Jun 21, 2012

Where the journey started

(Photo courtesy of
Most people would ask me this question when they learned that I was only baptised at the age of 14, “You are not born Catholic?” My “yes” would make them ask another question, “Then why such late baptism?” There’s a story behind it, of course.

My Dad is a born Catholic, while my Mom is a convert because of their marriage. When my brother and I were born, my parents decided that we should choose our own belief. So when both of us were in early primary school, my parents sent us to ‘Sunday Classes’ – Anglican’s, Methodist’s and Buddhist’s and Tao’s – one after another, in hope that we would find where we belong.

Unfortunately, none of the classes worked for me. I remembered that all I did was just cutting, pasting, colouring, drawing, learning origami and reading some texts. All the classes were boring and I learnt nothing. In the end, I refused to go to any more classes. When I was around 11-12 years old, my parents decided to send my brother and I to Catholic Catechism class. The nearest parish to where I live was Holy Trinity Church. At first, I joined the class in Chinese but having some difficulty understanding the religious terms and saying the prayers, I requested to try the class in English instead. And that was where my journey of knowing God actually began.

I remember that I was a diligent child. I did my homework and revision, learned the prayers and some basic teachings of the Church by heart, I was always the one to score the highest marks for quizzes. At the age of 12, I even taught a classmate in school how to pray the Rosary. I tried not to miss any classes because I wanted to learn even more. During those days (not sure if it’s still the same today), children preparing for Baptism had to attend Catechism class for two years before being baptised. And since I was six months behind when I first joined the class, I had to wait for two and a half years. Finally, at the age of 14, I received the Sacrament of Baptism and First Holy Communion.

I used to blame my parents for not getting me baptised when I was a baby. It was in their marriage vow, that they would “bring them [children] up according to the law of Christ and His Church.” I told them that they have broken their vow! I was angry with my parents each time I thought about it.

But as years gone by, I started to see the whole situation differently. If I were baptised an infant 30 years ago, would I still be who I am today? Would I still love the word of God this much? Would I have discovered God’s love for me and strive to be faithful to that love? Would I be able to know my Faith enough to defend the Church?

Instead of saying I chose God, I think it was God who chose me. He was the One who set me apart and gave me the opportunity to know Him. He has His own plan, in His own time. And His plans are always perfect.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart...” (Jeremiah 1:5)

Our God is the One who always makes the first move: the Creator who came down to the world He created to become one of us; the Shepherd who searched for the lost sheep; the Father who ran to embrace the prodigal son; the King who sacrificed His Beloved to make us His beloved.

I thank the Lord for His love for me and allowing me to respond to this love.

Jun 14, 2012

A little musing on Liturgy

 A fellow friend commented on a recent happening at our parish having to do with the topic of liturgy, encountered by the Youth. I witnessed it too. Long story short, a parishioner approached the youth choir and said that the lyrics of the new Gloria (the new Mass of Light version by David Haas) they sing during Mass was unliturgical. If you like to know the whole story including my friend’s personal opinion, you may do so here.

I don’t really agree with what my friend has to say about liturgy. While I do agree that “everyone has their right when it comes to professing their faith in God in whatever ways they feel comfortable,” it’s a different story with Liturgy.

I sincerely admit that I’m not liturgically trained, but I know enough of the importance of the liturgy to help me recognise the significance and beauty of the liturgy in the Holy Mass. Here is what my simple mind, with the help of the Holy Spirit, understands it:

Liturgy includes words and texts, gestures, music, colour, vestments, furnishings, etc. – these little details are expressions of our worship. In Liturgical celebrations, the mystery of Christ is made present. Therefore, our worship brings us to encounter this mystery. In other words, liturgy draws us to God.

Here’s a translated excerpt (by VIS) of Pope Benedict XVI’s speech (on sacred liturgy, active participation, inculturation, and the Holy Mass) when he addressed the bishops of Brazil in April 2010 during his ad limina visit:
“Paying less attention at times to the rite of the Most Holy Sacrament constitutes,” he said, “a sign and a cause of the darkening of the Christian sense of mystery, such as when Jesus is not the centre of the Mass, but rather a community preoccupied with other things instead of being taken up and drawn to the only one necessary: their Lord.”

Benedict XVI emphasised that “if the figure of Christ does not emerge from the liturgy ... it is not a Christian liturgy”. This is why, he added, “we find those who, in the name of enculturation, fall into syncretism, introducing rites taken from other religions or cultural particularities into the celebration of the Mass.”


