Spring Cleaning on Ash Wednesday

It is a tradition to do a thorough “Spring Cleaning” prior to Chinese New Year. It is most auspicious to have a clean and organized house so as to have a great start for a New Year.   I am thinking that, perhaps, Ash Wednesday will be a perfect day for Spring cleaning! I just read that Lent is an opportunity to put my spiritual house in order.    If so, we begin to tidy up God’s dwelling place on Ash Wednesday.  Spring Cleaning on Ash Wednesday will mean that we start the process of tidying up both externally and internally. With hope, the visible sign of the state of each room in our house will give us our reality check on each spiritual focus of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Happy Spring Cleaning!

How quickly can you answer to “Do you know Jesus Christ?”

A good teacher once proposed the scenario where someone approaches me and asks,

Do you know Jesus Christ?

If you were confronted with this question, could you answer it as quickly as you would if someone asked if you know your mom or dad?

I challenge you to answer the question!

 

What would you need to give a positive response?

To say that we “know” someone, I suppose we first need to know many facts about this person. We need to know something about his physical appearance and “data”, such as his background, likes and dislikes, etc.

Indeed, we know the background of Jesus Christ from the bible. We can read about his genealogy, his birth, his human parents, his ministry, his death and resurrection, all from the Gospels.

What about his appearance?

I was checking out an old hymn, “Fairest Lord Jesus”, that is no longer in the present edition of the hymnal at my church, when I came across a blogpost by David Hamrick. In his blog http://drhamrick.blogspot.ca/2013/11/fairest-lord-jesus.html , he talked about how Jesus’ physical appearance was probably unremarkable, as Judas had to point Him out to the soldiers. Jesus was probably an “average-looking Galilean Jew.”  Yet, his inner beauty would make him be the light that shines in the darkness, and he would be “the most beautiful of all ever lived.” Hence, he is the “fairest” of all!

However, by knowing the physical appearance and facts about a person, we can only claim that we know of that person, just like how we know of a movie star because of all the pictures that we have seen and post that we have read on the internet. We will need to have intimate knowledge of the other. We can say that we know the other well only if we have had specific common experiences with the other, have private communications, be able to feel for the other, have challenged one another, respected or loved the other, etc.

I asked myself when I last communicated with Christ – the last time I talked to him, the last time I heard him, the last time I saw his glory in nature, his remarkable work in the good deeds that I witnessed. He often answered me in ways that only I could appreciate – the funny sign that I saw seemed to answer the question I had in my thoughts, the colorful bird that flew by when I was having a greyish day, etc.  I remembered feeling sad when I read about the government making medical-assisted death legal.  I felt Christ weeping when I heard about the fate of Christian martyrs and those betrayed by fellow brothers and sisters. I prayed for Jesus’ consolation as he stayed on the cross and he challenged me to be a better disciple. He gifted me with his life and I returned his love by singing praises and trying to follow his will.

So, do you have all that you need to answer the question positively? Do you know Jesus Christ?

I think I do. 

 

 

 

 

How g(x) = 1/x expresses Matthew 16:24?

In Matthew 16:24, we have

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me…

This actually explains Peter’s problem when he denied Jesus three times in the high priest’s courtyard following the arrest of Jesus. He was a righteous person all along, the first one to answer Jesus as the Son of God at Caesarea Philippi, the one that Jesus handed the keys of the kingdom of heaven. However, Peter was so sure of himself that he did not believe what Jesus said he would do.  Peter trusted his own wisdom too much and had trouble denying himself.  Denying oneself is the key to be in union with Christ!

Recently, I came across a painting by Emily Carr, titled “Scorned as Timber, Beloved by the Sky”. It’s part of the Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery and can be viewed on its website. I know nothing about art and nothing in particular about this painting. However, it makes me think of how one denies his own wishes and all interruptions and just reaches out to God. As I ponder on the message of Matthew 16:24 and this painting, the mathematician in me led me to think of my kind of art, a simple functiongcomp.jpg.

The interesting fact about this function is that

the greater the x, the less is g(x).

The more proud we are of ourselves, the more we act on our own wishes and collect our gains in this world, the further we move away from God!

