The name of today’s feast comes from the Latin assumptionem, meaning to be taken up or received. Mary, as the Ark of the New Covenant, having borne the Word of God, the Lawgiver and the Bread of Life in her womb, is taken up to Heaven by God upon her death (Revelation 11:19).
If the patriarchs Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) were taken up body and soul into Heaven simply for their faith, obedience and zeal, what more the Mother of God herself? As God is outside Time, the saving grace of Christ’s sacrifice could be applied backwards in time to Elijah and Enoch, just as God’s grace applied to Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
This feast reminds us of our mission, to be tabernacles of Christ like Mary. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16) and we bear the image of God (Genesis 1:27). What a glorious identity and dignity we possess as sons and daughters of God. Yet, we often fail to live up to our calling. We still suffer the weaknesses of our fallen human nature, and it is easy to forget our eternal end in the midst of the stresses and distractions of life on earth. How then can we cultivate a mindset befitting our true worth and the worth of those around us?
A rich prayer life helps us be mindful of the presence of God at all times. Traditionally, Catholics prayed “mini-prayers” or aspirations throughout the day, calling God to mind. For example: “May the Holy Trinity be blessed; O Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in Thee; my God and my all; as the Lord wills!” Some Bible verses are particularly suited for this mode of prayer: “O Lord, increase our faith (Luke 17:5); my Lord and my God (John 20:28); stay with us, O Lord (Luke 24:29).”
Another prayer tool to keep walking closely with God is the Divine Office, or the Liturgy of the Hours. Just as the Jews pray the scriptures several times a day, so do Catholics (Psalms 118:164). Monks used to pray all 150 Psalms in one week. Since Vatican II, the Liturgy of the Hours was reorganised so that the laity can join in this universal prayer of the Church as well, with the psalms distributed across four weeks. Making a habit of stopping throughout the day to pray helps you re-centre yourself in God and reminds you to offer every thought, word and deed to Him for sanctification.
About half a century ago, Catholic schools in Singapore used to pause at noon to pray the Angelus, a short prayer with three Hail Marys in honour of the Incarnation. Although this has fallen out of practice, you can always revive the tradition with a group of friends, stopping by the school chapel to honour God’s great love. By remaining close to God, one day we shall be with Him in paradise, just like Jesus and Mary.
Today is the Solemnity of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, when Jesus gave His three closest disciples a peek at His divinity, a confirmation of His identity as the Messiah (Mark 9:2-10). Universalis notes: “The true miracle of the Transfiguration is not the shining face or the white garments, but the fact that for the rest of the time Jesus hid His glory so well.”
In his book The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis reflects:
In the stress and hurry of everyday life, absorbed with studies and other activities, it is easy to forget that the people around us, and indeed we ourselves, are destined for, as Loki likes to say, a “glorious purpose.” God created us in His own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26), and Jesus came to redeem us, restoring us to that original image of God, and enabling us to participate in the life-giving love of the Holy Trinity.
By practising little habits of respect and love for one another, we can maintain a sense of our ultimate destiny, allowing God to sanctify every action and moment in our days, no matter how mundane. The Franciscans of the Immaculate greet each other with the joyful words Ave Maria!, recognising the likeness of Mary – the beloved daughter of the Father, mother of the Son, and spouse and temple of the Holy Spirit – in one another. In this way, they also remind each other of their vocation, to become ever more like Mary, bearing Christ to the world.
Similarly, in Asian cultures we are expected to greet our elders; it is considered rude if we do not, which can be difficult for a shy child – but that simple act of greeting is an acknowledgement of the other person’s presence and their human dignity. We stand to greet our teachers as they enter the classroom, respecting their authority as our educators.
Greeting our parents, siblings and friends can be a simple act of love. I used to have an exuberant classmate, Vanessa, who bounded into class every morning with a loud, “Good morning everyone!” Her cheerful greeting set a positive tone for the start of each day, and became one of the rituals which cemented our classroom atmosphere of friendship and mutual encouragement.
