Catholic Writings written!

Thank you, everyone, for having followed this blog over these 3+ years!

Catholic Writings was born for several reasons, but most of all, it defined who I was, and it has defined who I’ve been in these past few years – a Catholic writer. But since I went for World Youth Day last year in Australia, I’ve slowly come to be more aware of a fine-tuning of the vocation that God has been calling me to.

It began with a workshop by Catherine Smibert, a Catholic journalist who opened my eyes to see the vocation of being in Catholic media. It continued with a discovery and affirmation of my charism sin a Called & Gifted workshop. Lately, Pope Benedict XVI’s message for World Communication Sunday, has lit the way for me, and now I think I know where to go next.

So now I come to a crossroads of sorts – how can I best live out what God is calling me to? For me, it calls for a fresh start. I’ve written some wonderful articles in this blog, and many that I am ashamed of. It is time to start afresh. I would not say that this chapter of my life is closed, but rather, it has paved the way for a new chapter to begin.

Writing has and always will be important to me, but it is not enough in the new leg of the journey, in the new chapter of the book of Life. Now, like the donkey that carried Jesus to Jerusalem (and we all know how stubborn donkeys can be!), I will try to be that donkey to bring Christ to a new world – the digital continent that Pope Benedict calls us young people to evangelize.

I invite you, friends, to accompany me on this journey through unfamiliar territory through my new blog at: http://digitaldonkey.wordpress.com. It’s going to be new in many ways, and yet, incorporating what I’ve learned here at Catholic Writings. See you at Digital Donkey!

A Queer Conversation

Just read a great interview on BustedHalo.com:

Having reconnected over the past two years while living near each other in New York City, Sr. Bernadette and Paul have developed a deeper friendship. This has forced them to bridge the very different worlds they inhabit: Paul’s as an openly gay man and Sr. Bernadette’s as a member of a traditional Roman Catholic religious order.

- read the full article here

BustedHalo.com is an online spiritual magazine for peoples in their 20s and 30s. It is run by the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, better known as the Paulist Fathers.

I need your help!

I’m conducting a survey. If you can spare just 5 minutes of your time to fill in this survey, it would really help me out.

Sex Sermonist’s Heroes: Pope John Paul II and Hugh Hefner

Christopher West is not your average sex therapist. He’s a devout Catholic who believes one of the most important ways we can get closer to God is through great sex.

- read the rest of ABC News’ interview with Christopher West (or you can watch the 6-minute video)

Apologies

I’ve been really busy of late, what with ICT and work that I’ve had no time to read and respond to comments on this blog. I’m doing that now, and I apologise for not getting back to you sooner.

Distinguishing Christianity from culture

There is a school of thought in Asia that says that if Jesus had been an Asian instead of a Jew, we would be using rice and tea in the Mass today instead of bread.

The reason Jesus chose to use bread and wine was because it was the common food of the people in Israel. Wine has been produced in Israel since biblical times, and bread is the staple food of the people there. Hence, Jesus chose to use bread and wine when instituting the Eucharist.

This is more than simply a choice of what food to use in our religious rites, or what food Jesus used. It is question of culture. How do we separate from Christianity what truly comes from God and what comes from men’s practices and culture?

In the Acts of the Apostles, we read about the early church having to make such a distinction. This takes place when Greeks were becoming Christians and some Jewish Christians were insisting that they had to be circumcised in order to become Christians.

The apostles met to discuss this and the conclusion of that first ecumenical council was that circumcision was part of Jewish culture and should not be imposed on Christians who come from a different culture.

As we reflect on the life of Jesus, we see that everything he did and said was rooted in Jewish culture, and that is rightfully so because Jesus was a Jew. The question for us as Christians to consider is: how much of Jesus’ Jewish culture are we mistaking for Christianity?

It is impossible to find pure, unadulterated Christianity in the world, because it is not Christianity if it is not rooted in culture. Jesus showed that by bringing His message of the kingdom of God into the Jewish culture. But did He intend for us to bring Jewish culture to wherever the Gospel is spread?

When we, from a different culture, try to bring Christianity into where we are in Asia, do we also impose Jewish, or Roman, culture onto an Asian people? Are we not behaving like those Christians who insisted that Christians must first be circumcised? Perhaps this is why some Asians continue to see Christianity as a Western religion, and so choose to adopt it as their own.

Our challenge as Asian Christians is then to learn to separate from our Christianity what are elements of Jewish or Roman culture, and immerse Christianity into our Asian culture.

Even saying that is not easy, since the meaning of the term ‘Asian’ is not clear. To be an Asian living in India means something different from an Asian living in Cambodia, and that means something different from an Asian living in the Philippines.

