26 June 2024

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Categories: Reflections

This June, the Church gives us two great feasts celebrating the amazing love of Christ for all of us: theSolemnities of the Body and Blood of Christ or Corpus Christi on June 2, and the Solemnity of the Most SacredHeart of Jesus on June 7.

During this June school holidays, 13th century Franciscan St. Bonaventure invites us to contemplate on howthese two feasts are connected:

You who have been redeemed, consider who it is who hangs on the cross for you, whose death gives life tothe dead. Consider how great He is; consider what He is.

In order that the Church might be formed from the side of Christ as He slept on the cross, in order that thatWord of scripture might be fulfilled – ‘They shall look on him whom they have pierced’ (Zechariah 12:10) – God’sprovidence decreed that one of the soldiers should open His sacred side with a spear, so that blood, with water,might flow out to pay the price of our salvation. This blood, which flowed from the recesses of His heart, gavethe Sacraments of the Church power to confer the life of grace, and for those who already live in Christ, was adraught of living water welling up to eternal life.” (Second reading of the Liturgy of the Hours’ Office of Readings forthe Solemnity of the Sacred Heart)

We heard in the Gospel reading for the Solemnity of the Ascension how Christ promised, before He returned toheaven, that He would be with us until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) This promise is fulfilled in theSacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the gift of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, where His real Presence fillsall the places wherever Mass is celebrated.

In the words of Pope St. John Paul II: “This is the wonderful truth, my dear friends: the Word, whichbecame flesh 2,000 years ago, is present today in the Eucharist.”

I was struck by St. Bonaventure’s call to contemplate Christ on the cross, His identity, and His greatness. Whatmight this mean for Catholic educators?

The 5 essential marks of Christ’s schools

Christ on the cross was pierced in 5 places – His two hands and two feet which were nailed to the cross, andHis side, which was lanced by a spear.

These reminded me that, like Christ, Catholic schools bear their own stigmata. In 2006, American Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB summarised the Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools (HST), which declared that all Catholic schools should have the 5 following essential marks (I have further synthesised and illustrated themwith quotes from Pope Francis):

1.        Inspired by a supernatural vision

“The Church sees education as a process that in the light of man’s transcendent destiny, forms the whole child,and seeks to fix his or her eyes on heaven.” Why? Because their destiny is “to become saints” (HST).

The first man and woman were saints, with clean hearts and clean hands, living in perfect communion with Godand the rest of creation in Paradise. But they fell into sin, taking all mankind with them. To restore all humanityto heaven, God sent Jesus.

Fully God and fully Man, Jesus shows us the Way home to Paradise. With His passion, death and Resurrection, and then “with theAscension, something new and beautiful happened: Jesus brought our humanity, our flesh, into heaven – the risen Jesus was not aspirit – He had His human body, flesh and bones, everything. Suchis His love for us that He bears our humanity in Himself to the place that awaits us, our destiny.” (Pope Francis, Regina Caeli, May 21,2023)

If the vision of Catholic schools is to help our students attain their heavenly destiny, then our mission must be toproclaim and lead others to Christ, the Way.

In a 2022 message to the Secretary-General of the International Office of Catholic Education (IOCE), PopeFrancis wrote, “When we approach education, we cannot do so thinking of something merely human, focusingthe question on programmes, training, resources, areas of reception; the Christian vocation asks us to give voiceto a Word that is not ours, that surpasses us, that transcends us.”

 

2.        Founded on a Christian anthropology

The Merrian-Webster online dictionary defines ‘anthropology’ as the study of the origin, nature and destinyof human beings.

The Church sees man as the only creature God created – out of love, tolove and be loved – in His own image and likeness clothed with humandignity, and with the intellect, free will and hearts capable of seeking and understanding the Truth, Wisdom and Love that is God Himself.

Although God creates men and women in His image from natural, physical elements, our souls carry within us the spark of divinity, because the Spirit of God is breathed into us at conception, upon which we became living beings (Genesis 1:27; 22:7).

But we have since lost the likeness of God our Father and Jesus our Brother, having chosen to disfigure ourselves through sin, and masking our natural, God-given beauty with what Pope Francis calls worldly make-up and cosmetic surgery.

