Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bordering on "Silliness"

With the help of very dedicated volunteers sent to us by God, year one of the 2-year Catechism Revisited Program (CRP) is now available on DVDs. The inaugural sale of the CRP DVDs was launched last weekend with the help of Fountain of Love and Life (FLL) and its volunteers, through the FLL network of distribution. 

People don't always take the time to give us their feedback. But when they do, it's a gesture we always appreciate, whether their comments are favourable or unfavourable. Yesterday we received one email from a person who bought the CRP DVDs. It was a very special email. I thought I should share it with the readers of this blog. I had the email sender's approval to publish it on condition of anonymity. Here it goes, followed by my reply:

From: [Deleted]
Sent: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 8:23 PM
Subject: Re: CRP DVD

Hi Edmond,

I listen to all CRP and BSP lectures on website and find it very valuable and it enhances my bible knowledge (I also downloaded all programs on ipod and keep listening on transit).  More important, I find bible reading very interesting.  I have completed reading the entire bible early this year and now I am re-reading it.  I am so happy the CRP is now on DVD and am very excited to watch it once I bought it last Sunday.  I truly thank the FLL and your efforts in promoting the bible study and hope more programs can be on DVD in future.
This is my reply:

Thanks for taking the time to provide your feedback. It was very encouraging - actually I was overjoyed - to know that you ENJOY reading the Bible after listening to CRP and BSP, which really is all we can hope for because our ultimate goal in conducting the two programs is to help our participants understand and appreciate better the revealed word of God. I'd also like to thank you for your strong support of the two programs, whether it be your downloading of our audio clips or your purchasing of our DVDs.

Yes, we will continue to produce more DVDs/CDs. At least we want to get the DVDs for CRP Part II done. By God's grace, CRP Part I has been very well-received so far. We take this as an affirmative sign from God that we are on the right track, and that DVD/CD production is an effective way to extend the reach of CRP and BSP one step further to include many parishioners who otherwise will not be able to join. It's all for the good of evangelization and for the building up of the Kingdom of God.

In addition to the Planning Committees of the two programs and the FLL who made the production and distribution of the DVDs possible, I'm copying this also to the attention of [names of 3 CRP volunteers] - three very valuable volunteers whose technical expertise and hard work have made it possible for people like you to benefit from our DVDs/CDs and websites.

In spite of all the people mentioned above, myself included, God is the only One who can take credit for whatever results the programs have achieved. For "Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it" (Psalm 127:1). I truly believe that it's the Holy Spirit who is doing all this work in your heart. Downloading ALL audio files onto iPod, listening to them while on transit - probably over and over again, watching the DVDs with excitement - that sounded a lot like me when the Holy Spirit ignited a fire in my heart to kick start a lengthy and life-changing conversion! No, it wasn't exactly an iPod that I used - only a lousy cassette player. DVD was unheard of back in the early nineties. But, hey, the "silliness" sounds familiar! The work of the Holy Spirit is unmistakable! I pray that He would continue to do His work in you until you are totally on fire and fully consumed to become a sweet-smelling oblation in holocaust (cf. Numbers 15:3), worthy of being accepted as a sacrificial offering to God!

Peace and blessings,

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blog Pageviews

For someone who doesn't write or, I must admit, is not good enough to write to make money; my only goal is to share my thoughts with the readers, wherever they are. In this regard, I am very encouraged and thankful to see that the pageviews of my blog have gone up by leaps and bounds in the last couple of weeks, especially after the publication of Part V of My Early Retirement Story ( For whatever reason, visitors - mostly from Canada, some from the U.S., Hong Kong and the U.K. - are suddenly flocking to my blog to read all five parts of My Early Retirement Story, pushing all five posts to the very top of the pageview list. The pageviews of a few other posts also went up at the same time, reflecting the curiosity of the new visitors, I presume. Given my simple goal as previously stated, I can only hope that this increase in pageviews is more than a one-time blip, and that my readers will stick around to read this blog regularly.

Writing to me is not just another means of communication; it also allows me to express my thoughts in a more organized way, with more articulation, precision, and clarity. It is something I enjoy doing. It is as much an integral part of my lay apostolate as the other evangelization activities that I'm involved in.

Unlike the other activities, however, writing does not avail me with the opportunity to see the person with whom I'm sharing my intimate thoughts and reflections. In a way, this makes it even more intriguing because I know some people are interested in what I say: I can see them in the blog stats; I know they are there; I can even tell what countries they are from, what systems they use. They are there but then I can't really see them physically; the stats are there to suggest their presence but then I don't really know them in person. Visible or  undetectable, real people or cyber space stats, from Hong Kong or in my home town of Toronto; it's comforting to know that the thoughts in my hearts are somehow resonating in theirs, and that my little blog has somehow become a town hall meeting where discussions are conducted in silence.

Would appreciate a comment or two if you know how to do it. Failing that, you can still express your approval or disapproval by checking off "Like" or "Don't Like" in the bottom of every post.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Early Retirement Story Part 5 – What Do I Do on Retirement?

