Mercy – CSOC’s Summer event

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Dear friends and family in Christ,

We warmly invite you to our Summer event, to be held at St Joseph Church, Victoria Street over 2 day sessions. Our theme this year is Mercy, and the programme will consist of fun-filled games, talks and spiritual exercises. Come meet old friends and new!

For those of you new to the family, we are a community of Catholic Singaporeans studying overseas who meet-up both in Singapore and abroad, living out our faith in fellowship and sharing in the unique challenges we may face as students abroad.

This year, we are very excited to have Rev. Fr Kenneth Gopal, OCD, STL with us to facilitate our camp. Fr Gopal is a lecturer at the Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore and will be taking us through his meditations of Jesus. Sign-up now to book your place: Sign-up form

Date: 1st and 2nd August 2015
Time: 8am-6pm each day (to be confirmed)
Venue: St Joseph Church, Victoria Street
Fee:$15*

*Fee covers venue hire, donations to the Church and refreshments. Lunch not included.

A full programme will be released soon. If you have any questions, please email csocsingapore@gmail.com

God bless,

Your CSOC Committee

Bernard-Gallagher-Mercy

After Easter

This last term of the academic year in Durham is quite peculiar – and rushed. We’ve barely settled back again and the exams (and the effective end of term) are right around the corner. I didn’t even bother to unpack this time round.

It is especially peculiar for me given the stark contrast of pace with the preceding weeks. I spent much of my Easter break living the monastic life: a weekend at Quarr, Holy Week at Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland, and almost two weeks on Papa Stronsay way out north. The monastic life is, as one may expect, one of restful peace, quiet, and contemplation. When I was at Papa Stronsay, I met a Dutch priest who was a postulant in the community there. It was actually quite an unusual sight: seeing a priest being at the bottom of the pecking order, tasked to do the lowliest jobs. I asked him one day what made him decide to seek the religious life. He answered with a childlike earnestness that seemed particularly characteristic of the continentals, “I want to be a saint!” But of course, what other reason could there be?

The monastery is quite like Mount Tabor: the eschatological sign of the kingdom to come. It was for me what Leon Bloy’s house was for the Maritains, a place beyond whose threshold “all values were dislocated, as though by an invisible switch. One knew, or one guessed, that only one sorrow existed there – not to be a saint. And all the rest receded into the twilight”.

Most of us, however, will never enter the religious life. We find out, as St Peter did, that we’re not allowed to pitch our tents there at the peak. Somehow we are asked to return down the mountain and called to be saints anyway. Figuring how to go about that is quite the narrative of many a Christian life.

There is a certain deadening immediately after the mountaintop experience. Life goes on, old habits creep back in, I find myself sinning again those sins that I thought I’ve finally gotten control over. But you never do, of course. Or, not for a long while at least. One eventually realizes that the only recourse is to abandon oneself to the mercy of God. St Catherine of Siena spoke of building her cell within her mind, bringing it wherever she went. The intensity of peak experiences will fade. But they do so after having accomplished their purpose: to shock the soul in stupor, to open our eyes to the presence and reality of God – that we may live constantly in the presence of God, coram Deo, even through the everyday.

In the Company of Loyal Servants

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‘Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ – John 15:13

Recently, I have be the great honour and privilege of serving Mass with the Extraordinary Form (EF) community in Japan. Housed in the small and quiet chapel of the Society of St Paul in Wakaba, Shinjuku, the thirty person community comprises of two groups that organise the Mass, Una Voce Japan, and Akenohoshibei-Seibono-Tsudoi(明の星聖母の集い主催). However, they share a common pool of servers.

This is was the first time at a sung Mass in Japan that I have seen an all male sanctuary. The next time was at the Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki. However, I think this is the only place in Tokyo where one will see men raising to the call to serve Christ in Holy Mass. What was even more striking was the age of the men in the sanctuary!

The oldest server in the group is 68 year old Noue-san, who has a limp and some left-sided weakness, yet is more spritely than most men a quarter his age. He made every effort to genuflect, and he knelt whenever was necessary, even for communion! For those who are not familiar with the EF Mass, communion is only received in the preferred and traditional method of the Roman Catholic Church, kneeling and on the tongue. This, I promise you, was surely no mean feat for the aged gentleman.

What is even more amazing is Fr Augustine Ikeda, S.S.P., the celebrant of the EF Mass here is a mind-blowing 86 years old! Even more astonishing is that he wanted people to help him to say the old mass and genuflects as the rubrics command. The actions in older form of the Mass are much more elaborate than the Mass of Paul VI, or the Ordinary Form of the Mass, which most people assist at on Sunday. It involves a great deal of genuflections, and I can tell you from the experience of serving for elderly priest, it can quite exhausting.