What other small but important habits can you think of, which can foster an environment of love and respect in your classroom or at home? How can you help the people around you get closer to Heaven?
Following a successful Catholic Education Conference 2021, we are proud to present a five-part series based on Archbishop William Goh’s address at the conference. In part 5, we contemplate how to build supportive school communities which provide meaning and comfort for students, especially in their times of trial.
The mark of a Catholic school is whether it is a loving community, a community that embraces every human person. Those who are intellectually strong, those who are intellectually weak, those who are financially wealthy, those who are poor – every person is accepted, respected, regardless of race, language, religion. Every person is given the encouragement, that no students should ever give up hope on themselves.
A Catholic ambience means we will keep on encouraging the person – no-one is hopeless. It’s a place also where there is forgiveness. People make mistakes, we are learning, we are all growing, nobody is condemned, nobody is humiliated. We have to treat people gently, be compassionate.
Everybody has his or her dignity. If we need to correct someone, we correct them with gentleness, with firmness.
And also, because we are a Eucharistic community, we are called to share Christian values to make sure the community, the students, are growing in selfless service. Most of all, if they are ambitious – it’s good to be ambitious – but not for yourself, not for one’s glory, but for the growth and the good of the community.
So, this is what the Catholic ambience is all about, encouraging our young ones to help each other. You know, in many schools today, we have some of the students bullying each other – this is where we need to help them to be sensitive, because many are broken also, many are wounded, and this is where we are called to help them to build fraternity.
And what a greater way to celebrate, to help people encounter God, through the God experience: liturgy, prayer sessions, festivals – the Church has many feasts, because it is in the celebration of these feasts, that we come to encounter Jesus.
On founder’s days or patron saints’ days, these are all our heroes that we are called to imitate.
And so, I want to remind you all, be careful, don’t remove all references to the sacred in our schools and in your life, because without God, there will be a vacuum in the lives of our young people. Life is reduced to pleasure, success, but will they find meaning? Will they find purpose? Would they be happy? Will they live a life of fulfilment? That is the whole purpose of education.
Support and Meaning
Not so long ago, our minister Lawrence Wong in 2019, he said, “94 young people between the age of 10 to 29 committed suicide. Of these, 19 were aged between 10 and 18 years old.”
Today our students are very stressed. Two weeks ago, we had a professor from IMH – he was writing an article that, the only way to deal with a loss of faith and the will to live, is to help people to find faith.
He made it clear, those who are suffering from depression are less likely to commit suicide if they have religion, than those without, because those with religion, they have purpose and meaning in life, they have spiritual and emotional support.
We need to provide our young people with a strong Catholic school community and spiritual support, so that they will not feel alone. This is why, my dear brothers and sisters, we need to uphold Catholic schools’ values and our mission, to continue to help these young people to grow, to become great leaders for tomorrow.
Let us go back to basics, let us go back to our founders and learn from them how to bring the Gospel into the lives of our students and so prepare them to be leaders of tomorrow and, most of all, to be people who live life with purpose, meaning and fullness.
- Teachers – do you remind your students that, despite our performance-driven culture, there are more important things than grades, and ultimately success can come in many different ways? How do you care for your own mental and spiritual health?
- Students – how do you cope with the pressures of study? Are you aware of mental health and spiritual supports provided in school and the wider community? Whom can you talk to if you are going through difficulties?
- Parents – life can be stressful juggling work and family duties. How do you maintain your family’s mental and spiritual health? Are your children comfortable opening up to you about their struggles? Do you know where to seek help if you or your family members require more support?
Following a successful Catholic Education Conference 2021, we are proud to present a five-part series based on Archbishop William Goh’s address at the conference. In part 4, we focus on how Catholic schools can provide a space for encountering the Divine.
How can we create this God experience? Actually, “creating” this God experience is a fallacy – we cannot create a God experience, because if we do, then we are artificially creating an experience through a program or technique. It becomes something psychological, as if we can condition a person to encounter Jesus.
