Making Lemonade and Being Discerning Catholics

Saw this blogpost in Fr Aloysius Ong's blog that is so good that I've copied it entirely here. I hope he forgives me for not asking permission first, but I'd like to touch up the blog before inviting him to look. - chris

Came across a report from Zenit concerning the upcoming movie of the infamous (and the utterly self aggrandizing) Dan Brown's book 'The Da Vinci Code' and how despite its notoriety, is bringing about some interesting and positive enquiries for the Opus Dei, which is (ridiculously)portrayed as the main villian in the (stupid!) book and presumably in the movie.

Marc Carroggio, who oversees Opus Dei's relationship with the international media, told ZENIT that interest about the book and the film "is turning out to be a sort of indirect publicity for us." Carroggio added that, given the existence of the movie, there will be no fight against anyone. An effort is being made to take advantage of the great interest aroused to propose the figure of Jesus Christ, he stressed.

Hear! Hear! I have already sounded off to the catechetical coordinator in the parish to see if there is any opportunity to look into the area of pre-empting the (obviously) wrong impression that may arise from the upcoming movie, with a series of talks or presentation about this topic and other relevant issues to be given to the youths here. This is because, they were the most affected (including some young adults who seemed taken in by the need to find any fault with the Church so that they won't feel guilty with their strange sense of freedom in doing whatever THEY want) group of people who are unable to discern and sift through the nonsense this novel has churned up.

Even other local Christian groups have already put into place several activities and talks to address this! I'd say this is a very good opportunity for us to work together and bring about further closer ties in ecumenical efforts.

But what about the general public? Or the general parishioner, the Sunday Catholics and those who go through life with whatever they see fit to suit their theology or principles (if they even have one)? Here is where a wise answer from Marc Carroggio can give us some food for thought:

"The novel is essentially parasitical: The author makes a name for himself by attacking a major cultural figure, and he presents it as art. If the plot did not center on Jesus Christ, the book would lose its appeal. I think that the best response is simply to help people to know Jesus Christ. I suspect that in the coming year, many people will be moved to read the Gospels or a book about the life of Jesus Christ. They will be drawn to consider the great themes of faith, which give light to the most difficult questions of human existence. For me, these are all ways of turning the lemon into lemonade."
Turning lemon into lemonade. Another wise and simpler way to say, "If life gives you a lemon, make lemonade!" A positive manner to approach a seemingly notorious problem that seems to a have mind of its own, running roughshod over all sense of order and reality. Then we also have Rom 8: 28 to give us that reassurance that evil or anything that goes against the Christian sense will eventually be overcome by God's own will and power for those who continue to place their trust in Him.

I'm sure there are some of you out there who are wondering why can't we, the Church, sue Sony-Columbia for defamation. After all the name of the Church and in particular the Opus Dei have been maligned. Another wise stance from Marc:

"Suppose a movie revealed that Sony-Columbia was not what we had always thought but was a secret group of assassins run by the Mafia, but included a disclaimer that it was just fiction. Somehow I doubt their lawyers would be satisfied. I am sure they would threaten a suit. Still, legal action is like an icon of institutional conflict. It would be "Opus Dei vs. Sony-Columbia." To me that just sounds almost surreal. As I said earlier, the only thing Opus Dei is going to do is to make a declaration of peace."

Ironic isn't it? In the business world, especially in entertainment, anything goes - if you can make it stick! Fairness? No such thing!

So, do we SEE the movie? The following again will be a good rule of thumb:
"An interesting question is whether this movie should be only for adults. Any adult with a minimum of education can distinguish reality from fiction. But when history is manipulated, you cannot expect a child to make proper judgments. Merely adding a disclaimer that says 'Fiction' is not enough. Just as we protect children from explicit sex and violence, it would seem to make sense to protect them from violence that is more subtle and thus more insidious. I think it is reasonable to be concerned about this question. Besides thinking about profits, one should also think about possible negative influences on the young. As I said earlier, this is not the time for sowing disharmony among persons, nations and religions, but rather understanding."
Should YOU see the movie? By all means go ahead! Just check your brains outside the cinema and enjoy the braindead nonsense it serves up with usual cinematice wizardry that we come to expect these days. After that, go for coffee or tea or whatever fancy your palate and discuss the merits of the director's choice in casting Tom Hanks as the hero of the plot and why must 'Da Vinci' be used and not 'Leonardo'... ;)

An SFX Musical

This is a belated post, and one I apologise for, because this wonderful event is so deserving of praise.