This speaks volumes of the love which these men have for Christ, Our Lord. God does not ask of us more than we can handle, thus, it is not required for an elderly person with bad knees to make the genuflections or kneel. However, how often it is that I see the elderly making the effort to kneel and genuflect! This is truly what it means to use one’s body to worship God, to give of oneself. This is the daily martyrdom which God asks of us, for that small self-sacrifice to be given and raised together with His own sacrifice. This is the essence of masculinity, self-sacrifice and discipline.

One of the most manly things in the world is to see a man on his knees, praying before God. I remember when I was at Mass in Lyon, France, seeing a father on his knees in front of the Blessed Virgin after Mass in prayer, with his little boy at his side in imitation. What a powerful image that was. This little boy of about 6, God willing, will in time learn how to follow His father’s footsteps, because that is what little boys long to do, and he will learn to love his Heavenly Queen, to be devoted to the Most Sacred Heart of Her Son. He will learn to be reverent at Mass, to obey the rubrics, kneeling at the right time, standing at the right time. He will learn discipline through the imitation of his father’s fasting, and the time that he spends in prayer. All of this, he will learn long before he begins to understand the complex theology of doctrine and dogma, all of this he will learn through watching his father sacrificing himself on a daily basis.

This desire for self-sacrifice and discipline is why many men take up arduous tasks like competing in contact sports or going camping and hiking or signing up for the army. This is why Christ became a man, and chose men to lead the Church once He had ascended. The job of the priest is to sacrifice himself, his entire life in order to serve God. That is why a priest is celibate, so that he can give himself entirely to His king. The EF is wonderful for bringing out the sacrificial nature of the Mass, which many moderns who fear the difficulty and arduous nature of sacrifice avoid mentioning. It is also wonderful for drawing modern men out of their soft comforts and their hedonistic pleasures and returning them to the path of the straight and narrow.

I am very thankful for the opportunity to see this fine and true example of manliness here in Japan.

PS: Those interested in visiting the Extraordinary Form Community in Japan should check out their website: http://uvj.jp/en/. As of May, Masses in the Old Rite will be held one every 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Sunday of the Month.

Vocations Sunday

Today, on waking earlier than planned, I took for granted in my complacency the amount of time I had before Mass at the University Chaplaincy that I normally attend. This meant I missed my bus into town and not wanting to turn up to Mass late, I decided to go to the local parish church instead. I walked to church feeling rather off-kilter. It was one of those days – a long to-do list, energy levels on the low, brain managing to be sluggish but hoarding a gazillion thoughts at the same time. However, as always, when I had least expected it, God transformed my morning of poor time-keeping and ill-addressed distraction with important reminders.

On this Vocations Sunday, there was a visiting seminarian at Mass. He was a young man with a warmth and energy that spoke volumes about his passion for his vocation. After Communion, he shared with us his story. He spoke of how his calling started at the age of 6. As a young boy, he unconsciously mirrored the priest at Mass, praying at a makeshift altar at home with a cloth around his shoulders. He said that as a child, he had thought that that was the way everybody prayed. Thus it was that from a young age his attraction to the priesthood started and grew stronger through the years. He finished his basic schooling and A levels and was all too eager to continue the next chapter of his journey to the priesthood.

However, to his bitter disappointment, his application to enter the seminary was rejected by the Bishop, who suggested he experience more of the world and perhaps consider doing a degree first. He described his utter dismay at this anti-climax after years of anticipation and his subsequent enrolment into University to read Economics. He joked that all through University, he was more interested in the Church and the faith than his lectures, preferring the Catholic Herald over the Financial Times.

Most poignantly, he described with candour how in his dejection and subsequent experiences, God helped him realise an important lesson. He recounted how he knew from his response to the obstacle that he had been chasing the priesthood for himself, not God. If he had truly been seeking above all else God’s will and wishing to join the priesthood for love of God, he would not have reacted so strongly to the possibility that that may not be God’s plan for him. Thus, with a realigned focus and open heart, he finished his University degree and applied to the seminary for the second time. He is now in his first year out of six at Allen Hall and enthused that though the training is long, time passes when you are having fun!