The Pope highlighted that “behind many alleged motives, there exists a mentality that is incapable of accepting the real possibility of divine intervention in this world to assist human beings. ... Admitting God’s redeeming intervention to change our situation of alienation and sin is seen as fundamentalism by those who share a deist vision and the same can be said about the sacramental sign that makes the salvific sacrifice present. For such persons, the celebration of a sign that corresponds to a vague sentiment of community would be more acceptable.”

Worship, however,” he continued, “cannot come from our imagination: that would be a cry in the darkness or mere self-affirmation. True liturgy supposes that God responds and shows us how we can adore Him. ... The Church lives in His presence and its reason for being and existing is to expand His presence in the world.”

Emphasis added.
Thanks to the Second Vatican Council, the faithful have an active part to play in the liturgy. The changes were not made so that the community can worship comfortably or to make us feel good, but rather, that the community joins the priest to celebrate together. In other words, the Mass is about worshipping God in the manner He has prescribed through the Church (i.e. the liturgy or rite). It is not about our relationship with one another in the community. This partly explains why holding hands during the Our Father prayer is liturgically inappropriate. In fact, the prescribed gestures during Mass (e.g. bowing, striking breast, priest extending hands, etc.) have their own significant meaning, which we who are not liturgically trained do not know.

Here's what the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) has to say:

(GIRM 42) [...] A common posture, to be observed by all participants, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for the sacred Liturgy: it both expresses and fosters the intention and spiritual attitude of the participants.

“All of these prescribed physical gestures help make the act of worship at Mass one which involves our whole being, body and soul, thought, words, and actions. They also help create a spiritual disposition to receive our Lord in Word and Sacrament. Moreover, these gestures are prescribed, just as the readings from Sacred Scripture and the Order of the Mass are, to make the Sacrifice of the Mass a unified act of worship throughout the whole Church — in a sense, every Catholic is doing the same thing, the same way.” (Fr William Saunders, Catholic Culture).
Emphasis added.
Let's look at the above quote again. "These gestures are prescribed... to make the Sacrifice of the Mass a unified act of worship..." If the Mass is a gathering of people where unified worship is taking place, then our profession of faith is no longer just a personal matter. It is this one faith we profess that unites us as a community [common unity] of people. If in the Mass you can do what you like while I do what I'm comfortable with, then where is unity? Without unity, is there still communion?

Taking the practice of hand-holding during Our Father prayer as an example, how is this gesture able to "signify togetherness and unity" when half of the congregation chose to hold hands while the other half wouldn't want to?

We also need to keep in mind that charismatic events such as praise and worship, rallies and seminars are different from the Holy Mass. No other form of worship can supersede the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the highest form of worship. So, introduction of gestures and words etc. into the Mass is considered extraneous. No one, including the priest, has the right to introduce, impose or even remove a rite or practice from the liturgy (Canon 826.1).

Sad but true, a lot of people including the young see the Mass as something very boring and dry. There is a Malay saying "Tidak kenal maka tidak cinta", which literally means "you don't love it because you don't know it." This same saying applies to the Mass and its Liturgy. If we do not understand or see its significance, how can we not feel bored during Mass?

We know that as human, we cannot be perfect when it comes to liturgy. More often than not, we miss out what we should do and do what we should not. Even though so, the least we can still do is try to follow the rubrics (regulation governing the Mass) as much as we can. Otherwise, this highest form of worship will lose its true meaning and purpose. And eventually, we might even lose our identity as Catholics.

Many might see these "liturgical issues" as trivial matters, but little did we realise that it is exactly these matters and our own personal views (that are not in conformity with the teaching of the Church) which are the causes of division.

Having thought the incident over for a few times, perhaps it is a good sign that that parishioner raised the “liturgically incorrect” issue. Looking at the positive side of things, it proved that some people are paying attention and are still concern whether the Mass is celebrated the way it ought to be.

May 27, 2012

Saying "I Do"

A couple of days ago, I posted a song from Youtube on Facebook and asked for the opinion of friends whether the song is suitable as Communion hymn. I am helping my brother with his wedding Mass, which is less than 3 weeks from now.

My Editor must have seen that post, so she flew me some questions through Google Chat… 

You’re getting married?!” She asked. I could sense her excitement. 

What I’m getting married???” I snapped. Ridiculous question, I thought to myself. 


The only marriage I’d ever want would be when the Archbishop’s the one who places the ring for me…” 

Even before I managed to finish the sentence, her next message came on my screen. 