On a sunny day in Kingston after Christmas, all four members of our family were huddling for lunch at Kelsey’s after a 3-hour drive from Markham to return Michelle to Queen’s University where she was studying. I decided it was a good time to break the news to Michelle and Jason. It appeared they understood the gravity of the issue being discussed for I was given a good 15 minutes of their undivided attention, which as many parents would agree was quite a generosity on their part. Then came their reaction: “So are we going to have a retirement party?” blurted out Jason, with memories of our 25th wedding anniversary party still fresh in his head.

This pretty well sums up people’s general reaction when they learn that I am “retired.” Having read four parts of this sharing of mine, the reader probably knows by now that I don’t really consider myself “retired” as such. Rather, I see my lay apostolate as a special vocation, an opportunity to contribute to the building up of the kingdom of God before old age reins me in. At the same time, I also learned quickly that trying to explain my special situation to people who inquire casually out of courtesy is both futile and clumsy. To most people, a capable adult is either working, or unemployed, or retired. Therefore, no matter how I try my answer will remain incomprehensible unless I tell them I am “retired.” And that is what I have learned to say. But still, seeing that I am not that old many of them would marvel: “Oh, how nice! Now you can enjoy life early!” To that my typical response is: “Not really. It’s just a different way to work.”

“What work?” one may rightfully ask. No need to go into the details and bore every reader to death here, suffice it to say that it is indeed quite a list. In addition to the Catechism Revisited and Bible Study Programs, which are two very intensive programs that require a lot of time and work, my lay apostolate also includes many other evangelization and spiritual formation activities: RCIA, spiritual formation projects for my parish, speaking engagements, retreats or conferences, personal spiritual counselling, family group meetings, voluntary work for the Fountain of Love and Life media evangelization ministry, writing, etc. In the early going, I was keenly aware of my “opportunity costs.” My utmost concern, therefore, was to make sure that my time was fully utilized and well spent. As it turned out, the list of my activities kept growing and growing to the point that my concern now is more about leaving enough time for my family.

At the same time, as the Holy Father has warned, I was well aware that I must not “become utterly absorbed in activism…maintaining consideratio, discretion, deeper examination, contemplation, time for interior pondering…remaining with God and meditating about God” are just as important (BXVI, Light of the World, p. 71) if my goal is to lead a life of spirituality in a world fixated on corporeal matters, and to find detachment in the commotion of daily activities. This is why even when the weather is harsh, I do not want to miss the lunchtime opportunity of strolling around the Too Good Pond in contemplation, saying the Rosary as the Canada geese waddling around me and the birds in the trees chime in. (Read my reflection on the Too Good Pond.) In the austerity of winter, with the northern winds roaring, the paths full of snow accumulation, and the pond frozen, I often walk in solitude and find solace in the Lord’s agony and suffering, which in fact was a glorious manifestation of the power of weakness, the power of the Cross (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9-10).

I can’t possibly conclude this sharing without mentioning my gratitude for the support that Josephine has given me throughout this whole process. I truly believe that long before the two of us met in Windsor; God had searched long and hard, far and wide to find me a suitable partner whom I could enter into a lifetime communion with. And He found me Josephine. I am a very expressive person, and I can find no better person to listen to me than Josephine. She is a fantastic and intelligent listener, and she loves listening to me! Therefore, she was well aware of where my thoughts were heading and what my plan was long before this whole episode of my early retirement story had come to pass. We had dissected and anticipated most if not all of the implications of this new direction that God was taking us, and had been quite prepared to face them all. On that sunny day in Kingston after Christmas, we were just thankful that we also had the buy in of our children.

O Lord! If life is but a libation to be poured out as sacrificial offering until the last drop is consumed (cf. Phil. 2:17), may my lay apostolate be accepted as a self-effacing undertaking to empty my life of earthly riches and desires, of deceits and hatreds, of vanity and selfishness, until the core of my being is filled with peace, love, joy, gentleness, obedience, humility, and most of all, with Christ. Amen!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My Early Retirement Story Part 4: A Cliff Hanging Experience!

At the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ call for vigilance to his disciples, who were drowsy, was repeated with great urgency. In discussing the hour of Jesus’ agony on the Mount of Olives, the Holy Father said, “Such drowsiness deadens the soul, so that it remains undisturbed by the power of the Evil One at work in the world…Yet this deadening of souls, this lack of vigilance regarding both God’s closeness and the looming forces of darkness, is what gives the Evil One power in the world” (BXVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Part 1, p. 153).

A few days before my conversation with my former boss, Jeff, referred to previously in Part 3 of this sharing, I was praying before going to bed as usual. It was part of my daily routines, an end-of-the-day exercise that enabled me to refocus my heart on God and gave me peace. But on this night, my heart was anything but peaceful. My soul was agitated because it wasn’t at peace with the Holy Spirit who dwelled in me.

Apparently the Treasurer’s overt aggression and her self-serving tactics had induced in me a deep disdain, if not hatred, for her. Without knowing it, my survival instincts took over and all I thought about everyday was how to launch a counter attack: What were some of the things that she did wrong that would allow me to thwart her aggression or even remove her from the board? Who were the “allies” that I could count on for support? On this night, with drowsiness weighing heavy on my eyes, the forces of darkness were looming indeed. They were lurking in the shadows, waiting for the best moment to pounce on their long-coveted victim.

