3 March 2022

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Tags: Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle,
than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
– Mark 10:25; Matthew 19:24

Can a millionaire become a saint? Yes. God calls everyone to be a saint – it is probably more difficult for those who are attached to earthly things like wealth and prestige, but Katharine’s rich parents taught her to find her real treasure in the kingdom of Heaven.

Train up a child in the way he should go,
And even when he is old, he will not depart from it.
– Proverbs 22:6

 

Formation in Faith & Generosity

Born in Philadelphia on 26 November 1858 to the extremely wealthy investment banker Francis Anthony Drexel and his wife Hannah, Katharine lost her mother five weeks post-birth. Her aunt and uncle, Ellen and Anthony Joseph Drexel (founder of J.P. Morgan, originally Drexel, Morgan & Co.), cared for the baby – then named Catherine Mary – and her 3-year-old sister Elizabeth for two years alongside their own children, until Francis married a lady called Emma Mary Bouvier.

Catherine and Elizabeth, along with their new sister Louise, were taught as children to share their good fortune with those in need. Emma invited the poor into their home thrice a week, distributing food, clothing, shoes, medicine and rent assistance.

The Drexels paid the rent for 150 families every year, spending $30,000 per annum on their home-based charity. Many of the clothes they gave away were purchased from impoverished women living at the nearby Convent of the Good Shepherd, so the Drexels helped both the women who sewed the clothing and the families who received it.

Knowing that some widows and single women did not want to lose face in coming to them for assistance, the Drexels discreetly sought them out. Emma explained to her daughters: “Kindness may be unkind if it leaves a sting behind.”

The girls’ father spent at least half an hour in prayer every evening, quietly impressing the importance of faith upon his daughters. Their mansion had its own family chapel, with the Blessed Sacrament.

Believing that his daughters should learn about geography from travelling, instead of just maps and textbooks, Francis took his family on regular tours of the United States and Europe. Thus, the girls grew up aware of societal conditions throughout their homeland and beyond. They were also given the best education available by private tutors.

The patient and humble endurance of the cross,
whatever nature it may be, is the highest work we have to do.
St Katharine Drexel

 

 

Noticing the Need

Catherine made her debut into high society in 1878. However, as she cared for her stepmother, who died of cancer after a three-year struggle, Catherine realised that money was no safeguard against illness, suffering and death.

After Emma’s death in 1883, the Drexels travelled to the Western states of America, where Catherine noticed the penury of the Native Americans. Having read about the injustices they had suffered, she felt dreadful for them. She became acquainted with the Chief of the Sioux, Red Cloud. A friend of the family, Fr James O’Connor, was appointed the apostolic vicar of Nebraska, and often sought donations from the Drexels for his pastoral ministry to the Native Americans.

Catherine also observed the ill-treatment of African Americans living in the Southern states, and felt that more priests were needed to care for them as well as the Native Americans. After her father died in 1885, Catherine and her sisters sailed to Europe, where they made a pilgrimage to Rome.

Catherine obtained an audience with Pope Leo XIII and implored him for missionary priests to staff the Native American missions of which she and her sisters were benefactors. The Pope replied, “Why not my child, yourself become a missionary?”

This surprise suggestion suffused Catherine with fresh purpose. Though she had received several marriage proposals, she decided to take up the Pope’s challenge, after consulting her spiritual director, Bishop O’Connor.

Catherine entered the Sisters of Mercy convent as a postulant in May 1889. This sent shockwaves through the upper crust of Philadelphia, with the local paper trumpeting the headline: “Miss Drexel Enters a Catholic Convent—Gives Up Seven Million.”

Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow Me.
– Mark 10:21

 

A Life of Service

On 12 February 1891, Catherine professed her first religious vows, taking the name “Mother Katharine”. Along with thirteen other women, Mother Katharine established the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Besides the three evangelical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, they took a fourth vow, to serve the Native Americans and African Americans.

Mother Katharine’s fellow missionary educator Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (later the first American citizen to be canonised), advised her on how to navigate the Vatican bureaucracy to have her new order’s rule approved.

