Revisiting and Reinforcing the Catholic Call to Serve

After several conversations I have had with fellow colleagues of various ministries, I have been called to reflect once again on the ‘Catholic Call to Serve.’ The promptings that instilled in me to write the following comes from a series of scenarios that I was previously unaware of happening in a Catholic ministry that I was and still, close to me heart. What was worrisome, even I would say heartbreaking for me was that tensions continue to persist within this ministry. I write this as a response to that and similar ongoing situations, but also for our readers’ reflection.

Whenever someone comes in with an open heart to join a Catholic ministry either within the parish or university campus, I am happy and assured that there are people who still want to take part in the Life of the Church. However, like any organization in society, Catholic ministries have within them more or less politics associated with it. The problem with these “politics” is that it disrupts the mission of a ministry and the Church as a whole.

From experiences of my own and reflection on various scenarios that have happened in the past, I point out eight things that disrupts authentic Catholic ministry that I believe should be addressed, so to maximize a ministry’s potential.

1. Not being a team player – In Catholic or secular ministry, when there is someone not invested in the mission, focus and/or vision of a group, it becomes very difficult to move the ship forward. Some join ministries with the sole hope of forging friendships, wanting to have a social life, or worse, to have their egoistic voices amplified. Failing to be a team player is to be source of division that leads to tension among team members.

2. Not saying ‘no’ – I think to be a good team player, you need to understand your restrictions. What do I mean by this? You need to first know what your responsibilities of your role are. You can certainly go above and beyond what is expected of you but do keep in mind your limits. Sometimes, parish and ministries are in need of man-power to perform certain functions and reach out to individuals who have the skills and passionate in their roles to take on even more roles. However, you need to realize that you cannot say “yes” to everything and that you can say “no.” Saying “no” does not indicate that you are lazy, scared, or incapable. Rather, I think it is precisely the opposite. To say “no” when you already have responsibilities on your plate means that you are a discerning individual who knows that they can only commit themselves to a certain extent. There is nothing worse than committing to too much that you either not excel in any of your committed work, or become stressed, tired, unmotivated to serve… in some cases, both.  

3. Once you let go, then let go totally – One of the pet peeves expressed to me by young people in various ministries is that when called upon by a predecessor of a previous position to take on their role, they find themselves being a ‘puppet’ of their predecessor. In other words, the person assuming a new role is being told and influenced heavily by someone who once held the role. The predecessor tries to influence their successor to abide by what they left back to the point that the successor has no room to implement new ideas, or worse, feels obligated to go with their predecessor’s plan. A ministry cannot advance in this way. If your term is up for a ministry position, you let go for the good of the ministry. You can provide advice when called upon, but other than that, be hands off and let go. It’s not abandoning the ship, it’s called good stewardship.

4. Joining for the wrong reasons – Perhaps some might think that this is a duplicate of reason 1, but not necessarily so. This reason captures a different group. Some people in ministry might be team players, but ‘fake it till they make it.’ They might not want to participate in the ministry, but they participate for the wrong reasons. As Catholics, we are called to serve God and Him alone. Yet, some participate to implicitly push out their own agendas, ideology (and in some scenarios, do not align with that of the Church), for a sense of fame or popularity, or just some individualistic ideal. Sometimes, especially among young people, it is simply to please their parents. Yet, all of these cases fail to place Jesus at the centre of their ministry. This requires a sense of conversion of the heart and reorienting ourselves to Jesus.

5. Not consulting a team (or a suitable team), not asking for help – You are a leader, have a team of consultors, a board of executives, yet you make decisions for a whole group without consulting them. Or, you are a leader but appoint an inadequate team of advisors. Worse, you need help, but think “I can do it myself!” These are mentalities that exert a sense of dictatorship and create a tense atmosphere in a ministry. Sometimes, not asking for help (even external help when necessary) puts the weight on core-team members. This destroys a sense of fraternity meant to be present among members of Catholic ministries.

