Thoughts from a young theologian

Ad augusta per augusta: My philosophical life

Philly and the City that never sleeps

This past weekend was an incredible busy one for me… and in a good way… I started my summer vacation and travels… The last class I had to teach was on the Thursday and so afterwards, I pretty much had more time to pack and prepare for the little vacation and pilgrimage I’m currently in the middle of…

So my first stop was Philadelphia, the land of middle of the street parking (see below), some relatives from my dad’s side of the family whom we visited and brotherly love. We also drove by the home stadium of the Philadelphia Flyers, one of the NHL teams I really hoped would beat the Boston Bruins this past year.. Then maybe we could have had a better outcome in the final…. Yeah… I’m still a bit sore over that…

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This wasn’t all a vacation trip though for my family, in fact, most of it wasn’t a vacation… We recently lost one of my uncles and so the rest of my family, including my grandmother and aunts flew over from the Philippines and went to Philly… It was nice to see them again and really nice to meet the second cousins I had never met before too… It’s too bad this sort of event is only guaranteed to happen when something bad or tragic occurs…

Philadelphia is a really lucky city right now too from the Catholic world perspective because the renowned and solidly orthodox Archbishop Chaput was recently transferred there. We read his most recent book “Render unto Caesar” at table last year in the seminary.. He’s pretty solid and the archdiocese of Philadelphia is really excited to have him coming in… I went to Sunday mass at a very beautiful church near my relatives’ home and the Monsignor celebrating the mass was so excited when he told me that his parish would be one of the first to be visited…

The next half of the day was spent in the airport…. This was the longest I’ve ever spent in one single airport… My aunts and grandmother had issues with their flight booking and my other aunt was on standby and didn’t end up getting a flight that day… Because we needed to be there to watch this all unfold, we were in that airport for half the day… Both my aunts and grandmothers flights were cancelled so we all ended up in a nearby outlet mall… We didn’t got lunch the whole day so at the mall, I got what should be the main dish in any Philadelphian restaurant: cheese steak… Mmmmmmmmmm

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The last site we visited in Philadelphia was the nearby Princeton university which, due to severe time constraints, we only drove through… I’ve included some of those pictures for you guys anyway… It just kinda looks like UBC anyway… I guess after a while, these ivy league schools start to look a little more similar.

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After Philly, my parents and I drove over to the city that never sleeps… The Big Apple itself, New York!!! I won’t lie… NYC is gorgeous and it’s massive!!! The skyscrapers lining it soar Hugh up into the sky… The only one I made it to the top to was the infamous Rockefeller Center and its Top of the Rock… The view up there is really exquisite. Among the things you can see, what stands out are the Empire State and Central Park, the one and almost only green spot in the city… One can really compare and contrast New York to a smaller, greener city like Vancouver… P.S. That last picture is of St. Patrick’s cathedral from above!!!

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The first night, we walked quite a bit around Times Square, a place from which I can see where New York gets its nickname from… That place seems like it would always be busy!!! The next day, my parents and I ended up taking a mini tour of the city with a guide bus and a boat ride… We got up close to the Statue of Liberty and walked by Wall Street and the 9/11 memorial, which is still under construction and will be opening very soon (September 11 of this year). One can also see the construction site of the new World Trade Center that’s going up little by little…

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The highlight of my trip to New York, however was most definitely the first and only broadway show I’ve ever seen… We watched the Phantom of the Opera, by far my favorite musical!!! It was incredible to see the whole thing live, as Andrew Lloyd Webber had envisioned it!!! Unfortunately, because of rules of the theater, I have no pictures to show you from that.. Maybe later, I’ll just post some of the theater pictures I was allowed to take…

One of the things I promised I wouldn’t be dropping even though I’m on a vacation is truly the spiritual life… It’s something so key as a seminarian to always keep going because it’s that which really roots you. So I did that through daily mass at none other than St. Patrick’s cathedral where one of my heroes, Abp. Fulton Sheen is buried. I couldn’t go down to see him, because no one can but I did manage to ask them to give him some flowers I had bought for him.. He did play a big role, through his books and tv show reruns in my vocational discernment after all… If I do end up going all the way, it’ll be partly his fault… Hehehehheheh