While waiting for their convent to be built, the Sisters stayed in the Drexel summer holiday home. When work began on the new motherhouse in Pennsylvania, a stick of dynamite was planted nearby, indicative of the opposition Mother Katharine would face in her mission for social justice and equality. Not everyone recognised the face of God in those who looked different to themselves.

Undeterred, Mother Katharine forged ahead, founding 145 missions in 16 different states, 50 schools for African Americans, 12 schools for Native Americans, and the first Catholic college for African Americans, Xavier University of Louisiana. Her life of active service was born of her deep devotion and contemplation of the Blessed Sacrament.

All is vanity except knowing, loving and serving God.
This alone can bring peace to my soul.
St Katharine Drexel

 

Against All Odds

As with many works of God in this fallen world, Mother Katharine’s mission faced vicious opposition. In 1922, the Ku Klux Klan sent a threatening letter, stating that they would tar and feather the priest in one of the Sisters’ schools and bomb his Texan church.

Faced with this death threat, the Sisters prayed. It is recorded: “Days later, a tornado came and destroyed the headquarters of the KKK, killing two of their members. The Sisters were never threatened again.”

However, the Sisters still had to contend with racist government officials in Georgia, vandalism of Xavier University in New Orleans (someone smashed all the windows), destruction by arson of a school in Virginia, and segregation laws throughout the South.

Yet, they persisted cheerfully, and when Mother Katharine died at the age of 96 on 3 March 1955, having survived two World Wars and the Great Depression, there were over 500 Sisters serving throughout the USA. On 1 October 2000, she was the second American-born saint to be canonised, by Pope John Paul II. Today, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament continue their work. Sadly, Xavier University recently received a bomb threat – the Sisters’ mission is still essential.

 

A Family Affair

Mother Katharine’s beloved Uncle Tony also founded a tertiary institution, Drexel University. Her older sister Elizabeth died in childbirth along with her baby, but before her death she established St. Francis de Sales Industrial School for orphaned boys.

Their little sister Louise married the Republican congressman Edward de Veaux Morrell, and together they built St. Emma’s Agricultural and Industrial School, a boarding school for African American boys. Building on Elizabeth’s legacy, Louise also started a home, the Drexmoor, for young men who had graduated from St. Francis’ and started work in the city. She was an early supporter of the Catholic Interracial Movement.

How much good came into the world through a single family, blessed with a solid relationship with God that guided the stewardship of their material wealth for the common good, for those who needed it most. Their profound love for God and neighbour transformed the lives of generations across their nation.

If we wish to serve God and love our neighbour well,
we must manifest our joy in the service we render to Him and them.
Let us open wide our hearts. It is joy which invites us. Press forward and fear nothing.
– St Katharine Drexel

22 February 2022

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

Today’s feast celebrates the establishment of the Catholic (Universal) Church when Christ said to Simon Bar-Jonah: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

The feast of the Chair of Peter has been celebrated in Rome from the early days of Christianity on 18 January, in memory of the day St Peter first celebrated the Mass in Rome. On 22 February, we celebrate the feast of the Chair of Peter at Antioch, where he also founded an episcopal see. In Greek, chair is kathedra, which is why we have cathedrals, where our bishops sit and teach their flocks.

 

A New Family

The Chair of Peter correlates to the Chair of Moses (Matthew 23:2), the sign of teaching authority for the Jews of old. Today, we give thanks to God for the mission He entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his successors, the popes.

“Pope” comes from the word “Papa”, that is, Father – God founded a spiritual family in the Church, where we learn to live in loving community with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Holy Father is the Vicar of Christ, acting as a general for the King’s army. In the early days, to become a pope was a death sentence: the first 33 popes were martyred.

 

A New Name

Simon, son of Jonah, was given a new name by Jesus along with his mission: Peter, meaning “Rock”. Jesus is the cornerstone (Acts 4:11) and rock of our faith; He is identified with the rock which accompanied the Israelites through the desert and, when cleft by Moses, provided living water (1 Corinthians 10:4). In giving the chief of the apostles his name, that is, his identity, Jesus was giving him a share in His earthly mission of salvation, which was to continue until the end of time.