If it is through techniques alone that we make God appear and disappear, that cannot be God. God is ultimately free.
A God experience is primarily a gift from God: it is God’s prerogative for Him to reveal Himself or not. It is like in a relationship, it’s up to the person to reveal himself. That is why in the relationship we are not in control; it depends on the person who wants to reveal himself.
What we mean, according to our theme, “to create this God experience” – to create this God experience is really to provide the ambience for people to encounter Jesus, to encounter God in a very concrete way.
Facilitating Encounters with the Divine
To create a God experience is to provide first and foremost, a sacred presence in our schools, that when you enter a Catholic school, immediately you must feel a big difference than when you enter a secular school. When you enter a Catholic school, do you feel there is something different? The atmosphere.
That is why in creating a sacred presence in school, it is certainly appropriate and necessary to have a chapel. Of course, we know that it is very costly to construct a chapel – those schools that have them, praise God for your benefactors.
Even if we cannot provide a chapel, a prayer space, a prayer room is necessary, because students have many issues in their life, they have lots of struggles and sometimes you need to have a sacred space to be alone. Not just to be alone, but alone with God.
God’s Comforting Presence
I’m sure many of you who came from Catholic schools, you all know that. In those times, even in my own life, when I was sad, when I was discouraged, when I was bullied in school, when I failed my exams – sometimes no human words can console you. You go to the church; you just sit there and the Lord speaks to us.
So, don’t ever think that having a prayer room is a waste of money, it is not, but you need to make sure it has a sacred presence. That is why in our Catholic churches we always have the Blessed Sacrament, because somehow when the Blessed Sacrament is present, we feel very different, we know that God is there.
Of course, supplementing the chapel or the prayer room, we should have statues, prayer cards, prayer books. Do you know that when I visited one mosque, even the imam provided a Bible for Christians who need that space to pray!
My dear brothers and sisters, sometimes when we are looking for something, we go to a prayer room and there is a card, there is a prayer book, there is a Bible, and we are inspired.
God comes to us in very different ways – sometimes it’s the placement of inspiring scripture texts in school. These are all important catechesis to Catholics and to those who wish to know Christ. Try to get all the students, and parents especially, to be more involved in the work of catechesis, because it is a win-win situation. The best way we can increase our faith is to impart it.
It is not just all external. When we talk about the incarnational presence of Christ, it is more than all these statues, images and scripture texts. What is more important, is that this must be translated into daily life, and so, for me the mark of a Catholic school, is whether it is a loving community, a community that embraces every human person.
- Teachers – what are little ways in which you can help your students and colleagues build a relationship with God? Are you able to take time out of your day for prayer to deepen your own spiritual life?
- Students – do you have habits or sacramentals which help you grow closer to God during your studies? Are there particular saints whose example helps you in your faith journey?
- Parents – how do you inculcate habits of faith in your children? Is there a prayer space or family altar where your children can spend time with God? Do they have access to the Bible and the lives of the saints?
Following a successful Catholic Education Conference 2021, we are proud to present a five-part series based on Archbishop William Goh’s address at the conference. In part 3, we reflect on parents’ expectations of a Catholic education for their children.
Catholic parents send their children to Catholic schools. For what reason? Because they believe and hope that our schools will continue to help their children to grow in faith, to guide them in their faith, to help them to be moulded in the Gospel values.
Otherwise, why should our Catholic parents send their children to Catholic schools? There are many secular schools today and many of them are doing equally well. We need to do justice to our parents.
Need for a Genuine Encounter
Whenever I walk about, Catholic parents always tell me, “Our Catholic schools are not doing enough for the faith of our children.”
A number of them, because they are so convicted that Jesus is the one who will be able to give them fullness of life, they prefer to send them to the Protestant schools.
The truth is that even our Catholic students, including teachers of course, many of them do not have a real personal experience of Christ in their life, at most some intellectual knowledge – that is the reason why we find that their transformation of life is weak.
