Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Early Retirement Story Part 1: Why Share the Story Now?

(In May 2009 – 4 months after my retirement – an earlier version of my early retirement story had been shared with a group of Family Spiritual Window friends at a family retreat.)

More than two and a half years after deciding to retire early in order to put to good use the gifts that God had given me, retelling my story now will not only add clarity and new insights, now that the emotions have subsided, but also answer the point blank question that so many people have asked me or have at least wondered aloud in their hearts: What do you do with so much time in your hand?

But why do I share to begin with? Do I share my story out of some self-serving motives? Is this urge in me to share my experience just a personal need for self-gratification or self-justification? It is no presumption on your part if you as a reader of this blog ask similar questions - they are questions I often ask God in my prayers and in examining my conscience. But time and time again, the reply that God gives me is this: “A king's secret it is prudent to keep, but the works of God are to be declared and made known” (Tobit 12:7). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt. 5:14-16).

O Jesus, Most Humble Servant of the Lord! If it pleases you, please grant me a humble heart and the ability to communicate through my writing - crude and inadequate as it is - the many marvelous works that you have done in me! Protect me, O Lord, against personal desire for vanity; and turn my life and my witness into a mirror that reflects not my personal brightness, of which I have none, but only your radiance just as your glory once radiated from your servant Moses’ face (cf. Exodus 34:29). And I ask for no further grace than for me to be burned by the light of your Passion and in burning be transformed (cf. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth I, p. 315)!

In this 5-part series on my early retirement, I will discuss the following topics:

1. Why Share the Story Now?
2. How God Walked Me There
3. How It Happened
4. A Cliff Hanging Experience
5. What Do I Do on Retirement?

With two consecutive very busy months ahead – August and September – I have no idea how long it will take for me to complete this 5-part series. I will not be surprised if the last piece cannot be completed until October. But I am hopeful that parts 1, 2, and 3 can be published shortly since their drafts are more or less in place. I hope those who are so kind as to follow my blog would bear with me and stick around to read the complete series.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sharing A Picture

Here's an interesting picture of mine, taken on July 9, 2011 by Donna Tse of CCMEA and FLL at the Spiritual Tea House. Either by chance or by design, my black outfit blended nicely with the darkness in the background as the spotlight was trained on me who was talking to the audience, creating a special - almost surreal - radiance from my face and my upper body that was further intensified by the surrounding blackness. The picture conveys an inexplicable serenity and a mystique that invites further discovery.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Family Group E 10th Anniversary

In this past weekend, Group E celebrated its 10th anniversary at Our Lady Du Cape in Trois Rivieres, Quecbec, which is about 2 hours north of Montreal. It was a pilgrimage filled with blessings and joys. We had 6 families and were assigned to stay in the Pavillion Hotel - a house near Hotel Madonna. Other than 1 elderly couple who stayed on the main floor, we basically had the whole house for ourselves. The basement became our meeting room, and we had two meetings there.

The trip was filled with fond memories: a pleasant drive of about 7 hours from Markham to Our Lady Du Cape on Saturday morning; group meeting in the evening in which everyone shared their feelings on the 10th anniversary and dug deep into nostalgia; Tai Chi and exercise early Sunday morning; delicious breakfast at the cafeteria of Hotel Madonna, chatting non-stop over coffee and tea; Rosary at the Mary Lake near Old Shrine; group meeting again Sunday afternoon in which we studied the symbolism of water in the Bible following Pope BXVI's Jesus of Nazareth; lots of free time; Mass and confessions in the evening followed by candelight procession around the Mary Lake; etc. On our way back to Markham on Monday, we visited St. Joseph's and St. Peregrine. Once back in the GTA, we had a delicious dinner at 味香村, where we had a good laugh at ourselves because everyone was terribly hungry after 3 days without Chinese food! Here's a few pictures for your viewing pleasure.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Conversion Story of Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Law, Western University

The National Post today publishes an article named My Path to Rome. It is an excerpt from That Time of Year - a book written by Ian Hunter, Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Law at Western University. It discusses Hunter's conversion to the Roman Catholic Church and the four people who influenced his conversion story: JPII; his father, a die-hard Presbyterian; C.S. Lewis, a popular and distinguished Anglican writer; and Malcolm Muggeridge, also an Anglican scholar who converted to Catholicism at the ripe old age of 80. The article contains many beautiful lines; just to quote a few:

"For him, Christianity was not a convenience but a life creed; attending church was not a social outing but an opportunity to worship in the presence of Almighty God; religion was not a subject for social chatter, but a life changing commitment." - On his Presbyterian father who saw the Catholic Church as the enemy of Christianity.

"If C.S. Lewis were alive today, he would almost certainly be a Roman Catholic." - On the paradox that Lewis' writings had caused so many people to convert to Catholicism and yet he himself remained an Anglican all his life.

