Tuesday, 16 December 2014

How should a Catholic retreat look like?

"Under the Blossom that Hangs on the Bough", John William Godward, 1917

Let me be honest here. I've attended quite a handful of retreats in my life so far, and I have to say that the one I'm most pleased about is that one Protestant retreat during med school. *insert gasps and angry stares here*

Yeah. You would think that since I'm a lay Dominican, my favourite would be one of our Dominican retreats. No. In fact I hate them the most.

The Dom retreats I attended in the past were all New Age-y at best and heretical at worst. Many of the speakers seemed to mistake Christian contemplation with relaxation/breathing techniques, and Christian meditation with yoga. The last chapter retreat even invited an ex-priest who lectured us on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which is a pseudoscience and a quasi-religion if taken to the extreme. I think this is simply embarrassing and degrading for Catholics and especially Dominicans; aren't we known for the balance of faith and reason? New Age mocks the faith and insults reason, because it is focused on the "self", while ironically dismissing the concept of the unity of body and soul, and the faculties of the soul (please, even Aristotle who was a pagan had proposed this idea).

Okay, so those retreats were bad terrible. But they did make me think: how, then, should a Catholic retreat look like?

My mind returns to That Protestant Retreat I attended. It has all the typical Protestant (Pentecostal) stuffs: fiery preachers constantly holding a Bible in one hand, altar call, random laying of the hands by laypeople, songs by Hillsong and the likes, and Bible discussion mixed with sharing sessions in small groups. In short, it was very Protestant. Anyone who went to that retreat would not be mistaken of it. [Even non-believers would at least guess that it was a Christian retreat, and this—I hate to admit it—would be pretty close to the truth.]

And that's it, that's the answer. A Catholic retreat has to be Catholic. A Catholic retreat has to be SO Catholic that anyone who attends would not mistake it as a Protestant retreat, a Buddhist retreat, a psychological counseling, a neopagan therapy session, or just as another weekend getaway with "church friends". A Catholic retreat has to ooze Catholicism, and by Catholicism I mean the Catholic faith with all her splendors (devotions, traditions, and so on).

Below are my version of the five must-have's in any Catholic retreats:
  • Catholic facility. A Catholic retreat is preferably held in a Catholic facility for maximum Catholic atmosphere. You know the stuff: a proper chapel, an Adoration room, stations of the cross, Marian grotto, etc.
  • Ample silence. The general objective of a Christian retreat is re-orienting our minds and hearts towards the Lord. I therefore think that a special attention must be paid regarding silence. Not much chatting, minimal use of the cellphones, and so on. It might be difficult for us modern, hyper-stimulated busybodies, but hey, it has to require some efforts, otherwise why join a retreat?
  • Spiritual direction. An ideal retreat should offer spiritual direction tailored for each individual. What often happens is lots of sharing sessions without any clear direction. "Free sharing" has the potential to become a spiritual pitfall—a shared experience might not be "wrong" in itself, but a person, upon hearing such an experience, might arrive to a theologically wrong or questionable conclusion. Care must be taken not to shun the shared experience itself, and to avoid making the person sharing it feel belittled; it is the wrong conclusion that must be addressed in the spirit of charity and fraternal correction.
  • Traditional devotions. Adoration, Stations of the Cross, the Rosary, the Breviary, Divine Mercy, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, you name them. Taizé, while not necessarily "traditional", can also be a good option.
  • Confession and Holy Mass. What's a Catholic retreat without these two?

I've found great examples of retreat themes here and here. Most of them are directed for teens and young adults, but they can be used as ideas or prompts for our own retreats.

More themes that I could think of:

  • Bible-based retreat. I imagine heavy Bible study sessions, maybe focusing on a specific story like the infancy narrative or the Exodus
  • Sacred Liturgy
  • Servant leadership
  • Sin and conversion of heart
  • Mission and evangelisation
  • Gifts and charisms
  • Virtues
  • Vocation as a man
  • Vocation as a woman
  • Theology of the Body (TOB)-related themes (dating, sex, relationship, marriage, and the likes)
  • Sanctity in daily work/jobs (this sounds very Opus Dei, but yes I like their spirituality!)
I personally don't want my retreats to just be "feel good" activities—I can go watch a Hollywood chick flick for that. I want my retreats to be faith-filled and thought-provoking and challenging. All-day silence? Bring it on! And please, stick to the chosen theme, y'all!

Do you have any ideas about how a Catholic retreat should look like? Do you have any specific activities, themes, designs, or sessions that have worked in the past? Please share with us! :)

Friday, 5 December 2014

What if you had never been born?



Every life matters. YOU matter. Think about it.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Go Ahead! Courage!

"Running for Home", Charles Napier Hemy

"Go ahead! Courage! In the spiritual life he who does not go forward goes backward. It is the same with a boat which must always go forward. If it stands still, the wind will blow it back."

— St. Padre Pio

Have you ever wondered why it seems like, spiritually speaking, you never settle? Have you ever felt that the race goes on forever? And that you have to keep on running? Have you ever wanted to cry out to God, "I'm tired!"?

It does seem like the Lord has a propensity for rocking your boat. You know, He lets you rest for awhile but then one day He declares "Okay, time's up!" and you must leave and never look back.

Yes, it is exhausting. All these great battles that we must fight, they are draining our energy. And if you're like me, there could be one or two specific struggles that you can't get rid of. You fall into the same sin again and again, maybe with variable depths of fall but still the same sin, and it drives you mad.

But I guess the important thing is, we keep running. We keep pushing forward in the right direction and we never stand still. More temptations mean further progress. The tallest trees are hit by the strongest winds. And yes, a moving ship gets the nastiest waves.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

St. Augustine: The Four Virtues as the Four Forms of Love

"Four Rainbows over Niagara", Albert Bierstadt

Sometimes we are quick to think that the Church's many laws and theologies are irrelevant to Christ's law of love. This erroneous belief is especially visible when we try to talk about sins and virtues. Why do even bother to cultivate virtues, right? Isn't "the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor 13:13)?

While I was browsing the net for some Augustinian writings, I came across the saint's own works, one of them is titled Of the Morals of the Catholic Church. In there, he offers a fantastic comparison of the four virtues as the four forms of love!

Now it's like the gigantic mind-puzzle in my head becomes ridiculously fuller and more beautiful. Thank you, St. Augustine, for the eureka moment. Here is the quote for your Advent thought food.
As to virtue leading us to a happy life, I hold virtue to be nothing else than perfect love of God. For the fourfold division of virtue I regard as taken from four forms of love. For these four virtues (would that all felt their influence in their minds as they have their names in their mouths!), I should have no hesitation in defining them: that temperance is love giving itself entirely to that which is loved; fortitude is love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object; justice is love serving only the loved object, and therefore ruling rightly; prudence is love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it. The object of this love is not anything, but only God, the chief good, the highest wisdom, the perfect harmony. So we may express the definition thus: that temperance is love keeping itself entire and incorrupt for God; fortitude is love bearing everything readily for the sake of God; justice is love serving God only, and therefore ruling well all else, as subject to man; prudence is love making a right distinction between what helps it towards God and what might hinder it.


