The Perpetual Student

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According to the French Philosopher Nicolas Malebranche, “attention is the natural prayer of the soul.

Since studying requires an attentive mind, it follows that studying may be a form of prayer.

Therefore, the perpetual student is simply praying without ceasing.

 

Reflections on Praying with Psalms

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Psalms play a significant role in Christian worship.

As a cantor in the Roman Catholic church, even though I have led congregations in Responsorial Psalms during Mass for years, I struggle with making Psalms a meaningful part of my prayer life. Therefore, I am sharing the following notes on Praying with Psalms that I gathered during the process of promoting the last WHY@Breakfast presentation, from the brilliant presentation by Prof. Andrea Di Giovanni, and from questions and comments made by participants last Saturday. I hope these notes will help shed off years from others’ struggles in praying with Psalms.

 

Responsorial Psalm during Mass never got my attention as much as the other readings would. Readings from other books of the Bible often tell simple stories and lessons.  One may easily mindlessly participate in singing the Responsorial Psalm, where the lines are taken from a few verses of a much longer Psalm, and feel that, perhaps, one is on a break between readings. As a cantor, I was told one time at a workshop, to always read the entire Psalm to get the full picture when preparing to lead the congregation into responding at Mass.  That advice is helpful for me to make sense of the few lines that I proclaim at the Ambo.   Still, praying with Psalms is not something that I embraced readily.

There were a few points I learned from the wisdom of Prof. Di Giovanni that I found most helpful to keep in mind.  I would also like to add my interpretation on some of them here.

  1. Jesus and the early Christians used Psalms as the backbone of their prayers! In fact, Jesus’ last words on the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” from Mt 27:46 or “It is finished.” from Jn 19:30) came from the Psalms. Others have suggested that the lines in Mary’s Magnificat came from various Psalms that Mary knew by heart. So, it should be quite an honour to read/sing Psalms as Jesus and his disciples would have done! In fact, I think one might get goosebumps thinking about this while joining in the Responsorial Psalms during Mass!
  2. Many Psalms speak of coming before God’s presence in the House of the Lord. When the Temple built by Solomon was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar, the Jews could no longer make sacrifices at the Temple but they continued using Psalms as their way of prayer. So, making Psalms our daily prayer means following that tradition to come before God’s presence.
  3. The Psalms were chanted to accompany certain rites at the Temple. Specifically, they would accompany the actions of animal sacrifices. Nowadays, the Psalms became sacrificial offering of the words themselves. So, how would you make your sacrifice? Perhaps, you might sing loudly during the responses to the Psalm at Mass? That’s your sacrifice!
  4. The Psalms are infused with “body language” for a reason. Parts of the vocal apparatus are often mentioned in Psalms. References such as “my lips will glorify you”, “my mouth will declare your praise”, “my throat is parched”, “I cry with my voice”, etc., can be found throughout the book of Psalms. Other parts of the body are also mentioned. For example, we have “my back is filled with searing pain”, “my loins are full of inflammation”, “I spread out my hands to you”, “my arms can bend a bronze bow”, etc. All these examples might be making a point that we are supposed to let the prayers sink into every part of our body. It’s not just an intellectual exercise to read Psalms but we ought to let every cell of our body savor it! I might be biased, but singing allows the sound wave to vibrate each of the cells in your body and it is a good way to let your body feel the Psalms!
  5. Psalms were understood to be chanted aloud. When Hannah prayed silently with her lips moving and not making a sound, no one could blame Eli the priest for thinking that she was drunk! (1 Samuel 1:13) Now, no one will accuse you for being drunk at church if you don’t join in and sing the Psalms, but why would you not sing Psalms when they were meant to be sung?
  6. As a book in the Bible, Psalms are words of God. To let the words of God come out of your own body to praise God is to let God move through you to communicate with God, as Jesus communicates with His Father! That is, we actually allow ourselves to be the body of Christ!
  7. The various types of Psalms cover our usual moments in our daily living (praise, thanksgiving, laments, joy and hope after laments, etc). So, why not let Psalms accompany us in our daily prayer? As Prof. Di Giovanni said, all we need is to re-understand Psalms in our own context to make them meaningful. In fact, one participant on Saturday made a comment on how it could be so upsetting to read the daily news and suggested that we have our Book of Psalms handy whenever we watch the news!

 

Much more information was gained on the weekend, and other participants will probably have their own understanding of their favorite part of the presentation, but I hope you will benefit from these notes here. These points already let me enjoy praying with Psalms more and give me new ideas on praying with Psalms.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

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On a recent morning, I captured this image of the early light shining through the stained glass window of one church and landing right among the pews in front of the icon of Christ. This image made me think of the possibility of the Angels and Saints visiting and listening attentively to the Lord in silence.

This morning, when I was attending Mass, the bright morning light shone through the church window onto my face as I was standing for the Gospel.

bright sunlight

The priest was reading the line about the Greeks coming to Philip and saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus”.  I couldn’t help but think how the light forced me to close my eyes and, now, I would not be able to see Jesus. It was then that a conversation with the late Father Charlie came to mind.

Long ago, I asked about Purgatory and, specifically, why our souls would need to be in Purgatory.  Father Charlie thought that, perhaps, the light of God’s love would be so powerful that we would not be able to face the Lord if we were to head straight to heaven. We needed time to adjust to this brightness.  Thinking about the pews glowing in the morning light from a few days earlier, I think Father Charlie might be right.

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The angels and saints, who are spirits or have been raised to life in heaven, may be fairly bright, just like those multi-coloured spots on the pews suggested. They are, therefore, able to stand in the presence of the Lord, seeing Him face-to-face, singing songs of praise! So, if you and I were to ask the same question as the Greeks and “wish to see Jesus”, we might want to look at the saints as our role models. Just like them, we can choose to follow God’s directions in life and embark on a journey of holiness.  Of course, we can always join in praising at church with the saints and angels:

“For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

Let the saints and angels accompany us and guide us!

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. 

 

 

 

 

What would you put in the stocking for Jesus?

 

Jesus' stocking

 

I have been feeling particularly rushed in all the regular Christmas preparation this year.  For this short Advent season, it seems difficult to focus on what is really important.  As always, songs have a way to speak to me and make me pause.  As I was singing along to the Christmas piece “In the Bleak Midwinter”, I found myself in a sudden pause at the fourth verse:

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The words made me think of my relationship with the Christ Child. The words made me think about what I would give him if I were meeting him by his crib.  For those of us who are parents, as we go about helping Santa putting smiles on the children’s faces on Christmas morning, how would you help Santa decide on what to put in the stocking for Jesus?

 

May the remaining time of Advent of yours be one filled with hope, and that your Christmas season be one filled with joy and peace!