Our calling as Catholic educators, whether as parents, catechists, teachers, is to restore the likeness of God, asrevealed in the person of Jesus, to our young charges. To do this, we “should have a sound understanding of the human person that addresses the requirements of both the natural and supernatural perfection of thechildren entrusted to [our] care.” (HST)

“Catholic education is above all a question of communicating Christ, of helping to form Christ in the lives ofothers… In a Catholic school, everyone should be aware of His living presence, the one genuine Teacher, and theperfect Man in whom all human values find their fullest perfection.” (HST) Yet schools have fallen into the “trap ofa secular academic success culture”, “fitting Christ in” rather than making Him their “vital principle”. (HST)

 

3.        Animated by communion and community

“All men are called to the same end: God Himself. There is a certain resemblance between the unity of the divine persons (the communion of the Holy Trinity) and the fraternity that men are to establish amongthemselves in truth and love. Love of neighbour is inseparable from love for God.” (CCC 1878)

Hence HST proposes that “a spirituality of communion should be the guiding principle of Catholic education” andCatholic schools be “communities of faith” where administrators, teachers, students, parents, school-boardmembers, religious and clergy engage and interact with each other in teamwork, co-operation and collaboration to foster a school’s “catholicity.” Otherwise, they would be “mere mechanisms without a soul.”

Schools should be an extension of the family, and the students’physical environment that of a recognisably Catholic “school-home”infused with prayer, suffused with “a delight in the sacramental”, andwhere “the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation inparticular should mark the rhythm of a Catholic school’s life.” (HST)

This spirituality of communion should extend to the wider society. Ina 2021 video message to the Jesuit Latin-American educationalcommunity (FLACSI), Pope Francis said:

“I would like schools to be welcoming schools, places where one’s own and others’ wounds can be healed;schools where the doors are truly open, where the poor can enter and where one can go to meet the poor. Theyshould embody the wisdom of the Gospel, which is the privileged perspective from which we can learn to livetogether with everyone in solidarity and fraternity knowing that we are created and connected as a family, asbrothers and sisters.”

 

4.        Imbued with a Catholic worldview throughout its curriculum

As such, Catholic education must be integral i.e. aiming to “develop gradually every capability of every student: his or her intellectual, physical, psychological, moral and religious capacities,” as constantly inspiredand guided by the Gospel values. (HST)

This does not mean a Catholic school’s distinctiveness “lies only in the quality of its religious instruction,Catechesis or moral activities” – a school must espouse authentically Catholic values and virtues across itsentire curriculum, teaching students how to transform culture in the light of faith, and living out their faith inpractice. (HST)

This would mean for example, upholding the sanctity of life, especially of the vulnerable and unborn, despite theworld’s prevailing culture of death, and respecting the dignity of the human person and caring for creation in athrow-away culture that treats people and the earth as objects to be used, abused, and then discarded.

Pope Francis reminds us, through FLACSI that, “I want your schools to teach how to discern, to read thesigns of the times, to interpret one’s own life as a gift to be grateful for, and to share. Students should have a critical attitude towards the model of development, production and consumption (Laudato si’, 138) that makes the vast majority of the world’s population suffer… My wish is that your schools have conscience, andcreate conscience.”

 

5.        Sustained by Gospel witness

Catholic educators also have an integral role in the Church’s evangelisingmission. “Theirs is a supernatural calling and not simply the exercise of aprofession. The nobility of the task to which they are called demands that,in imitation of Christ, the only Teacher, they reveal the Christian message,not only by word, but by every gesture of their behaviour.” (HST)

In his General Audience of January 11, 2023, Pope Francis urged: “Wedo not have to wait until we are perfect and have come a long wayfollowing Jesus to bear witness to Him, no. Our proclamation beginstoday, there where we live… We need to put Jesus in contact with the people, not convincing them ourselves, but instead, allowing the Lord todo the convincing.

Ǫuoting Pope Benedict XVI, he clarified, “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows byattraction.”

As Pope Francis told FLACSI, “Jesus is the model that teaches us to relate with others and with Creation. He teaches us to go out, to meet with the smallest, with the poor, the rejected. May our schools form hearts convinced of the mission for which they were created, with the certainty that ‘life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others’ (Evangelii gaudium, 10). Life that is conserved ends up being a museum piece that smells of mothballs, and this is not helpful.”

5 marks, 5 wounds

Christ’s arms are stretched out on the cross, imploring everyone to come into His embrace, to reciprocateHis unconditional, undying love for us. We recall His words on Calvary: “I thirst!” (John 19:38) which echoes His earlier appeal to the Samaritan woman at the well: “Give me a drink!” (John 4:7) Jesus thirsts, not forliquids, but for our souls.

St. Teresa of Calcutta explained: “‘I thirst’ is something much deeper than Jesus just saying ‘I love you.’ Untilyou know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you, you can’t begin to know who He wants to be for you, or who Hewants you to be for Him.”

To me, the two wounds on Christ’s hands symbolise the 1st and 3rd essential marks of Catholic schools, welcoming communities that attract young people to Christ who shows them their heavenly destiny. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

The two wounds on Christ’s feet remind me of the 4th and 5th marks, for “How beautiful upon themountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announcessalvation, who says to all, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7)

As Pope Francis explained to the OIEC: “Jesus is always on the move, and He exhorts His disciples to do the same. Similarly, Catholic schools, in their initiatives, must teach minds to be open to new situations and concepts, to walk together without excluding anyone, to establish points of encounter and attracting those whoare far away.”