St. Augustine
Of the Morals of the Catholic Church, Chapter 15

You can find the complete text here [click].

Monday, 13 October 2014

Totally Consecrated to the Lady who won at Lepanto

Batalla de Lepanto
Juan de Toledo, 1663-1665
Six days ago, on the seventh of October, 2014 A.D., I made my first consecration in Holy Slavery to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Rosary. Dear BF—himself a slave to Mary as the Queen of Heaven—said it was an occasion to celebrate! Since I want to keep being lousy at throwing parties (because it saves money and there's a lot of books I wanna read, you know?), I decided to write a post about it as a way of celebration. This is not meant to be a vanity post—there's really nothing to be vain about an eternal slavery—but I certainly feel that there is a need for some sort of witness of this "short and smooth path to holiness".

The Holy Slavery, formally called the Total Consecration to Jesus Christ through Mary by way of St. Louis de Montfort, is not a popular devotion anywhere. Dear BF is the only Catholic I know who is consecrated this way. St. Louis de Montfort himself wrote that this devotion is known by very few.

Why is it so, you ask? I'm guessing because it is unlike any other devotion: the Total Consecration is radical, intense, demanding, and it requires great trust in the Lord and His Blessed Mother. It is both an enemy and a cure to self-love. This site explains it well, so go read it.

I'm gonna write my consecration story in a Q&A format to make it easier for you to read :) Here we go!

When and how did you discover the Total Consecration?

Marc Barnes of Bad Catholic—such an awesome guy!—wrote about his own consecration, and his story was my first exposure to the devotion. I can't remember exactly when, though, but I do remember feeling mildly amazed yet overwhelmed. I mean, slavery? Come on. Does one really need to be that desperate? I decided it was worth my time to read some stuff about the Total Consecration, but I mentally categorised it as "nice to know"… maybe I'll do it someday, but certainly not now.

What made you finally decide to do it?

Here I can cite Dear BF as the catalyst. I can also cite the fact that St. Louis de Montfort was a Third Order Dominican, and everything Dominican simply excites me. Or, I can point to my friends with Carmelite spirituality, who on July 16 crowded my timeline with posts about the brown scapular—the scapular happens to be worn by consecrated slaves too.

But it all boils down to this: the Divine Providence.

There was no one big occasion that prompted me to do the Consecration. Looking back, there were only subtle hints and nudges, but I hadn't suspected anything. In fact, I wasn't the most devoted Catholic when it comes to Mary. Yes, I've always loved her statues, her icons, her symbols; I occasionally prayed the rosary and the three Hail Mary's novena; I knew all the answers to the common attacks against her, but that's it. My heart was not in it. I didn't have what you would call a personal relationship with Mary.

I must admit too: every time there was a prayer invoking Mary, I felt a faint cringe within. It wasn't out of disgust or hatred, but I think I was adamant to prove that I can be a Christ-centered Catholic. I didn't want to be the "typical" Catholic who's always ready to gather around the statue of Mary but is alien to the Adoration room. And sure enough, it was much easier for me to contemplate the face of the Blessed Sacrament than the face of the Blessed Virgin. Plus, being "Christ-centered" rings better for preaching to non-believers.

So if you think my Holy Slavery was the culmination of years of passionate Marian devotion, you couldn't be more wrong. It was the Divine Providence that worked the special grace in me. Otherwise, the mere idea would never occur.

[Now I'm not saying that the devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is wrong. On the contrary, it is wonderful, and it should go hand-in-hand with Marian devotion. Nevertheless, trying to reach Jesus on our own is futile work. We need someone who is very close to Jesus, someone who loves Him dearly and is loved specially by Him, and that is Mary, His mother. No other creature is loved by the Lord with a filial love, and no other creature can ever love the Lord with a motherly love. There's no way of being more Christ-centered than being Mary-centered, because Mary only wants to "magnify the Lord".]

St. Louis de Montfort, the badass

Why did you choose the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary as your day of consecration?

I remember scrolling down through all the recommended days of consecration in hope of finding an easily memorised date. I also remember making a quick promise to myself that I would do this thing only if I find a date close to a special day, maybe to my own birthday. And, the feast day has to be relatable, something I know enough of, something I can easily contemplate, something near and dear to my life. Tall order, I know, guess I still wanted to evade the holy lure!

Apparently, the Blessed Mother wanted me more than I wanted her. My eyes fell on a date, September 4, just a day after my birthday. It's the date of beginning the 33-day preparation, and the consecration day, the 34th day, fell rightly on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary!

This is perfect because: 1) the rosary is THE ultimate Marian devotion, familiar to every Catholic; 2) the rosary is propagated by St. Dominic and his friars preachers, thus making it a Dominican devotion as well; and 3) the Battle of Lepanto, nuff said. As a Catholic living amidst Muslims, the miraculous victory at Lepanto is more than relatable: it's a great consolation and a tremendous reassurance, and an encouragement to always be steadfast in the True Faith.

It seems that the Blessed Mother herself chose the feast day for me :)

What happened after you completed the Consecration?

If you're asking about feelings, I can assure you that there was nothing spectacular. No divine hand-clappings, no fireworks, no heavenly choir, no violent demonic attacks (although there is at least one person who experienced this), no nothing. It felt like another ordinary day, just a bit different because I had to wake up very early to catch the 6 AM daily Mass.

The changes were subtle and internal, and they started to happen since the preparation period. They are rather difficult to describe, and I think I need another blog post for them. One that I can clearly describe is that now I can do everything with a new confidence, with a strange kind of freedom that can only be born of obedience, and also without pretense. I don't have to make myself believe I'm doing something for my own good, or for my family, or for my patients, or for world peace… I simply do it through Mary, with Mary, in Mary, and for Mary. She will take it all and use her divine wisdom from her Son to distribute the fruits to those most in need. There's nothing more relieving than that.

*

So that's my story! Are you feeling called to be a slave of Jesus Christ through His mother? Then I urge you to do so in a like manner, preferably using the original Montfort version, like the one presented here. The effects are wonderful!

Are you already one? Share your story and bring souls to the Lord!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

From the Desert (Feast of St. Louis Bertrand, OP)

"From the desert you should go forth as a good preacher."

The Holy Spirit kept John in the desert, lest he see or come to know Christ, because of the importance of the testimony that he would give later concerning him.

John testified that he had never seen Christ until the moment that he saw the dove descending upon his head in the Jordan River.

