Friday, December 27, 2013

What Do the Clergy Know About Romances?

So people say our priests are in no position to tell the faithful how to live as dating and married couples because they generally have no experience in these areas due to their commitment to celibacy. But little do they know that falling in love and living in marriage are in many ways similar to our relationship with God. In fact, the two are closely intertwined. So much so, we believe that conjugal love - the love between husband and wife - is a human experience that God gives us so that through this experience we will understand faith - our loving relationship with God -better and live in love with Him.

Due to their special vocational calling, the clergy and those called to consecrated celibacy know faith, i.e. the loving relationship between God and man, in a special and deeper way. They have committed their whole life to this faith and are living it everyday. Since faith and conjugal love are similar and intertwined, what they know about faith enables them to teach the faithful how to deal with conjugal love. Here’s a priest whose profound insights about faith, if properly understood in the context of conjugal love, will benefit many dating and married couples tremendously. To make them simple and understandable, I have summarized them in my own words. In order to show the commonality between faith and conjugal love, the words used by the priest to describe faith (believe, God, faith, etc.) are shown together with the words we normally use to describe conjugal love (fall in love, woman, love, etc.). Such words are italicized and shown in brackets. Also, being male, I use “man” as the subject and “woman” the object. The female readers can certainly change them around. Here we go:

- A man believes (falls in love) not because of scientific evidence but because his heart is touched by God (by the woman he loves). Faith (love) is a matter of one’s personal encounter with God (with the woman he loves) (pp. 19-23).

- Man can do everything else against his will, but he can believe (fall in love) only of his free will (p. 23).

- Believing (falling in love) is the result of a dialogue: God (the woman a man loves) touches his heart, he recognizes the touch, his heart enlightens his understanding, assent follows (i.e. this is the woman I need!). After the assent, the believer (the man) will continue to struggle as part of his faith journey (as part of the love journey) (pp. 24-26).

- Believing (falling in love) is the mind being “captured” to follow the heart. It is captured by God’s (by the woman’s) touch. Once touched, the heart is set in motion to assent, and the mind has to catch up with the heart. Therefore, theology (love) is like a pilgrim journey – a journey in which the mind is constantly chasing the heart, and the heart pulling the mind (pp. 24-26).

Who is this priest who is such a profound and romantic lover? Joseph Cardinal Razinger, who subsequently became Pope Benedict XVI. His theological insights are summarized from his book, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith – The Church as Communion; and the related pages shown in brackets.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Fountain of Love and Life Christmas Button Brings Love!

The Starbucks at beautiful and historic Main Street, Unionville was busy as usual when I hurried in during the hectic morning hours, happy to take a momentary shelter from the bone-chilling temperatures outside. The weather was as brutal as I could remember for the longest time at this time of the year. It was a long line-up. The customers were getting restless as the minutes ticked away and the time available for reporting to work got shorter. The attendant at the counter was working away methodically. While still friendly, her eyes were showing stress as she glanced nervously at the line that seemed to get only longer. Finally it was my turn.

"Tall blonde please," I gave her my order hastily and handed her my Starbucks gold card. For some reason unknown to me, her tired eyes suddenly lighted up and her face broke into a broad and hearty smile. "I like that!" she said staring at my chest. "I should get one of those!" she continued, letting down the guard that was usually there behind her professional friendliness, and warming up to me as though I were a good old high-school pal of hers.

Following her stare, I looked at my chest curiously. Then I finally realized what she was saying: loosely clipped to my parka was a Fountain of Love and Life Christmas button that said, “It’s OK to say Merry Christmas to me!”

I know what the button is for. It’s a declaration of my personal belief in the true meaning of Christmas; it’s a sign of recognition that tickles people’s nostalgia for the good old times; it’s my personal protest against the Christian culture in general that has become too eager to conform to the secular world by adopting an “all-inclusive” identity that effectively means no identity. It is many things but perhaps none more important than the fact that it has become a bridge, a common denominator, if you will, that breaks down human barriers and connects me with strangers who suddenly see in me the love of Christ that seems to have disappeared at this special time of the year when it’s supposed to shine most brightly.

“Merry Christmas!” the Starbucks attendant handed me my tall blonde cheerfully and smiled at me one more time to see me off lovingly. I had walked into the store feeling like a piece of frozen meat. But now I walked out with my coffee in hand and a heart filled with warmth and joy all because of a Christmas button!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Who Is the True Mother?

Many people are familiar with the biblical story about the judgment of King Solomon (1 Kgs 3:16-28), in which two women claimed to be the mother of the same baby. As a result, Solomon decided to cut the baby into two halves to settle the dispute. In order to save the baby, the true mother was willing to give it to the other woman. But the false mother insisted that the baby be killed. Naturally, based on their reactions, Solomon, the wise King, was able to tell who the true mother was.

Interestingly, in the “ordeal” that I referred to in my recent posts, we also have two “mothers” making claim to the same baby. One “mother” is doing everything she can to kill the baby: threatening everyone who attempts to take part in feeding the baby, trying to forcefully remove the baby from its shelter, taking much pleasure in telling the whole world that she is in the process of killing the baby, etc. If this mother prays – not sure she does - her petition is for the baby to die as soon as possible.