The wound in Christ’s side, the one in His Sacred Heart, therefore symbolises the 2nd mark, which is all aboutour identity as His Beloved Disciples. Created in the divine image, how else are we to regain the likeness of God if not by conforming our hearts, and moulding those of our young charges’ to Christ the good Shepherd’s?

We cannot do it through our own human efforts: it will be possible only if we cooperate with the grace of theHoly Spirit poured out on us at Pentecost, which we celebrated last May 20. What better time to start then inthis liturgical season of Ordinary Time, the extra- ordinary, exciting springtime of sowing the seeds of faith, bringing forth new life and walking with the Lord who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

So, every time we see the crucifixes in our homes, classrooms and churches and ‘consider he who hangs onthe cross for you’, may we be reminded of the 5 essentials of our vocation to lead the young people in ourschools to heaven, and that in the joys and sorrows of our pilgrimage on earth we never walk alone.

 

NB: Limited hard copies of the HolySee’s Teaching on Catholic Schools areavailable from ACCS. A PDF copy has alsobeen posted online athttps://catholiced.us.

26 June 2024

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Categories: Reflections

In the Gospel of John chapter 6, we hear how Jesus would feed the five thousand with five barley loavesand two fish. This miracle is also found in the synoptic gospels. But a detail unique to John’s Gospel (not found inthe other gospels) is that the offering of bread and fish was said to be contributed by a young boy. In other words,a child was involved in the Eucharist!

Later in the same chapter (vv22-59), Jesus would preach what would come to be known as the ‘Bread of Life’discourse in a synagogue in Capernaum. This is what Jesus said:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (vv50-51)

This is indeed a very significant declaration for it shows us how essential the Eucharist is to our lives, to whichthe Catholic Church professes, “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.” (CCC1324) For itis through Christ present in the Eucharist that we are healed, restored, and pardoned.

Put another way, the Eucharist provides us with real food in the form of bread and wine, so that we mayexperience God’s grace in a very tangible way. But at the same time, and here lies the mystery of the Holy Mass, the Church teaches that: “…by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the signs of breadand wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ”. (CCC1333)

At the institution of the Sacrament of Eucharist, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave itto them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and theyall drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. (Mk 14:22-24)

 

This is why the ordained priest (the alter Christus) must take the bread, bless it, break it, and give it to all who arepresent at the Holy Mass, whether it is celebrated in church or in our schools, so that we may be in communionwith one Lord. And we must remember that the Holy Mass is an integral expression of the five marks of aCatholic school, which are:

1) Inspired by a Supernatural Vision; 2) Founded on a Christian Anthropology; 3) Animated byCommunion and Community; 4) Imbued with a Catholic Worldview; 5) Sustained by the Witness ofTeaching

For this article, I shall focus only on the 5th since it reminds us that as Catholic educators, we play a vital role inupholding the school’s Catholic identity. As Catholics, we are first called to discipleship, and our mission is topreach the Gospel, and to make Christ known to the world. Thus, as Catholic educators, teaching is not just aprofession, it is a call to mission. This also means that we must be acutely aware of the unique characteristics and functions of Catholic education: it is to provide a holistic education that forms the entire person (body,mind, and soul). That was also the intention of the early Catholic missionaries when they set up schools inSingapore; it was to provide good education, to plant the seed of faith, and to impart the Christian values to theyoung ones.

As Catholic educators, our Teacher is Christ himself; our guide to scheme of work is the Holy Spirit; the textbook is the Gospel, and our key performance indicator is to bring out the best in our students by loving them. So that, just like the young boy in John’s Gospel, our young people can play an active role in their own faith formation.Whatever they contribute, in the form of five barley loaves and two fish, will be multiplied infinitely bythe grace of God.

As we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi in the month of June, let us pray, and ask for God’s grace to enableus to be the best teachers to our students, not for our personal glory, but for the glory of God. Let uscontinue to draw strength from the source and summit of our Christian life, i.e. the Holy Eucharist. Thanks beto God. Amen.

14 March 2024

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Categories: Reflections

Marie Therese Pang reflects on how our teaching profession is a life-giving one, and how God’s unconditional love is an invitation and a model to us, to love and value our students in the same way.

The greatest joy of teaching comes from the personal connections formed with my students. It gives me great fulfilment to guide them, witness their growth and build relationships with them, whether it is during a short chat in the canteen, responding to their reflective essays or seeing them in their element outside of the classroom. For students going through difficult periods, I find deep meaning in being a supportive presence. These moments of connection humanise the learning experience, creating an environment where students feel seen, heard, and valued.