 


Saint Peter’s Basilica, the apse, showing the Cathedra of St Peter supported by four Doctors of the Church, and the Glory, designed by Bernini.

 

Authority to Teach

Just as we have accredited teachers, who are trained to teach us about languages, sciences, mathematics, the arts and humanities, as well as physical education, home economics, design and technology and other skills, we have our clergy who go through many years of training to be our pastors (shepherds) and priests (who offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for us).

As teachers guide us through textbooks and workbooks, explaining the content to us and bringing it to life, so do priests guide us through Holy Scripture, particularly during the Mass, where we have readings from the Old and New Testaments side by side, showing us the pattern of salvation history.

It is because the Church has her teaching authority from Christ that she was able to canonise the books of the Bible. In the early days, various churches had different lists of scriptural texts. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church decided which books were inspired by God and which were not, at the Council of Rome in AD 382, under the authority of Pope Damasus I. The same canon was reaffirmed at the Council of Hippo, Africa, in AD 393 at the Council of Carthage, AD 397; also at the ecumenical councils of Florence (1442), Trent (1546), Vatican I (1870), and Vatican II (1965).

When you quote the Bible as the Word of God, you accept the authority of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton (1207-1228) painstakingly numbered all the verses of the Bible. Anytime we mention a Bible verse like “John 3:16”, we are taking advantage of his great labour of love.

 

One to One

Philip the Apostle met an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading the prophet Isaiah, who is now known to have prophesied Jesus’ suffering and death. Philip asked if he understood what he was reading, to which the eunuch responded: “How can I, unless some man show me?” So Philip sat beside him and taught him about Jesus, after which he requested baptism. (Acts 8:27-39)

Hundreds of years later, when missionaries arrived in the area where the eunuch had travelled – modern-day Sudan – they found that the locals, though lacking much knowledge of Christianity as they had no priests to preserve and transmit the faith, knew how to make the Sign of the Cross.

Today, we are blessed to have resources like The Bible in a Year podcast by Fr Mike Schmitz, or the Jeff Cavins Bible study podcast. Delve into these to unpack the riches of the Word of God!

 

Collect for the Feast of the Chair of Peter:

Oh, God, who, together with the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, didst bestow on blessed Peter Thy Apostle the pontificate of binding and loosing, grant that by the aid of his intercession we may be released from the yoke of our sins.

11 February 2022

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Tags: Students

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Categories: Reflections

February is the month dedicated to the Holy Family, which is quite apt for those of us who celebrate Chinese New Year, which usually falls within this month too. The Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations are focused on family reunions, visiting relatives and cherishing your loved ones, displaying the virtue of filial piety.

Just like Catholics with our Octaves and liturgical seasons drawing out celebrations beyond a single day, the Chinese spend fifteen days feasting for the New Year. Each day has its own significance and rituals which bind families closer together. For example, on the eleventh day, fathers traditionally invite their sons-in-law to dinner. On the twelfth day, married daughters return to their childhood homes to visit their parents.

Since the 17th century, Catholics have devoted this month to celebrating the Holy Family, because the month began on February 2 with the Holy Family travelling together for the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:22). This feast, traditionally known as Candlemas, marks the end of the forty days of Christmastide in the old liturgical calendar. Until a few years ago, the Vatican kept their enormous Christmas tree up in St Peter’s Square until this day.

 

Missing Jesus

After the Presentation of the Lord, every year the Holy Family went back to Jerusalem to mark the Passover (Luke 2:41). When Jesus was twelve years old, Joseph and Mary went home after the ceremonies and only realised that their son was missing after three days of journeying. Travelling in the busy caravan with many families, they had not realised they had lost God!

Wrapped up in our busy lives, engrossed with study and play, we can also lose sight of God. Like Joseph and Mary, we should then hasten back to God’s house to find Him.

 

Familial Frustrations

It is said that “family” stands for: Father And Mother, I Love You.

As Catholics, we have been given the commandment: “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

Sometimes, it can be very difficult to honour your parents, particularly when they annoy or frustrate you. Scripture reminds parents: “Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), and “Do not provoke your children, so they will not become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). At the same time, children are exhorted: “Obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” (Colossians 3:20)

It can be challenging to obey your parents especially if they suffer from a mental illness or trauma making them act irrationally at times, or if they simply do not understand your perspective because of the generation gap. They grew up in a different time and went through their own life experiences. Even loving parents will upset their children at one point or another, as we each have different goals and preferences.