On the other hand, the other “mother” is doing just the opposite: doubling up her effort to find food for the baby in this critical moment when its life is in danger, pleading to the baby’s family members to come to her rescue, giving up her personal well-being and risking her own health to protect the baby, etc. This mother prays non-stop; her only petition is for God to protect the baby, even if it means a complete devastation of her personal life.

So, Mr./Ms. Reader, you are King Solomon. Who do you think is the true mother?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Flesh or Spirit (Romans 8:5-6) - What's Your Choice?

For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things of the spirit. The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6)

What saddens me the most in this whole ordeal that proves so disturbing and divisive is that so many of those whom we expect to lead spiritually and “walk by the Spirit”(Gal 5:16) because of God’s special callings for them, would choose flesh over Spirit when faced with the choice. On the other hand, I find much encouragement and consolation in the fact that so many ordinary Catholic faithful in the pews who, having received the grace of the Holy Spirit through baptism, would courageously embrace the lofty mission “to live our moral life in a way worthy of our sublime vocation as ‘sons in the Son’” (JPII, The Splendour of Truth, 18), and choose Spirit over flesh even if it means great personal suffering.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When Two Christian Parties Are At Odds

When two Christian parties are at odds with each other or even in rivalry, it’s easy for people standing on the sideline to accuse everyone involved of “un-Christian behaviours”. Understandably, people get even more frustrated when the hostilities come from rivalling ministries that profess to spread the Christian faith and promote Christian love: Why can’t they co-exist? How ironic those who profess to spread the Christian faith are the first ones to abandon it, and those who claim to promote Christian love are the first ones to resort to hatred and retaliatory measures!

Sadly, history tells us that such accusations are often valid, as are in the case of the schisms of the Orthodox Church and the Protestant Reformation in the 11th and 16th centuries respectively, “for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame”, the Catholic Church admitted honestly (Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, n. 3).

On the other hand, history also tells us it is not uncommon for a truly innocent party to get muddied by a dispute that is triggered and fuelled by the other party whose aggression, unjust persecution, or even violence make it necessary for the innocent party to defend itself. Therefore, while it’s fair for the bystanders to get frustrated when such unfortunate disputes happen, they need to observe carefully before accusing anybody. It’s important to keep in mind that those who judge without making the effort to understand the whole story and the rights and wrongs involved stand to be judged for making hasty accusations, which are not only unfair and unhelpful, but also add to the woe of the innocent party who is already suffering from malice, violence, and injustice.

Jesus often finds himself caught in heated exchange of words with the scribes and Pharisees, to the point that he calls them “hypocrites”, “white-washed tombs” that appear clean outside but are filled with all kinds of filth inside, “serpents”, and “brood of vipers” (Mt. 23:27-33).

St. Paul fares no better. His fierce battles with the false apostles, false prophets, and Jewish opponents from the synagogues, both verbal and physical, are well documented in the pages of his epistles and the Acts of the Apostles. Their squabbles were not pretty. At one point, St. Paul had to defend himself against the charges of the Temple authorities of the Jews and their lawyer in a Roman court presided over by the Roman governor Felix (Acts 24 ff.)!

Those who insist that God loving people should always be able to work things out among themselves out of humility and love for God will have a hard time understanding these unfortunate experiences encountered by many saintly people in the history of the Church. There were many innocent victims in the long history of the Church who suffered unjust aggression and persecution. Like Jesus and St. Paul, they are to be admired and complimented for their courage to stand up against unjust instigators and bullies, not criticized.

In 2,000 years of Church history, there’s no lack of people like them: St. Stephen, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, St. Justin Martyr… Need I go on? Let me conclude this reflection by mentioning a more recent Church figure who shines like a supernova in the history of the Church when it comes to staring down unjust aggressors: the Blessed John Henry Newman, who had been badly slandered and maligned by high-ranking and powerful clergy and officials in the Church ever since his conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism at age 45 until his exoneration by Pope Leo XIII at the ripe old age of 80.

Similarly, for those who still believe in throwing their weight around, I will leave them with a few words from the Gospel as food for thought: What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mt. 16:26)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Blessed Are They Who Are Persecuted for the Sake of Righteousness...

It was quite an experience to do my morning exercise in the midst of gusting winds of 25 km/hour, zero-degree wind chill, and drifting rain! But as Fr. Raymond de Souza said in this morning's National Post, it was special to be outdoor in this time of the year when nature itself appeared to be going through a process of dying.

The Toogood Pond was richly adorned with rustic fall colors. Could this be the swan song of nature - its last wail of sadness, as it were - before the arrival of winter? The exercise was a daunting task. Dragging me down was a sensation of heaviness caused not by an over-weighted body but a heart filled with sorrow. There I was, a figure of solitude, huffing and puffing in a world where death was looming large...

Another attack, another setback! Similar attacks and setbacks have happened, well, I don't know how many times in the last year or two - I've lost track...