I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”

That was the place where the voice of the Father was heard speaking about the Son.

There the Holy Spirit adorned him with such great virtues—humility, meekness, and all the rest—that he came forth from the desert changed into that salt which would save the human race from corruption, changed into that light which would illumine the blind, changed into a fortified city where the holy and virtuous would find refuge.

This is the high office of a preacher, and from this it is clear that it demands such a preparation.

Why should you wonder, brother, that your teaching does not bring forth fruit, when you come to preach not from the desert but from the confused tumult of your own soul, not from the vicinity of virtue but of pride?

From the desert you should go forth as a good preacher. If Christ our Lord spent the whole night in prayer to send out his disciples to preach and to have their preaching bear fruit, what can a preacher accomplish without devotion?

If you do not come from the desert, your preaching will not bear fruit. And because you have the voice of Jacob but the hands of Esau, concern yourselves with being effective preachers.

Truly seek prayer, a place of retreat and solitude, otherwise you can never attain the reward of good preachers.

God called John to be a preacher and this was a great penance for him, for every state of life demands a certain amount of penance, if it is received from the hand of God. It is for God to place you upon that cross on which you ought to serve God. Truly it is not up to you to choose that cross, because although you may choose a heavier cross, you might not be saved by it since God has not placed you upon it. 

*

Luis Beltrán (1526–1581)
from the Supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours for the Order of Preachers
Feast of St. Luis Beltrán, October 9th.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

[The Spiritual Walking Dead #1] Haven, Weapon, Companion: 3 Things to Prepare for a Zombie Apocalypse

Image © AMC TV

Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes woke up from a coma in a hospital room. The situation was strange: the room was empty, machines dead, bedside flowers had long withered. When Rick walked out, he saw even stranger things: there was blood here and there, and the hospital was abandoned, messy, and partly dilapidated. Slowly Rick came to a conclusion: his little town had been overrun by the walking dead.

Imagine if we are in Rick’s position. What would we do? Surely, since we would not be in possession of weapons, we would run and hide; for Rick, his temporary haven was in the home of a gentleman and his son. But since it is not wise to stay unarmed, we must search for a suitable weapon; Rick went out to the nearest police station and heavily equipped himself with guns and bullets. Lastly, just like Rick, we would need to find other survivors, and if possible, a community.

Now in many ways, what Rick Grimes did were similar to what we ought to do before starting a battle against spiritual zombies. Firstly, of course, we need to “wake up” from our long slumber: in spiritual context, this means we have to experience some kind of conversion, either through baptism or through a conversion of heart, the latter may take place some time after our actual baptism and may occur repeatedly throughout life. Our eyes must be opened first in order to realise the kind of situation we are facing, so that we may wage the correct war correctly. Without true conversion, we won’t be able to perceive clearly the dangers around us.

And then, we need to “hide”. At the beginning of our conversion, most likely we won’t have any weapons. But there is one thing we can do: we can run. Hide. We “run” from the things we now realise as bad and sinful. For instance, we may want to start avoiding certain places that become occasions of sin. We throw away books harmful to our faith. We distance ourselves from bad company. At this stage, our faith has just begun to grow; as a young, green, fragile sprout, it needs gentle and watchful protection at all times.

But of course, we know we cannot always run. There will come a time when we have to fight back. Holy Communion, regular confession, prayers, Sacred Scripture, spiritual readings, fasting, those are our weapons. Just like real weapons require strength to carry and wield, these spiritual weapons also demand our willpower in order to be constant and faithful to them, and for them to be effective.

And what would become of the man who fights zombies all by himself, even though he has guns and barriers? Doubtful that he can last long. Likewise, in spiritual war, we need to have a friend, a comrade, even a community with a common goal. God created man and woman to help each other (cf. Gen 2:18). Jesus sent out His disciples in twos (cf. Mark 6:7, Lk 10:1) after equipping them with teachings and graces. Even the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity are a community, a family, that is, a family streaming with living, eternal love. Man is a social creature, and this reality is especially vital in the journey towards holiness. With a trusted companion, or in a community, we would survive longer, better, and somewhat more easily.

Haven, weapon, and companion. These are the most important first steps to prepare ourselves to fight zombies. To be sure, for some of us who have possessed all three, it does not mean we can slack off: there will always be a renewed and repeated need for the three things according to the advancement of our journey.

Have we taken the right steps to battle our spiritual zombies?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

5 Paintings of Truth

Last week I wrote an article about the goddess Veritas according to Greco-Roman mythology. Now what better describes the timeless truths about Truth than art? I've collected five allegorical paintings on this noble goddess, for our joyful contemplation.

A word of caution:

The art displayed below contains nudity. While tasteful artistic nudity is not the same as pornography because the first fulfills the Thomistic criteria of beauty and the latter does not, I feel that this post still merits a warning for the less sensitive and the more giggly among us. You have been warned.


Truth Rescued by Time, Witnessed by History
(Verdad rescatado por hora, fue testigo de la Historia)

Francisco Goya, 1812-1814, oil on canvas, 294 x 244 cm
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

In art, Truth is often depicted together with Time, and sometimes with History. Traditionally, and in Goya's earlier version of this painting, Truth is portrayed as a naked young maiden, clearly to symbolise her simple, virginal frankness. Time, who is really Truth's father, is winged because he is swift and always moving. In "Truth Rescued by Time", however, we see Truth clothed in white garments; this probably emphasises her elusiveness and "hiddenness" when carried by Time. On the other hand, History is naked… perhaps it is History that "bares" the Truth for us?

An allegory of Truth and Time
Annibale Caracci, 1584-1584, oil on canvas, 130 x 169.6 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, London, UK

Here's an interesting composition of several figures. The winged figure of Time has brought his daughter, Truth, from the depths of a well—her famous holy well—to reveal her to the light of day. Truth radiates light and looks in a mirror, while two-faced Deceit is trampled under Truth’s feet. Framing the scene on the right is Buona Eventus (Happy Ending) and on the left, Buona Fortuna (Good Luck) or perhaps Felicity (Happiness).

Time famously flies (hence the wings) and holds an hourglass; Truth is light (which explains her sunburst halo) and looks at herself in a mirror, which presents a true image of the world. Truth tramples underfoot a figure personifying Deceit (sometimes called Fraud, Hypocrisy or Calumny). After its most recent restoration a malevolent animal’s features were revealed at the back of her head, so that she is literally ‘two-faced’. This central drama is framed by two symbolic figures: on the right, Bonus Eventus refers to the happy issue of enterprises and holds corn and poppies and scatters flowers, while the figure on the left may represent Felicity (Happiness), with cornucopia to signify plenty and a winged caduceus for peace, or alternatively Buona Fortuna (Good Luck), who bears similar attributes but is also traditionally shown, as here, with wings.