Jesus said to Joseph and Mary when they found Him: “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 1:49)

However, even though the Child Jesus was God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, He submitted Himself to the authority of Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:51). Thus in His human nature, He “advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men” (Luke 2:52). We can learn the virtues of humility and obedience from Jesus.

One way to honour your parents when they are frustrating you, is to distinguish the action from the person. You can still love and honour your parents, even if you respectfully disagree with them. Furthermore, as they have far more life experience than you, they can see pitfalls which you cannot, and it is usually wise to obey them.

 

The Domestic Church

Our parents receive their authority from God and are conduits of His love and grace to us, just as St Joseph was “the one chosen shadow of God upon earth”, as Father Faber calls him in his hymn to the saint.

God could have chosen to come to Earth as a full-grown man, but instead He became a little child, brought up in an ordinary family. Thus, He became truly as one of us. The family is the basic unit of society, the domestic church in which we learn how to love and serve God and others. It is meant to be a mirror of the Holy Trinity, a communion of love.

We can pray today for the Holy Family to intercede for us to the Blessed Trinity, that our families may be as loving and united as theirs, always putting God first in our lives, allowing Him to sanctify every aspect of our days, every interaction in our relationships.

Pope St John Paul II said: “From contemplation of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the Church draws the values to hold up to the women and men of all times and all cultures… At the school of Nazareth every family learns to be a workshop of love, unity and openness to life.

27 January 2022

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

Strive to be faithful to that which God has called you.

– St Angela Merici

 

Angela Merici was a lay Franciscan who founded the Company of St Ursula – named for the legendary princess and virgin martyr St Ursula, patroness of universities – in 1535, with the purpose of educating girls.

Born on a farm in 1474, Angela was orphaned when she was ten years old. She and her sister were taken in by an uncle. When her sister died suddenly without the last rites, Angela was very distressed. She was comforted by a vision of her sister in Heaven with a procession of angels and virgins, like Jacob’s Ladder (Genesis 28:12).

A Solemn Vow

The 15-year-old Angela became a Franciscan tertiary, a laywoman living by the spirituality of St Francis. She was very beautiful, and people often complimented her lustrous hair. To avoid the attention, she covered her locks in soot. She had vowed to dedicate herself completely to God as a consecrated lay virgin.

When she was twenty, her uncle died, and she returned to live with her brothers, on her own property which would have been her dowry had she chosen to marry. She received another vision, that she was to establish an association of virgins who would devote their lives to teaching young girls, ensuring they received the Catholic faith.

In obedience to God’s will, Angela gathered twelve young women in the city of Brescia and began her life’s work. These women made a commitment of their lives on 25 November 1535, the feast day of St Catherine of Alexandria, another early Christian virgin martyr. They were the very first teaching order of female religious sisters.

 

Sanctifying Society

Angela’s aim was to nourish and sanctify families through educating future wives and mothers in Christian virtue. She observed: “Disorder in society is the result of disorder in the family.”

Angela also wrote in her Spiritual Testament: “Mothers of children, even if they have a thousand, carry each and every one fixed in their hearts, and because of the strength of their love they do not forget any of them. In fact, it seems that the more children they have, the more their love and care for each one is increased.”

She knew that the family is the domestic church, the first school of love for every child, and if she and her religious sisters could foster the faith and intellect of young girls, that would produce significant positive flow-on effects for future generations.

Charity Begins at Home

Angela made a pilgrimage to Rome to gain the indulgences of the Jubilee Year. Pope Clement VII had heard of her virtue, and invited her to expand her work to Rome. However, Angela disliked the limelight, and chose to return to her humble hometown.

Angela taught her religious sisters to serve God while remaining in the world, teaching the girls in their own neighbourhoods, meeting regularly for prayer, and practising a form of religious life in their own homes, following a Rule of Life emphasising celibacy, poverty and obedience. Pope Paul III approved her Rule in 1544.

