Confession!

As the priest placed his hand over my head and said the Prayer of Absolution, I felt an intense sense of warmth from my lower back and up.  A feeling different from the heat and anxiety I have experienced prior and during my Confession.  There was something soothing and peaceful about that warmth originated from my lower back gradually spread across my body, as though I was engulfed in a divine fire.

A photograph taken from the entrance of Church of the Holy Spirit.

I was not born as a Catholic.  It could have been any religion.  I was brought up in a Catholic school, my wife Cynthia is a Catholic, so naturally, that is the path I have taken since the day of our marriage.  Of all the Catholic traditions, I have always tried to run away from Confession.  You may say: Look, Wilfrid, since you are a public blogger, confession should be in your DNA!

Well, it is not the same.

Easter is on its way.  To cater for the sudden surge in demand for confession, once a week from now till Easter, there are mass confession sessions held across the island.  I have not attended a mass confession session before.  Cynthia only gave me two options: this week or next.  I picked this week out of the two.

We have not visited Church of the Holy Spirit for years, although we frequent the mall from opposite the street.  In my mind, thanks to all the Hollywood movies, I thought confession always involves I entering a booth whereby the priest cannot see me.  I can pour my heart out on the sins I have committed in total privacy.  In a mass confession session like today’s, it is nothing like that.

The interior light was dimmed.  There was a quietness inside the Church except for the humming sound of the air conditioners (thank God for that as you will see why later).  Instead of confession booths, four priests were seated at the far corners of the Church.  Two priests were seated near the alter.  And another two inside the two brightly lit rooms.  Confession was to be done in the open!  I was in shock.  We were supposed to queue up and take turn to sit close to the priests and whisper clearly and briefly the sins we have committed against God.  As I was queuing to one of the priests near the alter, I was thinking: Shall I make a generic confession like I should have attended Mass every week but I didn’t?  Or shall I make an honest confession?

At the last minute, I have decided to make an honest confession.

Of course I was in shame, feeling an uncomfortable heat on my face as I was hit by anxiety and remorse.  The priest asked a few questions and offered some pointers, which I am thankful for.  As he rested his hand above my head and granted me the absolution, this divine warmth I have mentioned in the beginning of this post was nothing I have felt before.  Such comfort and peace and a touch of divinity – I am glad that I did not skip the session, like I did many times in the past.

As we were leaving the Church feeling happy and lifted, I could not help but to ponder: Is there a better way to prepare for my next confession?  There are many answers to this question, I am sure.  But this one is mine, and I am happy to give it a try.

Confession to me is a checkpoint to evaluate how far I have deviated from God and the Church’s teaching.  If I am unable to think of something substantial and concrete to confess, that could mean either I am a saint or I have no clear visibility on where my reference path should be.  I am inclined to think that it is the latter rather than the former.

Hence, the key to making a good confession regularly is to be clear on our right path and to constantly evaluate ourselves against that reference point.  There are many ways to get there, such as through prayers and Bible reading.  A more effective way could be to attend Mass regularly.  During the moment of silence after each reading, reflect upon the passage.  Pay attention to the priest’s sermon.  Internalize the teaching and reflect upon what we have failed to do, how we can do better.  Once we are aware of the deviations and our trespasses, that should make our next confession more fruitful and substantial.

Act of Contrition: Oh my God, I am sorry and beg pardon for all my sins, and detest them above all things, because they deserve your dreadful punishments, because they have crucified my loving Savior Jesus Christ, and, most of all, because they offend your infinite goodness; and I firmly resolve, by the help of your grace, never to offend you again, and carefully to avoid the occasions of sin.  Amen.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Touched By An Angel

Auntie Bernadette, we reckon, is around eighty years of age.  She is my Godmother Betty’s best friend and together, they have literally followed our Lord’s teaching: leave all that behind and trust that God provides.  You would have thought that in a country like Singapore, one must have a job and earn a living in order to survive.  Bernadette and Betty have no children, they devote their lives to serve the Lord, and in return, the Lord does provide.  It still amazes me every time I think about it.

This evening, after work, Cynthia and I have dropped by TTS Hospital.  We went through the emergency area and I saw nurses and staffs moving the still patients from wards to wards.  So much work going on in serving the community, in improving the quality of life.  Such contrast to my work environment, a banking environment specifically.  Today, I have also got some crisis at work.  People were running around frantically trying to get some presentation slides updated for an upcoming meeting.  Comparing the two, what I do for a living seems dull and meaningless.  If this world rewards people – monetarily speaking – based on the real contribution to our society, I would like to be an ambulance driver.  I love to drive fast and I love to save lives.  In my today’s job, I save people’s asses.  That does not seem to satisfy me fully.

Auntie Bernadette is hospitalized.  Hence we were at TTS Hospital.  Shortly after we found Bernadette, a priest has arrived.  We were surprised.  It was one of the Seven Catholic Sacraments: Anointing of the Sick.  In the past, it was used to be called Last Rites.  Today, it is part of the healing process.  It was the first time I see how this Sacrament is carried out.  Cynthia and I prayed along.  Throughout the session, I looked at Auntie Bernadette.  I was captivated by her eyes.  Such fire of faith and conviction, as she absorbed every word the priest said.  Those child-like expressions, such purity in heart.  Jesus once said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  I was moved deeply, looking at Auntie Bernadette.  I was ashamed too, for my faith and the fire within does not even measure up to a tiny faction of what she exhibits.

According to Auntie Bernadette, it is God at work that she is hospitalized.  So that she has the opportunity to talk to the nurses, ease them off their daily stress and pray with them.  Even when she is sick, she is still doing God’s will.  After the priest has left, Auntie Bernadette held our hands and prayed for us.  I can tell you honestly that whatever that was in our thoughts, Bernadette spoke them out in words.  It was as though she was reading our minds.  The prayer was so powerful that Cynthia was moved to tears.  It was as close to divinity as I have seen lately.  Today I am touched by an Angel.  I think it is still not too late to repent.  In the spirit of Lent, I shall leave you with two simple passages that are relevant to this Easter season.

Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return ~ Genesis 3:19

Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel ~ Mark 1:15