On December 22nd, I attended a concert at the Victoria Concert hall that was organised by the St. Francis Xavier Youth Choir. I am admittedly a great fan of the choir, but they truly outdid my expectations.

I can't remember all the songs they did but I remember especially their wonderous and rousing rendition of 'When you believe' from the movie Prince of Egypt, replete with the glorious Hebrew section in the middle. The first half of the concert included performances by several other choirs as well (Edward Baccharus Choir; Catholic High Choir; etc.).

The second half was to be something which I had not a clue about - a Musical. The only two other church "musicals" I have attended left me with mixed feelings about how it would turn out. However, whatever reservations I had were completely blown away by their excitingly choreographed and musically inspired rendition of the life and mission of St. Francis Xavier. In my opinion, no church musical should ever be staged from now on unless they are helmed by a choir.

Our very own John Goh played St. Francis, and the songs were beautifully written, beautifully original, and beautifully sung. The acting was simple and minimal, but that let the costumes, choreography and lyrics shine through. Simply superlative. My absolute congratulations to John, Dennis, and the choir; I believe St. Francis would have been proud of you. I know I am.

Article from CN: St. Francis Xavier’s 500th birth anniversary celebrated with sell out concert

SINGAPORE – In celebration of the 500th birth anniversary of its patron saint, the St. Francis Xavier Youth Choir staged its first public choral concert at the Victoria Concert Hall on Dec 22 last year. The Youth Choir also staged a colourful musical on the life of St. Francis Xavier titled “Hidden, I Will Show Him”.

The Edward Becheras Choir of Catholic High School and the Edward Becheras Vocale also lent their voices to the evening of spiritually-inspired music, which was attended by Archbishop Nicholas Chia and Archbishop Emeritus Gregory Yong. The Youth Choir’s mission is to bear witness to Christ through music and song.

Each year, it celebrates the anniversary of its patron saint with a concert in the hall of their parish of St. Francis Xavier. This year, however, as it is a milestone anniversary, parish priest Father Anthony Ho suggested having a public concert which also serves evangelisation purposes. The 880 tickets were snapped up just two weeks after they were put on sale.

The $16,500 raised from the ticket sales went to the Assisi Home and Hospice, as the Youth Choir’s aim for the concert was purely to use song to share the Word of God using the life of St. Francis Xavier as a role model.

The Youth Choir won its first Gold Award (Senior Youth Category) at the 21st Century International Choral Festival at Genting Highlands, Malaysia, in December 2003. It was set up 18 years ago under the director of Denis Leong, who is also the choirmaster of the Edward Becheras Choir.

Sermons in Mass

Every aspect of the mass is important. Thus no part can be removed nor is any part lesser in importance, theorectically.

If one actually take note, every part of the mass is ritualised with fixed prayers to say. Except the sermon, where there is some opportunities for individual creativity and interaction by the priest to give their 15 mins of preaching and sharing of their spiritual knowledge.

However, what I find very frustrating is that lack of good sermons. Perhaps it's the quality of oratory skills or perhaps the sermon lacks content. Whichever the reason, usually I find it boring and meaningless.

I speak for myself, but how often do we find priests struggle to find anecdotes or some far-fetched internet stories to fit into the theme of the week? Or how some priests read off word-for-word from their scripts. Or worse, some old-timers think they can just rattle off without preparing.

In this modern society, with information overload and for some intellectuals who have some bible knowledge, I believe such sketchy and surface interpretations of the readings are unacceptable and insulting to the congregation.

Faith-teacher, please speak with conviction and with depth of thought and substance, for the people are looking forward to good sermons to kick-start their week and to be motivated about life. They want to hear God speak to them through the readings and they need you to explain to them how the scripture can inspire them.

Indeed Saint Paul said that when we are young, we need baby food. But I suspect that the majority of the congregation had come of (spiritual) age and is ready for more substantial spiritual knowledge and inspiration. I would even go as far as to say the people would love to know how to interpret the bible from the priest's point of view so that in the future, they themselves can read the Sunday or Daily Missal and let the scriptures inspire them without the spoon-feeding by the priests.

Don't get me wrong, I am not looking for any pomp or fireworks, nor am I looking forward to any Anthony Robbins or Adam Khoos to give us those motivation talks. What I am looking for is something simple and relevant. I can look into my life and ponder on how God have been relevant and present in my life if and only if I know how to interprete those Testaments of my forefathers. And I would only know how to interprete them if and only if I am guided by these teachers who stands at the rostrum.