6. The presence of favouritism – This connects with the last point. At times, favouritism gets in the way of ministry. A leader chooses consultors that are inadequate simply because they are favoured. It is so important to look at reality, and favouritism blinds us from reality. Someone might excel in another role, and not another and that needs to be addressed for the common good of the team. This is escalated when favouritism and paid positions are mingled together. Just no, please, no favouritism. Let’s look at reality and address incapabilities of someone in spirit of charity and fraternity.

7. Lack of a good spiritual life and sincere discernment – Those involved in parish ministry are serving the wider community, but I think there is a temptation among ministers that “my ministry is enough for my spiritual life.” It should be the opposite – the more I minister to the people, the more I should be well-grounded in my own spiritual life, with the reception of the sacraments and structured prayer life. By receiving the sacraments and living a prayerful life, we become will become better conformed to God’s will for us and therefore, decisions that require discernment will be made not on a foundation of our own agendas, but rather, those that align with that of God’s will and plan. Lack of spiritual life and spiritual growth is  a hypocritical life because then, our work of ministry if more for show, rather than helping other to grow into a deeper relationship with God. You cannot give to others what you do not have.

8. Not growing in relationship with Jesus, or rather, no desire to know Him more – This follows from my point above: In order to serve well in your Catholic ministry, you need to want to grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ because he is the ultimate model of service. His whole life of selflessness, even unto death on the cross. In growing in your relationship with Jesus, you will learn from Him His ways of leadership and service. That is why, besides the reception of the sacraments and prayer, reading the Scriptures, especially the Gospels is highly, highly recommended (I am reminded of this constantly in many of Thomas Cardinal Collins’ homily). One your relationship with Jesus is stunted by the fact that you do not wish to know Him more in Word and Sacrament, and through daily prayer, you cannot be an effective minister. Rather, you run into the risk of an “immature spiritual life” which causes more harm than good in a ministry. You might think you are fooling others by masking your lack of spiritual depth in your spiritual life, but through time it starts to show. So please, the number one thing you should do is to desire a good and personal relationship with the Lord Jesus before you start any of your ministry. That way, your ministry will be focused on Jesus, and on Him alone.

The key to answering and addressing these concerns is truly understanding the ‘Catholic Call to Serve,” which I referred to again and again, is modeled by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” 

Matthew 25:28

This past month of September has seen people returning to a more regular life as classrooms are filled with students, many workplaces have seen a return of employees in physical office spaces, public transit busier than usual, and parish ministries “resurrected.” It is a time of reunion, revival and renewal in many aspects of life. Normal? Maybe.

However, it is precisely because of this reunion, revival and renewal in our lives that I think we need to set our priorities straight. We say we want to go back to normal, but I don’t necessarily think so. If normal entails that we go back to our old habits, then I think we shouldn’t be going back to normal in any way or form.

Lord Jesus, help us to imitate You in our service of You and the Church. May the work that we do point to You, and never on ourselves because ultimately, to serve You is our greatest desire.

Holy Mary, handmaid of the Lord, pray for us.
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, teach us your ‘little way’ of service, and pray for us.
Bl. Carlo Acutis, young model of service who pointed others to none other than God, pray for us.

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Walking Together, Synodally. A Reflection on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Canada

Pope Francis is making an Apostolic Journey to Canada from June 24-30, 2022 with the main goal of expressing his closeness with the Indigenous People of Canada – a group that has suffered much under the threats of colonialisation and assimilation. This assimilation was pushed forward by the government with the implementation of residential schools which took children away from their homes, deprived them of expressing and living their Indigenous culture. Furthermore, many were abused and survived traumatic expriences. It is even more unfortunate that a majority of these schools were run by Catholic institutions, many of them, religious orders.

This past spring, representatives of Indigenous Peoples of Canada were received by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, in the Vatican over a course of several days where they spoke to him from their authentic experiences and trauma they have endured through these residential schools, and deprivation of cultural expression. Pope Francis listened carefully, and addressed them on the last day as a group from his heart, and apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools, asking for pardon and forgiveness from the Indigenous peoples:

I feel shame – sorrow and shame – for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values. All these things are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon. Clearly, the content of the faith cannot be transmitted in a way contrary to the faith itself: Jesus taught us to welcome, love, serve and not judge; it is a frightening thing when, precisely in the name of the faith, counter-witness is rendered to the Gospel.