"I came to believe not just that truth is to be found within Rome but -something quite different -that in a unique way, the truth is Rome." - On his own conversion to the Catholic Church.

What is most striking to me, an RCIA catechist who often hears stories of Catholics abandoning the Catholic Church to join the reformed churches because "their ministers preach well", is the fact that on this two-way street of conversion the converts to Catholicism tend to be deep thinkers and intellectuals who have had the opportunity to examine and live both the reformed and Catholic faiths seriously and decided to settle with the latter. Yes, Catholicism is "deep stuff" that deserves more than just a superficial sermon that offers warm and fuzzy feelings, or entertains us with a good laugh. Before you go down the two-way street of conversion to join a reformed denomination, why not read and reflect more on your Catholic faith and save yourself an unnecessary trip?

Here’s the link to Ian Hunter’s National Post story:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Does Jesus Speak in Parables Because He Doesn't Want Us to Understand?

Today's Gospel reading from Mt. 13 is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament books. When asked by his disciples why he speaks in parables, Jesus replies:

"This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them. "

On reading this Gospel passage, many people throw up their arms in disgust and say, "So this is your so-called 'Good News'. This is the sacred book that you Christians venerate. I am no Bible scholar and I know nothing about Theology. All I have is common sense, which tells me I cannot accept a God who chooses to speak in parables because he doesn't want them to understand him lest he heals them!"

Yes, we are no Bible scholars. This is why we need them to help us so that when we encounter difficult biblical passages, we won't throw away the whole book or even abandon our Christian faith altogether, which is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. For us Catholics, God has given us one of the most respected and distinguished Bible scholars in the world to guide us. Coupled with the treasures of the Holy Tradition and the authority of the cathedra of St. Peter, he is in fact as good a Bible scholar as we can get. He is none other than our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI (BXVI).

In addressing the fore-mentioned Gospel passage, BXVI points out in "Jesus of Nazareth - From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration" (see pp.188-191, 2-4, 236) that one very important promise made by God in the early going of the lengthy history of salvation is that He will send a prophet like Moses from among Israel (cf. Deut 18:15). Since then "there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face" (Deut 34:10). In other words, up until Jesus' time, history is hung in suspense; it is essentially a waiting game - waiting for the promised Prophet. Who is He? Will He come?

When Jesus enters into human history, he asserts in no unclear terms that he is the Prophet promised by God. He uses the parable of the sower to indicate that he is the sower who plants the seed of the Kingdom of God and brings salvation. More importantly, he is the seed itself. How? Like the prophets before him who had to suffer and often were forced to give up their lives, he, the ultimate Prophet, will also suffer and die, for "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (John 12:24). Jesus' death will bring salvation to all men.

His assertion also takes the form of a "New Moses": Moses was the only prophet in human history who "knew God face to face" (Deut 34:10). Now the promised Prophet, the New Moses, is truly here. He knows God so well that he is actually His Word; and is so close to Him that he and the Father are actually one. Therefore he quotes the great prophet Isaiah to suggest that he is the Prophet of all prophets.

And what did Isaiah say that warranted Jesus' quotation? The Isaiah quote is essentially a prediction that Israel will remain deaf and blind in spite of all the prophets that God has sent. They will not be "converted" and "healed" by God in as far as their hardness of heart will not allow them to be converted and healed. So, eventually what will happen when this hardness of heart persists? They will crucify the promised Prophet. Result? Salvation of all men! Indeed "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (John 12:24). No wonder Jesus sees himself as the seed in the sower parable. Everything predicted by Isaiah has come true in Jesus. By quoting him, Jesus is only stating the obvious, and in doing so he makes it clear that he is truly the promised Prophet.

Hopefully you would understand and like this explanation, and the Bible that you were about to throw into Lake Ontario would remain safe on your desk for another day - until the next difficult passage comes along that is!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Refrain From Receiving Communion Distributed By Reformed Churches

At the last Bible Study Program meeting of June 24, 2011, I shared with the participants my experience in attending a wedding celebration of the Anglican Church, in which the presiding Anglican minister invited everyone present at the service - both Anglicans and non-Anglicans, believers and non-believers - to receive the communion. I explained in my sharing that Catholics are not allowed to receive communion distributed by the reformed churches because their ministers do not have the special grace of consecrating the Eucharist, which is conferred by the Sacrament of Holy Orders; and because their religious convictions have deviated from the Apostolic faith of the Church.

While re-visiting JPII's Ecclesia de Eucaristia this morning, I came across the following passages which I think provide further support to my position above:

"The Church is apostolic in the sense that she 'continues to be taught, sanctified and guided by the Apostles until Christ's return, through their successors in pastoral office: the college of Bishops assisted by priests, in union with the Successor of Peter, the Church's supreme pastor'. Succession to the Apostles in the pastoral mission necessarily entails the sacrament of Holy Orders...The assembly gathered together for the celebration of the Eucharist, if it is to be a truly Eucharistic assembly, absolutely requires the presence of an ordained priest as its president...