The moral seems to be both "all’s well that ends well" and "the truth will out".

Time Unveiling Truth
Jean-François Detroy, 1733, oil on canvas, 203 x 208 cm
The National Gallery, London

Here we meet both Truth and Time again in their typical portrayals. Now Time is holding a scythe, a farming tool usually associated with Death.

We see how the coming of Truth is both welcome and unwelcome. I try to make out the right-side ladies who gladly welcome Truth: they are most likely the lion-riding Rhea, the goddess of female fertility, motherhood, and generation; the blue-clothed Justitia (Justice) who holds a sword and a scale; Clio, the Muse of history who holds a scroll, or probably even Historia herself; and lastly the standing Victoria (Victory) wearing a laurel wreath and holding a torch in her left hand. The frightened-looking woman on the right that seems to try to impede Truth is none other than the two-faced Deceit.

I can't help noticing the delicious arrangement of the figures, with their arms interconnected and thus easing up the flow of the composition. First, Time unveils the face of Truth; this probably symbolises how Truth eventually will be revealed. Truth is not passive, however: while she submits to Time, she also unveils the masks of Deceit, and nothing can stop her doing that. Meanwhile, Truth's right arm opens up—as if presenting—the joyous bunch of Generation, Justice, History, and Victory, who looks so pleased at meeting Truth.

The wisdom and truth
Pierre-Paul Prudh'on, 1799, oil on canvas, 355 x 355 cm

Now for a refreshing change: it's Truth and Wisdom. If you think Wisdom looks like Athena, you are spot on, for Athena is the goddess of wisdom.

Truth is still pictured as a brightly-lit nude, virginal-looking maiden. Wisdom is fully clothed with large fabrics and a helmet. They are both flying, and it looks like Wisdom is carrying Truth and is protective over her. The environment around them is made simple, probably to accentuate the two figures, and also to symbolise the aura of simplicity ("Truth is simple"). Wisdom looks to Truth and Truth looks to herself, for Wisdom is none other than the soundness of an action or decision—in other words, good judgement—with regard to the application of Truth; whereas Truth is Truth.

The Truth (La Vérité)
Jules Joseph Lefebvre, 1870, oil on canvas
265 x 112 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France

Last but not least, we have the goddess all by herself now, looking determined and sombre, holding up her legendary mirror. The Mirror of Truth shows the real face of the world, and the true personality of the human that looks to it.

This painting is quite straightforward and is probably painted as a study of the female anatomy. It is interesting to note that the painting is contemporary with the first small scale model made by Lefebvre's fellow-Frenchman Frédéric Bartholdi, for what became the Statue of Liberty, striking a similar pose, though fully clothed.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Goddess Veritas

The statue of Veritas outside the Supreme Court of Canada

A couple of days ago, a Dominican sister asked our community (a Blackberry Messenger-based group consisting of sisters, friars, and lay people) about any possible origin of the slogan "Veritas", besides its obvious meaning as "truth". Intrigued by her question, I browsed the web and found some interesting stories about the goddess Veritas based on Greco-Roman mythology.

Roman mythology holds that Veritas was the daughter of Saturn (Time) and the mother of Virtue. She was by nature elusive. In art, Veritas is portrayed as a young virgin dressed in white. It is said that she likes to hide in the bottom of a holy well where she could not be found without considerable expense in time and purpose for those bent on discovering her whereabouts and character.

The Greek counterpart of Veritas is Aletheia (Αλεθεια), also means "truth". The Greeks—bless them!—offer a deeper reflection of the word: "aletheia" is constructed from the prefix "a-" that signifies negation, added to "letheia" which alludes to "that being hidden or forgotten". So "aletheia" literally means the unhidden, the remembered, the unveiled. However, the concept of truth in the Greek mind is largely subjective, that is, truth is a matter of perception by the one who sees. This is clearly an incomplete understanding because we as Christians know that objective truth does exist. We of course cannot blame the Greeks since supernatural, objective, divine Truth must first be revealed.

The great philosopher Aristotle defined Αλεθεια in this wise: "To say of what is that it is, and of what is not, that it is not, is true." Therefore, truth does not only concern knowledge and facts, but also harmony and, by extension, purity and beauty (maybe it's not a coincidence after all the goddess wears white!). The Catechism defines the pure of heart as referring to "those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God's holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith." We see here that in purity, there is harmony between oneself and God, between one's intellect and will to those of God. The pure of heart can clearly see—and is not afraid to proclaim—truths such as others being his neighbours, sins and human concupiscence, and the signs of the times. Truth, then, is also related to the small harmonies of life: between prayer life and active life, and between speech, thoughts, and deeds. It is no wonder that the Pharisaic man can be said as lying to others and to himself! Additionally, Thomistic beauty consists of integritas (integrity, wholeness), consonantia (harmony), and claritas (clarity); more on this later.

Also interesting to note that "aletheia" can also mean "the remembered". So truth connects to memory. This concept is obvious in terms of, say, witnessing to a criminal case. But can we also say that Original Sin distorts or clouds our "memory" of divine truths, of infused knowledge? Perhaps we can say that—to a certain extent—the man living in sin is a man who has forgotten; the man living in the state of grace is a man who is starting to remember; and finally, the saints are the ones who have fully remembered. If this could be so, then divine revelation—the truth—is like a reminder of that ancient infused knowledge that man used to possess, and will possess again, if he accepts the revealed truth and live accordingly.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Why I Wear the Chapel Veil

Me at my parish cathedral, wearing a veil by Peter's Bride

This year marks the third year of my veiling at Mass. Needless to say, the chapel veil has accompanied me through a profound and humbling faith journey. Contrary to what some might think, most people who saw me veiled did not comment, at least not explicitly. Those with good-natured curiosity did, however, ask: "Why?"

The reason behind the decision to commit myself to veiling develops along with my theological knowledge. Now I'm not going to discuss the controversies about whether the chapel veil is still required for Catholic women after the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. For me, it being not required is the more reason to wear it out of love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Love is born of free will, and now many women freely choose to veil at Mass.

It was 2009 when I received an invitation from an online forum to attend a Traditional Latin Mass. The invitation explicitly informed that women should come wearing a veil. At that time I still regarded the chapel veil as only a piece of "costume" specially reserved for TLM. A sweet tradition, I thought, but old and irrelevant, and no longer suited for modern women of the 21st century.

But further adventures in the cyber world brought me to an interesting realisation: the chapel veil is making a comeback, and a lot of young ladies now happily and proudly adopt this ancient practice for themselves and their little children.

These facts piqued my interest. But even from the beginning, I realised that the decision to veil is not to be taken lightly; it is a serious devotion which needs a deliberate commitment and mature faith. Moreover, this devotion involves a visible external sign, just like a person wearing a scapular, or a friar with his habit. Something that involves an outward expression always demands both mental and physical preparations.