Now, if we were able to deny ourselves completely, setting x to 0, then we would achieve the impossible g(0). It is common for mathematicians to denote a value that one cannot fathom as infinity infinity .

As one can never divide 1 by 0, the general notation of expression of  is

g0.

The infinity seems to point at the infinite power of God, our God Almighty!

So, here it is, a simple elegant function g

that reminds me of Matthew 16:24!

Several Minutes of Silence

I felt privileged and blessed to have the opportunity to attend a sacred music concert at the newly rededicated St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto on September 30th, 2016.

 

Articles about the restoration project of the Cathedral have been featured on all major newspapers. Reports on this beautiful sacred place in Toronto have been shown on local TV news channel. Praises and positive commentaries on the concert were all over social media. There are very few words that I can actually use to describe how beautiful is the building and how glorious were the sound of the choristers from the St. Michael’s Choir School and the tones from the beautiful Casavant organ played by organist William O’Meara that have not been used in all those reports yet.

True. I was blown away by how they managed to restore a Cathedral to its present glorious state. The statues, the detailing of every archway, the ceilings, every ornamental design on the beams, the light fixtures, the stained glass,… that was truly a feast for my eyes. Seriously, when my eyes could see so much more details than my digital camera could capture, I thanked God for his creation of our human eyes. I wonder what is the capacity of our eyes in terms of megapixels?!!

The choral music performed by the 275 members of the St. Michael’s Choir School was magnificent! Together with the organist and a brass ensemble, the choristers performed works across time, from Palestrina to Haydn, Bruckner to modern composers. They were really well done! Most important of all, the program was well chosen, showing reverence to the space and letting the glorious music showed the power of God.

All the above would be worthy for one to dwell on and to write a touching article. However, I want to talk about a magical moment that happened at 7 PM! As the booklet for the concert says,

booklet-t

The Cathedral’s capacity, I was told, would be around 1200.   Prior to 7 PM, people were entering the Cathedral, claiming their favorite spot to sit, walking around, taking pictures, or chatting with friends. The choristers had walked in 5 minutes earlier and were standing in place. The place was bustling with people and sounds. I was reading the program booklet when I noticed a sudden dead silence. At first, I thought someone important walked in but I did not see anything out of the ordinary from my spot in the choir loft with an unobstructed view. I looked at my watch and it was 7 PM. The silence was so pronounced that one usher walked up an aisle with a stack of program booklets in her hand and I could hear her every footstep clearly. The silence went on for about 7 minutes until Cardinal Collins, the Rector of the Basilica and the Director of the Choir School walked in and approached the ambo. During those 7 minutes or so of silence, the atmosphere was stunning.

Why would so many people in the Cathedral collectively willingly participating in this moment of silence? I really cannot explain the phenomenon. I did not hear an announcement asking for silence. I did not see anyone signaling people to quiet down. Except for the choristers standing at the edge of the Sanctuary, there was no movement by the altar in front of us. The only explanation that I can think of would be that our good old Catholic training, attending mass and learning to be silently praying in church trained us all to this stillness, but that still wouldn’t explain the “sudden” silence at 7 PM for so many minutes! We are talking about over 1000 people in the Cathedral here!

I remembered that after the first puzzling minute of silence, I found myself willingly staying quiet and sitting there by the pew. Personally, I just felt that I could use that time to clear out the noise and the chatter in my mind and in my heart.  I was anticipating a sacred music concert and needed that time of silence to properly prepare myself for the coming of the glorious sounds. Looking up at the ceiling of the Cathedral, there was a dove suspending from a light fixture.

dove

It seemed to symbolize the coming of the Holy Spirit among us, weaving through the music, reaching deep into our souls. Mother Teresa had said that

“In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself.”

Of course, there is also the famous line from St. Augustine saying that “he who sings prays twice.” Such is the power of music!

I would say that evening, in the St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica, everyone faced God in prayer and in silence. I knew I went home after the concert with my heart enlightened and my spirit renewed. The Divine communicated with me in a very personal way and, more importantly, I experienced that power of silence.