Address of His Holiness Pope Francis: Meeting with Representatives of Indigenous Peoples in Canada (April 1, 2022)

Pope Francis recognized that a terrible harm that was done to the Indigenous Peoples: The Faith of the Church, centred around the Gospel of Jesus Christ was used not used to bring Jesus Christ to the people, but rather abused, and used as a means of justification for wrong actions and wrong principles. These wrong actions has caused indescribable pain, sorrow, and trauma to people who should have received love, care and affirmed of their dignity through the Gospel and a true encounter with Jesus.

In this ongoing process of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, as pastor, Pope Francis has recognized the urgency to be with his flock, and in particular, the most vulnerable, those who have been harmed in various ways, to assure them of his own accompaniment and the Church’s accompaniment. The chapters of the past cannot be re-written, but the question this Papal Visit proposes is, how can we all “Walk Together” forward in truth, reconciliation and hope?

This theme of “Walking Together” is fitting as the Church journeys towards the Synod on Synodality – journeying together. Throughout the synodal process, all are called to encounter – listen – discern. Pope Francis is being a role model for the Church, especially for the Church in Canada on what it means to be a synodal Church. This whole process of Truth and Reconciliation with the Catholic Church and Indigenous Peoples has been a synodal process. There has been encounters with the Church with the Indigenous, there has been much listening especially on the part of the Holy Father and the bishops during the delegations, and now there is the discernment portion which is ongoing. I hope that this Papal Visit with reinforce the verbs of encounter and listening, but also prompt further discernment.

Pope Francis will almost certainly reiterate, and perhaps expand on the apology he made April 1. He will have many encounters with Indigenous Peoples, and also with Catholics throughout Canada, particularly in Edmonton, Québec City and Iqaluit. He will likely continue to listen to more testimonies of Indigenous Peoples. However, the biggest question is what comes next after the Papal Visit? It is my hope that Pope Francis’ “pentiential pilgrimage“will not only prompt further reflection on this ongoing Truth and Reconciliation, but more importantly concrete action on the part of the Catholic Church, the Government and Canadians so to better accompany Indigenous Peoples.

I think there is a temptation to instituionalize matters. By that, I mean that sometimes, items are done for show to the public, so that the public may know that “Yes! XYZ is being taken care of!” but nothing follows through. The same goes with the synodal process – there might be a temptation to encounter and listen for show, to put on some facade. Yet, instituionalized listening, institutionalized encounters defeats the point of any synodal process, they are ingenuine. True encounter and true listening must lead to discernment under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which then ultimately leads to action. This is what I hope Pope Francis’ Papal Visit will achieve – not only will we be able to proceed further to genuine truth and reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. I envision something that goes beyond the $30-million Indigenous Reconciliation Fund, but perhaps a program that works with Indigenous partners to raise the standard among Indigenous communities, which can be attributed in part to the effects of residential schools on later generations of Indigenous Peoples.

As a student an undergraduate student enrolled in the Ethics, Society & Law program, I have been made aware of effects of colonialization through some of the courses that I have taken. That, along with my understanding of the Christian history via my courses in the Christianity and Culture forces me to be informed in what I say, do and stand in solidarity with the Indigenous people of Canada. This Papal Visit is a time for Catholics, including myself, to become (more) educated about Indigenous culture and narratives, as well as the history of residential schools, so that we can better support the cultural practices and language of our Indigenous brothers and sisters, and be informed truthfully about residential schools. We cannot rely on the media as the source of our education of the history of residential schools. We should and must hear from the Indigenous themselves, and fact-checked sources. To absorb and spread misinformation only deepens the wound already caused by the realities of residential schools, and are of no help in promoting Indigenous culture. In seeking the truth and learn about Indigenous culture, history and the realities of residential schools, we then can move to authentic reconciliation which stirs us to concrete action. That is how we can truly “walk together” and walk synodally.