It was very nice to see that broadway show because the very next day, I left New York… It was an incredible long day of just pure traveling… I flew first from La Guardia airport to Montreal, where I met most of my World Youth Day group… Then from Montreal, we all took the slightly long flight to Paris… I didn’t get much sleep on that at all because I spent most of my time on that flight working on the talk I need to give to the group… At Paris, we had lunch and I started taking on my first role as a small group leader of one of the 5 groups we divided our larger group into… That was fun because I’ve been nervously stumbling along with my little knowledge of French and rying to get by with it…

Right now, I’m in Barcelona… It’s 7 am and I’m working on finishing my first post ever from Europe… I would have finished it last night but I collapsed on my bed, exhausted from all that travel…. Hehehehehehehe I can’t wait to show you some first hand stuff of the joy, excitement an enthusiasm of the World Youth Day very soon!!! God bless!!!

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Breakdown

Any student needs to be able to deal with stress… Stress is, especially today, a part of most students’ lives, surprisingly even among some of the younger aged students. Well, a seminarian is also a student. But, something I’ve been realizing more and more as I’m here is the fact that a seminarian is not JUST a student. One could coast through the academic life at a normal university like SFU for example and just be a student. I could easily just get up in the morning, go to school, go to my classes, study a bit, go back down. A better university student is one who can take on some extra roles while at it too like joining clubs, being active in student government or the greater community in general, etc…

As a seminarian, you’re expected to be the latter kind of student, but to some extent, even more than that. You’re expected to be first and foremost, a man of God and of prayer because people do not want a scholar out of you but a priest. You’re to be a member of the community and cannot enclose yourself in your room for hours upon hours just studying. You’re to be a leader, a psychologist in training, a teacher (as a cathechist), an available mass server (especially if you are a seminarian for your particular archdiocese because they can occasionally call you and a whole bunch of you up for serving the mass of the bishop/archbishop. You’re expected to be a healer too who’s to try and make himself available for others in their needs… We help others through either our hospice or prison ministry. All of this on top of being a student. All of a sudden, the long days on account of the really early mornings and (sometimes) late nights don’t seem so long do they?

Well this week, I’ve had two papers due, one midterm (which was only announced to us before the weekend), and both the oratory contest semifinal (which I got through) and finals (this coming Sunday for anyone interested). With the oratory contest finals this Sunday, I’ve been working to get ready, not just as a finalist but also as a choir director because we’ve been preparing all semester the one piece that we’re hoping to perform then too. On top of all that, I’ve had to go out to catechism as usual on Wednesday, I went camping on Saturday (and while I really enjoyed it, lost a day there), and had a very tough week academically looking at St. Thomas Aquinas’ De Anima (On the Soul) and Jacques Maritain’s Introduction to Philosophy. Latin has also been getting significantly harder as we’ve gone far past the simple verbs and are about to get into the subjunctive. All of that and I’m just a pre-theology arts student. Theology is supposed to be significantly harder.

Needless to say, for the first time in a little while, I kind of broke down yesterday. My mind was completely shot and, for some reason, I couldn’t understand anything that was being said and was far too tired to study and even to pray. Normally, during days of extreme stress at the university, I used to love just ending my day by going to the pub and ordering a nice, big chocolate milkshake (hehehehehe) to end the day but that’s no longer possible now because I cannot leave the property without permission (and who would have what it takes to go up to a monk asking if they can leave to buy a chocolate milkshake) and because it’s Lent too!!!

So what did I do? What any normal, everyday student would… I slacked off… c”,) I bugged some of the other seminarians, called up friends looking for some support, and during the afternoon, went for a little walk. One of the perks of being a seminarian is my little big backyard… It is after all a Benedictine abbey, which means that its grounds are quite extensive. I went down near Mary lake past our little Marian grotto and down the trail that would normally lead to the farm. To my right is the farm, the orchards, a majestic view of the mountains and to my left, the peaceful lake, the abbey church in the distance. The weather was absolutely perfect… not too hot and sunny but not cold, rainy and wet either. I passed Brother Gregory as he was busy clearing the trail for the tractor. He kind of affirmed me in my “afternoon off” saying that it had been a while since he was in university and he had no intention of going through that again… c”,) I passed Father Peter but he was really busy chopping wood with his huge chainsaw. I climbed up the little hill nearby and sat down up top right next to an old tree that overlooks the whole valley and gives a spectacular view of the mountains and farmland. It was nice to slack off just once… c”,) Hehehehehe