Indeed, this message about loving God above oneself and discerning our callings, whether to the religious or non-religious life, is relevant to all Christians. For me, it was a demonstration that God works to change hearts in both little and large ways. I was reminded that all through our struggles with this “for love of self/God” paradox, He is working to change our self-serving preoccupations to ones aligned with His will, and that He can take our weaknesses and bring forth something good.

– I –

The Empty Tomb

In the Montessori inspired Catechism of the Good Shepherd programme, there is a work for the little ones to do about the resurrection. It is aptly called, ‘The Empty Tomb’. This work involves a papier-mâché model of the Holy Sepulchre which Christ was whitherto interred and little figurines of the various actors in the great theological drama of the resurrection. To do this work, the child uses the figures to act out the sequence of the resurrection from the moment Our Lord is buried to when St Mary Magdalene and the other women went to the tomb on Easter Sunday morning only to be shocked at the discovery of the angel in an empty tomb. The child is then invited to meditate on that mystery.

O what a mystery it is to meditate upon! Not just for these little ones, but also for us now and forever. This tomb, this empty tomb is the very linchpin of Our Faith! That we should marvel at its very emptiness, for a tomb is meant to hold those held captive by death, and not meant to hold that which is alive. It is thus very fitting that the tomb must be empty when it was discovered by these holy women. For Christ, who without need, took our place and allowed himself to be raised on the cross, raised Himself from the dead has conquered death. In doing so, He redeemed us of our sins, and at the same time destroyed, completely, the consequence of the sin of Adam. It must also be empty because it is Christ Himself, who resurrected Himself from the dead, unlike Lazarus who was called forth.

It is with this empty tomb that the St Peter and St John understood what had happened. It is with empty tomb that we know if we turn ourselves completely toward God, to align our wills completely with His Divine Will, to give ourselves completely to Him, that we may bath in the precious blood of His Son, to be forgiven of our sins and to enjoy with Him life everlasting. For the very fact that this extraordinary event is true. Death is now only a passing, our lives will be transformed through God.

And, it is with this very truth of this amazing empty tomb that the holy apostles, confessors and martyrs took the entire world by storm for Christ. That established, until recently, Christendom over all of Europe. This is the truth that continues to move men and women to imitate Him in His passion, shedding their blood under the sword, giving up their lives for His sake. My dear friends, this is truth is the truth that God has given to you. The very legacy of the Church, your heritage and the gift of Faith:

[T]hat Christ rising again from the dead, dieth now no more, death shall no more have dominion over him. For in that he died to sin, he died once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. – Romans 6:9-10

Deus In Adjutorium Meum Intende. Domine Ad Adjuvandum Me Festina.

℣. My help is in the name of the Lord. ℟.O Lord, make haste to help me.
by Peirce Yip

With these ancient words began the office of Vespers. I was at the back of the church, having only just arrived minutes before, my huge backpack on the seat beside me. Without any fuss, the monks proceeded to chant the hymns and psalms of the day. With the exception of one brother (who seemed to be always half a beat behind and a pitch too high), the purity of their voices was quite unlike anything I’ve heard before.

When Vespers was done, one of the monks approached and motioned for me to follow him. “We’ve been expecting you”, he whispered as we shuffled towards the door. “I’m Fr Nicholas, the guest master. I’ll show you to your room now and then Br Duncan will be giving the official welcome in the common room–in about seven minutes.”

I was there at Quarr Abbey, a Benedictine abbey on the Isle of Wight, for their first Monastic Experience Weekend from 13-15 March. I had first heard of Quarr from my godmother who had spent some time before at St Cecilia’s Abbey, a convent of Benedictine nuns also on the Isle of Wight. I happened one Sunday to chance upon a poster at the back of my church promoting this programme and immediately sent an email to express my interest. I had never been to a monastery before and was quite keen to get a taster of the monastic life. That was what I basically got for those three days. Eight times a day I prayed together with the monks. I shared too in the daily chores and work of the community.

What struck me above all was the seriousness and prayerfulness of the life at Quarr. “Prayer is not just confined to the Divine Office,” Fr Nicholas explains. “We do not go to the church to pray, leave to work, and then come back to pray again–our work is prayer. When we work in the garden–that’s praying. When I’m here talking to guests like you–that’s praying too.” This accounts for much else that one witnesses in a monastery: for example, the general silence kept throughout the day and the ecclesiastical style of the refectory.

The monastic life is however not all seriousness. I witnessed the lighter side of the monks during their weekly community recreation. Over tea and sweets, they freely chatted about the upcoming UK general election and the beauty of Russian liturgical music, among other things.