 

Incorruptible Saint

When Angela died in Brescia on 27 January 1540, there were 24 communities of the Company of St Ursula serving throughout the region. Her body was clothed in the habit of a Franciscan tertiary and was interred in the Church of Sant’Afra, where Angela had spent many hours praying at the tombs of the Brescian martyrs. Her body remained there until the church was destroyed by bombs in World War II. Angela’s incorrupt remains survived the bombing, and are still available for veneration in Brescia.

 

Woman of Faith

St Angela Merici’s life is a testament to the good which can flourish when a single person assents to God’s calling, becoming a flame which lights other candles, causing a cascade of love throughout space and time. Today, the Secular Institute of Saint Angela Merici or the Angelines are present in 23 countries throughout the world, including Singapore.

How is God calling you to serve today? Are there ways in which you can display God’s love to those in your neighbourhood, as St Angela did?

 

Do not lose heart, even if you should discover that you lack qualities necessary for the work to which you are called. He who called you will not desert you, but the moment you are in need, He will stretch out His saving hand.

– St Angela Merici

11 January 2022

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections

With the commencement of the new school year, various school leaders have been reassigned to new posts. After eight years of service as principal of CHIJ Katong Convent, Ms Patricia Chan has taken on a new posting, moving to the Ministry of Education (MOE) as Director of English Language and Literature in the Curriculum Planning and Development Division (CPDD).

 

Sweet Memories

Reflecting on her time in the CHIJ family, Ms Chan shares that her favourite memory is of Book and Music Week (BMW), a well-loved school tradition dating back more than fifty years. She explains: “It is a time where the formal confines of the classroom make way for spontaneous and experiential learning through the love of music, the written word and the arts.”

The spunky principal has aimed to do something memorable for her students in commencing the festivities each year. “In my first year, I dressed up as William Shakespeare and delivered my opening in iambic pentameter, while for the SG50 celebration in 2015 I performed a soliloquy as a Samsui Woman to celebrate the pioneers of Singapore,” Ms Chan reminisces. “Last year, I donned the IJ uniform to mark my coming of a full circle as a student and a principal, to drive home the message of time and space.”


(Photo: CHIJ Katong Convent Facebook)

 

Recalling a more challenging task, Ms Chan says: “Moving the school to a holding site for two years, overseeing the re-building of the school and moving the school back to Marine Terrace to its newly renovated and refurbished campus was also quite an experience. Embracing all the technicalities of construction, engineering and design was not without its difficulties – I was a fish out of water – but keeping sight of the core focus that we are building a conducive environment for work, play and study made the process exciting.”

 

Trust in God

Ms Chan ponders how her Catholic faith has guided her through her career: “As a person of faith, I know that God has a plan for everything. His ways are not our ways, and He always makes things good in His time.”

Recognising the hand of Divine Providence throughout her life, Ms Chan states: “I have learnt not to seek answers or solutions readily when things don’t turn out right; over time, I know the Lord will provide, I just need to have the faith and trust in Him.”

“More often than not,” she adds, “The answers or a way out is frequently through words and actions of others, or a change in the course of events, or sometimes, an inspiration of a brainwave which comes during unexpected periods.”

Turning to Scripture, Ms Chan reveals how the Word of God has sustained her: “My favourite quote from Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, has given me the strength to embrace the unknowns or the seemingly dire situations.”

 

Hope for the Future

Ms Chan expresses her hopes for the future of CHIJ Katong Convent, that it may “grow from strength to strength as a Catholic IJ school.”

“Specifically,” she adds, “For the staff – that they continue to grow in spirit, mind and skills for themselves and the charges they care for, and for the girls – that the school develops in them the strength of character to lead with care, to learn with passion, and to live with purpose as contributing members of society.”


Ms Patricia Chan donned the IJ uniform at the opening of her final Book and Music Week as the principal of CHIJ Katong Convent and reflected on how an IJ school inspired by the spirituality of Nicolas Barré set them up for life. (Photo: CHIJ Katong Convent Instagram)

 

A New Leader

Considering her successor, Mdm Hilda Tan Hwee Tsian – who has been rotated from Meridian Secondary School – Ms Chan says: “CHIJ Katong Convent is blessed to receive another IJ alumnus as her new principal. As IJ alumnus, Mrs Hilda Tan already has a shared experience and a common identity she can tap in charting the next directions of the school.”

