Sunday, 29 September 2013

What puts the "Arch" in Archangel?

Today is the Feast of the Archangels, specifically Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, whose proper names are divinely revealed in the Sacred Scriptures. Happy Feast!

Angels are beautiful. They are "spiritual, non-corporeal beings" whose existence is "a truth of faith" (CCC #328). They "have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness" (CCC #330; Dan 10:9-12).

Furthermore, St. Augustine says: "'Angel' is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is 'spirit'; if you seek the name of their office, it is 'angel': from what they are, 'spirit', from what they do, 'angel.'" In other words, an angel is a spirit who exercises the office or task as God's messenger.

But what makes an archangel distinguished from an angel? Why are certain angels "arch"-angels? Pope St. Gregory the Great, in accordance with Augustine's definition of "angel", explains this about the archangels in today's Office of Readings:
You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.

And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.

Some angels are given proper names to denote the service they are empowered to perform. In that holy city, where perfect knowledge flows from the vision of almighty God, those who have no names may easily be known. But personal names are assigned to some, not because they could not be known without them, but rather to denote their ministry when they came among us. Thus, Michael means "Who is like God"; Gabriel is "the Strength of God"; and Raphael is "God’s Remedy."

Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power. So also our ancient foe desired in his pride to be like God, saying: I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven; I will be like the Most High. He will be allowed to remain in power until the end of the world when he will be destroyed in the final punishment. Then, he will fight with the archangel Michael, as we are told by John: A battle was fought with Michael the archangel.

So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.

Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.

Archangels are super-important beings. By simply existing and named, the archangels help reveal to us the otherwise unfathomable reality of the Divine. Contemplating the archangels and their names is a great way to contemplate God, His identity, and His wondrous works among us humans.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Synaxis of the Archangels

Tomorrow on the 29th of September the Universal Church celebrate the Feast of the Archangels Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael.

A "synaxis" is an Eastern Church term to denote a collective feast whereby several saints are honoured together. The Feast of Korean martyrs, for example, and the Feast of Saints Joachim and Anna, would be a synaxis.

As I'm a big fan of Eastern icons and iconography, on this vigil, I present you an icon of the Synaxis of the Archangels.

We must now let ourselves be guided by Divine Revelation in our exploration of the other mysteries of our salvation. We have now received a truth which must be profoundly important for every Christian: that there are pure spirits, creatures of God, initially all good and then, through a choice of sin, irreducibly separated into angels of light and angels of darkness. And while the existence of the wicked angels requires of us that we be watchful so as not to yield to their empty promises, we are certain that the victorious power of Christ the Redeemer enfolds our lives, so that we ourselves may overcome these spirits. In this, we are powerfully helped by the good angels, messengers of God's love, to whom, taught by the tradition of the Church, we address our prayer: "Angel of God, who are my guardian, enlighten, guard, govern and guide me, who have been entrusted to you by the heavenly goodness. Amen".

Blessed John Paul II

General Audience August 20, 1986

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Created Order as a Sacrament

When our First Parents fell into sin, all creation—not just mankind—also fell into sin, that is, a state of being separated from God. Because of sin, there came a deep abyss between the Creator and the created.

But our Most Loving God pursues us like a man pursues the love of his heart. Love transforms the lover into the likeness of the beloved: God became man and suffered as man suffers; He truly became one of us. His love redeemed not only all mankind, but also the entire creation. That abyss between heaven and earth is now bridged by His holy cross so that once again we may behold His face in love, as was originally designed. Creation is now a sacrament, a visible sign, of Heaven.


"When God took on flesh in Jesus Christ, the uncreated and the created, the eternal and the temporal, the divine and the human became united. This unity meant that all that is mortal now points to the immortal, all that is finite now points to the infinite. In and through Jesus all creation has become like a splendid veil, through which the face of God is revealed to us.This is called the sacramental quality of the created order.

All that is is sacred because all that is speaks of God's redeeming love. Seas and winds, mountains and trees, sun, moon, and stars, and all the animals and people have become sacred windows offering us glimpses of God."

—Henri Nouwen

Image: "The White Orchard", Vincent van Gogh

Saturday, 14 September 2013

How I Measure Up Against the Proverbs 31 Woman

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
—Proverbs 31:10-11
Above is the opening verse for the passage famous for describing the ideal, Biblical wife, a.k.a. the Proverbs 31 Woman. Well, what Christian woman doesn't want to be of noble character, worth far more than rubies, and have her husband's full confidence in her, right?

So I'm taking up this challenge to see if I'm anywhere near the characteristics of the Proverbs 31 Woman and if I will make a Biblical wifey. Let's see... :

1) "She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants."
Ah this is a good beginning. I do [sometimes] wake up before my dog while it's still dark, although I do it mostly when I'm on duty, so instead of providing food for the family (still mum and dad for now), I usually grab the nearest bread and tea and run to the car. But the waking up early part... not promising anything, but I can get by with that. And with servants—plural—oh yes, I can manage everything. Moving on.