Despite the hardships and the frustrations, we never rolled over and died, nor did we strike back and respond in kind. Not even once. Our team had decided to follow Jesus' exhortation to accept persecution for the sake of righteousness. We stood our ground; we persisted and continued to pursue our ministry of evangelization for the greater good; we were not afraid to point out our enemy's unjust aggression - both to them and to the authorities concerned, and were steadfast in defending our rights. But not once did we return evil with evil.

I think we've done very well so far. I believe the way we approach this whole trying experience is pleasing to God, who shows his providence by picking us up whenever we're in great distress. As a result, we can take comfort in the sentiments of David, who was unjustly persecuted by his enemies; and together with him we pray:

But I will sing of thy might;
I will sing aloud of thy steadfast love in the morning.
For thou hast been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress.
(Psalm 59:16-17)

Like David and all humble servants of the Lord who are prepared to suffer for the sake of righteousness, we hear Jesus’ assuring words:

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23)


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why Am I Called A Catholic?

At a home gathering in New York City hosted by my sister and attended by her friends from a denominational Christian community, a guest asked me politely why I identified myself as a Catholic and not as a Christian.

Just as politely I assured her that I felt just as honored and blessed to be called a Christian as the early Church faithful whose Christian identity was first confirmed publicly in Antioch (cf. Acts 11:26).

Then I drew her attention to the “mystery of Christ” that God revealed to St. Paul and the holy apostles:

When you read this you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which… has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel…To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ… (Eph. 3:4-8).

The same realization of the universality or catholicity of the Christian faith hit St. Peter like a rock when he received a mysterious vision in which he was asked to eat things that were considered profane under the Mosaic law (cf. Acts 10:9-16). When everything finally sank in, he confided his newfound understanding to the uncircumcised Gentiles whom he subsequently baptised:

In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. You know the word (that) he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all… (Acts 10:34-36).

Catholicity was the reason for the decision of the Council of Jerusalem to avoid “placing on the shoulders of the [Gentiles] a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear,” namely the burden of observing the Mosaic law, particularly the requirement of circumcision (Acts 16:10).

It was for the fulfillment of the catholicity of his Church that Jesus on his Ascension into glory mandated his disciples to “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19) – a mission faithfully and successfully carried out by the Church in her history of over 2,000 years; a mission so prominent to her identity and intrinsic to the core of her being that the Church Fathers had made a point of including it as one of the four marks of the Church in the Creeds: I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

The term “Catholic Church” was already in use as early as St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 108 A.D.), one of the five Apostolic Fathers (the earliest authoritative group of the Church Fathers): “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8).

Without catholicity, without the firm belief in the unicity (as in Christ being the only Savior and his Church the only house of God that brings salvation) and salvific universality of the mystery of Christ, the Christian Church would have been just a sect of Judaism, restricted in many ways by local customs and one nation’s history and traditions.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Rhythm of Life

Fall has its way of creeping up on you....

The temperatures are still warm, but you wake up to the morning chill that taps you gently on the shoulder to remind you that summer is on its way out.

The breezes are still balmy, but the green foliage of the Toogood Pond has clearly lost some of its summery lustre, spotting small patches of crimson, yellow, and maroon here and there.

Sneaky as a cat, fall has shown up at your doorsteps, unannounced, unnoticed, and probably somewhat unwelcome.

Should there be any doubt that fall is coming, just check out the usual suspects heralding its arrival: the completion of the U.S. Open, my son returning to university to begin another school year, RCIA inquirers reporting to class, another year of Catechism Revisited Program, a new commencement of the Bible Study Program, the resumption of the Living in the Holy Tradition Program, the church getting more crowded with the return of the vacationing parishioners….

Repetition and routines are often seen by many in a bad light: boring, annoying, same-old-same-old, no choice…Five years into early retirement and having done more or less the same church programs and routines for more than a decade, I’ve actually learnt to enjoy the magic of the repetitive rhythm of life.

For me, the repetition of the various activities and programs is actually a blessing. The person repeating it is able to do so only when his health does not get in the way, when the required resources are available, and when the demand for the repeated activity or program remains strong. The rhythm of life - whether it is the daily routines of getting up and beating traffic to go to work; or the everyday chores of shopping, cooking and cleaning; or the repetition of church activities and programs; or the seasons changing guards as summer turns into fall and fall ushers in winter - is a beautiful thing. It is a blessing! If you put your heart into it, if you follow through with the rhythm patiently day after day and year after year, if you listen to it intently and learn to enjoy the art of repetition, you will realize that the rhythm is not the monotone that so many people hear. It is, rather, a magnificent and resounding symphony that gives you peace and makes your life heavenly! Praise the Lord for helping me to enjoy the repetition and simplicity of the rhythm of life!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Pope Francis' Happy Theology on the Church as the Holy Temple of God

As Catholic faithful who have been spoiled by several decades of strong and orthodox Catholic teachings since Vatican II, are you concerned that Pope Francis, while pleasant and outreaching, could be just an empty shell when it comes to scriptural knowledge and theology? Worse still, given his infamous comment of "Who am I to judge?" on the issue of homosexuality (see my post of July 31, 2013 Is Pope Francis Backing Down From the Church's Teaching Against Homosexuality?), could this Pope be a loose cannon - a crowd-pleaser - who is all too eager to compromise on the Church's teaching in order to conform to popular secular demands?