I needed a discernment period for more or less two years, accompanied by a few events that led me to my personal repentance, before I finally decided to veil consistently whenever I'm in front of the Angelic Bread.

The Veil of the Bride of Christ

One especially touching reflection on the practice of veiling is that the veil (especially the mantilla) makes me feel like a real bride! This is how I think about it: "If so many women are waiting impatiently for their big day when they will be veiled when approaching their husband-to-be at the altar, why do we hesitate to be veiled when receiving our Heavenly Spouse? Is not the Victim of Calvary, continually presented at every Mass, a sign of the sacred nuptial of Christ and His Church, of Christ and me? If that is so, aren't we supposed to be clothed with not only the best, but also a special attire which is a little different than that of ordinary days? How lucky are nuns who don their bridal gowns and veils every day for their whole lives!"

This reflection became the main reason of my decision to veil. Strangely though, the veil also heightens my sensitivity towards holy objects and the sacred atmosphere inside the church. I notice how my every movement of prayer and praise are now more orderly, more purposeful; even my internal disposition is more sharply directed to Him who deserves my full attention.

The humble-looking cloth is surprisingly able to be a form of discipline for my weak flesh, and to be a reminder that I am the spouse of Christ, the bride of the Lord; thus I must behave properly as a bride, not a prostitute. True, it needs sacrifice in the form of wifely submission, but what is love without sacrifice?

Body Affects Spirit, Spirit Affects Body

How curious that I slowly experienced yet another, more physical, transformation, that is, the transformation of the content of my wardrobe. Keep in mind that I had never been a big fan of skirts and "girly" stuff. I considered all things feminine as weak, soft, and impractical. My clothes consisted largely of T-shirts, a few formal shirts, and long and short pants (don't ask how short).

After some time devoting myself to the practice of veiling, I began re-evaluating my clothes and my appearance. Firstly, from the perspective of harmony, I felt that the veil was most suited when worn together with a modest dress or skirt. So I started to wear skirts exclusively to Mass. Secondly, how is it possible that a woman who veils her head does not veil her body too? And so I became more modest, not only in my fashion sense, but also in my behaviour, speech, and thoughts. It is simply the right thing to do.

The Feminine Identity

Sure one can say that veiling has made myself more feminine. In this modern age, especially in the westernised urban life, being feminine in the traditional sense is something that is becoming more and more frowned upon. I bet even the previous version of myself would mock the new me.

But when we think about it, why are women afraid of being feminine? The word "feminine" is from "female"; feminine means everything and anything related to the female sex and has attributes commonly associated with females. Being feminine actually helps confirm the identity of a woman, who is an equal of man, but still different, and one of these differences lies in a woman's special privilege to be a sacred vessel that carries new life. The tabernacle and the chalice that contain the Body and Blood of the Lord — Life itself — are likewise veiled, why aren't women? Indeed, it is inside the woman's body that the mystery of love begets life! The chapel veil underlines this reality and lifts it up into a higher and deeper theological meaning.

Perhaps, that is the reason why the practice of veiling faded with the expansion of the sexual revolution and radical feminism around 1960s; these are the movements that gave us abortion and contraception. The sexual revolution tried to tell women that they are exactly the same as men, have to be like men in all things, and that feminine things—including roles as wives and mothers—are only a hindrance to freedom and achievement. The chapel veil, with all the values of modesty and traditional order that it represents, is a hard painful slap in the face of feminism because it promotes the dignity of woman as a unique creature, exceptional in her femininity, equal to—but is not the same and will never be the same as—man.

Holier-than-thou?

Naturally, I do not regard women who veil as holier than those who do not. In fact, precisely because I'm still far from holiness, I need this devotion to help discipline my flesh and direct me to God's Presence.

I must also admit that the changes I describe above occurrs ever so subtly, and a lot of them happen inside the soul, so it is not easy for me to write it all down. You who are reading this might have difficulty imagining it, let alone believing it. So I can understand if you're still skeptical. But I can assure you, truly, that this is what happened: the chapel veil encouraged my external repentance and helped boost my understanding of the Catholic concepts of modesty, chastity, and beauty.

The chapel veil might look like another pretty piece of fabric, but believe me, as a devotion, the veil is very powerful, and with God's grace it will aid you in conforming to your Crucified Bridegroom.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Truth Will Set You Free… From What?


We often hear these words from John 8:32 - "The truth will set you free", or Veritas liberabit vos in Latin. Usually it is associated with the academia, together with another verse from Proverbs 9:10 - "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." However, both verses actually talk about a higher truth, a truth of God. It talks about THE truth, not "your truth or my truth"; it is rather an objective truth outside of us and our subjectivity, a truth that is in harmony with goodness, love, and beauty. This is the fullness of the Christian truth, as revealed and deposited in the Catholic Faith.

Okay, clearly the truth will first set us free from unknowing and ignorance, but then what? Where does the gaining of this truth lead us to, and what do we become because of it?

Actually Jesus has answered the question in the following passage: "Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin." (John 8:34) But that's still vague, isn't it? Sin is an abstract idea; what of it that prisons us and makes us into slaves?

I did some contemplation on this, and I came up with twelve "prisons of the soul" from which we are liberated by truth. All these prisons exist because of sin. Feel free to discuss, elaborate, and add your own.

1. Fear
By fear, I do not mean the holy fear of God, which is one of the seven virtues. What I mean is excessive worries due to the lack of faith. Fear of the future, fear of other people's opinions, and fear of death come to mind. Well-placed anxiety is fine and useful, and perhaps even a must, but too much of it may stem from one's own pride and distrust in the divine providence. This fear is a torture for the peace of the soul, because we are not free to venture out and proclaim the Gospel according to our maximum potentials.
"If you follow the will of God, you know that in spite of all the terrible things that happen to you, you will never lose a final refuge. You know that the foundation of the world is love, so that even when no human being can or will help you, you may go on, trusting in the One that loves you."

— Pope Benedict XVI; 'Jesus of Nazareth'

2. False dichotomies
Which one to save: the mother or the unborn child? Which is important: the heart or the bodily expressions? Prayer or study? Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition? Is it better to kill one man and save the entire society, or save one man but harm the society? God's love or the existence of Hell?

A false dichotomy is when one argues that there are only two possible and mutually exclusive alternatives, when in fact there are other alternatives, or the categories are not in fact mutually exclusive. According to Archbishop of Washington +Charles Pope: "Orthodoxy quite often says 'both' whereas heresy chooses one apparently exclusive truth over and against the the other in order to resolve the tension between them."