Ms Chan continues: “The appreciation (Mdm Tan) has of the school’s history and heritage enables her to write the present in order to chart the growth of the school for future generations. She will have a good starting point.”

 

A Great Responsibility

Contemplating how her time as a Catholic school principal has formed her as a person, Ms Chan shares: “The oft-said statement that with authority comes responsibility, couldn’t have resonated more.  As a Catholic leading a Catholic school, I take it as a personal accountability to uphold the Catholic ethos and identity of the school.”

Drawing upon a Biblical theme, Ms Chan continues: “I pretty much likened it to the parable of the talents, where I am privileged to be leading a Catholic school and therefore much is to be expected of me.  Leadership has forced me out of my comfort zone in making my own faith journey more visible.”

Referring to the founder of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus schools, she affirms: “Understanding the charism of Blessed Nicolas Barré has also led me to grow in faith and spirituality in the way I lead the school and interact with my students and staff. This mindfulness has helped me calibrate how I need to think and act, especially with others.”

She concludes, “Being Principal of a Catholic school has given me the lens to consider how I might create an encounter with Christ for the people with whom I interact. This is a gift which I will continue to treasure and take to wherever I am.”

16 December 2021

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Homilies / Messages, Reflections

Happy New Liturgical Year! Advent marks a new year in the Catholic Church. This is an important time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. Just as we prepare for the glorious joy of Easter with Lenten fasting and penance, so do we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ with the quiet contemplation of Advent.

“Advent” is derived from the Latin ad venio, “to come”. This liturgical season anticipates the Adventus Domini, the coming of the Lord. The sublime secret is that Christ is already here: He has been present in Mary’s womb since the Annunciation on 25 March.

Pope Benedict XVI taught us in his book Dogma and Preaching:

“Advent” does not mean “expectation,” as some may think. It is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means “presence” or, more accurately, “arrival,”, i.e., the beginning of a presence. In antiquity the word was a technical term for the presence of a king or ruler and also for the god being worshipped, who bestows his parousia on his devotees for a time.“Advent,” then, means a presence begun, the presence being that of God. Advent reminds us, therefore, of two things: first, that God’s presence in the world has already begun, that He is present though in a hidden manner; second, that His presence has only begun and is not yet full and complete, that it is in a state of development, of becoming and progressing toward its full form.

His presence has already begun, and we, the faithful, are the ones through whom He wishes to be present in the world. Through our faith, hope, and love He wants his light to shine over and over again in the night of the world.

That night is “today” whenever the “Word” becomes “flesh” or genuine human reality. The Christ child comes in a real sense whenever human beings act out of authentic love for the Lord.

 

Advent is also a time in which we call to mind Christ’s Second Coming and prepare our hearts to receive Him at the end of days. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come, with the restoration of all creation ending our exile in this vale of tears. Various Advent traditions include the Jesse tree, which traces salvation history through Jesus’ genealogy; the Advent calendar, with a surprise for each day we count down to Christmas; and the Advent wreath, with candles representing Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Does your family practise any of these traditions? They can be both a fun and prayerful way to anticipate the magnificent celebration of Christ’s birth.

A beautiful Advent prayer is the St Andrew Christmas Novena, which encapsulates a deep longing for God’s arrival in the dark night of a world in need of a Saviour, a world hungering for Love. This Advent, let us be open to God’s quiet presence amidst the hustle and bustle of life, making room for Him to be born in our hearts so that we may bear Him to every person we meet, irradiating their lives with joy.

 

St Andrew Christmas Novena

Hail, and blessed be the hour and moment
at which the Son of God was born of a most pure Virgin
at a stable at midnight in Bethlehem in the piercing cold.
At that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee,
to hear my prayers and grant my desires.
(Mention your intentions here)
Through Jesus Christ and His most Blessed Mother. Amen.

15 November 2021

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Tags: Educators

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

The teacher is like the candle which lights others in consuming itself.

