Wranglers vs Stranglers

Wranglers vs Stranglers

by Ted Engstrom

Years ago there was a group of brilliant young men at a midwestern university, who seemed to have amazing, creative literary talent. They were would-be poets, novelists, and essayists. They were extraordinary in their ability to put the English language to its best use. These promising young men met regularly to read and critique each other's work. And critique it they did!

These men were merciless with one another. They dissected the smallest literary expression into a hundred pieces. They were heartless, touch, even mean in their criticism, but they thought they were bringing out each other's best work. Their sessions became such arenas of literary criticism that the members of this exclusive support group nicknamed themselves "The Stranglers".

Not to be outdone, the university's women of literary talent were determined to start a support group of their own, one comparable to "The Stranglers". They called themselves "The Wranglers". They, too, read their works to one another, but there was one significant difference between the two groups. The criticism of "The Wranglers" was much softer, more positive, more encouraging. In fact sometimes there was almost no criticism at all. Every effort, even the most feeble attempt, was gleaned for some bit to be praised and encouraged.

Twenty years later, the university's alumni office was doing an exhaustive study on the careers of its alumni, when it was noticed that there was a great difference in the literary accomplishments of "The Stranglers" as opposed to "The Wranglers". Of all the bright and talented young men in "The Stranglers", not one had made a significant literary accomplishment of any kind. From "The Wranglers" had come six or more successful writers, some attaining national reputation.

Talent between the two? Probably the same. Level of education? Not much difference. But "The Stranglers" strangled, while "The Wranglers" were determined to give each other a boost. "The Stranglers" created an atmosphere of contention and self-doubt. "The Wranglers" highlighted the best, not the worst.

The reason I am sharing this story with you is that I noticed that this blog attracts only men. When was the last time a woman visited the blog and made a comment or posted an article?

As men, we like to argue with one another on the finest details. We look at a good post and pick out only the bad points and criticise them. Instead, we should be highlighting the good points and helped to boost one another.

I believe that this is a way that this blog can grow and to be more open to the admission of women as well. It's not that this blog discriminates against women, but clearly we do not attract any female readers to share with us.

I believe that this is something worth looking into, and that we can all try to focus on one another's good points raised in each post, rather than to "strangle" each other, for in doing so, we are also strangling each other's self-esteem and the progress of this blog.

What do you think?

A brief history of the Mass

I have been reading "The New Question Box" by Father John J. Dietzen, who has been answering questions with the Catholic News Service for many years. This book is a compilation of frequently asked questions in the 1990s. Not much has changed since then, and I found a few interesting questions and answers which I want to share with you.

The reason I choose to share this is because some of us Catholics like the "old Mass", but we choose to stop our preference at a particular point in history, rather than to go all the way back to how the Mass was celebrated before that point. So here is a brief history of the Mass and how it came to be what it is today.

The church is not a museum, but the living, breathing body of Christ, and it has changed much. Many of our beliefs and practices developed and changed in varying degrees over the past 2,000 years.

The same is true with the Mass. It has undergone hundreds of changes through the centuries. The form of the Mass most older Catholics grew up with was simply one of the many the church has experienced throughout its life.

Our present ritual is, therefore, only one in a long series of "new Masses" in the church's history, though it has many more similarities to the "old Mass" of the early Christians than any other format the Mass has enjoyed during the last 1,000 years.

During the first 15 centuries of the church's life, the Mass was not the same in all the churches. Especially in the first several centuries, the celebration of the Eucharist was just that - a celebration. Actions, words, music and whole atmosphere of the Mass were different according to who was there, the condition and circumstances of their lives, and so on.

For a variety of reasons, the Mass gradually ceased being an event that the people participated in as members of the Body of the Risen Christ. It became rather a sacred ceremony carried out by the priest that the rest of the people were simply required to watch reverently.

By the time of the Council of Trent in the 1500s, much of the early history of the Mass which we are aware of today had been completely lost. The bishops at that council, however, were faced with numerous attacks against the Mass and the Eucharist from leaders of the new Protestant Reformation. They understandably responded to these attacks by taking one form of the Mass - the form used in Rome at that time - and declaring it the only form of the Mass allowed in the Western Church. Every action an prayer was spelled out in minute detail. No options were offered. No variations were permitted.

Long before the Second Vatican Council, church leaders were aware that this kind of frozen liturgy was blocking the growth of real liturgical prayer and worship and that something had to be done to loosen things up. The purpose wasn't variety for variety's sake. It was to enable people of different ages and times and temperaments and circumstances to make the Mass a genuine, living worship-celebration of their Christian life.