2) "She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers."
I know wool and spindles, but what is flax and a distaff?? I spin words and sometimes empty syringes but certainly not threads. But don't worry, Future Hubby, I can sew buttons.

3) "She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard."
Oh the ideal lady is a businesswoman! *sigh* My dad is a businessman but unfortunately I don't seem to inherit his talent. I'm terrible at making a poker face and I have to make a real effort at haggling, because I always feel guilty whenever I have to ask for a lower price. And a vineyard? My goodness. Can't I just work as a secretary for someone who owns a vineyard?

4) "She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks."
I have strong arms thanks to years of carrying textbooks, doing CPR, and lifting up my overweight pooch, so I think I can win this point.

5) "She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night."
My room is known for being perpetually illuminated by the serene light of my laptop, so yes, you can say that "my lamp does not go out at night". These sturdy fingers can type a lengthy essay blog post and produce award-winning theological comments on Facebook that dispel a heresy or two; I just hope that this "trading" sees some profits sooner or later.

6) "She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet."
NO, I don't make coverings for my bed, sorry Future Hubby. But I promise I'll see to it that you and the kids are always clothed, just maybe not in purple and scarlet. I'm sure I can find some fancier clothes at the store.

7) "She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes."
Why does it have to be all about garments, textiles, and clothing?? Fine, I can at least start cross-stitching again and sell my works. I dabbled in it once when I was in junior high and I did like it (got a good grade for it too!), but I haven't cross-stitched again for a long time. Well if it can buy extra Tasty Bones for Timmy, then why not?

8) "She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness."
My own household currently consists of me alone, so I can say for sure that I seldom eat the bread of idleness—or any other bread, for that matter—because I like to keep myself busy. Even if I appear idle, my mind is usually very active; maybe I'm imagining life after internship, thinking hard about my next blog post, or simply contemplating leaves. I'm a Dominican after all.


So here it is: I'm pretty much a major Proverbs 31 failure. Based on this short analysis, looks like my future hubby and children are not going to "arise and call me blessed"; my husband, especially, isn't going to have people bowing down to him at the city gate (waaaahh so sorry!). As for me, I'm going to climb up to bed and sob and take comfort in the fact that I can "laugh at the days to come" (and make memes about the days to come), "speak with wisdom", and have "faithful instructions" in my tongue.

What about you, my lady readers? Are you the perfect Proverbs 31 woman?

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

On Discernment and Knowing One's Self

Woman in the Window,
Ruthe Dawes
Every day we are presented with choices. Should I go to that retreat, should I buy this book or that dress, should I talk to that particular person, should I accept this job, et cetera. For many of them, decisions can usually be made relatively quickly because the matters aren't so grave.

In the spiritual realm, however, deciding on the right path may be extra-tricky: first, because the issues are usually weighty; and secondly, because all the options often seem equally noble. We should not do anything wicked and we should not do anything absurd, that much is clear. Christians are to love and serve the Lord, and to live holy, yes we understand that. But between these boundaries, lie a vast number of possibilities.

The saints show this happy problem with their lives. The saints came from various backgrounds and led different roles when they lived on earth, yet all of them were deemed worthy to take part in the Beatific Vision. From them, we see that there are many ways to do good, there are many ways to serve the Lord, and there are many ways be holy. The question is, which way does God see me going? The wise Christian would want to make sure that he's doing what God wants him to do. This is where discernment takes place.

Discernment goes past the mere perception of the senses. It thoroughly judges the value of a choice beyond what is apparent. It keeps the sight on the ultimate goal and at the same time takes multiple factors into account, including past failures, deepest desires, old dreams, personal preferences, and God-given charisms. Discernment needs to weigh both the interior and exterior life, both the known and the unknown, both what the mind offers and what the heart yearns for.

For this reason, not only one needs wisdom about the thing being discerned, but also wisdom about one's self. In fact, the beginning and the end of a proper discernment is always the knowledge of the self. This knowledge of one's self is a crucial step in finding out how to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and and with all your mind", in other words, how to love and serve Him as He wants to be loved and served.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Video: Why We Study

That is the essence of the Dominican life: No matter what we read, no matter what we do, no matter who we’re talking to, no matter what information we take in, it’s always returned to God, and we say to God: "God, what does this moment, what does this study, what does this object, what does this reveal to me about You and Your goodness, and Your way of salvation?"

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Above all, I want to be a saint

Today is my birthday. Today I turn 24. Age-wise, I'm advancing one more year into adulthood. Yet my life's aim has turned full circle into the silent awe-inspired dream of my little self.