Hahahaha… you wanna marry our Archbishop?” 

I almost fell off my chair! 

The ‘wedding’ that I was talking about is the Final Religious Profession (The Perpetual Profession) I witnessed on 12 May for the three Sisters of St Francis, which was held at St Joseph’s Cathedral. 

Each of the sisters knelt before the Superior General. With a lighted candle in hand, she pronounced her perpetual profession, and then kissed The Book of the Gospel as a sign of her commitment and covenant.

This was witnessed by the congregation, and the Archbishop who presided over the Mass. 

After the profession, the Archbishop blessed the rings, placed them on the sisters’ ring fingers and said to each one of them: 

“I espouse you to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Almighty Father, and may He keep you ever in His love. Receive this Ring of Faith and Fidelity, the sign of the Holy Spirit, that you may be called spouse of God, ‘in whose embrace you are already caught up; Who has adorned your heart with precious stones and has placed priceless pearls in your ears and has surrounded you with sparking gems as though blossoms of springtime and placed on your head a golden crown engraved with the zeal of holiness’ (cf. 1EpCLAg. 10-11)” 

"I espouse you to Jesus Christ..." Perpetual profession of 3 Franciscan sisters

The newly professed sisters then signed the Document of Profession, witnessed by the Superior General, two other sisters, and the Archbishop. 

Beautiful, isn’t it? 

“I vow for the rest of my life to live in chastity, poverty and obedience […] I give myself to this family freely and with my whole heart…” These were parts of the words of profession. 

Just like a wedding ceremony. But I found this ‘wedding’ to be more moving, especially when the Archbishop placed the ring on the sister’s finger and said “I espouse you to Jesus Christ…” 

“The only wedding dress I would ever want to put on is the religious habit.” That was what I said almost 10 years ago when someone asked me when would be my turn to get married. 

10 years ago! I guess that desire has never left me. Every time I was invited to a wedding Mass or/and wedding dinner, I was reminded of that special ‘wedding’. Another ‘format’ of walking down the aisle, and saying “I do” to my First Love.

I am still not sure what is stopping me from pursuing this desire. But I really hope the Lord would show me the way. If it’s really His will, I have no reason to say ‘no’. 

Lord, you know my heart. You know that I love you. 

[Please pray for me so that I’d know my vocation soon. Thank you!]

Apr 17, 2012

Worthwhile, because of Him

I’ve been struggling with this post for the fourth month now. I wanted to share about my trip last November to Shenzhen China for the international Taichi competition, and about my short but wonderful trip to Hong Kong right after that. However, every time I read through my own writing which I reedited for the umpteenth time, I still found it not able to bring out the point I wanted to convey. Finally, here it is...

Undoubtedly, it was an eye-opening experience.
I never liked competitions as such, but I went anyway – for the sake of a friend who wanted to fulfil her dream. I put my responsibilities behind and missed two Sunday Masses. If I knew what was going to happen, I wouldn’t have gone. Well, our team did win quite a few trophies and medals, and so did I. My friend had her dream fulfilled – thank God! But in return, I was accused of being a disgrace to the team for some ridiculous reasons by the incompetent team leader (I really didn’t mean to judge, but he didn’t do anything and yet claimed all the credit. I've never heard even a word of encouragement from him to our team. Worse still, he’s a Catholic).

For all the sacrifices I’ve made, what did I get? Nothing. Even when I was accused, that friend of mine didn’t even stand up to defend me (after all I’ve done for her!). Was the trip worthwhile? Definitely a big NO. Till today, I still refused to talk about it with anyone. Why should I recall those heart-breaking moments??

Nevertheless, there’s still a reason for me to remember -- because Christ walked with me throughout the trip.

On the night before the competition, I saw something I didn’t expect to see in a place like China: a huge billboard that read “Jesus loves you” (in Chinese). It so touched my heart that I had to control my tears.

I took every opportunity to stay in the hotel room while my friend went out with the others. There was no fear or loneliness at all, only peace and plenty of space for me to reflect and think of the Lord.

After the competition, we had a short trip to Hong Kong. It was such a blessing from the Lord – my non-Christian friends took every trouble to help me find the way to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception where the relic of Pope John Paul II was.

It was a special “meeting”. I finally met John Paul II, the Pope whom I loved so much! The relic was a few strands of hair of JPII, and it was placed quite a distance away. That was the closest I could get to the relic, what else could I ask for? :-)

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Hong Kong, where the relic of Blessed John Paul II was.
We also visited St Theresa’s Church. Although I didn’t have the chance to attend Mass (as planned), at least I had the chance to spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament.