Variations are now specifically allowed and suggested in the official instructions on the Mass. Numerous options for Scripture readings are offered. Several prayers or exhortations are accompanied with the notation that the priest should "use these, or similar words". Wide leeway is given in such things as music and actions. The Sign of Peace, for instance, is to be given "according to local custom".

The Mass will always be the same in its essentials - the renewal of the offering which Jesus made to the Father on Calvary, and the Communion of his body and blood as the sign and source of the one Body of Christ. In other words, it will always be a sacrifice, and a sacred meal.

Apart from these essentials, however, Eucharistic worship will depend on the culture, customs, language and temperaments of the people who offer it.

Certain historical circumstances have caused most of us to think of the Mass as unchanging and "universal" in the wrong sense. Enormous and irreparable damage has been done to the cause of the church because of small-mindedness and short-sightedness in this matter. A few hundred years ago, for example, an imaginative missionary effort that might have brought all of China into Christianity collapsed because officials in Rome insisted on such things as that all Masses be in Latin, that priests must wear Western-style dress and vestments, and so on.

This attitude, long in disrepute, was officially put down by Pope Pius XII. When the church attempts to call a people to a better way of life under the inspiration of the Christian religion, he said in one of his encyclicals, "she does not act like one who recklessly cuts down and uproots a thriving forest. She grafts good stock upon the wood so that it may bear even better fruit." The policy of using anything in local cultures, even religious customs, that can conceivably be meshed with Christian beliefs is now well established.

When you are present for a Mass that is different than you're used to, why not relax, try to get into the spirit of it and share in it as well as you can? A little giving in, and trying to share what others are feeling could be a real act of charity towards those around you as well as to yourself.

- compiled from "The New Question Box - Catholic Life for the Nineties" by John J. Dietzen, Guildhall Publishers

Taking off shoes: What to do?!

Last Sunday at mass, the uncle beside me took off his sandals and then placed them on the kneeling board. He crossed his legs slightly so that his foot was rather close to me and very visible. I was very uncomfortable as I did not think it was proper to take off your shoes in church, but yet, I did not know what to say to him. This is further complicated by the fact that properly we are supposed to remove our shoes in a house of worship...

What do you think I should have done or said? What would you have said?

Update about this blog

Hi everyone.

The initial intent of this blog was not to be a discussion forum, but to be a base of writing - writing that has an element of outreach and education. If you think a discussion forum is a better medium, then one could be set up quite easily. E.g: http://www.livingstones-online.org/forum/ Let me know what you think.

I have decided to move this blog to Wordpress. We will move as soon as I update the posts and write a new introduction to the blog.

There is a new direction that I believe this blog can take. I have not the energy to share it at the moment.. please ask me personally if you are interested for the time being...


Holy Spirit and Sermons

I would like to start another thread of discussion. Is the spread of the Gospel of God dependent on the people, or will it spread by itself?

Secondly, does the Holy Spirit comes upon us only through some experience like Life in the Spirit Seminar or through some form of camps or talks?

The reason I present these questions is because I question the lacklustre way in which most priests give homilies, sermons and talks. If our reaction to the Gospel is dependent on faith (gift of the Holy Spirit) then surely any priest or speaker who tries to spread the Gospel in any form (interesting or boring) would be able to touch the listener.

But in reality, with the influx of experience with good speakers in our workplace and professional seminars, when we are exposed to entertaining speakers, would such mediocre homilies be able to touch the masses? And can the church or church groups facilitate the touching of the Holy Spirit? Other than the socalled LISS experience, surely there are no outward expression of the Holy Spirit, except through Confirmation.

What I am trying to get through here is, the church's primary objective is to spread the gospel and to go forth and baptise people in Jesus' name. I wonder if the church is properly doing that. I agree that the priests are doing a very good job in offering a physical church for people to pray and also to administer the sacraments when needed, but are they doing a proper job in offering us the Gospel? Indeed, we should be the one who evangelise and bring people into Church. However, that's all we can do. Being the steward of the Church, the masses are drawn or push away by what they receive from the priests. They are the "professionals", if they are not doing their jobs, then I think there is only that much we laypeople can do.

From my experiences with priests, they refuse to acknowledge the fact that people look upon them especially in spiritual guidance and knowledge. In fact the best time to evangelise and strengthen the beliefs of the congregation is through homilies in mass. But alas, they often give a slipshod effort with this opportunity. But I qualify, I'm speaking about the older priests who don't even prepare their homilies but speak off-the-cuff.

Whatver the case, can people also comment if priests are already doing all they can, what do you think we laypeople should do to compliment the priests? Please share non-cliche activities like joining groups or living the gospel by being a good Christian.

Suggestions for the Veritas website

Ok. Here are my suggestions for the Veritas website.