Thus, standing at the rostrum and giving a half-hearted sermon is certainly serving injustice to the thousands who faithfully attend mass.

Priests resist condom use in HIV-hit Tanzania

Priests resist condom use in HIV-hit Tanzania - 23/01/06

A new school science syllabus in Tanzania that incorporates the teaching of how condoms should be used has been described by Roman Catholic bishops as “unacceptable”, in spite of the spread of HIV-AIDS, writes Frank Jomo for Ecumenical News International.

“Introduction of the [teaching of] use of condoms in schools, apart from being sinful, is indeed justification and opening the door for immoral lifestyles,” Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, the archbishop of Dar es Salaam, said in a statement issued by Tanzania's Episcopal Conference this month.

It continued: “Teaching children, some as young as 12 years old, the use of condoms is disastrous.” Development workers vigorously disagree.

Read the rest of this article at ekklesia.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - A Christian Appreciation

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - A Christian Appreciation -->
By Sister Wendy Ooi, fsp

“Someday you will be old enough to start reading (watching) fairy tales again”—
Preface to “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”

(Warning: This article contains spoilers for those not familiar with the plot)

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA – THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (“Narnia”), the film adaptation of C. S. Lewis’ book “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, will appeal to more than just Christians.

It is a fantasy adventure of four children who discover Narnia, a magical world filled with talking animals and mythical fauns and centaurs.
Unfortunately, Narnia is under the spell of the evil White Witch, who has cursed Narnia with perpetual winter “but never Christmas”. The children battle the Witch to free Narnia forever from her spell with the help of Aslan, the noble and mighty lion.

Lewis’ imaginary world of Narnia has taken more than half a century since the publication of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in 1950 to come to the big screen. One reason may be that only today’s film technology and Computer-Generated Imagery makes possible a realistic portrayal of Narnia and her inhabitants. Another possible reason is the commercial viability of Christian-theme movies following the enormous success of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”.

Though “Narnia” does not include everything in the book, and there are even slight changes from it, it is a faithful adaptation and fans of C. S. Lewis will not be disappointed. While cherished as a fairy tale with mythic motifs on one level, a deeper perspective reveals beautiful Christian allegories.

(Continue reading on The Catholic News)

Same-sex Marriages

I came across this interesting article in Catholic World News (CWN) regarding same-sex marriages. As more countries and states legalise same-sex marriages, what if one day Singapore faces this option? How should you as a Catholic argue against the legal recognition of same sex marriages?

The same-sex marriage proposal is a scam. Here's why.

A) Eric is married to Kate. Their marriage provides the state with many significant benefits.

1) They produce in their children the next generation of citizens.

2) They provide a very great part of the education and socialization of their children, teaching them to communicate, to cooperate with others, to do their fair share of the common toil, to restrain their appetites in service of a common good. Most of the values that incline citizens to contribute to society (and to act so as to stay out of jail) are learned in the home and inculcated and reinforced by parents and siblings.

3) When the young behave in harmful ways, most of the needed disciplinary correction will be meted out by their families and the more stable the family, the more effective the correction is likely to be.

4) Eric and Kate are interested in the welfare not only of their children but of their children's children, and consequently have a vested interest in the long-term prosperity of the state (and neighbourhood), and inculcate the same sense of responsibility in their children.

The state can, in unusual circumstances, provide or attempt to provide benefits 2, 3, and 4. The state will almost never succeed in providing them as well as an average family, and the expense involved will always be grotesquely disproportionate to the effect, as compared to the same benefit provided in the context of married family life. Because Eric and Kate make sacrifices in order to stay married and raise a family (sacrifices involving career choices, education and health expenditures, etc.), the state traditionally acknowledges the benefits provided by partially compensating Eric and Kate in legally "privileging" their marriage: recognizing the marriage as a civil reality, making it difficult to dissolve, penalizing polygamy (whether serial or concurrent), protecting property by inheritance law, and so forth.

B) Greg and Charlie graduated from college together and both have entry-level jobs in business. They are friends, and room together to cut expenses by sharing rent and utilities, and because they enjoy each other's company. Their main interests are in providing economic prosperity and security for themselves and in pursuing their own amusement. Their conjunction, in and of itself, provides no benefit whatever to the common good; each individually makes contributions as a working and tax-paying citizen, but each would make the same contribution if he lived alone.