Historically, heresy always adopts either one of the two seemingly contradictory options, or goes straight into nihilism altogether. Take for instance Gnosticism, which believes only the soul is good and holy, and the body is totally evil; Pelagianism, which values work over grace; Protestanism, which holds the Sacred Scripture as the only inspired Word of God; and last but not least relativism, which dismisses objective values entirely. The full truth of the faith will free us from these extremisms and false dilemmas.
"I will keep your law continually, for ever and ever; and I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought your precepts."

— Psalm 119:44-45

3. Worldly bondage
Do I own material things, or do material things own me? In the age of consumerism, it is easy to fall into the bondage of worldliness, to become an unknowing slave of our own possessions. The truth is, we are made for another world; the pleasures of this world are only a dim reflection of the full and glorified pleasures of Heaven. Knowing this truth will liberate us from the urge to seek and be dependent on earthly riches, because we know now that there is far greater wealth awaiting in the Kingdom of God.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it."

— Matthew 13:45

4. Loneliness
The sense of loneliness arises from the failure to acknowledge the Sacred Presence and the communion of saints. Granted, even the best and the most religious folks may experience this loneliness once in a while. But that is because we — all of us — are nearsighted and therefore it is at times very difficult to appreciate the supernatural realm.

Yet we know that the Catholic Church is not a lonely Church. She is the universal Church that encompasses not only people of all nations and tongues, but also people from all ages and souls in Heaven and Purgatory. All of us live in the Presence of the Holy One with varying states of exposure. The truth is that we are never alone.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

— Hebrews 12:1-2

5. Envy
The Catechism defines envy as "sadness at the sight of another's goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly" (CCC #2359).

St. Thomas Aquinas names envy as one of the four sorrows, alongside anxiety, torpor (physical inactivity caused by the sorrowful mind), and pity. Envy is also a disordered hate. We are supposed to hate what God hates: the bad, the filthy, the wrong, the perverted, the evil. Yet with envy, we hate the goodness in others because we take it to lessen our own excellence. We do not want the other man's goodness, we want to destroy it. This is what distinguishes envy from jealousy: a jealous man wants to be like the king, while an envious man does not want a king at all. Envy takes our freedom of rejoicing with others.

The part of truth that liberates us from envy is the fact that God distributes goodness according to His will. Nothing is accidental in God's awesome grand plan. Truth leads us into the contemplation of goodness in ourselves and others that at the end give glory back to God; this makes us humble, and when we find ourselves able to rejoice with others, we realise that we are a better "co-worker in God's service" (1 Cor 3:9).
"But you—who do you think you, a human being, are, to answer back to God? Something that was made, can it say to its maker: why did you make me this shape? A potter surely has the right over his clay to make out of the same lump either a pot for special use or one for ordinary use."

— Romans 9:20-22

6. Purposelessness
Here I am thinking specifically of divine truth as related to the Sacred Liturgy. Many people perceive obedience to the Missale as "blind obedience" not unlike zombies; this could be true, at least at first, but further study of the theology of the liturgy and the supernatural realm it represents, will reveal to us the beautiful meanings behind every word and gesture; it will grant us a sense of purpose, and therefore a renewed obedience rooted in love that shines out of truth.
"Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space."

— Pope Benedict XVI, 'Caritas in Veritate'

7. Irrationality
Everyone has his own irrational ideas that may come from his psychological defenses. Dr. Albert Ellis, in his work concerning the Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), lists ten types of irrational ideas. Irrationality can be destructive and could drag us into self-hating and the loss of healthy confidence. Irrational ideas, in turn, will promote irrational behaviours which include—but not limited to—anger, despair, and self-harm.

The truth about God's plan banishes irrationality. Without undermining the benefit of professional psychological care, seeking God's will is a tremendous fount of holy wisdom. Knowing what God is all about helps us feel more secure with our lives and our identities.
"For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

— Jeremiah 29:11

8. Superstition
Man is a religious creature, and it is inherent in his tendency to seek, to know, and to be involved in the spiritual. Man has been searching for "the Higher One" since the primitive age, using primitive forms of worship and rudimentary knowledge of an invisible power at work. This knowledge fumbles in the dark; it yields superstitious beliefs based on fear rather than love.

Truth liberates us from superstition. Man would never come to know the true God if He hadn't revealed Himself to mankind. We would forever be dependent on random signs, vague prophecies, and dangerous magic, which prison the sharp intellect and scare the tender heart.

Truth does not negate cultures; rather, it weeds out and purifies cultures, because all cultures are actually looking for God. True faith is not afraid of reason either, because both faith and reason serve the one and same truth.
"Faith and Reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth."

— Pope St. John Paul II
"Human salvation demands the divine disclosure of truths surpassing reason."

— St. Thomas Aquinas

9. "Freedom"
This may seem counterintuitive, but the understanding of the truth will actually free us from "freedom" — in quotation marks — that is, inordinate freedom. In his book 'The World's First Love', Ven. Fulton J. Sheen writes as such:
"There are three definitions of freedom: two of them are false, and one is true. The first false definition is, 'Freedom is the right to do whatever I please.' This is the liberal doctrine of freedom, which reduces freedom to a physical, rather than to a moral, power. Of course we are free to do whatever we please; for example, we can turn a machine gun on our neighbour's chickens, or drive an automobile on the sidewalk, or stuff a neighbour's mattress with used razor blades — but ought we do these things? This kind of freedom, in which everyone is allowed to seek his own benefit, produces confusion. There is no liberals of this particular kind without a world of conflicting egotisms, where no one is willing to submerge himself for the common good. In order to overcome this confusion of everyone's doing whatever he pleases, there arose the second false definition of freedom, namely, 'Freedom is the right to do whatever you must.' This is totalitarian freedom, which was developed in order to destroy individual freedom for the sake of society. Engels, who with Marx wrote the Philosophy of Communism, said: 'A stone is free to fall because it must obey the law of gravitation.' So man is free in Communist society because he must obey the law of the dictator.

The true concept of freedom is, 'Freedom is the right to do whatever we ought,' and ought implies goal, purpose, morality, and the law of God. True freedom is within the law, not outside it. I am free to draw a triangle, if I give it three sides, but not, in a stroke of broad-mindedness, fifty-seven sides. I am free to fly on condition that I obey the law of aeronautics. In the spiritual realm, I am also most free when I obey the law of God."

—Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, 'The World's First Love'
True freedom is one that is responsible, and in order to be responsible, we must first seek to know God's Law. This truth of the Law will set us free from false freedom that is in fact enslaving.

10. Boredom
Boredom may be a sign of a hyper-stimulated mind that cannot bear silence and is impatient of God's timing. We become restless at the idea of waiting and persevering, we want an instant spiritual fulfilment, we want a readily packaged God suitable for the busy life.

Silence, contemplation, and the attainment of truth are closely linked to each other. Truth, inexhaustible truth, will then prompt us to delve deeper into the contemplative stillness. A contemplative soul is rarely bored or frustrated; he appreciates time and silence, and truth enables him to see God's face in every little or big thing. Truth frees him of the boredom of the spiritually impoverished soul.
"In silence and quiet the devout soul advances in virtue and learns the hidden truths of Scripture."