The Veritas website currently:


  • The website provides a comprehensive list of parishes, communities, and organizations (etc.)
  • The search engine is working well
  • Most of the links are usable

  • Nothing more that an online church directory.
  • Some information is outdated.
  • The presentation is staid and does not give a good impression.
  • There is no central direction by the archdiocese.

Step 1: Decide if you want Veritas to be the Official Website of the Catholic church here, or if it should just be the Official Online Church Directory of the Catholic church.

1) If you decide that the website should be an official website, then some money should be raised privately (if the church is not willing to invest in it) to hire a professional web design company, or some relevantly experienced person, to redesign the look of the website.

2) In this website, include some general information about the Catholic church in Singapore.

- General information about the Catholic faith and Christianity in general.
- Information about the Catholic Church in Singapore, such as its structure, organisation, mission, activities, agencies, history, etc.
- Information about the RCIA programme, and more direct information about how and where to join.


3) It could be a simple front page that links to all the various websites of the Catholic church in Singapore.

In other words, if you want it to be a website , then make it a website that caters to the people who might want to view it - people interested in the Catholic Faith, non-Catholics and Catholics who are searching alike. This is a one-time process as it does not require major updating or maintenance subsequently.

The Church Directory function of the current Veritas can still be part of this website. If you decide that it should not be a website but only a Church Directory, then rename the website as an Official Church Directory.

Suggestions for the Church Directory part:

3) Coordinate with the team that publishes the church directory. Information from the publication can be updated to the website . Information will thus be at most one-year old. (This can be done by setting up a computer database)

4) Send out an annual or bi-annual email to all the emails on the database kindly asking for their cooperation in keeping the Online Church Directory up-to-date. Emails that are not replied to can then be considered unusable and should be removed.

These are just a few simple suggestions that I believe quite feasible and helpful. I don't see why they cannot be done if people believe in the usefulness and function of the Veritas website. Please share you comments and thoughts on the matter.


Here are the previous posts related to the Veritas Website:

Websites of the Catholic Church in Singapore:


Comparing the Veritas website:


Some background:

I've been using the Veritas website every once in a while to check on addresses and contacts of churches and priests. More than once, the email or contact number of the priest I tried to contact was inaccurate. I also felt a lingering sense of embarrassment each time I visited. It's like walking past a very badly designed poster advertising the Catholic Church and wondering what kind of impression others would have when they walked by and saw it. (*Note: I really appreciate and honour the work the volunteers have put into the website, but this is a real and honest opinion). When Nicholas one day complained to me about the website, and I happened to see the St Mary's website, I decided to ask others to compare the websites and to garner their opinions.

I wanted to know if others were similarly embarrased as Nick and me, and to figure out what can be done about it. We felt that the fundamental problem was the inability of the church administration to see that there was a need to project a good "corporate image" to the general public. If other churches and other organisations could maintain a professional and informative website, why couldn't we? Part of the issue here was that the website was maintained by volunteers, and received no funding. This led to a discussion on why the church needs sometimes to pay for professional services. Volunteers ultimately cannot produce the same results that a dedicated professional can.

The Veritas discussion led to many lessons for me:

  1. The local archdiocese does not believe that a professional "corporate image" is important. We should work to change this.
  2. The local archdiocese does not want to invest in professional services as it still believes in the spirit of volunteerism. Laypeople should provide the willpower, direction, and funding to move in this direction if they believe in it.
  3. It is not enough to complain on this blog. We need to make real changes by contacting people and doing something about it.
  4. This blog has limited function and appeal. We should do something about it
Perhaps you may wish to reflect on these points as well.


What makes a Youth Mass?

I've been to a few so-called youth mass, and I have a few thoughts and questions in my mind which I hope readers can comment and give me some valuable insights.

First of all, how do we make the distinction between a normal mass and a youth mass?

Secondly, what is Liturgically acceptable in a youth mass, musically and other aspects if any.

Thirdly, has anyone gone for any of such masses, and do you have any thoughts?

After going for those masses, I sincerely believe our church is not reaching out adequately to the youths. I see youths talking and zoning out during mass and especially during homily liken any talk given by their teachers. I look at, or rather listen to the awkward guitars and drums trying to play our traditional church songs and how its disturbing the serenity of a mass.

But how does the church make themselves relevant to the youths? How does it attract the youths who are just bored by the slow mass? Telling them that its important to spend time with the Lord and consuming His Body and Blood is important is just not convincing enough anymore.

Please share with me your thoughts.

Gregorian Chant in October


Mass with Gregorian Chant

St Luke, Apostle, Evangelist
18 October, Wednesday
St Teresa's Church
8 pm.

Liturgy of the Hours

Vespers and Compline
22 October, Sunday
Adoration Chapel @ Church of Sts Peter and Paul
8 pm.

Translations are provided for all events.