Thoughts from a young theologian

Archive for May, 2011

Back in the World

I had been warned about it but it’s only really been hitting home over the past few days. The most difficult time for any seminarian, I think, is not the week of exams, as stressful as that may be. It’s not Lent, as difficult as it may be to keep up with all those sacrifices. It’s not even our infamous sports day, as painful as it is to run around the whole day and “have fun.” The most difficult time is really the summer. I wonder how many vocations are made and broken during the summer time? It’s surprised me so much how much more difficult it is to keep up a life of prayer, chastity and self-denial when away from the protective confines of Westminster Abbey!!

Out there, we really are, in a sense, in our own Catholic world. We live in community, support each other in all our endeavors, pray together and share everything with each other. We live such a structured life in there, getting up at the same time, eating at the same time, praying at the same time. There, our only worries are the exams and papers that are coming up and those aren’t even that stressful, really, because away from all the distractions of the world in general, it’s definitely much easier to find time to read, study and pray. Not to mention the prayerful atmosphere of the Benedictine abbey, its peace, serenity, etc.

I’ve only been back here for a little over a week and I’m already starting to miss the slower, more prayerful pace of seminary life. I’m missing the beautiful, albeit super early morning masses, the sung vespers, the chant. Sigh… It is difficult to be a faithful Catholic Christian in this world. We really really need to belong to faithful communities just in order to survive, I think. I guess that’s the challenge today for my generation… to build up that community.

The big thing this week was a taizĂ© prayer service at a local Vancouver Protestant Church, St. Andrews Wesley. Taize, for those who aren’t familiar with it is an ecumenical community based in a little village in France that bears the same name. Every year, particularly during the summertime, they host close to 5000 young adults from all denominations and all walks of life for about a week in their community. Every week, another 5000 youth leave while 5000 more take their place. They’re known for their most beautiful chant music and this week, true to their reputation, one of the brothers of the community came to Vancouver to host an ecumenical prayer service. The church it was held in was a really beautiful one… one I was very happy to see from the inside. It really gives one a sense of the sacred when entering inside. The prayer service, which included the meditative singing of a dozen taizĂ© songs,scripture reading, a meditation by Brother Emil and veneration of the cross was very well done. Heheheheh

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Also this week, I’ve started getting back into the swing of university life. It’s really weird being a seminarian who’s not in the seminary. Earlier this week, there was almost a part of me that felt the I did not belong to the university that I had called my home for close to 6 years. In any case, this week was Clubs Days at SFU. This is the week when all the various clubs up on campus showcase themselves and try and recruit new members. There are clubs of all kinds here. If there isn’t a club that specializes in whatever you’re interested in, you can also always make it yourself and get some funding and find some new members who share your interests. One of the relatively newer clubs that kind of irked me was the Skeptics club. They have placed a gigantic banner over convocation mall saying “There’s probably no God now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” the great work this group is doing is they’re bringing talk about religion, faith and God back into the public square. In one sense, it’s good to be challenged on your faith because it causes you to really reflect back on the reasons why you believe and the reasonability of your religion too. My only fear is not knowing how many people succumb to their tactics.

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Christianity, and in particular, Catholic Christianity is very reasonable, common-sensically, philosophically and scientifically, as I’ve been learning throughout this year. Truth is one in the person of Christ therefore not only does faith not contradict reason, it cannot. It’s impossible for it to do so. I would have wanted to speak with some of these skeptics during the Clubs daydream but I didn’t because first of all, a lot of other Christian groups were already busy dialoging with them and secondly, I knew that if I tried to dialogue with them, I would be going in with the unhealthy mindset of wanting to beat them. I wanted to exercise the use of the philosophical tools I had learned throughout this year as weapons to cut these people and their false ideologies down, when in fact, what I really need to do for true dialogue to take place, is to love them in truth. Fr. Peter would always tell us throughout the year that the truth doesn’t have rights, people have rights. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to speak with them again sometime during this semester. Anyway, that’s all for today. God bless!! Have a fantastic Sunday!!!

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From one school to another to another

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Photo from fusionpanda, Flickr

It’s incredibly surreal to be back here. The place has not changed that much however countless people have come and gone, giving what once was my second home a very different feel to it.

What does a seminarian do over the summer? Well most of us are off working. The theologians have all gotten stationed at one parish where they’ll be learning lots of the pastoral skills they’ll need later on, and which they can’t really learn with our seminary being situated in the midst of a Benedictine abbey. Most of the arts students are off working. Some guys have got landscaping jobs, one of whom I know is working in Gardens of Gethsemane, the local Catholic cemetery. I, as
I implied above, am happily going back to the university. It’s always been a very special place to me and it’s a thrill to be back having a more full education with some philosophy to back up my science. I’ll be helping teach the Biology 100 (our equivalent of Grade 12 Biology) up here. I was up at the university yesterday for the first teaching assistant’s meeting and to coordinate which tutorials and labs I would be taking through the semester. I’m really excited to be heading back there.

