who are in constantly physical contact grow to be more like each other.  Yes, there is this ‘couple-look’ when two people from different family backgrounds become similar in gesture and look.  It is as though the regular act of touching someone facilitates an exchange of positive characteristics between the two.  I am not suggesting that you should all of a sudden go out and hug everyone you see.  We have to be mindful about something called cultural norm.  When I was working in Malaysia, I found that the people in general are a lot warmer.  Guys and girls, they like to hug each other.  Or perhaps I was blessed with warm people around me.  What I know is that I do enjoy getting hugged once in a while.

To me, this idea can be elevated to a spiritual level.  How so?  While it is easy to have physical contact with our loved ones, how do we have physical contact with God in today’s world?  We could say, God is everywhere and similar to love, we cannot see God but we know God exists.  Well and good.  But can we touch something we cannot see?

Catholics faith has quite a few mysteries.  The transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is one.  The bread would taste the same after the transubstantiation.  So would the wine.  But during the Eucharistic celebration, the bread and mine is made holy.  If we believe that the bread does become the Body of Christ, the act of consuming the bread – to me – is a powerful physical contact with divinity.  Now, what do I get out of this?  To be more like Jesus would be a good start.

Last weekend, Catholics around the world have celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi, or in English, the Body of Christ.  In our Church, we have a guest priest to deliver the sermon.  He seems old and he has a caring voice.  I wish he could speak louder because the kids at the back of the Church were yelling non-stop.  Once in a while, I come cross good sermons.  Recently, I have started this habit of writing down a good sermon for my future reference.  And for sharing too, because I reckon some of you may be able to benefit from it.

The story started with the priest being assigned to India.  In his spare time, he looked after the honey bees.  Every day, he took out the honeycombs, cleaned them up, and removed the moth eggs if any.  According to him, the honeycombs can be eaten away by the moths if left unattended.  One day, while he was meticulously cleaning the honeycombs, he felt something knocking at his knees.  Because bees do sting, he carefully put down the honeycomb before finding out what it was.  It was a lamb.  Since then, every day at the same hour, the lamb would come up to the priest and they would play with each other.  This went on for quite some time.  It was soon known to the community that our priest has a new friend – a lamb.

One Easter morning, the priest did a round of making sure that everything was in order.  Inside the kitchen and from a distance, he saw a meat dish with a decoration that resembled a sheep.  His heart sank.  As he approached the kitchen table, he saw balls of cottons surrounding the dish.  The priest smiled to the cook and said, “You nearly got me there.  I thought it was a mutton dish!”  The cook replied, “Father, it is your lamb.  We do not want to tell you because we know that you would not let us.”

It was meant to be a day of celebration but the priest could not help but feeling down.  The mutton dish was delicious, judging by how delighted the dinners looked.  The priest could not bring himself to eat that dish.  I can only speculate the conflicts on his mind back then.  Towards the end of the meal, the priest took the last piece of mutton.  He ate it with gratitude and reverence.  At that point, he realized that he would not have felt the same had he not had a special bonding with the lamb.  The relationship he had with the lamb has triggered this sense of gratitude and reverence.

The question back to us is: When we receive Holy Communion, are we filled with gratitude and reverence?  This is an important question because how we receive the Body of Christ says everything about our relationship with God.  Think about it.