God answers in unusual ways

Have you ever asked God a question and have your question answered? Perhaps, I am one of the lucky ones. During my faith journey so far, I have had numerous “encounters” with God. I would like to record a few here.  My former spiritual director said that one knows God not just through the usual senses – sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste, but also through our imagination. I agreed with him, as God seems to “speak” in unusual ways.

 

A few years ago, a broken friendship and several setbacks in a project left me devastated, confused, and sad. With that, feelings of unworthiness, defeat and hopelessness crept in. I decided to attend a weekday mass one evening at a nearby church. The size of the congregation that evening could be counted by our ten fingers. The priest was a foreign priest who loved singing and led the congregation into the singing of hymns. As we were singing the hymns without instrumental accompaniment, we were singing in relative pitch and the starting note of each hymn was at the mercy of the priest. I remembered clearly that the recessional hymn was “How Great Thou Art” and the priest picked a relatively high note to start with. When we got to the second part of the hymn “Then sings my soul…”, it was clear that the hymn would wander to a really high range. By the time it got to “How GREAT thou art!”, literally everyone stopped singing after “How”. The usual E-flat has been transposed to at least a third higher. I, the lone soprano, was the only one reaching out to “GREAT” to complete the sentence! At that moment, I realized God somehow had planned this funny and dreadful congregational hymn sing so that I might understand that every one of God’s creation has a purpose in life! Without those who help God’s Kingdom to be great, there would just be “art”. The meaning of art and life is made great only if we allow ourselves to be his instruments.  In this case, I was literally the only one at that moment who could sing and made it “great”. Here, God spoke in the language of music and I “heard” Him.

 

I had thought that if I were to follow what God has put in my heart, life would be easy and all related work would be carried out without troubles. Of course, I have read the lives of prophets were never easy, and why would I be so naïve to think that any little projects that I do at church would carry through without any glitches? In 2013, I felt compelled to organize a Lenten project with other denominational churches locally, though I had limited knowledge of other Christian faiths and how their churches operate. After I had initiated meetings with other churches and started working on the project, I realized that there were too many obstacles to overcome. Well, it didn’t really help that I accidentally visited a Protestant church on Reformation Sunday, thinking that I could observe a normal Sunday service of another denomination, in order to write a common script for the project to be presented at all churches. Again, feeling defeated, I remember questioning why God would made a poor Catholic sitting in on a sermon on Reformation Sunday. I remember doubting God’s reason for planting a seed in my heart for this seemingly impossible project. As I was driving home, I actually asked aloud, asking God to give me a sign that this is really what he wanted, a joint project with the other churches. To my surprise, when I looked in front of me, I saw that a black sedan was right in front of me. Curiously, the license plate of this car spelled “SEMINARY.” I started cracking up. What a humorous God! For a moment, I thought I was seeing things. I started counting the number of letters in “Seminary” to verify that such a license plate was even possible to exist. Now, if that’s not an answer from God, I am not sure what else that could be. Here, I “saw” Him.

 

I tend to ask a lot of questions. In particularly, I tend to ask God a lot of questions. I like to think of it as my way of praying. Recently, I drove to London for a meeting and I got there early. So, I decided to spend a few moments in the seemingly empty St. Peter’s Basilica. While I was on my knees, closing my eyes, quietly praying, or I should say, asking God yet another question on his purpose for me to be at the meeting, I heard a loud booming voice saying “TESTING!”  I was startled and thought how strong was God’s voice.  Of course, when I looked up, I saw that someone was actually standing at the ambo, testing the microphone. Perhaps, it was a coincidence. Perhaps, it was all in His plan. Somehow, the loud booming answer did answer my question. What more can I say? God has a good sense of humour!

 

So, next time, when you ask God a question, be aware of what’s happening, he might have already answered you, though somewhat unexpectedly.

What does Jesus Christ mean to you?

J

I can tell you what I do as a person. Perhaps, I can even tell you why I do certain things a certain way because I am a Catholic. However, it will be difficult for me to give a two -lines answer to the question “What does Jesus Christ mean to me?” to a non-Christian on the spot.