Just in case this is something that's bothering you, let me refer you to his General Audience of June 26, 2013 - an eloquent theological discussion on the Church as the Holy Temple of God. His immediate predecessors JPII and BXVI will be very pleased with this insightful and layer-by-layer exegetical discourse, in which the Holy Father explains how the ancient Temple of Jerusalem is a pre-figuration of the Church - the place of God's presence, the Temple that the Holy Spirit dwells; how the Incarnated Christ, Son of David, builds the Church as a visible sign of his presence among his people, thus fulfilling God's promise to King David in 2 Sam 7:1-29 that his heir would build a house for God’s name and his royal throne would be firm forever; how the House of God - the Church - is built using not material stones but living stones, which we are, on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ himself being the cornerstone (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-5, Eph 2:20-22); and how, with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, granted us through baptism, each one of us, the living stones of the Holy Temple, is a useful brick of this beautiful Temple, a priest in our own right whose sacrifices are not animals but, following the footsteps of the Crucified Christ, our own bodies (cf. Romans 12:1).

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this beautiful theological discourse! But that's not all. The Holy Father concludes his Wednesday Audience with an in-your-face exhortation for those Catholic faithful who are weary, bored, and indifferent; demanding that they COME ALIVE AND REJOICE as Christians. They need to remember who they are - the living stones and building blocks of the Church of Christ - and what they've been called to do - the important mission of building up the House of God!

Friday, August 9, 2013

What If the Human Soul Does Not Exist?

In an article named I Have No Soul (and I’m OK with That), published on the National Post yesterday, Patricia Smith Churchland, professor emeritus of the Philosophy Department of University of California San Diego, argued with the typical prejudice of a pure scientist who recognized nothing but laboratory researches and empirical data that there was no human soul that existed independently of the neurons of the brain. She called her scientific conclusion “profoundly shocking” to the Christians because “the central ‘truth’ of their universe may be falling apart”; she believed they would find this “reality” as proven by neuroscience “unnerving”.

The existence of the human soul is indeed central to the tenets of the Christian faith. Churchland is right in saying that the universe of the Christians will fall apart if it is true that the sole source of all human knowledge, activities, memories, social skills, and so forth is the neurons of the brain. If the human soul does not exist, there is no point in talking about life after death; and if there is no life after death, the whole spectrum of Christian beliefs of death and resurrection, divine judgment, heaven, purgatory and hell, and the moral standards that such beliefs require of the Christians in the way they live, think, and behave, are nothing but 2000 years of deception and falsity. As a Christian whose life centers around, and is empowered by, the Christian beliefs and values, I had to ask myself many questions after reading the Churchland article: Am I leading a life of deception?; are all these activities that I engage in to promote the Gospel just a feel-good exercise of futility?; at the end of the day when my life is over, will I wake up to find myself just a fool?

First of all, if Churchland is right, I will never wake up to realize what a fool I have been all my life. So at least I can put this potential embarrassment to rest.

Reason, particularly scientific reason, is not a human ability that stands in opposition to our faith. “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth”, intoned the Blessed JPII (Fides et Ratio, introductory greeting). An empirical-minded and ontologically blind scientist like Churchland “seems to have forgotten that men and women are always called to direct their steps towards a truth which transcends them. Sundered from that truth, individuals are at the mercy of caprice, and their state as person ends up being judged by pragmatic criteria based essentially upon experimental data, in the mistaken belief that technology must dominate all” (Fides et Ratio, #5).

So there you go, now you have both the perspectives from an empirical scientist and from a mainstream theist.

Philosophers and theologians over the centuries have argued for the existence of a metaphysical reality that transcends our bodily being and the physical world around us. Long before St. Thomas Aquinas formulated his Five Ways, St. Paul had affirmed teleologically the existence of God as evident, understandable, and perceivable: “For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made” (Romans 1:19-20).

But what can we say to a person who, like Churchland, absolutely refuses to accept any arguments, no matter how eloquent and logical, that lack empirical evidences? What empirical argument can we make to convince a Churchland-like mind to see beyond the physical world the existence of a metaphysical reality that includes God, the human soul, and the Christian beliefs and values? I think there is only one such empirical evidence: the Bible.

The Bible is where all these Christian teachings, including the existence of the human soul, come from. The Bible commands the total submission of the inquisitive human mind and all rational faculties of human reason because the claims and teachings made by one historical person - Jesus Christ - and his apostles are factually and theologically irrefutable. My reasoning is simple: I accept that the Bible, while not a history book, does contain history; it provides us with the empirical and historical truth of the life of a man called Jesus; after many years of intense studies and intellectual examinations, I have found no errors - both factual and theological - in his claims and teachings as presented in the Bible; therefore, I conclude and accept that his teachings, including the existence of the human soul, are correct and the doubts and agonies of unbelievers such as Churchland unwarranted.

EPILOGUE: There are many reasons for God to choose to reveal Himself to us through the incarnate Word (i.e. Jesus taking a human body through a woman and living in the space and time of human history), all of them theologically significant. The above discussion leads me to believe that in God’s unfathomable wisdom and all-encompassing omniscience, He knew before creation that a historical Jesus, a Jesus who actually lived and breathed in a human body within human history, was the only irrefutable way to convince the empirically-inclined human mind to accept the ontological reality that He wanted so eagerly to reveal to man for his own good.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Is Pope Francis Backing Down From the Church's Teaching Against Homosexuality?