As usual, I read the Bible before I prayed. I normally selected a certain book of the Bible and followed it through by reading a few passages before each evening prayer until the book was finished. On that particular evening, with my heart filled with hatred and my head hollering for vengeance, I happened to be reading 1 Peter chapter 2. Looking back, I now realize that not only does God talk to us, He also knows how to do so effectively. He talks to us using a language or vehicle that we are sensitive to or interested in. In my case, it was the Bible. Just as He once communicated with St. Augustine, who before his conversion was a man of earthly ambitions and unchaste desires, by commanding him to read Romans 13:13-14(cf. Confessions, VIII.12); on that night, with the forces of darkness threatening and my body half-hanging on the edge of a cliff, He gave me a stern wake-up call through St. Peter:

Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, insincerity, envy, and all slander; like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk so that through it you may grow into salvation, for you have tasted that the Lord is good… Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul…Be subject to every human institution for the Lord's sake, whether it be to the king as supreme or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the approval of those who do good…Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and equitable but also to those who are perverse…But if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps (1Peter 2:1-21 underlining mine.)

The words pierced my heart like a thousand arrows, every one of them a swift and convincing retort to my well-conceived arguments for justifying deceit and retaliation!

I had to be honest with myself. In the ten years or so before my retirement, the divergence taken by my career and my mission of evangelization had become painfully clear. One was slowly going downhill, to the point that I had completely lost my enthusiasm. I felt like my time – my life – could be better utilized. I was hard pressed to come up with one good reason for continuing the status quo. Yes, the income was still tempting, but deep down I knew my time, or any person’s time for that matter, was far too precious to be spent just for the sake of making money.

On the other hand, I had become more and more convinced that God’s will was for me to make good use of the gifts or “talents” (cf. Mt. 25:14ff) that He had entrusted with me, and not to lay waste the time and work that He had invested in me to give me my conversion and to equip me well for evangelization. If my interest in my career was dissipating, my passion for evangelization was just beginning to soar. I was also keenly aware that the years that I had left that would allow me to use God’s “talents” effectively were very limited. It’s time I made a decision which was long overdue. I took the “prayer incident” as God’s very last push. My mind was made up: It’s time I left the company; it’s time I submitted my will to merge with His.

Dear Lord, how sweet it is to know that You, whose omnipotence incites great fears, will stoop low to communicate with us lowly mortals, not only collectively but also personally, doing so not only in your way but also in our way just so we will pay attention. Truly to know You presupposes communion with you; it presupposes oneness of being with You. Your thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are your ways our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8). Only by wanting to be the little ones will we know Your will (cf. Mt. 11:27), and only by submitting our will to merge with Yours will our lives be brought to completion in You. Thank you for using St. Peter to reveal Your will to me, a little one, a slave. Thank you for stooping down low to talk to me. Forgive me, O Lord, for allowing the Evil One to enter my heart to fill it with vengeance and hatred. But “LORD, you brought me up from Sheol; you kept me from going down to the pit” (Psalms 30:4.) You lifted me up when my body was half-hanging on a cliff. Amen!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Canadian Thanksgiving

The weather was chilly and cloudy in the last little while. But since last Sunday, it has changed to become sunny. The air is a little crisp and dry and the mornings still chilly (I had to wear my hat and gloves when I went jogging this morning!). It's just autumn's way to say hello upon arrival, I suppose. However, they are predicting a summer-like weekend with simmering temperatures, complete with summer-like humidex! Jason came home from University of Western Ontario for the Thanksgiving weekend. So, we'll have all four of us at home for a change. I guess we'll have B-B-Q if possible, which will be our first in this whole summer!! It surely will also be our last before winter comes roaring in.

This morning as I sat and prayed before breakfast, my heart was filled with thankfulness for my family. Over the years without having to say much, Josephine and I have been able to teach Michelle and Jason many of our religious values and the way we see the meaning of life simply by living and interacting with them day in and day out as a family. We know that because it's showing in the way they behave, the way they make decisions, and the way they interact with other people. No parents can guarantee that their children will always stay on the right track. But we can honestly say we've done what we can, and we'll leave everything in God's good hands.

As I reflected over this, I couldn't help but also thank God for giving me the Lo's family. Flawed and full of hardships as it was, the Lo's family that I grew up from was nonetheless a warm and loving family with parents who loved each other deeply and believed in the value of marriage and family. It was a family that followed God's command to "be fertile and multiply" (Genesis 1:28) - we have 10 children in the family; a family with its door opened wide not only to its own members but also to its kin and even strangers; a family that was able to withstand all kinds of forces that threatened to pull it apart and somehow managed to stay together. Most of all, it is a family that kindles fond memories in my heart; it prepared me well to raise my own family, and to do so by modelling after in many ways the Lo's family.

So that was my prayer this morning, not only to thank God, but also to thank my parents who gave us the Lo's family....