— Thomas a Kempis; 'Imitation of Christ'
"Be still, and know that I am God."

— Psalm 46:10

11. Lust
The vice of lust is a unique prison on its own due to the lucid images and feelings with which it often leaves one. Lust comes from our corrupt perception of human sexuality and human love; it appears when love is replaced by use. Thus, it is a prison because it hinders us from truly, sincerely, responsibly, sacrificially loving another human being.

In these perverted times, lust—with all its manifestations—is considered "normal" and "healthy", whereas purity is "unnatural" and "impossible". The truth about the dignity and holiness of human sexuality has been so obscured that it is probably the most difficult to unearth. But thanks to the utterly awesome Theology of the Body, that ancient truth that Adam already comprehended when he first saw the naked Eve, is once again available to us as the key to unlock the prison of lust.
"God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman."

— Pope St. John Paul II

12. Pride
Pride is defined as the excessive love of one's own excellence. Pride is that ancient sin which brought forth other sins; it aims to withdraw man from subjection to the Almighty God. Pride is the result of man's failure to acknowledge the superior quality of God above everything. It is a prison because we are not free to do what Love demands.

Pride is tricky: it is the most dangerous sin because it can creep in to any virtues. The only thing that can defeat pride is carefully contemplated truth, which gives birth to wisdom. Gaining superficial, uncontemplated truth may lead us to spiritual pride, but truth manifested in wisdom makes us humble.
"It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels."

— Saint Augustine

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Image: "The Winged Man", Odilon Redon, 1880

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

St. Patrick and His Breastplate


Maybe you have heard about a prayer called St. Patrick's Breastplate which goes like this: "Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,..." so on and so forth. Maybe you have even recited it a few times or perhaps you keep a nice holy card containing the prayer. If you are like me, maybe you even think that St. Patrick really had a breastplate inscribed with the prayer. Well, did he? And if he did, why the need to be armoured?

Based on what is known about his life from his own writings—which include a Confession—St. Patrick didn't have a military background, nor did he ever spend some time in military training. Before being ordained as a bishop, the Apostle of Ireland was a simple teenage slave that was sent to to the land of the Druids to herd sheep. So we can safely assume that as far as physical armoury goes, St. Patrick did not have a real breastplate.

The original word translated as "breastplate" is the Latin word "lorica", literally armour or breastplate. But it actually refers to incantational prayers traditionally inscribed on the shields or armorial trappings of knights, to be recited before going into battle. So this breastplate, this lorica, is in fact spiritual armour, not unlike the one described in Ephesians 6:11-17.

And yet, while St. Patrick was a prayerful man who is said to pray one hundred times during the day and another one hundred times during the evening, why would he feel the need to compose a prayer specially for his mission in Ireland?

St. Patrick's early adulthood was a period of history that saw the fall of Roman Empire in Western Europe, to be replaced shortly by the Medieval Age. At that time, most of the European continent was already Christian. Ireland was the first land outside the Greco-Roman territory to be evangelised, and the Medieval people considered this mission to be of utmost importance because Ireland was thought to be the "ends of the earth", beyond which only a vast sea exists.

It is no wonder then that St. Patrick composed his "breastplate", for he must have realised not only the importance, but also the dangers and diffculties of his mission on this land of strange paganism. He recognised the intangible though real presence of demonic activities, and he was wise enough to not underestimate them.

Through his lorica, God granted this holy man divine protection and blessing—great mystical armour—and eventually the victory of Christianity over ancient Druidism.

St. Patrick's Breastplate, or the Lorica of St. Patrick, is a beautiful and powerful invocation of Heavenly powers against loads of nasty stuff: from malice and temptations, to the lies of heresy and the spells of witchcraft. These threats still exist today in one form or another, and may even be more dangerous because they are more subtly hidden in modern pleasures, false freedom, and sinister peace.

Below is the full text of the prayer, translated by Kuno Meyer, as found in Fr. Neil O'Donoghue's St. Patrick: His Confession and Other Works.


*
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near,
alone and in a multitude.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.


*
Source:
O'Donaghue, Fr. Neil Xavier. St. Patrick: His Confession and Other Works. New Jersey, 2009: Catholic Book Publishing Corp.

Addendum:
Unam Sanctam has an interesting article about the Breastplate, and how a certain part of it is often removed, probably because it sounds "unecumenical" (I'm sure you can guess which one). I wholeheartedly agree with what the article says: let's just pray the Breastplate in its entirety and the fullness of its power, as how the Holy Apostle of Ireland himself wrote it and how it is intended to be prayed.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Fall In Love [Poem]


Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect
everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.


by: Pedro Arrupe, SJ

Friday, 7 February 2014

When Eve Wears a Miniskirt


The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me — she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.”
—Genesis 3:12

Some nights ago, I had an interesting conversation with a dear brother in Christ and St. Dominic. The conversation steered into the matter of keeping custody of the eyes. I was then reminded of an incident in the country a few years ago.

It was the controversy of miniskirt. A young lady was raped in a public transport, and the perpetrator blamed her for wearing a miniskirt. Many Muslim organisations agreed that it was the lady's fault; some, I read, even used the incident as an argument for promoting sharia law. Of course, the feminists did not accept: they argued that it was the man who could not guard his eyes, it was the man's fault for being lustful, and that women should be free to wear whatever they want. Indonesia, after all, is not an Islamic country.

We agree AND disagree with both parties, and here's why.

First, let me make it clear that a crime is a crime is a crime. Rape is a crime, a violation of one's dignity. The perpetrator was guilty of an utterly heinous crime against human dignity; this should not be debated. So yes, it was indeed his fault that he should submit to lustful desires. No, the rape victim wasn't guilty of that rape.

However — and I'm going to be really careful here — wearing a miniskirt or other immodest dresses does not appear to help with the situation either.

Generally speaking, men do have higher and/or stronger sex drive than women, thanks to their higher level of, and quicker response to, the hormone testosterone. [Read a comparative article here, and this journal here, if you're feeling scientific] But that's biology, and men are not only biology. They also have souls, intellect, and free will. Passions are supposed to submit to reason; that's called integrity, and it's a preternatural gift that got corrupted since the Fall of Adam. That's why you guys must learn —harder now — to exercise custody of the eyes. (Yes, you can do it. You are more than just a lump of good-looking cells.)

But what about us women? Well, if we truly think of men as our brothers, then we should help keep their fiery passions in check. Isn't woman called to be the helpmate of man? To be really blunt, many men nowadays do not know how to act like men because we do not act like ladies. A thing can become its true self only when it is contrasted with its stark opposite.