How best can we learn to immerse our Christian faith into our own culture? One good way is first to learn what is Jewish culture, and what is Roman culture, and learn to separate Christianity from that, replacing it with our own Asian culture.

That’s sounds rather abstract, so let me give a concrete example.

In Roman liturgy, the sprinkling of water is a symbol of spiritual cleansing. During Easter, it is used in place of the penitential rite at the beginning of Sunday Mass.

In Mongolia, however, where it is winter half the year and temperatures fall to below 30 degrees Celsius, it is considered rude to sprinkle a person with water because it’s so cold there.

In European culture, it is normal to find meat and potatoes as part of a usual meal. People there eat it there, and so abstinence from meat on Fridays works as a form of penance and solidarity with the poor people in the world who cannot afford meat in most of their meals.

Bring that practice to Asia in which live most of the poor people that European Catholics find solidarity with on Fridays, and you get a meaningless practice. Many Asians eat rice and vegetables, and find their source of protein in eggs, soya bean, etc. Abstinence from meat is no penance. If anything, it’s a reason to save money.

As you can see, we cannot assume that what works in Rome or in Israel will work everywhere else in the world. We need to see how best to inculturate Christianity into the places that we bring our faith to. That’s the only way to make Christianity work in Asia, and to help remove from it the stigma of being a Western religion.

You don’t have to be Roman to be Catholic

Father F is an American priest. His parents were Italians and he was raised in an all-Catholic ghetto in New York. He became a missionary to Asia where he has spent the last 30 years of his life building the church in Asia, especially in the field of communications. He smells like an Italian, talks like an American, and eats like a Chinese. He speaks fluent Cantonese, among other languages, and lives in Hong Kong where he is now based. And frequently, while training young people in Asia to tell stories about the church in Asia, he says, “You don’t have to be Roman to be Catholic.”

There is a temptation to think that just because we are Roman Catholics, we have to feel like Romans, think like Romans, speak like Romans, and act like Romans. That might work in Rome, but we’re not in Rome. I’ll give you an example.

What does evangelization mean to you? Someone from Rome might say that evangelization means to proclaim the Gospel to the world, shouting from the rooftops. He might see evangelization as engaging in debate people of other faiths, defending the Catholic faith against the untruths that people speak about it, putting forward arguments and proofs for the existence of Jesus Christ and for other Catholic doctrines.

Pastorally experienced people in Asia will tell you that this doesn’t work here. By and large, Asian people are not used to fierce debates. Asians value ‘face”, reputation and honour. We don’t like to get all heated up, splitting hairs over semantics and arguments. We are not convinced by arguments, even if we cannot, logically or otherwise, prove others wrong. In fact, we are more than likely to resent people who are right all the time.

In Asia, the servant of the Lord is not one who walk through the streets proclaiming the Gospel as the apostles did. He is one who will not shout or raise his voice or make his speeches in the street (Isaiah 42:2); he will whisper the Gospel to the Soul of Asia, says Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, India.

How do we whisper the Gospel to people? We first recognize that there are people in Asia who are genuinely searching for a message that offers us more than mere entertainment. We are longing for a time-tested truth that stands through human history, something that we can live and die by. We want a civilization that does not ignore man’s daily concerns, that does not make us get lost in immediate issues that make us lose sight of the ultimate, our connection with the divine.

We want a truth that can shine forth in every situation. Areas like human dignity, preferential option for the poor, healthcare, education, peacemaking, globalization, environment, culture of life, family, laity, women, youth, migrants, global warming, economic recession, etc. – these are all areas where Christians can show forth the truth of Christ.

The Christian message must be relevant to the people of Asia, in order for it to be accepted and appreciated here. It must come with a human touch, not rhetoric, promises of utopias, ideologies and philosophies.

To be a Catholic in Asia, we need to be Asian. We cannot deny our Asian culture if we are to bring the Gospel to Asia. We cannot opt for a pure and unadulterated Christianity, because there’s no such thing. It’s not Christianity if it is not rooted in culture.

Culture is a way of life. It is the way people act, the way people move, what people value. Culture is not an end in itself; it moves us towards the end, which is God. If we are to truly proclaim the Gospel, we need to do it in the way that Jesus did. Jesus immersed himself in the Jewish people. He adopted the Jewish culture and told stories about daily life that connected with the people. He ate and drank with people, in the same way that they did. He lived as they live, prayed as they prayed, and in every situation that he was in, he found a way to proclaim the Gospel.

That is how we will whisper the Gospel to the Soul of Asia.

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