C) Dave and Jason live in the apartment below Greg and Charlie. They graduated from college together and both have entry-level jobs in business. Their main interests are in providing economic prosperity and security for themselves and in pursuing their own amusement. Each individually makes contributions as a working and tax-paying citizen, but each would make the same contribution if he lived alone. Dave regularly sodomizes Jason. The principal reason they share the domicile is to facilitate this conjunction.

Question: what good does the conjunction of Dave and Jason provide the state that the conjunction of Greg and Charlie does not? How do we, their fellow citizens, benefit from their partnership? In what sense is their relationship productive of the common good such that the state would want to assimilate it to the marriage of Eric and Kate? Keeping in the mind that the recreative appetites of Greg and Charlie were not specified and so may be heterosexual or homosexual or some combination thereof what is it that we, the citizenry, stand to gain by the fact that Jason is sodomized by his roommate?

Or, if this picture is seen as too reductionist, what public, civilly verifiable fact about Dave and Jason's relationship makes it a "same-sex partnership" in a way that distinguishes it from the same-sex co-habitation and friendship of Greg and Charlie? What, in short, is the state imagined to be rewarding in granting civil recognition to their partnership?

Edit: Link provided.

Understanding the Latin 'Our Father'

In this week's Catholic News, a Benjamin wrote in to express shock that the Our Father was being sung in Latin at a mass he attended. He basically says that:

1. We don't understand Latin
2. We can't pronounce Latin
3. Therefore it takes away the meaning of anything
to sing in Latin

4. Therefore Latin is unnecessary
5. Therefore, let's keep to English.

It is true that we don't understand Latin. But we do know what the Our Father says, so we do in fact know the meaning of Pater Noster. In an interesting coincidence, Peter Low in another part of the CN refers to the Latin mass:

"We were singing in a language that we did not speak, but that doesn't mean we didn't understand it (the worship)," he said and likened the practice to that of Buddhists who chant in Sanskit and Muslims in Arabic."
I'm in favour of selective use of Latin as it's strongly endorsed by Popes JPII and Benedict XVI as the language of the Roman Catholic Church. It's a connection not only between nations but with our past."
He feels that singing the "Our Father" and the "Creed" in Latin adds a sense of the sublime.

"Adds a sense of the sublime" - I second that

I wonder if any public debate will be ignited by Benjamin's

There has been some previous debate about the reintroduction of Latin into our masses. Please go to Should we sing the 'Our Father' in Latin? and On the recent changes to the way we celebrate mass in Singapore to read those posts.

I will now here attempt to share what little I know about the latin Our Father so that those of us who come across it can have better appreciation of it. After singing it for so long in mass, I have been able to remember to and even understand it a little, as English has many roots in Latin. Do give understanding it a try; its not that difficult.

Pater noster qui es in coelis,
Father-our-who lives in-heaven,
sanctificetur nomen tuum;

sanctified-your name,
adveniat regnum tuum,

come-your kingdom,
fiat voluntas tua,

be done-your will,
sicut in coelo et in terra.

Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie,

Bread-ours-daily give-us-today,
et dimitte nobis debita nostra,

sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.

as-and-we-forgive-those who owe us.
et ne nos inducas in temptationem

sed libera nos a malo.


Basically, if you sing the Our Father in your head, you'll find that you can already guess at the meanings of lots of the words. Here's some words that you'll find easy to understand:

pater: Father
noster; nostra: Our (Latin can have different inflexions on a word but the root meaning remains)

nobis: us
adveniat: advent/coming
fiat: by fiat means to have something done by will
voluntas: will, same root as voluntary
sicut: as
terra: earth, as in terrestrial
Panem: panis means bread
et: and, as in et cetera - and the rest
demitte: forgive
debita: sins, or debit/due
malo: evil

I hope that by knowing these few words, you might be willing to attempt praying the Our Father in another language. It would certainly be an interesting experience. Try it!

Theology of the Body

I've been wanting to write an article on Theology of the Body for some time, but have never had the chance to put my thoughts down till today.

For the uninformed, Theology of the Body is a compilation of Pope John Paul II's 129 short talks over the first five years of his papalship. It is the source of the sexual revolution that he tried to bring about, but the message of his theology is only now starting to be felt in Singapore.

This article is taken from the OXYGEN sharing on Jan 15. Since I wrote it already, I thought it would be good to put it out as a sharing/article here in this blog. It comes from a reflection on the biblical passage 1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20, which is the second reading for the second Sunday in Ordinary Time.