– Giovanni Ruffini, Italian poet (1807-1881)

 

You have most likely heard of St Thomas Aquinas, the brilliant Dominican friar who wrote the Summa Theologiae, a compendium of all of Catholic theology. But do you know he was taught by St Albertus Magnus – Albert the Great?

As a young member of the Dominicans or Order of Preachers, Albert taught theology throughout Germany. In 1245, he became a Master of Theology and then a full-time professor in the University of Paris, where Aquinas began to study under him.

Albert was the first in medieval Christendom to produce commentaries on all of Aristotle’s writings, introducing Greek and Arabic science and philosophy to Europe. He was also a keen botanist, biologist, mineralogist and astronomer, studying the natural sciences. He is thus recognised as one of the 36 Doctors of the Church, as the Doctor of Science and the Universal Doctor, because of the depth and breadth of his knowledge and teaching. The word “doctor” is Latin for “teacher”. The Doctors of the Church are saints who made significant contributions to theology or doctrine through their research or writing.

Aquinas’ fellow students teased him for being rotund and reticent, calling him “The Dumb Ox”. Albert overheard them and said: “Ox he is, and his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world.”

Building on his mentor’s work, Aquinas produced the pinnacle of scholastic philosophy, the Summa Theologiae, systemising Catholic teaching in harmony with Aristotelian principles, a profound marriage of faith and reason, the fruit of three decades of collaboration between Aquinas and Albert.

In 1260, Pope Alexander IV appointed Albert as the Bishop of Regensburg in Germany. Though he occupied an esteemed position, Albert refrained from owning or riding a horse, in accordance with his order’s vow of poverty. He walked all over his considerably large diocese, earning him the affectionate nickname “Boots the Bishop” from his flock. He also founded the University of Cologne, Germany’s oldest university.

Albert passed away on 15 November 1280, six years after his star pupil Aquinas. His body was discovered to be incorrupt upon exhumation three years after his death. Albertus Magnus is a patron saint of scientists, philosophers and students.

Reflecting on Albert’s life, we see how he gave glory to God through his vocation as a teacher, encouraging his students like Thomas Aquinas to reach their full potential and even surpass him. He was not just academically gifted, but also had a pastor’s heart, faithfully tending to the members of his diocese despite the daunting distance on foot. He is a shining example to teachers everywhere, to maintain the virtues of humility and charity while serving God, being a model of Christian discipline and bringing out the best in their students. From Albertus Magnus, we learn to appreciate God’s handiwork throughout all creation, from the tiniest plant or mineral to the glorious stars in the heavens.

 

Prayer to St Albert

Dear Scientist and Doctor of the Church, natural science always led you to the higher science of God. Though you had an encyclopedic knowledge, it never made you proud, for you regarded it as a gift of God. Inspire scientists to use their gifts well in studying the wonders of creation, thus bettering the lot of the human race and rendering greater glory to God. Amen.

9 November 2021

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Tags: Students

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Categories: Reflections

Just as people often mistake vibrant Sydney for Australia’s capital city, instead of quiet Canberra, many mistake St Peter’s Basilica for the pope’s cathedral. In fact, the cathedra or seat of the Bishop of Rome is found in the Cathedral of the Most Holy Saviour and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran, more commonly known as St John Lateran.

Founded in AD 324, when the emperor Constantine gave part of the Roman palace of the Laterani to Pope Sylvester I, the church is the oldest and highest ranking of the four papal major basilicas, holding the unique title of “archbasilica”. The word basilica comes from the Greek basileus, meaning king. St John Lateran is the oldest public church in the city of Rome, and the oldest basilica of the Western world. On its front wall is a plaque inscribed with the words SACROS LATERAN ECCLES OMNIUM VRBIS ET ORBIS ECCLESIARVM MATER ET CAPUT: “Most Holy Lateran Church, mother and head of all the churches in the city and the world.”

Dedicated by Pope Clement XII on 9 November 1735 to “Christ the Saviour, in honour of Saints John the Baptist and [John] the Evangelist”, St John Lateran’s titular feast is the Transfiguration of Christ on 6 August. As the seat of the Holy Father (the Chair of Peter), the archbasilica is a potent symbol of Christian unity under the teaching authority of the Pope, just as Jesus exhorted the Jews to obey the scribes and Pharisees who had teaching authority signified by the Chair of Moses (Matthew 23:2-3).