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and his good will, who am I to judge?” - Pope Francis on board the papal plane while returning from the World Youth Day in Brazil.

The media are quick to take the Pope’s remark above to mean that the Church is showing signs of backing down from its position against homosexuality; that after the election of a new Pope the Church is now back paddling on this very touchy issue; and that unlike his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI who taught that people with homosexual inclination should not be allowed to become priests, the new Pope is reaching out to the gay clerics. This is a typical example of how people are inclined to hear the way they want to hear.

It’s no secret that the media and the secular world dislike the Church’s teaching against homosexuality, i.e. its teaching that the homosexual acts are "acts of grave depravity" and that they are “intrinsically disordered” (CCC #2357). They also believe - in a very ignorant and naïve way, I must add - that given the pressure and momentum of the worldwide gay movement, which has won battle after battle in the courts of law and legislatures, the Roman Catholic Church and its “bigoted view” against homosexuality will eventually buckle. As a result, anything that the new Pope says that bears the remotest resemblance of a friendly comment on the issue of homosexuality will immediately be reported - or misreported - as the Church changing its position.

If one reads the Pope’s remark more closely, one will realize that what he says is really nothing new. Following the Scripture, the Church has always maintained that God, who is merciful and kind, will always forgive a sinner if he truly repents his sins and opts to follow God’s will (cf. Mt. 4:17, 1 John 1:9). What the Pope is saying is that if someone repents the sins of his gay behaviors and chooses to follow the will of God, which is for the homosexual persons to exercise self-mastery and live in chastity (CCC #2359), who am I – Pope Francis – to say that God will not forgive?

One pro-gay National Post reader was smart enough to pick up another comment that the Pope said in the same breath, namely, that “when someone sins and confesses, God not only forgives but forgets.” The pro-gay reader expressed dissatisfaction that in spite of the soft tone, the Pope saw homosexuality as a “sin”. But that’s exactly what the Pope is saying, just as the Church has always been saying: homosexuality is a sin, a grave sin that is intrinsically disordered. The Pope is also saying, just as the Church has always been saying, that if the sinner – the homosexual person in this case – is prepared to repent and follow God’s will (stop the homosexual behaviors in other words), how can we say or judge that God will not forgive him?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Living in the Holy Tradition《活在聖傳中》on Dominus Iesus, Fall 2013

In the coming fall (September 2013 to December 2013 inclusive) Living in the Holy Tradition《活在聖傳中》 will study Dominus Iesus (Declaration on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church). This important Church document was released in August 2000 by the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was headed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger who subsequently became Pope Benedict XVI. For those interested in Ecclesiology (Church studies), this is a landmark document that simply must be read carefully and properly understood. It touches on many practical issues that continue to baffle many Catholic faithful including:

- Are all religions the same? Is one religion just as good as another?
- Can non-Christians be saved?
- How do we see the sacred writings, historical figures, and rituals of other religions?
- Is Jesus' salvation the only salvation available to all mankind?
- How do we explain the "good elements" contained in other religions' teachings and traditions? Aren't they just as good, or even better, than those in Christian teachings?
- Can salvation be achieved outside of the Church?
- What is the Church? A collection of Christian churches?
- If there is only one Church of Christ, who is that Church?
- If the Church is one, how do we explain the existence of so many churches? Is the Body of Christ shattered?
- What is the "Kingdom of God"? Where is it?
- Is it OK to say that the Church of Christ is just "one of many ways that lead us to heaven"?
- If salvation is possible in other churches/religions, why bother to preach the Gospel?
- Is it wrong to encourage the members of the reformed churches to join the Catholic Church?

I can go on and on, but you get the idea. This is a Church document that answers all of the above questions and more with authority and convincing biblical explanations. I think this is a study all of us will find thoroughly enjoyable and beneficial.

The document can be printed from the internet free of charge (about 26 pages including footnotes):
Dominus Iesus

Copied below is the time schedule for 《活在聖傳中》Fall 2013 - Dominus Iesus. Please help us spread the word and invite more people to join. If you are interested in joining us, just email me ( to let me know and you are in!

Look forward to meeting with you come September! In the meantime, have a safe and wonderful summer!

Time Schedule for Living in the Holy Tradition
Ref: Dominus Iesus (Ecclesiology)

September 29, 2013 to December 29, 2013
9:15 to 10:45 a.m., Sundays, at St. Vincent De Paul School

Sept 29, 2013 Introduction and the Fullest and Definitiveness of Jesus’ Revelation, paragraphs 2-8

• Introduction: The Church must preach the Gospel. How to do so in connection with the religious traditions of the world.
• The danger of religious pluralism, i.e. all religions are the same.
• Reassert the definitive and complete character of Jesus’ revelation.
• Difference between faith and belief
• How the Church sees other religions’ sacred writings.