In the end, I did end up getting my milkshake as we were served for dessert some strawberries for dinner. I put mine in a little bowl and added milk to it, making a milkshake of my own… Heheeehehe Then after our usual late night Latin class, where our supposed quiz, that I was nowhere near ready for and whose preparation had been one of the bigger causes of my little breakdown, was cancelled, I listened to the Canucks win their 52nd game and the President’s Trophy as the best in the NHL. I did end up doing some work towards the late night and was in much much better spirit then too…

A seminarian’s life is most definitely not an easy one. It’s partly why I think we need lots of prayers and why it has to be, more than anything else, a call from God who alone will sustain us and give us the strength to face whatever comes. It’s sooooooo easy to just give up and call it that I’m starting to get a better understanding of why only about 25% of all seminarians make it through all the way. I guess that’s why it’s super helpful for us that many people are praying for us… Anyways, hope you all have a fantastic day!!! I’ll post an update on the finals of the speech contest soon!


Aquinas and the Existence of God: Contingency Part II

All of our knowledge comes to us from our senses. That’s a very Aristotelian and Thomistic first principle. If I couldn’t see, smell, hear, touch or taste, I could not know anything. For Aristotle, the process by which we attain knowledge of the sensible things of this world, he called abstraction. Abstraction is the picking up of certain aspects of a sensible object and leaving other parts of it behind. It’s for him, the way we think. He proposed 10 categories of objects, i.e. 10 things we can “pick up” when looking at an object namely: substance, quality, quantity, relation, time, place, action, passion, situation and habit. If I look, for example at a fire hydrant, I notice first of all that it is a fire hydrant (substance). I see that it is red (quality). I see just one hydrant (quantity). I see it’s on the corner of such and such a street (place). I see what’s being done to it (passion) — like if there’s a dog peeing on it… c”,) I can also see what it is doing (action) so if it’s spewing water out or not.

Of these categories, apart from the first one which is the substance (what something is), the rest are accidents of it. Accidents are those which don’t make a fire hydrant be a fire hydrant. I can spray paint that hydrant into blue, changing its color (quality) but it would still be a fire hydrant. Accidents do not exist apart from the substance but neither does a substance exist without accidents (except God). When I say red, I can’t just say red… It’s always a red something… c”,) Similarly, when I look at a fire hydrant, apart from picking up what it is, I can also pick up a number of things about it (that it is red, or in this place, etc…)

Substance is the thing that makes a thing be what it is… It is both the individual, particular existing thing (i.e. this particular fire hydrant on this intersection) and the universal, general thing (the idea of what a fire hydrant is). Not all hydrants are alike… The hydrant on Granville might be very different from that on Seymour. The individual, particular existing thing may differ but the idea always remains the same.This universal idea of a fire hydrant is called its essence. It is what allows me to go up to you and start talking about fire hydrants with you. I assume you know exactly what a fire hydrant is. It is the common idea we both have of what a fire hydrant is… in short, it’s its definition.

St. Thomas, looking at all things noticed that one of the accidents of everything is their existence. The essence (the definition… what it is) is separate from its existence (that it is). How do we know that? By experience! If existence was part of something’s essence, it cannot not exist. It would have to exist forever. If existence (that we are) is part of what makes us human, we can’t help but continue existing… forever. But we’re confronted with death everyday!! That we exist is not what defines us at humans… In a way, it’s just an attribute of ours. The best way of showing that essence is not existence in anything is by going back to what I was talking about earlier on abstraction. It is very possible for us to abstract existence out of something. When I look at John, for example, I can abstract his essence (that he is a man) separately from his existence (that he IS). He doesn’t have to be the way he is… In fact I can consider him in my mind wearing a top hat or having purple hair or being on the planet Mars. I can even consider him dead at that very moment. His very existence as he is this very moment is not part of what he is because it is something that is always changing. That distinction is super important because from once you make it, you’ll be led to the same conclusion Thomas had!!!

If essence is different, separable from existence… if existence is just an accident of something then our existence is, in a sense, a gift! It has got to come from something that is pure existence. Hmmmmmmm…. There’s something for you to think about… I’ll finish this little mini paper-blog next time! Take care and God bless!!!