The Catholic Ethos
I also want you to remember this: not only why Catholic parents send their children to Catholic schools – why do non-Catholic parents send their children to Catholic schools? They don’t have to, they can choose other schools. This is because, again, they have seen the fruits of children who study in Catholic schools.
They might not embrace the faith entirely, but certainly they approve of our Catholic ethos, the programs, our respect for their faith, and that is the reason why they believe that we will impart these Catholic ethos.
Otherwise, as I have said, I wouldn’t send my child to a school where I don’t believe in the ethos that the school is promoting.
In truth, many parents want their children to be brought up with faith in God and for moral values to be part of their educational formation.
So, it’s important for us to try to appreciate what Catholic schools can offer that secular schools cannot. Secular schools can offer good academic formation, human education, leadership, but can they offer the meaning and purpose in life? Can they tell you what is life? What is the purpose of life? What are we living for? What is the ultimate goal of all that we are doing?
Only religious schools remind us the ultimate goal is not just in this life, that we have a soul, we have a destiny. Our ultimate happiness is life with God. That is why Catholic schools offer a Catholic ambience, a Catholic way of life, Catholic values, but I think most of all, most importantly we offer students meaning and purpose in this world, in view of the world hereafter.
- Teachers – how do you contribute to the Catholic ethos of your school?
- Students – are there ways in which you can engage more deeply with your faith in school?
- Parents – can you foster a faith-filled environment at home, which spills over into your child’s school life?
Following a successful Catholic Education Conference 2021, we are proud to present a five-part series based on Archbishop William Goh’s address at the conference. In part 2, we consider how our Catholic schools facilitate a relationship with God.
The theme of our conference is “celebrating, encountering and creating our God experience.” This theme has to be seen in line with the overall theme, which is “to ignite and shine”, and most of all, in relationship to our founders’ mission.
It’s good for us to ask ourselves – if we were to really benefit from this celebration, in recalling what our founders have done for the last 200 years – we need to ask ourselves, what is the key to their success? Why is it that Catholic education, Catholic schools have played a very important part not just in the lives of our Catholics, but also the nation?
For our founders, real education is more than imparting skills and knowledge: it is to provide a solid holistic education, and this includes social, intellectual, physical and spiritual aspects.
Without a holistic formation and education, we would not be able to fully be human and be fully alive.
A Personal Relationship with Jesus
Now, when we speak about a Catholic education, it is more than just imparting a God experience, otherwise we would just be considered a religious school.
From the Catholic perspective, a God experience is ultimately a Christ experience, and that’s the reason why the heart of celebrating, creating, is for the sake of encounter.
It is this personal encounter with Jesus which is what we want to meditate on, simply because Jesus for us as Christians, is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus is our mediator, our way to encounter God deeply in a very personal way, because in Jesus we see Who God is, the mercy of God and His unconditional love.
Just to explain the doctrinal message of why God is present in Jesus: if you remember the Gospel of John chapter 14, Thomas said to the Lord, “How can we know the way?” and Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me. If you know Me, you will know My Father also.”
Now, when Jesus said, “I am the way”, He was not saying He is a conduit or a means to an end. To come to Jesus is to come to the fullness of truth and life, and that is why Jesus is a sacrament of God.
What do we mean by sacrament? A sacrament is a sign that makes real what it signifies. So, to encounter Jesus is to encounter God, and that is why in the Catholic schools, our task is to mediate a Christ experience – but what is a Christ experience? A Christ experience must be real, it must be personal, it must be incarnational, in tangible relationships, so that it can be life-transforming.
I cannot underscore enough that encountering Christ is critical and fundamental, because our faith is rooted in Jesus and our commitment to Him as our Saviour and Lord.
Faith is not just intellectual – Christianity is not simply a set of doctrines or some ethos, some morality. Christianity is fundamentally a relationship with Jesus, falling in love with Him, so that this relationship with Jesus will help us to see life in perspective and to live our lives with purpose and meaning.
