Baptism of the Lord – a parent’s view

In today’s Gospel (Mark 1:4-5, 7-11), Jesus asked for Baptism from John. Since John’s message has been one of repentance, Jesus is essentially admitting his “sins.”

But…was it really his “sins”?

Jesus would have known his mission all along. God sent his beloved son to save the people. However, how would God knows his Son accepts his mission until his actions show that he does?

We, parents, teach our children to be kind to others and to have good manners. However, it’s not until we see our kid hold the door for others for the first time, or initiate to donate their favorite toy to toy drive, that we would know that our messages came across to our children.

When Jesus asked for baptism, he was fully “man”. As a child of God just like us, he was saying that he was taking the cup, his mission. He was responding to God the Father, just like his mother’s fiat. He, who has no sins, was taking on the sins of the people and asking for repentance. For that, God the Father said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

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.