St Theresa's Church, Hong Kong. Thank you, friends.
Perhaps, those were the only times I was truly happy during the whole trip.

Every time I reflected on all that happened during this trip, I was very thankful to God that I could see beyond the sufferings I’ve endured. Thankful that I made the journey. Thankful for the truthful friends in Hong Kong. I’m even more thankful for those moments when I was at the verge of breaking down. Otherwise, would I have experienced the presence of God? Would I have noticed Him if the trip was a delightful one throughout? "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Ps 34:18).

But you had the opportunity to meet so many people from all around the world! It was an international event, wasn’t it? You may ask.

Of course I met a lot of people. People, who, in their eyes I was a nobody. People who would do anything to grab as many medals as they could. People who prefer to be in the company of the judges and those with some kind of status.

But it was worth it. It worth every penny spent, every tear shed, every discriminating word heard. It was worthwhile because He proved Himself a faithful friend. It was worthwhile when He made visiting Him in the Blessed Sacrament possible.

Every time someone mentioned about the competition, I couldn’t stop the pain from surfacing. Then again, the best part of the trip -- the joy of visiting the churches and meeting my Hong Kong friends -- always warm my heart. Thanks to this trip, I’m in love with Him even more today.

Every cloud has a silver lining... because He is present.

Thank you, Lord!

[This trip taught me to be humble and always put God into account in everything I do. "If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are." ~ Mother Teresa. I wasn't bothered about the competition, or about the people who looked down on me. My initial intention was to help my friend, besides visiting the churches in Hong Kong. It was rather sad when I found out that I was just being used. Anyway, I'm really glad that I was of help to her. My mission, to see the relic of Blessed John Paul II, was accomplished!]

Jan 22, 2012

Chinese New Year in Christian Context (2)

It's Chinese (Lunar) New Year eve. Like any other Chinese families, my parents are busy with some last minute preparations and also getting some dishes ready for tonight's New Year Eve (thanksgiving) dinner. As for me, I try to help where I can when I'm summoned by them. But for now, I will just get this posted before they start calling for me again.

As a young Catholic, I have always wondered what does Chinese New Year have to do with Christianity. Is it really a culture for us Chinese, or is it some kind of cult practices, or occasions similar to Halloween that can be ignored by Christians?

Then I realised the answer is found in a pastoral letter I posted in 2006: Chinese New Year in Christian Context (1). Obviously, I did not understand what the letter was talking about until recently.

Tradition is important as it gives us our identity. Just as the Catholic Church has her own traditions passed down from the Apostles, so do the Chinese and all the races (and people) across the globe.

As a traditional practice for the non-Christian Chinese in particular the Buddhists on the eve of CNY, they would burn incense and give offerings to their gods as thanksgiving as well as presenting their requests and hopes for the new year. The same actually goes to us Chinese Catholics. On the first day of CNY, (most) Chinese Catholics would attend the Chinese New Year Thanksgiving Mass in the respective parishes (where the Chinese population is present). And we also have gifts offering to God during the Offertory.

Here are the explanations of the common gifts offered during CNY Mass:
1. The Bread and Wine
These will be turned into the Body and Blood of Christ at the Consecration. And at Holy Communion, we participate in the Body and Blood of Christ, the Risen Lord.

2. The Cake of the Year (年糕 "Nian Gao")
Made of pulut (glutinous) rice. Because of its glutinosity, is emblematic of eternal friendship. For us Christians, it means eternal friendship with God through our Baptism. Its stickiness is suggestive of a theory of standing by one another through thick and thin -- a universal brotherhood. Christians should stand by one another in Christ.

3. The New Year Oranges
Being fresh fruits, imply a new vigour and new lease of life. And for us Christians, it means that in the coming year we ask God to give us new vigour in our Christian life, and a new lease of life in Christ.

4. The Groundnut
The flower of life, and metaphorically it is called "Chang Sheng Guo" (長生果) - the nut of longevity. For us it means eternal life in Christ.

5. Money
Signifies the offering of ourselves. It is the giving of the fruits of our labour to God.

Source: Order of the Mass booklet for Chinese New Year, Holy Trinity Church, Kenyalang Park
A colleague shared with me the complaints of an ex-lapsed Catholic who has just recently returned to church and went for Gawai (Harvest Festival of the Sarawak Natives) Thanksgiving Mass in June last year. It went something like this: "What are these fuss all about? The gongs, the sape's, the music and the noise... This is the House of God, why are they celebrating a pagan festival in the church?"