Passion and Purpose
A real passion for Christ can only come about when we have real encounters with the Lord. If you read the scriptures, those who were witnesses to Christ’s resurrection walked with the Lord. Martyrs, our foreign missionaries – have you ever asked them why they give up so much of their lives, so to speak, for nothing? They left their homeland, their families, their culture, to go to alien lands.
Certainly, for missionaries to give up their life and to suffer for humanity, it is because they have encountered Jesus’ love.
In the first letter of John, chapter 1, verses 1 to 4, Saint John said, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.”
Indeed, my dear brothers and sisters, helping people to encounter Jesus is to help people to encounter God. To encounter God is what gives us meaning and purpose in life – that is why following the question of Thomas, Philip asked the Lord Jesus, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied.”
The Father stands for ultimate meaning, truth, love and life.
- Teachers – how do you inspire your students to encounter God in daily life?
- Students – are there ways in which you can help your friends grow closer to God?
- Parents – how are you an example of faith to your children? Do you prioritise family prayer and time with God?
Following a successful Catholic Education Conference 2021, we are proud to present a five-part series based on Archbishop William Goh’s address at the conference. In part 1, we recall the legacy of our Catholic schools’ founders, the missionaries who sacrificed everything to answer God’s call to bring the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, serving our local community by providing quality education and human formation.
A Missionary Legacy
In the past, Catholic schools had a major role in the spread of the Catholic faith.
We know that our Catholic schools were very often supported by foreign missionaries. We see all the brothers and sisters who have started Catholic education in Singapore: the Infant Jesus Sisters, Good Shepherd Sisters, Marist Brothers, Brothers of St Gabriel, La Salle Brothers, Canossians, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Sisters, and [we also have] our diocesan schools [such as] Holy Innocents’ High School and Catholic High School. The foreign missionaries came to Singapore two hundred years ago, in order to give their lives to us and to bring us the faith.
And so, as we are celebrating this 200th anniversary, it is important that we are not just trying to celebrate our achievements – what is more important is that the celebration is to be in gratitude to our founding fathers and mothers.
When we celebrate the past, the whole purpose of celebrating it is in order to remind us of what our forefathers have done, so that we can continue their legacy. I think it’s very important for us in this celebration, to really call to mind the spirit of our founders, who have given their lives.
The greatest gratitude we can give to someone, is to honour them by continuing the work that they begun, and that is why it is important for us during this celebration to return to the roots of our founders. We need to rediscover their apostolic and missionary zeal – what it is that gave them the impetus to sacrifice their lives for us all.
Without the missionaries, without the Catholic schools, we would not be where we are today, because when the foreign missionaries came to Singapore, the brothers and sisters, they came not just to provide us with a good education. Of course, that is important, but their ultimate goal was to save us, to give us fullness of life; it was not just concerned with academic performance, it was principally concerned with imparting Gospel values that can help us to live a meaningful life by having faith in Jesus.
- Teachers – how do you incorporate the charisms of your school’s founders in your everyday work?
- Students – how do you make the best of your education? Are there key virtues which you can exercise in school and at home?
- Parents – how do you support the mission of your child’s school? Are there certain values which you prize in your child’s education?
“Go home” Jesus said, “your son will live.”
These are Jesus’s words to the court official who seeks healing for his sick and dying son. These are words of hope that today’s Gospel reading offers you and me.
They are hopeful, hopeful because they are Jesus’s promise that this court official’s son will live, and it comes true because Jesus always heals.
You and I gather across this island this morning in many schools, and we gather because we begin this day for our conference, the Catholic Education Conference of 2021.
We are each like the court official, because we come to this conference with different desires and different wishes; and we believe that in this day together, God will grant all our desires and all our wishes. He will grant them, as Jesus granted the court official’s desire for his son to be healed.
Whatever our desires or our wishes are, our readings tell us that we can hope; our readings express a core belief in our Christian faith, and this faith is filled with hope. We can believe in God, because we’ve all experienced the numerous examples of God’s goodness in our life, of God’s love for you and me.
