This may seem like routine now… but this act of sitting down and reflecting on what happened throughout the year on New Year’s Eve is ever so prominent this year, 2020 because even the midst of difficulties in life, a lot of ups and downs academically, it was still a year of grace on many dimensions. Particularly for me, spiritually, it was a time of spiritual renewal. As I counted the days to a new decade, I would not expect that 2020 would have unfolded this way, and nor would anyone else. However, instead of moaning and groaning, I think it is important to take a look back at what this year has given us and what we put into it, of course, with the help of God’s grace.
The Christmas season has once again come to the face of the earth, reminding us of the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was born in the stable of Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. This celebration of the Mystery of the Incarnation is preceded for Catholics, with the Season of Advent in which we listened to the voices of the prophets, most notably that of Isaiah and John the Baptist. For the secular world, Christmas is preceded by parades, a busy shopping season, reindeers and Santa… These things have become ever so familiar to the festive “Holiday Season.”
As we proceed into the last days of the Advent Season, especially during Masses from December 17 to December 24 before the Eve of the Nativity of the Lord, in a period commonly known as “Late Advent Weekdays,” the Lectionary readings provide for us a better background of what is to come in the Nativity Story. On December 17, we read from the gospel of Matthew of the genealogy of Jesus… you remember right? That long list of names. Some might see it as the most pointless gospel out of probably all the gospels because all it is is a list of names. However, we can draw from it this main point: Jesus was born in a family who had ancestors with fairly “interesting” histories. While we see king and rulers, we also see murderers and unwise people in the genealogy. On a larger scale, Jesus was born as any human being would, taking on fully human form to the point that he was born and descended from a family with people of all sorts of backgrounds.
The past two days, we read of two stories of the annunciation, that of the annunciation of Joseph (December 18), and the annunciation of Zechariah (December 19). Today, we read of the third annunciation story, that of Mary, probably the most well known of the three annunciation stories preceding the Nativity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Sometimes, I think that the story is just over read and we read through it out of routine. More so, one of the most common prayers, the Hail Mary also called The Angelic Salutation and thus the words, “Hail Mary, full of grace,” (cf. Lk 1:28) just comes out of our mouths out of routine, out of repetition. However, the story of the annunciation is just so much more than something we repeat over and over again in the Hail Mary, or in this gospel of the annunciation which we make elementary Catholic children re-tell the story: an angel named Gabriel comes down tells Mary that she will have a son named Jesus… I don’t think the story is that simple.
The story of the annunciation must be seen in the bigger picture of the story of salvation. The Fiat of Mary, her surrender to God, “Here am I , the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your,” (Lk 1:38) was a ‘yes’ to Him, that in a sense, reverted Eve’s choosing of sin (cf. Gen 3). Jesus’ ‘yes’ to the Father evident throughout His life, reverted Adam’s choosing of sin. Adam and Eve freely chose sin, while Jesus and Mary freely chose God. Thus, Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica referenced both Jesus and Mary as the “new Adam, new Eve,” respectively.
What other options were there for man after the fall in Genesis? We have an almighty God who could have said, “too bad… off to eternal damnation.” This could be reasonable because as evident in not only in the story of the fall in Genesis, we also see it all throughout Jesus’ family tree. For example, King David was a murderer, King Solomon had many wives… a fair bit of sin just in Jesus’ genealogy alone. Yet, even in the midst of all that sin, all those offenses against God, God did not leave His people but with a merciful heart calls His children back to Himself. The almighty and merciful God right from the fall of man, gave the protoevangelium, the first promises of the Saviour (cf. Gen 3:15). That is why the people and prophets from of old such as Isaiah whom we have been reading throughout Advent, kept mentioning and waiting from generation to generation – they longed for this Saviour, this Messiah. Mary’s Fiat set this promise into motion.
The promise was unfolding, but there was still a problem – people did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, they thought this “Messiah” would come in all grandeur and glory because for the Israrelites, that was their perception of God. Yet, the God whom we worship is one who truly wants to be “Emmanuel – God is with us,” and thus He chose to be born of the womb of a woman which was the pure tabernacle in which He dwelt until the time came for Him to be born on that day we now celebrate as Christmas. Later on, after three years of public ministry, He freely offered Himself for humanity, to save all from eternal damnation with His death and resurrection. Jesus really got His “hands dirty” from His ancestry, His birth and His death because in His life, we are able to see how much God wants to share in our humanity.
We must not forget this fact because Mary’s Fiat and Jesus’ willingness to die for us all on the cross is essential to Christianity because without this, salvation’s story would not be complete. The next time we recite the Hail Mary, let us remember that it was through her fiat on that day of the annunciation, she paved the way for God to work His plans for all of humanity, and through the Our Father that Jesus taught us, we should be reminded that just as Jesus did the will of the Father, we too must like Jesus and Mary be obedient to the Father, to God’s will, even if they do not line up with our agenda because at the end of the day, God wants nothing but good for us, because God Hinmself, is an almighty, merciful and good.