I will unite with the Holy Father on this “penitential pilgrimage.” I will be in Québec City to not only be there when our spiritual father comes, but to express my closeness with the Indigenous peoples. Do not get me wrong – this is not a vacation, or celebration. To be with the Holy Father in Québec City is an affirmation that I, along with Catholics across Canada will “Walk Together” with our Indigenous brothers and sisters through this journey of healing, truth and reconciliation and that we resolve to find ways to better accompany them, even after this Papal Visit. This is a pilgrimage to the heart of Catholicism in Canada, where I will ask St. François de Laval, first bishop of Canada and defender of the rights of Indigenous Peoples of his time, to intercede for the Church of Canada. The Holy Father will do the same – he will be a pilgrim in Québec City, acknowledging the sins of the Church and the effects of sin on its children, but doing so in a spirit of hope, of synodality. This is what the Church needs. This is what the Church in Canada needs. This is what Canadians need now. Pope Francis’ Papal Visit will hopefully spark that in us all.

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“Fortes in Fide – Strong in Faith” – A reflection on authentic faith

As graduates freshly come out of their convocations, whether it be in elementary, secondary-school, or post-secondary institutions, I am reminded that this year marks the first in-person graduation since 2019, which happened to be my high-school graduating Class of 2019, Chaminade College School. The graduating class from Chaminade this year is special for a variety of reasons that I will not name here, but mainly, because these guys were the last group of grade 9s that I got to meet during my time there – these guys were in grade 9, I was in grade 12. I am proud of them for their commitment to faith and their perseverence, especially over the past ~2 years.

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Expression of the Heart of Jesus: A journal entry after attending a Priestly Ordination

On Saturday March 14, 2022, the Archdiocese of Toronto celebrated the ordination of four new priests for the Archdiocese of Toronto at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica. I have attended a number of priestly ordinations, each time I am reminded of what St. John Vianney has said, “The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus. And I am reminded of this fact every time I hear and struck by what the presider says in the preface, “As they give up their lives for you and for the salvation of their brothers and sisters, they strive to be conformed to the image of Christ himself and offer you a constant witness of faith and love. That is, it seems, the very essence of the priesthood, to be a reflection of the image of Christ by virtue of their lives and I pray that everyday for our priests.

I share here a journal entry that I wrote at the start of July 2020, shortly after I partook in the Ordination of seven priests. This ordination left a special mark on me, because unlike the other annual priestly ordinations I attended in the Archdiocese of Toronto, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this one was celebrated in late June, just shortly after some lockdown restrictions were lifted, and churches in the Archdiocese of Toronto were opened for some months. Due to limited attendance, as part-time Sacristan at St, Michael’s Cathedral Basilica at the time, I had the honor of being able to serve at this ordination. It was also at this ordination that I was able to witness at close-range, the symbolism, actions and external signs of the Ordination rite very clearly.

“The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.” (St. John Vianney)

Many emotions ran through me on June 27, 2020 as I participated in the ordination of eight men to the Order of the Presbyterate through the imposition of hands by Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto. It was my third priestly ordination I ever attended and probably the first one I actively participated in as sacristan and server for the Mass.

Often, an Archdiocesan Ordination would mean a packed Cathedral with “pomp and circumstance”, especially if it was a large ordinandi class like this year. Unfortunately, as COVID-19 swept through the world, that typical ordination was not possible. Originally planned for mid-May 2020, the ordination was postponed until June 27, 2020 – eight deacons awaiting ordination.