 


The façade of Archbasilica of St John Lateran

 

Jesus prayed fervently for unity among His followers, while sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His death (John 17:11). Sadly, this has not truly come to pass, with the numerous divisions between Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants throughout the centuries.

Even among the apostles there were disagreements and divisions, as with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39), as well as Peter and Paul (Galatians 2:11), but the apostles had robust discussions and came to an agreement at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). From the apostles, we have received the faith handed down (traditio) through centuries under the unbroken line of papal apostolic succession.

In school, we are often assigned group work, to learn how to cooperate with others in producing a unified piece of work. It can be frustrating when one thinks the others are going about things the wrong way, or when the others are lazy and leave one to do all the work. But the ability to discuss projects honestly and clearly is a crucial life skill.

Humanity has been able to survive through all sorts of adverse situations because as a species, we are able to collaborate and create better living conditions, which would be impossible to sustain individually. Every day, we cooperate with family, friends and strangers – doing the housework, organising meet-ups, following road rules, and so on. We build on the infrastructure fashioned by our forebears.

 

 

Our schools run smoothly because there is a symbiotic relationship between the members, with teachers imparting knowledge and modelling virtues to students, and other staff supporting the entire enterprise. Through our schools, we are connected with our alumni families, a history of generations formed through Catholic education, who grow up to serve in the wider community. May the Feast of St John Lateran remind us that, as the 12th century theologian John of Salisbury said:

 

“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.”

 

Let us strive to be worthy of the gift of education bestowed upon us by our parents and teachers, using it for the good of others and for the glory of God.

22 October 2021

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

For many who graduate from school, what endures beyond the grades and accolades is friendship. True friends share in each other’s joys and support one another through challenging times; they help each other grow in virtue, knowledge and maturity. St John Bosco, an educator of street urchins and founder of the Salesians, counselled:

“Fly from bad companions as from the bite of a poisonous snake. If you keep good companions, I can assure you that you will one day rejoice with the blessed in Heaven; whereas if you keep with those who are bad, you will become bad yourself, and you will be in danger of losing your soul.”

 

Pope John Paul II, born Karol Józef Wojtyła – whose feast is on 22 October, the day of his papal inauguration – knew the importance of friendship as a young man. The German Nazis and Russian communists invaded Poland during his university days in 1939; the university was shut down and he was forced to work as a manual labourer, quarrying limestone. During that time, he met Jan Tyranowski, assigned by a Salesian priest as a student mentor. Jan introduced Karol to the Living Rosary youth groups, which continued to meet throughout World War II, keeping the faith while their priests were imprisoned.

Karol soon discerned a vocation to the priesthood, and Jan managed to attend his ordination on 1 November 1946 before dying of tuberculosis. As a young priest, Fr Wojtyła formed youth groups as his friend Jan had. These young men and women went hiking, attended retreats, and put on plays, despite being in a war zone. In these groups, the youth found freedom which was denied them by the oppressive regime which had seized control of all institutions, including schools. Through the apostolate of friendship, they were able to cultivate human flourishing in the midst of violent turmoil, helping one another grow holistically.

 


A young John Paul on a hiking trip. Source: voiceofthesouthwest.org

 

The word “friend” comes from a Proto-Indo-European word meaning “to love”. Pope John Paul II wrote in his book Love and Responsibility:

 

“Friendship, as has been said, consists in a full commitment of the will to another person with a view to that person’s good.”

 

This echoes St Thomas Aquinas, who said, “Love is to will the good of another.”

In fact, what Jan and Fr Wojtyła did reflected what Jesus Himself did during His earthly mission. He gathered a group of friends around Him (John 15:15), teaching them about God the Father through His words and actions. These friends of Christ spread the Word of God throughout the world, inviting each of us today to join them in becoming friends of God. The most effective evangelisation is based on a solid foundation of friendship, where one receives the love of God through a friend. How can you share God’s love with your friends today?