Teaching can sometimes feel draining because the reality is that we often have to deal with complex individuals in complex circumstances. It is easy to love those who respond to our love – students who greet you warmly, are eager and ready to learn, or who openly share their struggles. But following the Lord’s commandments to love our neighbour requires us to love everyone, including the student who deliberately skipped your lesson or who is openly defiant and rude.

When I had a short teaching stint, there was a group of girls who were constantly inattentive. Irritated, I walked over and asked them to focus. One of them barked “WHAT?” so loudly at me that I felt myself shrink. I avoided her entirely and my resentment towards her grew. Instead of engaging with that group of students, I ignored them during lessons, and even refused to acknowledge them outside of class. I did not realise it then but I was not treating them with the kindness, empathy and care that they deserved. I recall complaining to my mum about these students and she said quietly, “The ones who are hardest to love, need it the most.”

In my frustration, I had forgotten that behaviours communicate a need and instead created a barrier between myself and the students. It is difficult to love people who do not reciprocate our love but Jesus loved us before we knew who He was or sought a relationship with Him. With God’s help, we can love and value our students not just as learners, but as individuals who are all children of God.

As a teacher, I find it easier to distance myself from a student’s behaviour. However, when it comes to parenting my own children, I sometimes struggle to love them as they are. My son can be strong-willed and sensitive and there were many occasions when I wished he would be easier to care for and love. Sometimes when I scroll through social media, I fall into the trap of comparing him to other children who seem better behaved, or are more adept at reading or sports. When that happens, I have to be intentional in taking a step back and acknowledge that my child is an individual, wonderfully and uniquely made.

If I dig a little deeper, my child’s behaviour affects me greatly because I see my child as a reflection of my parenting, and an extension of myself. Jesus called us to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:31) and to give this unconditional love to others, we need to receive it for ourselves first. Receiving God’s love forces us to confront our inadequacies and weaknesses, and our feelings of unworthiness. God does not say, “I love you if..” or “I love you because..” He loves us simply for who we are.

It is in our students and children’s most difficult moments that they need our love, care and concern the most. As parents and teachers, we want the best for those under our charge and oftentimes feel the need to change them. However, we should let them bloom in their own time and season. We can demonstrate love through our words and actions, and find joy in fostering an environment where every child is valued for who they are. In both teaching and parenting, there are undoubtedly hard days. But there are also days that God will show us grace that defies expectation. It could be a moment of tenderness between your children or a small smile from the student whom you were having trouble with. The same student that I ignored welcomed me with a booming “MS PANG!” when I visited the school a few months after my teaching stint ended. What keeps me on this journey is recognising what a life-giving profession teaching is as we celebrate all our children, share God’s love and uncover the depths of joy that teaching brings.

27 February 2024

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Categories: Lent, Reflections

In Singapore, we are very blessed to have Penitential Services organised in all parishes and Catholic schools. Rev Fr Joseph Stephen, CSsR, parish priest of the Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Ipoh, Malaysia laments on the dwindling numbers of children and youth who present themselves for confessions during Lent.

Lent is here again and among the Lenten practices like fasting, alms giving, works of mercy, Stations of the Cross and daily Mass, Catholics are encouraged to go for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The priests have come together to plan for penitential services in different parishes. This ministry will take up many nights. We run from one parish to another inviting people for the Sacrament. Some come, some don’t. It raises a question — why aren’t people coming for this Sacrament? Is there something wrong with the way it is taught or presented? Is there a Protestant influence whereby people say they can confess directly to God? Why go through a priest?

As I look back, I notice a certain trend among people. Firstly, we can hardly see youth coming for confession. This is my personal experience. There will just be a sprinkling of them. Do they have a special time in their parish for confession? I am not sure, although in our parish, we are trying to do that. Secondly, we can hardly see children who have received Holy Communion coming for confession. In many parishes, children who went for confession before holy communion, will only come again just before Confirmation.

The sad reality is that there are many people who do not go for confession. In many churches, it is difficult to find priests in the confession box before Mass because they are busy, with many Masses to cover or there is only one priest in the parish — tough going these days.

Is the Church doing enough to teach people about the need for reconciliation? Do we preach about it often enough? Do we give talks? Do we create special time for children and youth to come for confession? Maybe they are waiting for different priests to come to the parish so that they can go and celebrate this Sacrament of Reconciliation. And there is a problem. Sometimes there is a struggle with the question of venial sin and mortal sin (mortal is deadly sin). People feel they have committed venial sin (often understood as small sin). So, there is mortal sin, deadly, that breaks our relationship with God, community and self. Then we have venial sin (venia), which denotes an act of a less serious matter, which wounds our relationship with God.