Work is a major part of the seminarian’s summer and takes up a big chunk of our time but we don’t JUST work. Even during the summer, we remain seminarians, which means we’ve got other responsibilities. We have to prioritize keeping up our prayer life first and foremost, before anything else. This is probably the biggest challenge for most of us, just because we’re all away from the environment and community conducive to prayer. A few of us will be traveling as well. A number of us will be going to World Youth Day this summer, mostly with a local parish. One of us is even going to spend a few months over in Calcutta, working with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. This is the blog he maintains, if you’re interested: http://blog.naver.com/janghan_g

In addition, we also try and get involved with some of the events in and around the Archdiocese. This week alone has been completely busy with Youth Day being celebrated this past weekend. Part of Youth Day was a major soccer game between the youth and the “Men in Black” team of priests and seminarians. We were really lucky to have, for the duration of the game, a break from all the rainy weather for the day. Hehehehehehe We ended up winning 1 – 0. There were also a lot of talks going on throughout the day which was capped off with mass with the Archbishop and Eucharistic Adoration, both of which, we served.

Yesterday, in addition to it being my first day back in school was also the Focus on Life fundraiser gala that was held in the Hyatt hotel , Vancouver. I was invited to go there by Fr. Tran from All Saints parish. I was super nervous and very hesitant to go because of how fancy I thought the event would be. I’m never really that comfortable around fancy events. Hehehehehehehhe That’s because of a number of reasons. I don’t really like dressing up (though I’m getting more and more used to it, being a seminarian). I’m not terrible good at figuring out which of the 4 forks and 3 knives I should use for my salad and I’m also very wary about needing to be in my best behavior. This particular dinner was really really good though. The other people at my table were all super nice, the speaker (the producer of Bella) was excellent and the food was really good. We even watched the new short movie he has filmed to be released soon. Plus, right at the moment the Canucks finally won and beat Nashville, everyone in the hall started cheering and waving around their dinner napkins like playoff towels over their heads. The atmosphere of the whole event was fantastic, not to mention the cause, which I’m pretty passionate about too: the use of positive media to promote the cause of life.

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The last quick update I’ll mention now is that today, I went with another seminarian to visit a Catholic elementary school and kindergarten class in Vancouver. We both realized then why Jesus loves children. The kids were sooooooooooooooooooooo cute!!!! Anymore cuteness from them and I think I would have popped. Heheheheheheheh They asked us all kinds of questions and even sang a song for us, complete with actions!!! We shared with them a little bit about why we entered the seminary and what our life is like in there. We even showed them the first part of our yearbook video, which is a great way of showing the humanity of a seminarian. Lots of them, like a lot of other people, I think, have the misconception of seminarians doings nothing all day but praying and studying. Part of why I’m trying to keep this blog is to show just how human the whole process is!!

So overall, that’s a general picture of these past few days. I’ll try and be a bit more diligent with my posts so that I won’t be talking about fifty different things at once!! Have a great day and God bless!!!


The End of the Beginning and the Beginning of the End

Sorry for the lack of blog posts recently… It has been the busiest week and a bit for me in the whole year. From the Triduum onwards, I have just been on the go. This time is usually the busiest time for any priest and, as I have very quickly learned, for many seminarians as well. So needless to say, since my last post, so much has happened both in the Catholic world and in the world in general.

First of all, we have been celebrating the great feast of Easter for the past 8 days now and so the mood here in the abbey has dramatically changed. Because in addition to it being Easter, it is also exam time, our meals always have dispensations from table reading. We get to chat it up with each other each and every single meal. The mass has dramatically changed as well in tone over here. Over the Triduum, the bells were stopped entirely (after the Gloria of Holy Thursday until the Easter vigil). Anyone who lives near the abbey will immediately notice it! No more 6:30 am bells!! c”,) In addition, the masses have also been more flooded with music… Fr. Basil, on our organ here, has been a lot busier now than ever as he plays not just for the Gregorian chant but interludes as well.

During the Triduum, the thing which occupied me the most was all the serving of masses. I tried to stay away as best as I could from stuff like this, i.e. the internet… Hehehehehe I also stopped my studies for the 3 days and tried to focus as much as I could on the different liturgies. I served the Holy Thursday mass and Good Friday service at the abbey and the Easter Vigil over at the Cathedral. It’s such an incredible and special time, going from that depressing but beautifully sung (by 3 monks) Gospel reading of Good Friday commemorating our Lord’s Passion all the way to three days after, the jubilation and triumph of Easter. It’s such a different feel here in the abbey because we really don’t just celebrate the liturgies, rather we literally live them each day, or at least try to.