At the 69th Ontario Catholic Women’s League Convention yesterday, Bishop McGrattan , Bishop of Peterborough, talked about the Year of Mercy and what it means for members of CWL. One of the points he asked us to think about is the need to evangelize. Of course, to evangelize, one has to engage someone else in a conversation on Jesus Christ, but how many of us can readily give a concise answer to the question: What does Jesus Christ mean to you?

 

So, after pondering on this for some time, I think I will say:

If spirituality means living the tensions of life, then being a Christian means living those tensions by following Christ’s example. In order to do that, one must get to know Christ and his Church.

God reveals himself to us in many ways. He shows us who he is through his creations. Sometimes, he talks to us directly. Other times, he might give us subtle hints. These revelations are, unfortunately, often missed. Fortunately for us, God also gives us his divine revelation through Christ. Now, here is someone’s life that we have a record of in our Bible. The teachings of Jesus Christ are studied and contemplated on through and through by the Church, which are presented to us as our Church teachings. Living the tensions of life, therefore, gets easier, if we pay attention to the Word and get to know our Church teachings.

During the past December, when my family was confronted with the impending death of my father, my children asked if we should carry on with our usual joyous celebration of Christmas. It was a very confusing time. On one hand, we had our Christmas celebrations planned out and were looking forward to the excitement, the anticipation, our Christmas experience at church, and our Christmas concert (which happened to be our 100th sharing) at a local seniors’ residence. On the other hand, we were constantly waiting by the phone, waiting for updates on my father’s condition, or sharing our sadness with relatives and close friends. Talking about tensions of life! Of course, God seems to be always ahead of us… The topic of my December session at my CPM course happened to be “The Mystery of Christ.” A section of the course was on how Jesus taught us to be human and another section on the meaning of his death. After taking in all that I could that session, it was surprisingly easy for me to announce to my family that it would be even more important for us to celebrate Christmas during those agonizing weeks. Without Christ, there would be no hope. Without Christ, there would be no meaning to our lives.

So…What does Jesus Christ mean to you?

 

 

Studying Christology Mathematically

When I first considered taking the Certificate of Pastoral Ministry program at St. Peter’s Seminary, I had some doubts about how I might handle studying, what is in my mind, the “Arts” subjects. After all, I once spent 10 years at university studying Mathematics and I was sure that one would need different mind-sets for the study of Mathematics and subjects like Philosophy and Religion.  Now, there is also the fact that writing a concise and precise mathematical paper and writing an essay with no numbers and graphs are quite different.  (Although I, once upon a time, managed to insert a mathematical graph in an essay for my high school English Literature course, showing the emotional development of the major character in a fiction.) However, I also enjoy challenges and so, I decided that taking the CPM program will be my challenge for the next few years.

Two of the topics I studied earlier in the year were on the Doctrine of the Triune God and Christology.  I mentioned how I understood the doctrine of Trinity through Mathematics back in December. (See my earlier post.) In fact, I now see that the logic in mathematical studies is actually very useful when applied to the study of many abstract, philosophical religious concepts. I know, many teachers teaching the mystery of God would frown if I tried to describe the Mystery mathematically. They would worry that I would be reducing the Mystery to some “solvable” equation of sorts. However, all I am saying here is that the logical thoughts in how we study the subjects are the same.

For instance, in Mathematics, we are always dealing with statements like “A implies B”; therefore, “Not B implies Not A”.  In studying about Christ, people realized the resurrection of Jesus Christ meant that the death of Jesus was not ordinary and that the people came to believe the baby borne in the manger some 33 years earlier was no ordinary baby.  There, “Not B implies Not A!”

Another example deals with the way we present Mathematical formulas.  Whenever we present a formula, we always list the conditions in which the variables have to satisfy so that the formula will be valid.  These conditions are what we called the constraints. Now, when we read the Book of Genesis, we know that we are created in the image of God.  One good explanation of this plan is that when God sent his only Son to be fully human, as human is already in the image of God, then incarnation is possible.  In other words, God created the constraint and satisfied the constraint at the same time for the Incarnation “formula” to work! This is how we become the Body of Christ and be nourished by the Body of Christ at mass!

I just think this is the most beautiful Mathematical formula ever!