I am not going to list down all the mortal sins. It is sufficient to know there is mortal sin and venial sin.

The Church teaches that all sins are wrong. Some action of ours have affected our relationship with God, with our community. There are sins that are not mortal (1 Jn 5:16-17) and there are sins that are mortal that lead to spiritual death. There are sins that do not lead us to spiritual death and there are sins that leads us to spiritual death. For these reasons, theologians, the spiritual masters, have divided them into mortal and venial sins.

There is a thinking among many of us that I have committed venial sin, a sin that does not break my communion with God or community so I do not need to go for confession.

The new rite of Sacrament of Penance promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 2, 1973 among other things says this – “frequent and careful celebration of this sacrament is also useful as a remedy for venial sins.”

We know from experience that small mistakes cool down friendship. How many times have we not spoken to a fellow priest because of a small misunderstanding or due to some hurting remark made? How many times have couples given the cold treatment to their spouse over some misunderstanding? In some religious communities, though we stay in the same house, we do not greet each other or talk to each other because of some difference in opinions or some small mistakes.

Theologians will also tell or teach us that any number of venial sins do not make one mortal sin. However venial sin can dispose us to mortal sin in the following ways:

— By weakening our disposition of the will to obey God. One who is not faithful in small things will not be faithful in big things.

— When we live in venial sin, we forfeit the deep relationship with God by making our will more inclined towards evil. l We need to pay attention that venial sin will hamper our growth to holiness.

— Finally, sins are great obstacles to virtue. Sin inflicts the following wounds ? ignorance which hampers use of reason, malice which makes the will less disposed to good, weakness which makes it more difficult to do good. Venial sin can make holiness and growth to holiness very difficult.

Lent is a great time for us to reflect and ponder about our relationship with God and neighbours. Through our time dedicated to prayer and silence, we have the time to think about our life’s journey, our wrong-doing, big and small, and we can prepare ourselves for this sacrament of mercy.

Parents can bring their children along for the sacrament of reconciliation although they may not have committed any mortal sin or deadly sin, they may have committed some wrong that will hamper their growth in virtues.

The Church celebrates the mercy of God. It is not about judging each other but welcoming the Sacrament – Go in peace and sin no more. Our guest columnist this week is Fr Joseph Stephen, CSsR, parish priest of the Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Ipoh.

Sources from Herald Malaysia Online.

8 February 2024

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Categories: Reflections

Forgiveness. A new beginning. A clean slate. As we enter the second month of 2024, and also prepare for the upcoming Lunar New Year, perhaps we too can challenge ourselves to forgive …

Ralph looked up in disbelief at what he had heard. Could this be his chance for change?

After five years in the school, Ralph had built up quite a reputation for himself – but not the kind that would endear him to any of the teachers who would be assigned to his class. He had seen the inside of the Principal’s office often enough to memorize the positions of all the things in the room. Pent up frustrations were unleashed within the walls of the staff room as teachers shared anecdotes of their day’s experience with him.

I listened in sympathy, silently yet fervently praying that I would not be the next ‘victim’ to teach Ralph in his graduating year. God answered my prayer – He said “No”.

I was told that Ralph “needed a father figure” because he lacked such a person at home. With the divorce of his parents early on in his life, Ralph came under the care of his elderly grandparents while his mother struggled to make ends meet. It was believed that this could have been the cause of Ralph’s unruly behaviour.

Thus, with no small amount of trepidation, I walked into his class at the start of the new academic year to introduce myself as their new form teacher. I glanced at the main reason for my deployment. He was looking out of the window with disinterest – his hair unkempt, his uniform un-ironed. The speech I had rehearsed to let the students know that I was no pushover and that I would accept no nonsense from them somehow did not materialise.

Instead, I heard myself say something along the lines of, “This is a new year. A time for new beginnings. A fresh start. Many of us would have probably started this year with some baggage from the past. Some of you have done things in the past, whether at home or in school, that you might not necessarily be proud of and maybe have been punished for.”

At this point, I glanced surreptitiously again towards where Ralph sat. He was fiddling with his stationery. I sighed and continued, “Well, I think that it would be in our best interest if we begin a new year with a fresh start. I’m going to start all of you on a fresh slate. I will put aside the wrong things that you have done before, forgive you and give you the opportunity to start right. Let’s seize this chance for a new beginning so that we can also end the year right.”

The class buzzed with some excitement though I knew that what I had said was mainly meant for Ralph. My introduction certainly caught his attention as he had looked up at me as if quietly asking, “Are you really forgiving me for what I’d done? Are you really letting me start with a clean slate?” Our eyes met and I knew then that what I had said to the class was what he needed to hear.