Oct 13, 2013 (in room 203) Unicity and Universality of the Salvific Mystery of Jesus Christ para 13-15

• The unicity (the only one) and salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus must be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith.
• How do we view the historical figures and positive elements of other religions?
• Jesus has a significance for the human race and its history, which is unique, proper to him alone, universal and absolute.

Oct 27, 2013 Unicity and Unity of the Church, paragraphs 16-17

• Christ and Church are inseparable = whole Christ; just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, i.e. the Church.
• There is a historical continuity – rooted in the apostolic succession - between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church.
• The single Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church.
• How do we view the other churches?
• The Church of Christ is not deprived of unity in spite of the lack of unity among Christians.

Nov 3, 2013 The Church: Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Christ, paragraphs 18-19

• The Church is the seed and beginning of the kingdom of Christ.
• Kingdom of Christ is not identified with the Church in her visible and social reality.

Nov 24, 2013 The Church and the Other Religions in Relation to Salvation, paragraphs 20-21

• The Church is necessary for salvation
• Non-Church members can also have salvation in Christ by virtue of a special grace.
• The Church is NOT just one way of salvation alongside other ways
• Prayers and rituals of other religions have no divine origin or ex opera operato salvific efficacy.

Dec 1, 2013 The Church and the Other Religions in Relation to Salvation, paragraphs 22-23

• It is not true that “one religion is as good as another”.
• Therefore, the Church must be missionary.
• Conclusion

Dec 15, 2013 TBD

Dec 29, 2013 (in room 203) TBD

Topics and contents may be changed or adjusted in accordance with actual progress and delivery needs. For further information, contact Edmond Lo, email:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fountain of Love and Life Documentary on the Papacy

I hope you would take 27 minutes to watch this TV episode on the Papacy, recorded recently by the Fountain of Love and Life (FLL) in response to Pope Benedict XVI's resignation and the election of Pope Francis. It is an excellent documentary featuring interviews with many guests, including parishioners from the Greater Toronto Area Chinese Catholic community, Chinese clergy, Thomas Cardinal Collins, and yours truly. I also like its graphic illustration of the conclave. Strong in content, factual, scriptural, understandable and very convincing in all regards, the documentary is a great learning tool for those who either don't know much about the Papacy or have reservation about it. Whoever were involved in producing and editing the episode, I think they deserve a good pat on their backs for a job well done! As always, the FLL host, Christina Leung, asked all the right questions and did so in an engaging manner and with clarity. This is no question one of the strongest FLL TV episodes I've ever seen, done with substance and professionalism. Enjoy!

FLL Documentary on the Papacy - Part I

Part II of this series will be aired this weekend (April 27-28, 2013).

Friday, March 15, 2013

Why "Luxurious" Church Buildings and "Glamorous" Papal Lifestyle?

The talk of austerity, simplicity, and humility, triggered by the election of Pope Francis, has caused some people to wonder why the Catholic Church has in its possession so many costly cathedrals and basilicas. One CBC reporter in Rome also noted that the Pope’s lifestyle was anything but humble. Let me answer these accusations from both the scriptural and theological perspectives as follows:

• In the New Testament, people made a similar accusation when a woman poured expensive perfumed oil on Jesus' head. But Jesus defended her behavior because "the poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me" (Luke 14:3-9).

• In the Old Testament, God asked Moses to build the Tabernacle - a huge tent that served as the Lord’s sanctuary and the Israelites' place of worship - together with very expensive furnishings, liturgical accessories and, most of all, the legendary Ark of Covenant which was made of acacia wood and plated with pure gold inside and out. Later on, He also asked King David and his son King Solomon to build Him the majestic Jerusalem Temple. Both projects were very "luxurious" in today's standard.

• From a theological perspective, the awe-inspiring structure of a church building serves as a sign that manifests here on earth the grandeur of the Heavenly Temple. It is a door to the sacred, as it were, that opens the human eye to see the majestic dwelling place of the Lord and enables the human heart to tremble in fear in the presence of the Lord of Hosts who is “clothed with majesty and glory, robed in light as with a cloak, and spreads out the heavens like a tent” (Psalm 104:2-3).

• Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings (Revelation 17:14) who reigns as the Head of the Kingdom of God. As Jesus' Vicar here on earth, the Pope, dressed in his regal vestments and enthroned in the sedia gestatoria, is a visible image that reminds the faithful of Jesus’ kingship.

Before people point their accusatory fingers at the Church on the issue of “luxurious” church buildings and the Pope’s “glamorous” lifestyle, they are well-advised to understand the underlying scriptural and theological reasons.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Welcoming Pope Francis

I can see God's Providence at work. In fact, there's not a moment in history that God isn't guiding the Church of Christ. From Vatican II to the painful post-conciliary period of dissents, desertions, and confusions that had rocked the boat of St. Peter, to the "40-year period" (round number) of JPII and BXVI in which the true spirit of Vatican II and its teachings were vigorously exhorted, defended, and solidified, God has always been present in His Church as He promised:

And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age (Mt. 28:20).

With the election of Pope Francis, a simple and holy man who chose St. Francis’ name to represent the spirit and outlook of his pontificate, I can see a new period of purification, both spiritually and administratively. The new pontificate of Pope Francis will take the Church right back to the very core of her being: a new level of holiness, simplicity, austerity, and poverty; to the simple and humble spirit of the Beatitudes.

Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry for justice, merciful, pure at heart, peaceful, and persecuted for the sake of righteousness (cf. Mt. 5:1-10).

At a personal and individual level, this is also where we need to be and want to be.

At this important juncture of the history of the Church, let's pray hard for her, and do so in and through Our Lady, the Mother of the Church, who was also there praying with all the Apostles and disciples at the crucial moment when the Church was about to be inaugurated.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

We Have A New Pope!

Perhaps this time it was not as intense; perhaps not as sad, knowing that this time there was no death staring us in the eyes, unlike 8 years ago when a giant in the arena of world history had been on his death bed, about to depart. But the feeling and experience were nonetheless familiar: 100,000 devout pilgrims huddled in prayer in St. Peter’s Square, defying the falling rain and chilly evening of Rome in March; curious media reporters stationed everywhere, trying to catch every hearsay that could arouse the interest of their viewers; Catholics all over the world put aside their daily routines to pray for the Church, waiting anxiously for the election of a new Pope. It’s as though their lives - maybe the whole history of the world - were hung in suspense.

It’s on occasions such as this that the power of prayer, especially the Rosary, is made evident. Two thousand years ago, following the ascension of Christ, in anticipation of the birth of the Church on Pentecost, the apostles and their followers gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem to pray (cf. Acts 1:12-14). Among them, Mary, the Mother of the Church, who played a decisive role both in the generation of the God made flesh and in the birth of the community that receives the nourishment of the Body of Christ.

After lunch this afternoon, I walked gingerly on the slippery and snow-covered grounds of the Too Good Pond, praying the Rosary as I went. Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou amongst women…In spite of the familiarity of the prayer, what I experienced in praying it at a time when the whole Church was awaiting the arrival of a new Pope was anything but familiar. For the first time I understood clearly what it really meant to pray in Mary, by whom the Church was anticipated and in whom the Church is personified. She was there when the great mystery of God made flesh was about to take place. She was there, in solidarity with the community of apostles and disciples gathered by Jesus, praying for the Church that was about to be inaugurated. On this special day, I know she was there, once again, together with all the faithful of the Catholic Church - including me, a contemplative soul slip-sliding away in solitude on the icy grounds of the Too Good Pond - to pray in anticipation of a new successor to St. Peter, as a Mother would.

At 3 p.m., I turned on the TV to learn that an hour ago, just when I was praying at the Too Good Pond, the white smoke from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel had come out. We had a new Pope! Half an hour later, Pope Francis, former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina, a saintly man of holiness and simplicity, appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s to greet the faithful. The 266th successor to St. Peter is here! Where are the successors to the Roman emperors whose calculated, relentless, and repetitive persecutions of the Church were meant to exterminate her leaders and followers? Where is the Roman Empire that was once so mighty and powerful? Ironically the only "empire" that bears a resembling name is the Roman Catholic Church - the Kingdom of Christ that reigns not by sheer military power but by the love of Christ.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Jesus of Nazareth

My new program, Living in the Holy Tradition, encourages the participants to dig deep into the Holy Tradition until every single cell of their bodies is infiltrated by a true Catholic mindset. Only then will they be able to understand the Scriptures properly, only then will the excitement of the Catholic faith be truly appreciated. We begin with BXVI's Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1, and have had three meetings so far.

Our study of Jesus of Nazareth certainly takes on a new meaning now that the Holy Father has officially stepped down and retreated into retirement. His "stepping down", "retreat" and "retirement", generally seen as "undesirable" and even "scandalous" by the world, as though they were some kind of "setbacks" for the Church, coincide with the new topic of our next meeting, the Beatitudes, in which we'll be introduced to virtues that are similarly "undesirable" and "weak" in the eye of the world. The Beatitudes usher in a complete transformation of values. We are asked to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to be hungry and thirsty for righteousness; blessed are those who have mercy, whose hearts are pure, who promote peace, who suffer persecution for the turth. BXVI's exhortation is for us to follow the footsteps of St. Paul, who as an Apostle lived and suffered like the impostors, the unknown, the dying, the punished, the sorrowful, the poor. We will be introduced to St. Anthony, the father of monasticism, and St. Francis of Assisi who continues to inspire the Church as an ascetic.

In this time of trial and hardship, in this Lenten season of penance, fasting, and prayer, I look forward to discussing with the program participants Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's explanation of the Beatitudes in Jesus of Nazareth, to see if we can find similarities between the ascetic values of the Beatitudes and the "undesirable" conditions that the Church currently finds herself in.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI's Resignation - Further Reflection

As early as 2010, BXVI was asked whether a Pope could resign. In hindsight, the answer he gave in the book Light of the World was ominous: "Yes. If a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign" (p. 30).