By the end of my short stay at Quarr, I’d grown quite fond of that community and was rather sad to leave. This was after all my first monastery and–like all first things tend to generally–had made a firm impression on me. As I left on the ferry back to Portsmouth (and to the busy secular world), I made plans for my next visit to Quarr–the next time hopefully a longer one.

Peirce is a neophyte convert from Anglicanism and is currently a Fresher reading Theology at Durham University. At present, he is on retreat in a monastery somewhere in Europe.

The Launch of the CSOC Bloggers!

+AMDG ac BVM+

My dear brothers and sisters,

Pax Christi!

We are now just about to enter the Spring/Easter term for most us. In fact, the liturgical seasons are changing as well as the Church transits from Lent into Passiontide into Easter. Easter is the time to celebrate the unthinkable, the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

We have spent the last 4 weeks preparing for this celebration by walking through the arid desert of penance, through our little conscious sacrifices, willing mortifications, and increased prayer. A ‘spring cleaning’ of the soul, wherein we throw out and detach ourselves from anything that is not of Our Lord, taking on what is of Him, so that we can become more like Him. Now, the goal is insight, and hopefully, we will be able to continue with some of these mortifications or prayer resolutions as part of daily lives. These will keep us ever more steady on the straight and narrow road to heaven.

Spring is a time of change, likewise, CSOC is undergoing an exciting change! We are launching a CSOC blog. Because the only time that we can meet up with all the our CSOC members is during Summer, and usually during our camp, we wanted a better way to reach out to you. These blogs will be about almost anything, from reflections, to essays, to events or silly happenings. Right now, we have contributors from the UK, US, Japan, and Ireland. As the next two weeks unfold, I hope you will get to meet them and enjoy their posts.

Through the blog, we hope to share our experiences as Catholics living overseas, and I hope you that you may laugh, be inspired, or learn about being Catholic in different countries. Most of all, that we all in solidarity in one Faith.

I wish you all a most prayerful Passiontide, and a Joyous Easter ahead.

In Corde Iesu,

David Yung,

President of CSOC

Passion Sunday 2015

PS: We’re still looking for one or two more contributors, so if you’re interested, please don’t hesitate to write to us at csocsingapore@gmail.com. The commitment is small, just two to three short posts a week. We hope to hear from you soon!

Camp Fidelis 2013 wrap up!

Camp Fidelis was held for the first time on 24-25 August 2013 at FMM House. This 2-day, 1-night camp saw 19 students from a diverse range of schools, subjects and backgrounds gather together for a weekend of fun and faith-filled activities. These students came from universities ranging from London all the way up to Glasgow, studying subjects ranging from medicine to music, but all were united by a common desire to seek the truth and understand  their faith more fully.

Despite cramming many talks into a short time frame, our participants enjoyed them immensely and felt that their understanding of the faith was greatly enriched. The first talk by our Spiritual Director, Fr Edward Lim, OCD, was on the topic of “Faith & Reason”. Sharing his experience as a medical doctor before becoming a priest, he talked about the importance of using both faith and reason in our studies and future working lives. Fr Erbin Fernandez gave the second talk on “Why Keep the Faith and How”, where he explained concepts in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), and also gave practical tips adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 Step programme. The next talk was a sharing by Louis Figueroa on his experience as an American Catholic living in the US, the UK and Europe, and the different challenges young Catholics would face abroad. Last but not least, Benedict Tang wrapped up the camp with a primer on apologetics in his talk on “How to Defend the Faith”, which showed participants how to charitably explain and defend what they believe to their friends of other faiths.

In addition to all these thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating talks, the camp also provided ample bonding time for the participants, most of whom had not known each other beforehand. They spent the afternoon pelting each other with water bombs in a bid to steal plastic bag “tails” from the opposing team. They also worked together in teams to complete a scavenger hunt, finding items like dead leaves, blue t-shirts, and even an original 8-line poem in iambic pentameter. Mealtimes were also great opportunities for participants to get to know each other better, particularly when the whole group went out for an unscheduled supper at Adam Road Food Centre.

It was all in all a great experience for everyone involved. As the first event conducted by the newly-formed Catholic Students’ Overseas Community (CSOC), this will hopefully spell more such activities for overseas Singaporean Catholic students in the near future. The CSOC Committee would like to thank everybody who has helped us in one way or the other, as well as our sponsors for being exceedingly generous in their contributions, and most importantly God, Who makes all things possible.

You may download our event report or view our accounts at our Accounts page. The Catholic News report on Camp Fidelis may also be found here.