“…to bring good news…” (Is 61: 1) What good news is there really in the world as we continue to see terror and violence, racism, injustice, victory of euthanasia, victory of pro-choice movements, and ultimately, the effects of this COVID-19 pandemic? Maybe the recent news of the Pfizer vaccine as good news, but right now, it is only available in certain countries to a small population. We also face uncertainties in the midst of the is good news – will the vaccine have a problem? Will anti-vaccinators comply? When will things be back to “normal”?
“But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”
It has been nearly a year since the COVID-19 virus emerged on the face on the face of the earth which has impacted the lives of millions of people. People dying, loved ones in hospitals, doctors and nurses working extra shifts, businesses on verge of closure, lockdown and red zones in place, people with lost jobs, Christmas festivities limited, and in many dioceses, Churches closed. Nearly a year later, the pandemic is still in place, perhaps even worse than where we were in March of this year. There are even worse “viruses” or rather, revelations that have been circulating throughout the world, including persecutions, racism, or right in the Catholic Church even more revelations on Clergy Abuse bring brought to light, including most recently, the McCarrick Report which stunned many Catholics. Some may have thought that this COVID-19 pandemic would have just lasted for a couple months. For some, racism and abuse scandals were things of the past. Yet, these dark things have continued to linger on, in one way or another, impacting the lives practically every person on earth. We may be asking ourselves, where is Advent and Christmas in all of this?
Have you ever been to a pottery workshop before? I remember just over a year ago going to Studio-on-the-Hill with some members of Vietnamese Martyrs Parish’s Youth and Young Adults Ministries (YaYA Toronto). This was for a one-day retreat in which the name chosen for it was, “Journey to the Heart.” Strange enough, when you hear of the term “retreat,” you often think of having it at a church, a shrine, or retreat centre. Yet, a pottery studio? Honestly, I was a bit skeptical about it. However, the more time I spent on designing the “Retreatant’s Booklet”, coming across many images of the potter’s hand, the fragility of pottery, the more I came to appreciate the unique setting of the retreat.
As COVID-19 continues to make its second wave around the world and some regions throughout the world has seen a tightening of restrictions to limit the spread the virus. Making pilgrimages is not a high possibility for many. However, the modern means of livestream can bring you to these places from the comfort of your home. Please find here a compilation of Catholic Pilgrimage Site Livestreams so you can unite yourselves by the sacred places of Catholicism.
As a University student, who does not want some University swag? As a first-year undergraduate student, within my first month, went to the University of Toronto’s Bookstore to pick up a navy-blue sweater with that says, “University of Toronto – Established 1827” with the university’s crest in the centre. I proudly wear it frequently, especially during the spring and autumn seasons.
I was struck when I came across the year “1838” while reading the life of St. Thomas Thiện. When I came across the year 1838, I really put things into perspective: As the University of Toronto was celebrating its 11th year of establishment and 18, 19 year-olds were starting to pick up their textbooks to go to school, on the other side of the world, in Vietnam, an 18 year-old seminarian was put on trial, brutally tortured and strangled to death. There were likely many others of the same age who were tortured and martyred during this era.
Recently in Catholic news, the pilgrimage destination of “Assisi” has been coming up a lot lately. Though living in Toronto, Canada, a part of my heart has been left in Assisi it seems. The two-hours I spent on March 14, 2019 in that town in the Umbrian region was two-hours that has continued to impact my faith, especially this month as the name of this town keeps on popping up on my Facebook feed.
While I spoke about my moment in Assisi in Part 2 of 4 of The Catholic Pilgrim in Europe series, I wish to retell the visit to the Basilica specifically in more depth and hopefully bring you with me to this Medieval Town as you read.
On Saturday September 19, 2020, I along with several colleagues from the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement (VEYM) St. Thomas Thiện Chapter in Toronto were sworn in as official youth leaders. This was a milestone as it was ultimately, a culmination of nearly 12 years of formation and journeying with the movement since the local chapter opened in 2008. The Saturday evening Mass not only saw the installation of 10 youth leaders (six for level-1, and four for level-2), but also a celebration of the VEYM chapter’s patron, St. Thomas Thiện. It was a small Mass with social distancing measures strictly observed but nevertheless, it was beautiful and reverent. I posted this reflection on my Facebook status a couple hours after the Mass as a testament to my journey with VEYM.I share it here so if others have been in similar shoes will know that you are not alone – keep your head high! Please note, there are some terms in Vietnamese which I have put in [square brackets] to facilitate easier understanding.
I am starting to write this reflection exactly a month before today. In all honesty, I did not think that I was ever able to reach this day.
The reason behind this is something I rarely speak about publicly, especially on this public Facebook page.
Vincent Pham, known as The Catholic Man by many of his friends, is a student at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College of the Faculty of Arts and Science pursuing a double major in Ethics, Law and Society, and Philosophy along with a minor in Christianity and Culture. Vincent is an alumni of Chaminade College School in Toronto (Class of 2019). He has a great love for all things Catholic, especially Catholic liturgy.