Fr. Raymond De Souza offered a theological explanation for the Holy Father's resignation. According to Fr. De Souza, papal resignation is "canonically possible" but "incomprehensible to the Roman Catholic imagination". Essentially what the Holy Father did had made this canonically possible but almost unused option (used before by Gregory XII in 1415 and Celestine V in 1294) alive and available again, paving the way for future Popes to follow suit for the good of the Church when necessary. As the Pope, BXVI considers himself the Servant of the Servants of God. When poor physical and mental health causes the Servant of the Servants of God to lose the ability to serve well, he should have the humility to accept his inability and step down.

BXVI has never been shy in admitting his personal admiration for the Blessed JPII, the former Pope. But the two of them are two very different persons. Their differences are clearly reflected in how they faced the issue of papal resignation. When asked whether he would resign due to poor health, JPII's response was that Christ did not come down off the cross and neither would he, the Vicar of Christ. This is vintage JPII. Unlike BXVI whose emphasis is on being a good and responsible servant, JPII's appeal is to one's heart and faith. These are two very different approaches that are not in direct contradiction to one another in and of themselves. The goal is the same: to follow Christ, but the means of achieving it are different. One does so by serving and the other by suffering; one is honest and humble in admitting personal inability and the other courageous and persevering in suffering together with Christ until the very end. Both are excellent role models.

Today when we think of JPII, the image that surfaces in our head is not his younger and robust self that had caused communism to crumble. It is rather the haunting look of a frail, hunch-backed, hollow-eyed old man with a bland face that reflected painfully the tortures of many years of Parkinson's disease, and unsteady hands that hung tight to a crucifix that for all practical purposes was his cane - an unmistakable image of the Suffering Servant of the Lord.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI to Resign on February 28, 2013

This is definitely very sad news for me personally. In the last few years, I've read the Holy Father extensively. I admire his traditionalist viewpoint, scholarly insights, and uncompromising opposition to relativism which mistakes personal penchants for religious practices, and individual ideology for cosmic truth. He and JPII are like two very close spiritual fathers to me. I am going to miss him very much.

At this crucial moment of the Church, which is but one of many in 2000 years of her history, let's pray for the Holy Father's personal health and for the Church as she awaits a new leader.

On a more cheerful note, as great as JPII and BXVI are, we know that Christ - not even St. Peter - is the Church's true rock and foundation. Surely there will be days ahead when we will be "sifted like wheat" (cf. Lk. 22:31), as Satan is prone to do throughout Church history. But Christ will be there to ensure she continue to battle well so that the forces of evil will never prevail (cf. Mt.16:18).

Friday, February 1, 2013

My Early Retirement – 4 Years Later

On this spiritual journey of faith that is full of good companions and exciting activities, the Good Lord is constantly sending people my way: people whose hearts He has touched in one way or another; good followers of Christ who work with me to spread the Gospel; friends whose lives and mine are in some ways intertwined because we share the same passion about the Catholic faith and the Church, or we have a good fit in personality, or we can engage in discussions meaningful and intelligible to each other. I accept it as part of my ministry to interact and care for these people whom God brings into my life and makes them special to me. This morning I had a good chat over coffee with a church friend who had retired only a month ago. After a brief exchange of pleasantries and a cursory review of a project we were working on, our attention quickly turned to her life after retirement, for which I gave her a special greeting card containing a note I hastily scribbled before coming to the meeting as follows:

Retirement is not about golfing and cruise trips; it’s rather one’s last chance for self-emptying and complete self-giving.

This pretty well sums up how I see retirement. It is no “piece of cake”, no time for “enjoying life” (if enjoying life is understood as indulging in earthly pleasures), no more time to waste. It’s our last chance to make up for past errors and failures; to catch up on below expectation progress; to make life fulfilling and meaningful. It is make or break; it is dead serious. As we cruise into our twilight years, many of us have failed to achieve the only goal that counts: living a fulfilling and meaningful life. Older but hopefully wiser, bruised but hopefully tougher, we must make up for lost ground before the last flicker of light disappears on us and leaves us in complete darkness.

Four years ago, I decided that my life had reached a new crossroads, and that God’s will was for me to enter into a new level of self-emptying and self-giving. (See My Early Retirement Story - a 5-part series on this blog.) I accepted the challenge – hence my decision to take early retirement. In four years of retirement, I was totally unencumbered by the daily chores and earthly obligations necessitated by one’s need to make a living. Have I been able to make good use of this special privilege from God? Retirement is an invitation to love in a deeper way, to give with greater generosity, and to do God's will with utmost urgency. What have I done in response to God’s invitation? What progress, if any, have I made to enable my inner self to become smaller – small as a child - as my physical self continues to age as an adult? How well have I fared in achieving the lofty ideals that God requires of me – complete self-emptying, complete self-giving? Retirement, after all, is a blessing; not in the sense that now we can indulge in earthly pleasures that we couldn't have while working, as people are often inclined to believe, but in the sense that God has graciously granted us a second chance to do what many of us have failed to do - living in complete sanctification.

These are tough, tough questions to answer. But answer them I must; if not now, then certainly on the day of reckoning before God. If I can’t answer them well today, I won’t be able to answer them any better when kneeling in front of the judgment seat of Christ. Trust me, I ask myself these questions almost everyday, especially in those reflective moments at the Too Good Pond (see article on this blog on Too Good Pond). They are the reason why I do what I do in my retirement. Retirement, after all, is serious business!