We influence each other; boys, especially, tend to have a childhood idol like a superhero, a historical figure, or his dad/grandfather, a "cool" person that inspires him to explore and develop his better side. Following that logic, then, a man has to be inspired by women, inspired enough to think that women are worthy to be courteous to, and enough to be the best man he can be.

How do we do it? First, by dressing modestly. Yes, modesty in fashion is a little vague and hard to describe. But Michelle Arnold has a well-written explanation on Blessed Virgin's Guide to Catholic Modesty, with sensitivity to different cultures and a reminder of the difference between imitation and mere mimicry. Simply stated, modesty is "keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity." (CCC #2522)

But more important than fashion is attitude. Modest clothing only works so far, we also have act modestly. Young women need to be aware that they have the power to help shape a guy to be a gentleman, or to seduce him into becoming a beast. The way we talk, dance, move, can either pronounce or disgrace our true beauty. Modest attitude complement modest clothing, and modest clothing can help us act accordingly. Remember that human is body AND soul, and we are called to integrity.

Lastly, let me close this post with a rather sharp saying from St. John Chrysostom:
"You carry your snare everywhere and spread your nets in all places. You allege that you never invited others to sin. You did not, indeed, by your words, but you have done so by your dress and your deportment, and much more effectively than you could by your voice. When you have made another sin in his heart, how can you be innocent? Tell me, whom does this world condemn? Whom do judges in court punish? Those who drink poison or those who prepare it and administer the fatal potion? You have prepared the abominable cup, you have given the death-dealing drink, and you are more criminal than are those who poison the body; you murder not the body, but the soul. And it is not to enemies that you do this, nor are you urged on by any imaginary necessity, nor provoked by injury, but out of foolish vanity and pride."

*

Image: "Original Sin", by Salvador Dali, 1941

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Return of Life


"God did not make death, and He does not delight in the death of the living."—Wisdom 1:13

What would we be thinking when we find out something or someone is about to harm us?

A time of danger puts one in a fight-or-flight mode. If he is sure that he can still face that danger, he stays and tries to fight. When he feels that it is more prudent to flee, then he flees to secure himself. These two kinds of response towards danger are parts of the normal physiological system to ensure survival.

After danger has passed, we would usually feel relieved and joyful. But what if the end of danger means the end of our enemy? Are we going to feel joyful as well?

Absalom is King David's son from one of his many concubines. When Absalom rebelled against his father and planned to kill him, David chose to flee with his faithful men. Later, in his place of refuge, David gathered his army to fight back and thwart Absalom's revolt; even then, he still ordered his men to "deal gently" with Absalom.

Absalom met his death in a gruesome way: his head got stuck in a tree branch. And when he was hanging helplessly between heaven and earth, Joab and his soldiers stabbed Absalom with three spears and therefore killed him.

Did David rejoice because the person plotting to murder him was dead? Not at all! David actually grieved over the death of Absalom! Absalom did want to harm him, but he was still David's own son.

In the Old Testament, it is said that one of the signs of the Messianic era would be the resurrection of the dead. Jesus the Messiah fulfilled all the signs: not only He healed those sick in body and mind, He also banished the biggest pandemic of mankind, that is death.

Indeed, death was never part of God's plan. Death came unto the world as a consequence of sin, and sin is man's willed choice. God, in His infinite love, visited men to restore life. We are His children, and however rebellious and hateful we are towards Him, His ever-loving heart would be so torn if we are lost to death.

Just like David never willed the death of Absalom, our Heavenly Father also never wills the death of man. What is astonishing is that, often it is we who desire harm upon our own brothers, even upon our smallest and weakest brothers, the little unborn. Isn't all forms of life have their source in God? If God Himself is more than willing to raise the dead, then defending the dignity of life is quite a proper and a most natural thing to do.

Choose life, because our God is a living God.

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Daily Reading for Sunday, 4 February 2014

First Reading — 2 Samuel 18:9-10, 14b, 24-25a, 30 - 19:3
Responsorial Psalm — Psalm 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Gospel Reading — Mark 5:21-43

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Image: "Wisteria. Cookham.", Stanley Spencer, 1942

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Number 40


In Biblical numerology, the number "40" symbolises a period of great transformation which hopefully would end in some form of fulfilment. For instance, the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty days before entering the Promised Land. Noah's flood persisted for forty days. Moses stood before God on the summit of Mount Sinai for forty days. Nineveh was given forty days to repent. Jesus fasted for forty days and ascended into Heaven forty days after His resurrection.

Today, once again we encounter the number "40": according to Jewish law, forty days after a baby boy is born, the parents have to present him to God (Lev 12:3-4). In medical science, this 40-day postpartum period is called the puerperium, a time when the mother's body slowly returns to its non-pregnant state, both anatomically and physiologically. The Jewish law, either by coincidence or not, attaches a symbolic meaning to this biological phenomenon: the requirement at the end of puerperal period to present a male newborn to the Temple accompanied with the offering of two turtledoves or two young pigeons, is a rite of purification for the mother.

What is the meaning of this transformation and purification for us? What is being changed, what is being purified?

Firstly, Jesus purified the Temple. Jesus came to fulfil the Old Testament; He perfected the offerings of the Old Rite such as lambs and bulls, because He is the spotless Lamb most pleasing to God. The New Rite's offering is the Son of God Himself, and only through this Victim can we embrace true reconciliation with our Creator, whom we now call Father.

Secondly, by purifying the Old Testament law, Jesus also transformed and purified ourselves to become worthy offerings for God. Truly, "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may once again bring righteous offerings to the Lord." (Malachi 3:3) Jesus emptied Himself and wore our humanity, so that we humans may share in His Divinity. Jesus made Himself one of us: He was born in a lowly place, He was subject to human love through Joseph and Mary, and He was even tempted just like we are, only He never sinned. His sacrifice then gave us the grace and strength to fight against the Evil One and to live in holiness.

Thirdly, Jesus changes our lives by becoming "the light of nations". As the True Light, He gives us knowledge about the Way, the Truth, and the Life. As the True Light, He reveals to us the reality of the Family of God—that is, the Holy Trinity—and God's great plan for humanity. And lastly, as the True Light, He also exposes our errors, or as Simeon put it, "the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed". Therefore, let us call an end to a life in darkness of reason and faith: let us approach that eternal Light so that we may be healed, liberated, and transformed into His likeness.

Praise God for the gift of 40 Days of Christmas! In His light, we can now walk in truth, in hope, and in love!

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Daily Reading for Sunday, 2 February 2014

First Reading — Malachi 3:1-4
Responsorial Psalm — Psalm 24:7,8,9,10
Second Reading — Hebrews 2:14-18
Gospel Reading — Luke 2:22-40

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Image: "Presentation of Jesus at the Temple", Simon Vouet