"The Ecclesial Communities separated from us lack that fullness of unity with us which should flow from Baptism, and we believe that especially because of the lack of the sacrament of Orders they have not preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharistic mystery...The Catholic faithful, therefore, while respecting the religious convictions of these separated brethren, must refrain from receiving the communion distributed in their celebrations, so as not to condone an ambiguity about the nature of the Eucharist and, consequently, to fail in their duty to bear clear witness to the truth."

(Ecclesia de Eucaristia, 28-30)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Spiritual Tea House - Sat, July 9

The Spiritual Tea House, conducted bi-monthly and alternately between CMCC and SAT, will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 9, this time in the Don Bosco Hall of CMCC


As usual, the participants can expect to enter into a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere of candle lights, snacks and drinks; enjoy entertaining performances; listen to beautiful music and moving witness stories; and join our host, the 333rd Markham Scout Group, in praising God and giving Him thanks. Unlike the other Spiritual Tea Houses, however, this one will take place in the middle of the FLL Summer Evangelization Festival, as a corollary of Fr. Kwan Kit Tong's seminars and a prelude to the pinnacle of the Festival - 愛‧擁抱我生命 A LIFE Show. All the more reason then for you to bring your neighbour who still doesn't believe, or to share the evening with a friend who has left the Church but is looking for an opportunity to ease back in.

Our theme this time: "Lord! Why Do You Fall Asleep?"

Sunday, July 3, 2011

FLL Retreat - A Message of Love and Life

I had a good time hosting the FLL retreat yesterday. The retreat was one of the events of the FLL Summer Evangelization Festival, which kicked off on June 18 with two seminars by Deacon Wu, followed by Fr. Kwan Kit-Tong's seminars and retreat, culminating in the "愛‧擁抱我生命 A LIFE Show" of Saturday, August 27.

The retreat began with a morning Mass celebrated by Fr. Kwan in the CMCC church. The participants were then invited to go downstairs to the Don Bosco Hall where the rest of the activities were conducted. Everything went as planned except for the crowd, which caught us a little off guard: we had more than 300 people in the audience! Can you imagine? That was the largest retreat I had ever hosted!

Ever true to his "fisherman" style, Fr. Kwan was very practical and down to earth. It was the first time I met him in person. In fact, we weren't introduced to each other until the activities of the retreat began in the Don Bosco Hall! And I was supposed to be his MC! His talk was very easy to understand, very lively, and very much in tune with the ordinary folks' daily life. He conducted two talks: one in the morning and one in the afternoon, plus an ad hoc Q&A session. The audience loved every minute of it. They just didn't seem to have enough of Fr. Kwan. He must be a very popular figure in the Catholic community of Hong Kong.

My other duty was to play the guitar and lead the participants in singing. Unfortunately I hurt my mouth accidently a week ago while leading the RCIA retreat. It was a freak accident which was a little unbelievable. No need to get into the details here. Suffice to say that the pain in my mouth was like a bad tooth pain. It healed somewhat a few days after the incident but it was still bad enough to discourage me from eating, drinking, and singing. To make things worse, my middle-finger had been somewhat immobile for several weeks. My physiotherapist told me I probably hurt its ligament by playing the guitar too much. Part of growing old I suppose! As a safe cushion, I invited Paul Tam and Rosa Tse to play the guitar together with me. Before going to bed I prayed my heart out asking God to take care of this problem for me.

When I woke up all the problems were gone. Right? Wrong! I found to my dismay that there was no noticeable improvement in my condition at all! If anything, it seemed to have gotten worse: my throat felt a little sore. Maybe the cold that Josephine had for a few days had finally found its way to sneak through the immune system of my body.

But surprisingly, for reasons unknown to me the moment I set foot onto the stage, I felt like suddenly all the ailments in my mouth and my throat were gone! I was able to talk and sing rather well, and my middle finger was moving freely with no noticeable difficulty! I wouldn't blame Paul and Rosa if they were wondering why they had to be there! For those who prayed for me, I owe you a big thank you! I know Paul and Bonny Yeung were in Medjugorje and they were probably praying for this retreat. Maybe that's the reason why!

It was a very powerful experience to lead more than 300 people to sing. We sang "愛是不保留", "為甚麼?", " 一點燭光", "可愛耶穌", "呈奉", "Pass It On", etc. Again, for reasons unknown to me people seemed to enjoy the singing experience very much. They were very loud and they apparently liked the songs. In the end, we did worship and praise using "You Are Near" as the background, ending with a rite that commissioned everyone to spread the Good News of Christ.

There's one more thing that I'd like to add: I think the event was very effective in introducing the FLL ministry to more than 300 people.