In the course of the first few weeks, I put words into action. Ralph enjoyed Science and had a good grasp of technology. I appointed him as the class AV/IT monitor and part of the Class Committee. It was the first time he was given such an opportunity. Leveraging on his love for Science, I got the class to do a project to create some form of catapult to show the effects of an elastic spring force. Ralph did not disappoint with his prototype.

Whenever he did something wrong, I never brought up his past as a reference and merely asked him to reflect on his actions and how he would feel if someone had done the same to him. I spoke to him about the importance of having dignity – a sense of self-worth – and that he had potential buried within him and that it was up to him to tap on it. I affirmed him for his contributions and chastised him for his transgressions but they were always followed by the reasons for my response. I believe he was appreciative of that.

On Teacher’s Day that year, he wrote, “Thank you for understanding me. And thank you for giving me a fresh start.”

The power of forgiveness. The power of a fresh start.

I can only begin to imagine what the paralyzed man, whose friends had to stretcher him down the roof of a house to get to Jesus, must have felt when Jesus first recognised his greater need for forgiveness before his physical disabilities were healed (Luke 5: 18-25). The friends were probably hoping to see a physical healing miracle (which they did) but did they even realise, as Jesus did, what their paralyzed friend truly needed?

And because of both the physical and spiritual healing that Jesus had given, the man had immediately “stood up, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God”. And what about the woman who was ready to be stoned by the community for her act of adultery (John 8:1-11)? How would she have felt at her salvation not only by Jesus’ mere challenge to the community – “Let the one who has not sinned cast the first stone” – but also his parting words – “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”?

My colleagues asked how I was able to manage Ralph that year. My answer – I gave him a fresh start.

Forgiveness. A new beginning. A clean slate. As we enter the second month of 2024, and also prepare for the upcoming Lunar New Year, perhaps we too can challenge ourselves to forgive – not only those who have done us wrong, but also forgive ourselves and let go of the baggage of the past which weighs us down. Perhaps we can humble ourselves and seek forgiveness from those whom we have hurt or wronged.

All of us make mistakes. This “imperfection” is exactly why we need Jesus in our own lives. We are challenged to look at those around us not with human judgement but with Jesus’ eyes of understanding and love. It is through such a lens that we can recognise the true value of the people God has placed in our lives. I wish all of you blessed new beginnings in the coming Lunar New Year.

 

 

31 January 2024

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Categories: Homilies / Messages, Reflections

Cardinal’s homily during the Commencement of School Year Mass struck me when he spoke about leaders teaching with their being. He referenced Moses and how he journeyed, suffered, and tolerated the people of Israel throughout their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Moses even offered himself to take punishment from God for the wrongful actions of the people. Cardinal also spoke about the ordination of a priest, of the importance of believing his mission and being an example in living out his mission. He also mentioned that when Jesus preached, he preached about the kingdom of his father, not of himself because God sent him to bring the good news to His people. People in a position of authority do not represent themselves, but rather they always represent the organisation or the authority which appointed them.
This resonates with me because all that Cardinal said applies to me. I am a leader, in my main CCA Swimming, in the school’s Catholic CCA called Genesis and in my class. I have been invested with authority and I should lead more with my being even when others do not do the same. Being an example to other leaders and to my teammates is what is most important, so that I can show them how we can achieve our vision and mission by what we do. For example, when I tell people to show up at 7.30am in the morning to sing for mass, I will be there with them to sing with them even though I do not need to be there. I trust my Music Ministry to be there at that time to practise and I know that they can achieve what they need to do. However, if I am there with them, I show my people that I care about them and am always there to support and encourage them.
Representing an organisation is important as well. Every day when I wear the college uniform and, when I am ushering people into the chapel for mass, I represent my college. The actions that I take not only reflect who I am, but also where I come from. This resonates with me as through the things I do, it gives me a sense of pride to have the privilege to represent my organisation. It also gives me the motivation to constantly improve myself and the team.
In my daily life as a student, I sometimes feel overwhelmed. In addition to the busyness of JC life, I still need to uphold my standards as a student leader and lead the team no matter how tired I am. As such, it is important that in the team, no matter what position one is in, we all care for and uplift each other so that we can all do well together. The challenge of leadership is also having to constantly lead by example. When the team is not putting in their best, it is even more important that the leader maintains his consistency and dedication. Through this, he can then be a true encouragement to his teammates to do better.
Being appointed as a leader means faith has been put into you to bring the team together and to go the extra mile, and that is what I strive to do with the people that I lead. Through the grace of God and the strength He gives me, I am able to go the extra mile to show by example my dedication and care for the team and our mission. Leading by authority does not mean I display power but it means that I do all I can.
In a Catholic school, I am able to connect more with God and be prayerful. I am able to go to the chapel and seek God’s guidance and strength as a student and a leader. When the going gets tough, I will know that God will always be there for me, to help make me responsible and give me wisdom to make the right decisions. He will nudge me to keep going and never to give up, and to remind me of the love I have for my team and college just as He loves me.