Each of today’s readings expresses this reality of God with us, of God loving us.
In our first reading from Isaiah, God promises new things that will invoke in the humans a response of infinite rejoicing and happiness. There will be no more sad sounds of weeping all around them, only rejoicing in happiness.
In Isaiah’s description of this happy time, life is in abundance in both quality and quantity. What an inspiring and hope-filled promise of the fullness of life that God wishes to offer all of us – but this goodness, aren’t we experiencing it right now in our schools every day?
God’s Gift of Catholic Education
The hard work of the early missionaries and teachers has taken root and flourished, and so you and I enjoy what is school today in all our Catholic schools. Surely this is the goodness we have of being community, of being together in the schools, that we are enjoying God’s many gifts in our lives, and we are the recipients of this goodness that helps us to be better people, living purposeful lives by making a difference to all.
This is why we have come today, to celebrate, to celebrate God’s gift of Catholic education in Singapore, not just in our schools, but over the last 200 years.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus acts with great mercy and compassion. The court official comes to Jesus with faith, with faith that Jesus will heal his dying son, and Jesus heals the son.
This encounter between the official and Jesus is not for our hearing only, or even for our seeing as words on the page; this encounter is offered to you and me today as the experience of you and me in faith, knowing the love of God that works through Jesus to heal the official’s sick son.
It is an experience of our faith, that God will always save, that you and I, we experience even now as the Good News proclaims.
We have come, all of us in all our schools – we have come also to seek God in an encounter in this conference, in prayer and reflection, in learning and sharing, and even envisioning the kind of school we want to be as a place of grace. We are all hoping throughout the course of today for an encounter with God.
The good news that Jesus announces in today’s Gospel is that God will meet us, God will come to us and God will lead us forward as Catholic schools and as teachers and students, who come to know the love of God in our schools, and God will do this as God did so for the official who experienced God’s goodness through Jesus’ healing.
Our responsorial psalm today appropriately invites you and me to praise. Praise is the most human expression of gratitude to God; praise naturally springs from a grateful heart, and in gratitude, you and I want to say thank you to God for so many things, so many gifts that we have received. Especially for His mercy, that reminds us that we are always forgiven, because we are His beloved children.
In our conference today, we will learn how to recreate similar experiences of encountering God’s love, in order to praise God. Indeed, the psalmist who wrote this wonderful psalm created for us a space of prayer, a space of praise, and it’s precisely through the words in the psalm, that we have the space, this time to praise God, to pray to God and to truly give thanks.
This is what we hope to do today as well, to learn how to create these spaces of prayer, reflection and praise in our schools.
Signs of Love
Today God will give us many gifts through the conference, many moments in which you and I will experience the love of God. I wonder what you will see and hear, what you will taste, smell and feel, as the visible expressions and signs of God’s faithfulness meeting us through the conference, as signs of God’s infinite love, to bless us through this conference, as signs of God’s love, that moves us forth to allow others to share in the experience we’ve had in this conference.
For me, an example of God’s faithful love each day in school, is when my students and teachers wave “hello” or say “good morning” or even say “God bless you.” These are the simple ways my students say, “God is with us and God is good.”
You and I, we are all searching for God. We are searching for God in all the many things and all the many moments in our daily life, and this search is worthwhile, as worthwhile as the verse we hear before the Gospel: “Seek good, and not evil, that you may live and the Lord will be with you.”
This is the promise for all of us today. We are seeking the good and God will meet us in our search, and God will be with us and God will live with us. This is the promise God makes us.
Will you and I then, hearing this promise, celebrating this reality, encountering this God and recreating these moments of knowing this God, will we then celebrate the education we have, know the goodness of God in our lives, and like the psalmist, go forth and share the good news with many in our schools that we are in God’s holy presence? Let us pray we will, so that we can go home after this conference and live with God alone. Amen.