Immediately after the Easter Vigil, we had a few days off. I took that time to grab some much needed R&R at home with my family. Normally, we get a week after Easter off but this year, because Easter is so late, we only had from Saturday night until Tuesday night. I decided to come back a little bit earlier than that though because immediately following our return, we had our exams. I came back on Monday afternoon to try and study for that and honestly, that’s mainly what I have been doing since, though at this point, the worst of it is over. I had 5 papers to write, 2 of these, absolutely huge with lots of research required, and 2 written exams in addition. And that was all considered an “easier” week compared to what the theologians had to go through. Maybe, if I get the opportunity, I’ll post up one of these papers on here (depending on whether I get a good enough mark on it to make sure no bad heresies are on it… hehehhehe). I’ll warn you now though, it’s really long and possibly not that interesting but at least, it’ll give you an idea of how seriously the studies are taken here…

It hasn’t all just been about books though this week. This past Sunday was an incredible day for the Church as our beloved Pope John Paul II was beatified in Rome. The secular media reported that close to 1 million people came into the city for it, while the religious media reported there were 2 million people there… Hehehehehe the reality is probably somewhere in the middle. For it, I stayed up until close to 3 am, Sunday morning to try and stream it and watch it. I was keeping an eye out for two of the older brother monks who were given the privilege by the abbot to go and be a part of all the festivities, one of them, Brother Emerich, told me it would be his first time on a plane! The ceremony was beautiful and even though I was not actually there in Rome, I felt very much a part of it. So much so that the geeky side of me came out a little bit–I decided to take a couple of pictures of the celebrations from my screen… Hehehehehe The funniest part about the whole thing though (and the reason I was trying to get a picture of my screen) was that I saw a couple of shots of a HUGE banner that I saw near the front of the crowd!! It was really funny because it was soooooooo long that it rivaled in size all the Polish flags that were all over the place (as you probably can imagine). It was a long banner of, I think, a Canadian flag (I can’t remember) with the words VANCOUVER strewn across it… I was really proud to see it… hehehehehe

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The beatification mass was quite intricate… It’s pretty much a normal mass with certain additions to it in between the Kyrie and the Gloria. First, the postulator of John Paul II’s cause came up and asked of the pope to recognize the beatification of Pope John Paul II. He then read a short biography of his life, pausing every now and then at certain points to allow the crowd to clap for him. Then, after the reading, Pope Benedict read a formula prayer (in Latin) pronouncing Pope John Paul as blessed. With that, the tapestry bearing his image was uncovered, revealing a gorgeous picture of him in his younger years as Pope (because apparently, one cannot officially pray to or show pictures of someone in a church until he’s officially beatified or canonized).

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Then a vial of his blood was brought up by the nun whose cure he had helped intercede to Jesus for, as a relic. Just a quick blurb on relics, they come from the Latin verb reliquere, which means to leave behind. Catholic saints are on the one hand, models for us to follow, but on the other, they’re members of our family (the Mystical body of Christ) so relics have always been around since the early days of the Church from the practice of clinging on to one’s heroes and loved ones in the same way one holds on to a photograph… I think I kinda went into this topic before, when St. Jean Vianney visited us here… c”,) In any case, I went to bed after listening to the homily and was totally exhausted the next day… Worth it though… The funniest part was that I had to serve two masses then too… I served the regular Sunday mass at the abbey and a special commemorative mass for Pope John Paul at the Cathedral! c”,) How I managed to get through both, God knows… Hehehehehe… It was worth it…

Okay… I’ve got to get back to work… There’s just a quick update on what’s been going on over here in the abbey… We only have until Thursday before everything is finished and we get to go home!! That means that this will be my last post ever as a first year seminarian (because next year, I get to be a second year seminarian!!!) Yay!!! I’ll try and keep this blog somewhat up to date over the summer too.. Just looking ahead at what’s coming, I’ll be spending most of my summer working at the university as a teaching assistant for the Biology 100 course. Throughout the month of May though, I’ll be busy with ordinations, retreats, and all kinds of fun events throughout the archdiocese so don’t worry!! I’ll have stuff to write about!! Then in August, the best part of my whole summer… I get to go to World Youth Day in Madrid… I’m not yet sure how I’ll keep this blog up to date then, but I’ll definitely try to from there… Anyways, Happy Easter and God bless!!!