I never voiced that dream. When asked about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always gave an answer according to my most recent interest: an architect, a researcher, an astronaut, an astronomer, an archaeologist, a marine biologist, a conchologist (that's a person who studies seashells. You didn't know that, did you? I read the strangest books as a child). My dad of course thought that becoming a doctor would do me the greatest good. Resource-wise it was also an easy option because my mum was already one, so she had the books and the experience. Obedient as I was, I thought yeah whatever, I excelled at human biology anyways, and I did like counselling, and a doctor is pretty cool too, so yeah sure.

But apparently it was never enough. Looking back, I realise that what I always wanted was to be "great". I couldn't really explain how "great", and how exactly I would achieve this "greatness"—it was a vivid yet largely abstract idea. And I don't know when or how the seed was planted, but it was there.

This aspiration was visible from the things and ideas I got attracted to. For instance, I always loved being surrounded by intelligent and outside-the-box people, people who "shine". The TV series Heroes was my favourite. I strived to always be different, always be unique, always first in everything. I became upset when I did not get involved. I questioned myself when people consulted others instead of me. I doubted my abilities when someone else did something first as a pioneer. I looked down at certain jobs that I deemed too simple, too traditional, not "out there" enough, not heroic enough.

In other words, my previous version of "greatness" was a greatness in the eyes of the world. And I sought it in the wrong places and the wrong people.

Shortly it became an unhealthy excess. I became prideful and spiritually I had degraded far below. Dr. House is a good enough caricature of the kind of friends I had back then. We were a miserable bunch. Admired, feared even, but miserable.

After I reverted back to the Church, this desire for greatness did not subside. As a medical student almost finishing med school, I dreamt about continuing my career abroad, preferably in a first-world country like the US. I dreamt about taking a "great" specialty. I dreamt about transforming the world into a better place. My logic was, in order to do that I had to get the best education and the best, most respectable position in the world, so that my voice would be heard. I was even more certain about this because my med school "friends"—who apparently didn't know me very well now that I think about it—were positively supportive because they believed I would achieve whatever I wanted easily.

I'm not sure when it all changed. Perhaps because over time, I was blessed with more and more holy people whom I met online (looks like God knew that most offline folks in my life couldn't be trusted!). Maybe that was it, or maybe not. One thing for sure: my desire for greatness was being directed to the right place.

Slowly God reminded me about the stories of the saints I had read voraciously as a child. I remembered I read about Saints Joan of ArcThérèse of Lisieux, Tarcisius, Bernadette Soubirous, Francis of Assisi, Odilia, Anna Wang, Catherine Labouré, Maria Goretti, Gemma Galgani, and Elizabeth of Hungary. I remembered how the little me thought these people, though coming from different backgrounds and leading different lives, were all "cool" and "awesome" and yes, "great". Once I re-discovered my admiration for the Church's saints as an adult, I came to a happy conclusion: I had misplaced my desire—it wasn't for greatness, not in the worldly sense at least, rather it was greatness in the eyes of God: it was a desire for sainthood.

A saint does not pretend. He is himself. Our Lord has died for him; there is no need to be somebody else.

A male saint is truly man, a female saint is truly woman. They are not just holy men and women, they are THE men and women that God has in mind when He created them.

A saint is unique. His vocation is unique. His life is unique. His death is unique. No two saints are the same.

A saint transforms the world. With their words, with their deeds, with their blood, with their prayers.

A saint is a rebel. A saint is courageous and radical. In a fallen world that continues to fall, the only radical and rebellious thing you can do is to be holy.

A saint is sincere, and because of this, a saint does more: he loves more, he gives more, he receives more, he studies more, he prays more, he contemplates more, he laughs more, he smiles more.

In the communion of saints, there is a place for everyone, for every charism, for every vocation, for every walk of life.

Becoming a saint is difficult. It is a big challenge. It is the aspiration of the most daring men and women. We need tremendous, continuing grace from Him who is holy, and from our part, we need to be constantly vigilant.

Now, although I still plan for my life, still have preferences, principles, dislikes, wants, needs, I no longer put an emphasis on them. God willing, from this day onwards, I can be more detached from worldly things so that I may own them but they don't own me. Even better, from now on, I desire that my preferences, principles, dislikes, wants, needs should serve to help me love my Lord more.

Because above all, I want to be great: I want to be a saint.

Please pray for me as I pray for you.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Poem: One Instance in a Forgotten Manger

One Instance in a Forgotten Manger
by: Anna E

One instance in a forgotten manger,
eternity collapses into time.
Prophesied by the wise and
longed for by the hearts of men,
a revelation,
in finite space
where ancient hopes converge
and light shines anew.
The face of the sleeping Babe
stars of heavens puts to shame.
In his sleep he remakes the world
with every sigh he breathes.

O frail Newborn, center of creation,
little great mystery angel pronounced,
reign from thy wooden throne
as we laud thee:
our worthy King! our precious Victim!