The team from CJC with Cardinal William Goh after the Commencement of School Year Mass on 28 Jan 2024.

13 January 2024

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Categories: Reflections

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. What do people really get for all their hard work? As the Church goes into Ordinary Time, it is fitting to revisit Sylvia Chua’s reflection on Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13.

A time to be born and a time to die.

A time to plant and a time to harvest.

A time to kill and a time to heal.

A time to tear down and a time to build up.

A time to cry and a time to laugh.

A time to grieve and a time to dance.

A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.

A time to embrace and a time to turn away.

A time to search and a time to quit searching.

A time to keep and a time to throw away.

A time to tear and a time to mend.

A time to be quiet and a time to speak.

A time to love and a time to hate.

A time for war and a time for peace.

 

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I conclude there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labour, for these are gifts from God.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13

Perhaps no one profession relates to these verses in Ecclesiastes 3 as well as the teaching profession. These verses ring loud and true in each year that we work with students under our care. We gently ‘tear down’ the ego, and build up the character. We embrace and love the hurting child and we sometimes turn them away so they can learn to be independent. We know there are times to be quiet and times when we need to speak up.

 

We are merely instruments in God’s orchestra. Of course there are times when we despair at the seemingly unteachable child and bemoan the ‘burden’ we bear. Yet we are reminded that God makes all things beautiful in its own time. Our influence and impact on students is seldom seen while they are in school. Many blossom years after they leave us and often come back to remind us of the moments when we said or did something for them.

So at the beginning of this school year, let us commit to enjoying ourselves as we carry out our responsibilities and carry our crosses! We trust that God will send us the help we need to reach out to the children He has placed in our hands.

Ms Sylvia Chua
Adjunct Teacher
CHIJ St. Theresa’s Convent

 

1 January 2024

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Categories: Reflections

At the beginning of every school year, there would be that sense of freshness and newness. New beginnings, new classes, and new students. Accompanying this freshness would be an air of uncertainty of what the new year would bring. Perhaps some of us have taken on new portfolios and responsibilities, some of us may be having to adjust to a new environment or new colleagues and management. There is that uncertainty and that unknown that awaits us, and sometimes it scares us because we want to be in the know. As teachers, one of the many things we must have in our classroom is control, and we project that need for it to our daily life. The newness and worries described above are only work-related. Even in our personal lives, we have our own worries. How shall we go about living out our identity as Christians and educators in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world? Scripture gives us the beautiful example of Our Lady. How she responds to uncertainty is what we are invited to emulate.

 

Celebrating Emmanuel God with Us by Seminarian Bro Kenneth Tham

25 December 2023

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Categories: Advent, Reflections

So for the new school year, educator Nick Chui encourages teachers to laugh with their students. Crack jokes. Don’t worry if they don’t always laugh back. Or if they roll their eyes and go “lame”. They will eventually. And they will thank you for it. And you will thank yourself.
Because your “Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ and righteousness.”
Because failure is not the last word because of Christmas.

They say that one of the tools to “surviving” as an educator is to have a sense of humor. Lately, my students have been sharing that they have found me funny, by laughing at my jokes in class and by saying so during Teachers’ Day. (I take that as a sign from God that I will likely have a relatively long lifespan in the education industry!)

Cue music “I will survive…”

But how do we define humour and the funny? Fr Robert Barron suggests that “The essence of comedy is the coming together of opposites, the juxtaposition of incongruous things”. Imagine for a moment a typical scene from Mr Bean. He bows deeply in a show of reverence to the Queen as part of the royal entourage. When he gets up he accidentally knocks the Queen with his head. As the Queen falls, he panics and flails about, causing other members of the entourage to fall. In the chaos, the audience laughs, and Mr Bean entertains yet again.

If this is humour, then the incarnation, i.e the birth of the second member of the Blessed Trinity is humour par excellence. God, the creator of the Universe, chooses to become a human baby born of a virgin. And the chosen couple, Mary and Joseph, had to obey an earthly emperor and run back to Bethlehem for a census. When Mary gives birth, she does it in a stable. Angels visit to say hello but the same angels don’t seem strong enough to fend off Herod and his minions, leaving them to flee as refugees into Egypt while other babies under the age of two in Bethlehem were murdered.

When I reread these passages during Advent, I often catch myself imagining Joseph saying to himself, “Me, the foster father of the Son of God, and running away like a refugee? What a joke man!”

But the good news of Christmas and by extension the entire Christian story is that the joke will be eventually be on the Herods of the world. Herod dies, Joseph comes back and settles down in Nazareth. Jesus dies on the cross, his enemies thought it was game over, he rises again on the third day.