So, here goes:

When we think of the sacraments, we realise that each one deals with the body and the soul. Think about the sacraments. In Baptism, running water is poured onto our foreheads. In Confirmation, we are anointed on our skin with holy oil, the same as during the Anointing of the Sick. In Holy Communion, we receive and eat with our mouths, the Body of Christ. In Reconciliation, we confess our sins with our lips to another person, another body, through which Christ acts. During Holy Orders, we lay our bodies down prostrate before the Lord. And during Marriage, the primordial sacrament, we make love to our spouse, professing with our bodies the vows that we took at the altar.

Every sexual act that we make has to be a reflection of the vows we make at the altar. It has to be a free choice between both spouses, giving of themselves and receiving each other totally. It has to be done only with each other, and it has to be open to life.

Hold on, you may say. Why does every sexual act with my spouse have to be open to life? If we allow that one to go by, then we might come to ask as well, why must every sexual act be with my spouse? Both are vows taken at the altar, and to let one go means a weakening of the marriage bond, which can and does lead to unfaithfulness. If you doubt me, just take a look at the world around us today. See how much the marriage bond has weakened in society because the society has what Pope John Paul II called 'the culture of death'. It begins with the weakening of the marriage bond and this begins when couples are lie to each other with their bodies.

Hold on, hold on, you may say again. What is this about lying with my body? A couple who engage in sexual intercourse while using contraceptives is saying that they are not open to life. Which means to say, the Lord, the giver of life, the Holy Spirit, is not welcome in their union. They are saying, "God, we don't want you in our marriage. Stay out of it. If you try to come in, we will kill any life that you try to create." Hence, culture of death.

What does this contracepting culture lead to? Firstly, we know that no matter how good a contraceptive is, there is always room for error, particularly human error, misuse of the condom or the pill. Regardless of how, pregnancies do take place even when contraceptives are used, correctly or incorrectly. A couple that has sex and are not open to life are putting themselves in a position where a pregnancy, if it occurs, is unwanted.

Therefore, we have unwanted pregnancies, abortions, parentless children. Have you ever heard parents tell their children, "I never wanted to have you"? Even if they don't say it, the children will grow up in an environment where they were never wanted.

But contraceptives were invented to prevent the spread of diseases through sexual intercourse, we might say. Does it work? I have to ask. Since contraceptives were invented, more and more people have contracted AIDS and other STDs. Why? Because of incorrect use, firstly. But more importantly, if people don't want to contract such diseases, then they can abstain from sex. That's a 100% way of not contracting STDs.

If you look at it closely and honestly, you cannot help but admit that contraceptives were invented for one and only one purpose - for people to have sex for pleasure and only for pleasure. What does this lead to? It leads to the human body being used for pleasure only. It leads to an increase in pornography, both male and female. This leads to young girls being kidnapped or paid to bare their bodies on cameras. It leads to child pornography and all other perverse forms of pornography as well, because different people have different fetishes. And of course it leads to masturbation.

It leads to the human body being used as a commodity. Once a woman can no longer satisfy a man during sex, or vice versa, they are discarded and a new one found. This leads to extra-marital affairs, and we know that adultery is the number one leading cause of divorce.

With the human body being used as a commodity, we are led to a culture where humans are made to be used. We have immoral forms of scientific research - cloning, embryonic stem cell research etc - which pays no heed to human life, since it is now a commodity to be bought and used.

I read in a friend's blog today that asks "What worth is a theory or principle if it doesn't have any bearing on everyday life?" Today's reading seems to be the old, boring teaching of the Church that tells us not to have sex outside of marriage. What relevance does an ancient, old-fashioned tradition have in today's world? As you have seen, it has a lot to do with today's world.

Today's world has many problems. As you can see, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, unwanted children, divorces, contraceptives and its side-effects, pornography, adultery, increase in cases of AIDS and other STDs, cloning and other immoral forms of scientific research (including faking of cloning results), etc, they all come from one source - the abuse of sex.

The Church is not down on sex. Far from it. The Church places such a high value on sex, which is why it has so many rules on it. The Church is trying its best to protect one of its greatest treasures - God's gift of sexual union, because it is a reflection of Christ's union with his Church.

And Satan knows it. Satan assails the world's view on sex, because he knows it is one of humanity's greatest treasures. He has profaned it greatly, largely through the help of us humans who fail to understand the beauty of sex as God meant it to be.

So the question today is: whose side are you on? God's or Satan's? There is no in between. And remember, what you profess with your soul must be reflected in your body, because they cannot be separated. Your body is the voice of your soul.

A book I would recommend for much, much more is "Theology of the Body for Beginners" by Christopher West.

Okay, you can start commenting now. :)