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“Jesus, I Trust in You” – A Reflection on Our World at this Point in History

First, a story of a print of the Divine Mercy: Three years ago, I was in Europe with some fellow colleagues of Chaminade College School and we spent approximately two days in Florence, Italy. When we had time to do some self-discovery in small groups, before lunch, myself and some others came across a plain looking church (which turned out to be the church of San Remigio, with its current structure dating back to the 13th century). This church was not elaborate, but what was inside it was special. Not only was our Eucharistic Lord present (as in any church), but there were some second-class relics of Padre Pio, and a beautiful painting of the Divine Mercy… I’ll be focusing on the image of Divine Mercy in this reflection. I can recall, the church was dark, with some dim sunlight let in through the windows, with the exception of the crucifix in the sanctuary and the image of Divine Mercy which were lit with some spotlights. I remember walking quietly into the church and observing the simplicity of the church. There was barely any art in this church, so I spent a short while, a minute or two gazing at the Divine Mercy painting. Beside it, there were some complimentary prints of the painting, so I took one, carefully stored in a folder and went into my backpack. When I was back at my hotel, I wrote the date on the back of the print: “March 13, 2019.”

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The Quiet and Sacrificial Life of a Priest

Despite an already prepared blog to be published tomorrow, and some papers to submit in the upcoming days, I opened Facebook this morning to learn of rather terrifying news from Catholic News Sources in Vietnam, and later, the official Facebook page of the Dominican Order: Fr. Joseph Thanh Ngọc Trần, O.P. was murdered yesterday, January 29, 2022, while hearing confession. The exact motives of his murder have not yet been disclosed (still under investigation), though some speculate the murderer was drunk. Some have even went as far to call him a “martyr,” though I would not give such classification until we know of the motive behind such murder. However, what is clear: The young 41-year old priest died while he was celebrating the sacraments – in this case, the sacrament of Reconciliation.

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Vincent’s Highlights of 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has dragged on for nearly two-years, with the end seemingly long ahead as the world continues to face the complications set about by the omicron variant. However, while the media (I believe) persists on fear mongering, and yet while people should exercise prudence, we should be assured that we have progressed far with the pandemic, thanks to the efforts of so many people. Despite the lingering of the pandemic, I take a look back at 2021 at the top moments of the year.

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Where is the ‘Christ’ of ‘Christmas’?

For many university students like myself, the semester is now over with exams completed and now enjoying the two-and-a-half weeks of ‘Winter Break’. For high school and elementary school students, the Christmas Break has been well underway. For workers, Christmas is beautiful time to spend with family, even if that means smaller gatherings in light of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. Yet, as we take some days off of the year, have we missed out on including the ‘Christ’ of Christmas?

Having taken some university courses that had more secular viewpoints this past semester, I was enlightened on what many of my colleagues thought about the Catholic Church specifically and religion in general. It was this past semester that I understood really what some thought about the Church: corrupt, old-fashioned, behind with the times, needs to get up-to-date, unable to live up to its beliefs… It was difficult for me as a Catholic to hear what my colleagues had to say, but I never did react to what I heard because it comes to no surprise. As a Catholic, I speak to ethics on a natural law foundation, one that is founded upon God and I know it is viewpoint that has and will continue to be challenged by those who follow and find ease in following a secular agenda.

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Truly Celebrating Sacred Liturgy as “People of God”

The school year is now well underway, and humanities students are writing paper after paper during this mid-term season. With that in mind, I thought it would be appropriate for me to share one of my papers I wrote last academic year.

In a year-long course I took last school year, titled Christianity and Society through the Ages, the course instructor, Professor Michael O’Connor encouraged his students to write a research paper about a topic in Church history (from the Middle Ages until the present day) that was of interest.

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“…and the greatest… is love.” – A Reflection on the COVID-19 Response of the Catholic Church in Vietnam

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthian 13:13

As Canada finds itself in the start of the fourth wave of COVID-19, looking at the brighter side of things, we at least have over 60% of Canadians fully vaccinated (as the time of this writing) and that will certainly mitigate the effects of this fourth wave. While health protocols will not be let down in the coming months, hopefully the high vaccination rates will avoid another lockdown. As of now, anyone above 12 years of age can get a COVID-19 vaccine, made accessible via mobile clinics or pharmacies. However, the gift of a COVID-vaccine is not made readily available everywhere in the world and the fourth wave is a completely different story in many countries.

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