In my opinion, this is a wrong mentality. The very reason why the Dayak (natives of Sarawak and Sabah) Catholics celebrate the Harvest Festival (- a tradition) in the church is that they acknowledge God as the One who provided for them throughout the year. Therefore, at every Harvest Festival, a thanksgiving Mass is offered with rice, maize, tuak (rice wine), etc. being some of the gifts for the Offertory.

So are they wrong by putting God first and making Him the Lord of the Harvests?

The same goes to the Chinese Catholics. Is it wrong for us to thank the Lord and ask Him for His continuous blessings for another new year? All the merry-making is secondary; it is the reunion of family members, rekindling of old friendships and making of new ones that count.

Indeed, a lot of celebrations like these are already 'christianised' by the Malaysian Christians. Perhaps, a proof of an increasing faith in God for Christians in Malaysia. Or perhaps, that's what we call "inculturation."

Wishing all Chinese brothers and sisters a joyous and blessed Chinese New Year!

Read also: Chinese New Year in Christian Context (1)

Jan 20, 2012

New year resolutions 2012

I was on Skype with a non-Christian friend yesterday. Here was how our conversation went...

“... everyone’s saving up money now for the coming Chinese (Lunar) New Year.”

“Yeah. But I hate Chinese New Year. It makes no difference whether I celebrate or not.”

“I like Chinese New Year! It’s the time I assess and review my previous resolutions and make new ones for the coming year.”

That gave me a wake-up call, a reminder that there are good reasons why we should make resolutions and to assess our achievements and failures at the end of the year; to give thanks to the Lord for everything we have gone through, be it success or failures, because our experiences help us grow in maturity and strengthen our relationship with God.

Looking back, I realised I have gone quite far last year, compared to the years before, made possible by the good Lord. I really cannot imagine my life without Him. Thank you, Lord, with my whole heart and soul!

This year, I have decided to list down my resolutions. Definitely not to show off but as a self reminder that, like 2011, Year 2012 will zoom pass without me realising it and thus I should be clear about what I want to achieve this year, and waste no time to work towards the target or dream.

I want this year to be lived fully for Him alone...

1. Pray more, read more, reflect more, listen more, write more, and talk when necessary. This is how I would love to spend time with the Lover of my soul. I have a lot of Christian books lying on the bookshelf begging me to read them. I still have lots of books on my reading list too. Most of these books are thoughts provoking books by the saints and other well known author, which I borrowed from the Carmelite sisters. The only way to keep my mind active and intoxicated with Christ is through reading. If I do not start today, then when is the best time?

2. A silent retreat. I need a retreat desperately, but not the type of retreat with praising and worshipping in loud music (i.e. youth camps), attending talks and seminars which involve charismatic renewal (and anything charismatic), and anything of that sort which are noisy. My daily life in the hustle and bustle of the city is noisy enough, and I do not want any more noise to crowd out that still, small voice of God I long to hear. Therefore I am looking for a retreat centre that offers silent retreats. This year, I hope I will receive an answer from God for my vocation.

3. Practise humility. This resolution was added to the list towards the end of last year, and I would like to carry it forward into 2012. It is right and just that a servant be humble. If Jesus, a King, is able to bend low and wash His disciples’ feet, how much more should I, a servant, prostrate before Him in humble submission and service? “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love...” (Prayer of St Francis).

4. To be physically and spiritually fit. I am somewhat a health freak because I do understand that only with a sound mind and body can I give myself in total service to God and His people. Since my body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20), it is even more so that I should keep myself fit physically, and strive for holiness (1 Pet 1:14-16).

5. Put faith into action. I was in a Catholic Chatroom when I saw how a Protestant (who claimed himself a pastor) cursing the Catholic Church using all the foul languages ever existed. Is this really how a Christian should behave? Are lip services more than enough? “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). I always tell friends that I detest those who do not practise what they preach, without realising that it is a strong statement which might force me to swallow my own words if I make the same mistake. And so I’m trying my best this year to judge less, speak more words of encouragement and compliment, and put love into action.

I do not know what 2012 holds for me. Undoubtedly, there will certainly be more workload. Perhaps more heartaches, more being taken for granted and being misunderstood; probably more disappointments, more obstacles to overcome, more storms to fight... but amidst all the difficulties that may come along the way, I pray that the Lord will continue to walk with me, for the joy of the Lord is my strength.

A blessed new year 2012, brothers and sisters in Christ!