Our recalcitrant student one day comes up to us and says “thank you for not giving up on me”, stunning you with a mixture of shock and surprise.

So for the new school year, laugh with your students. Crack jokes. Don’t worry if they don’t always laugh back. Or if they roll their eyes and go “lame”. They will eventually. And they will thank you for it. And you will thank yourself.

Because your “Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ and righteousness.”

Because failure is not the last word because of Christmas.

And because to see it, we need a sense of (Divine) humour.

19 December 2023

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Categories: Advent, Reflections

Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us.” [Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope), 49]

“Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route… Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us.” [Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope), 49]

How do we navigate by the Star of Hope? Perhaps we can find a parallel to our own life’s journeys in Mary and Joseph’s from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

We all start at our own Nazareths, with our small-town mentalities, our reputations (if any) preceding us, and voices that ring in the ears of our hearts: “Can anything good come out of there?” (John 1:46) But, like Mary and Joseph who were summoned to the Roman census, we are similarly compelled by the world – students, parents, peers, civil authorities – to stand up and be counted.

Mary and Joseph probably bypassed the shorter way through Samaria, preferring the safer and friendlier but longer and harder way along the Jordan River valley and then up from Jericho, 250m below sea level, to Jerusalem, at an elevation of 750m, and thence on to Bethlehem. It was amazing that Mary – no doubt with backache, bladder discomfort and fitful sleep, swollen feet and general fatigue, like any ordinary woman in the last month of pregnancy – made it in one piece over that rugged terrain five days and 130km later.

We too, find the journey of life difficult, negotiating twists and turns, ups and downs, even as we carry the burden of young peoples’ lives physically and emotionally. Even if we know how to travel smart, eschewing the wide and broad way that leads to destruction, and choosing the long, steep and narrow path through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we seem to end up being rejected and dejected. Even Mary must have thought that God’s timing could have been better. Instead of giving birth in a clean, warm home with a midwife and women friends in attendance, she shared her delivery room with animals, their droppings and their drool. And poor Joseph – imagine him present at Jesus’ birth, holding Mary’s hand as she laboured, catching the little Christ-child in his arms as he emerged, then cutting the umbilical cord, wrapping him in swaddling clothes and afterwards, cleaning up the mess and sterilising the manger – how much water he must have carried and boiled! Our loved ones suffer with us too.

Yet, as a fellow pilgrim wrote: “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” (Romans 5:3-5). True love became incarnate that holy night.

Standing Before The Gate Of Heaven And Hope

“The present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.” [Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi 1]

In another age, another pilgrim had written: “I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God. And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant… I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:4-6)

The Magi followed a star, but Mary was the Star of Hope herself. On Christmas night, “hope came into the world…. He comes into the world and gives us the strength to walk with him: God walks with us in Jesus, and walking with Him toward the fullness of life gives us the strength to dwell in the present in a new way, albeit arduous. Thus for a Christian, to hope means the certainty of being on a journey with Christ toward the Father who awaits us. Hope is never still; hope is always journeying, and it makes us journey. This hope, which the Child of Bethlehem gives us, offers a destination, a sure, ongoing goal, the salvation of mankind, blessedness to those who trust in a merciful God.” (Pope Francis, General Audience, 21 Dec 2016)

Mary’s journey did not stop at Bethlehem. It continued to Egypt, back to Nazareth, to Jerusalem, Calvary, Ephesus and beyond into eternity, with Christ close to her as always. Mary knows full well the perils of our earthly journey and this is why the Church sings Alma Redemptoris Mater in the season of Advent as we await our Lord’s Incarnation. The first few lines, translated from Latin, reads:

“O loving Mother of our Redeemer, Gate of Heaven, Star of the Sea, Hasten to aid thy fallen people who strive to rise once more…”

There is a door in one corner of CHIJMES in Singapore where, in the not-too-distant past, unwanted infants were left abandoned at the doorstep of the former Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus in Victoria Street. It is plain, small and inconspicuous, but all children who crossed its threshold were reborn into a new life. It was called the Gate of Hope.

Just as plain, small and inconspicuous as that little door, Mary was chosen to be the Gate and Mother of Hope. Through her “yes” that opened the door of our world to Christ, we sinners who have fallen short of His glory are reborn through Him into a new life and another chance at being the stars of Bethlehem – to those in our homes, schools, and parishes – that God created us to be.

As we begin our journey towards Christmas with the lighting of the Candle of Hope on our Advent wreaths, let us pray that we will always shine in the world like bright stars because we are joyfully offering it the Word of Life (Philippians 2:16). And Hope does not disappoint because the Word has promised to be with us till the end of time.

Our Journey Towards The Infant Jesus_Michelle Tan