The Victory of the Cross at Notre-Dame

“We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered.” (Cf. Gal :14)

The glory and victory of the cross is the theme of the Entrance Antiphon of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. In the wake of the events of the fire of the Notre-Dame de Paris, I cannot help but reflect on this antiphon in light of these events.

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Interior of Notre-Dame de Paris after the Fire (Credit: Philippe Wojazer/Pool via AP)

One of the most circulated images after the fire was that of the darkened interior of the Cathedral with the gold cross shining, untouched. For Catholics, this is a striking image – even in the midst of destruction, the cross of Jesus is victorious. It was through the passion on the cross that the resurrection comes and it was through the death and resurrection of Jesus that the Catholic Church has not ceased to exist from generation to generation, even in the midst of persecution, scandals, destruction and ultimately evil and sin.

Nothing can defeat God – that is what the Lectionary readings of the Paschal Triduum makes clear over the next three days.

On Holy Thursday, as Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, showing us that only love will win in the end. No matter how sinful of a life we have had, God would still come down to our level and wash our feet. Love wins because, “God is love” (1Jn 4:8). Jesus shows us through the act of washing the feet of his disciples that it is only when we serve, as servants serving his master are we able to be loving people.

Jesus makes the ultimate act of service through his passion on the cross which we commemorate at the celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday. As depicted in the first reading of the Celebration, Jesus is the servant of the Lord in Isaiah 52. He took upon the sins of man and paid for it through his death so that we do not have to die. Reading the Passion according to John, even in the sinfulness of man, Jesus freely stretches his arms and feet for the salvation of all.

The narrative of the cross is not complete with that of Good Friday – it is only completed through the resurrection of Jesus because without the resurrection, there would be no such things as Christianity, as Catholicism. At the Easter Vigil, as we sit in the church listening to the history of our salvation, we must understand that it takes suffering to reach victory. While suffering may last a while, the joys of victory is a hundredfold.

Something that fascinates me is that the cross that was once a means of execution, a means of humiliation, a means of death that people feared, after the death and resurrection became a sign of victory, a sign of the resurrection, a universal sign of Christianity. Yet, like St. Paul mentioned, do we take glory in the cross? Do we see it as a sign of victory, a sign of our faith? Or do we see it as a sign of shame?

In a world where some say that Catholicism is slowly being erased from the face of the earth, the events of Notre-Dame showed us that the cross of Jesus will forever stand firm and that evil will never be able to take it down.

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My Experiences at Salt and Light Television

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“You are the light of the world… you are the salt of the earth.” (Mt 5: 13-14)

I was blessed to have an opportunity to spend 15-weeks learning about Catholic media at Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. As a student enrolled in Chaminade College School’s Specialist High Skills Major, Information Communications Technology sector program, I was to fulfill the requirement of a 2-credit or 4-credit co-op at a placement that pertains to the sector.

At the end of the 2017-2018 school year, I decided I wanted to do my co-op for a semester so to get the full experience. However, even with that decided, the most important piece of the puzzle was missing: my placement. Where did I want to do my co-op?

Flashback to May 2018, I was part of The Catholic Register’s Youth Speak News workshop. As part of the weekend of workshops, the group of youth had the chance to visit Salt and Light Catholic Media’s offices and studios. While I has some fears being a show host for the day, in front the camera and teleprompter, the visit left great impression on me. Months later, I contacted Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, the CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media whom I met during the visit about a possible co-op placement and he welcomed me with open arms.

Forward to September, with the help of my co-op teacher, Ms. Rosaria Aquino, we made official contact with Ms. Gita Hosek, the Director of Production and Programming whom Fr. Rosica had referred me to. After much waiting, an interview date was set.

I started placement the Tuesday after the interview. My supervisor Esmeralda Blasi who was also the Production Coordinator was very helpful in introducing me to the various people at Salt and Light and also become more familiar with the work spaces. The other people of the team were very welcoming, allowing me to be part of the team.

For the duration of my placement, I spent most of the time working on preparing transcriptions and time stamping for closed captioning of shows. To me, it was a very humbling task – to sit and set text to the shows so that the captions would appear on screen to aid the hearing impaired or those who would find these captions helpful. My mother often used these captions when watching TV shows in her first years in Canada since she needed could not listen to the English dialogue quick enough. Therefore, I knew how helpful these captions are.

“Don’t you get bored doing captions?” some of my friends in my co-op class asked when they found out what I was doing. My honest answer was. “No”. I loved preparing the closed-captioning. Doing so gave me the chance to get a preview of many of the shows that were to be broadcasted that week. Not only so, as I worked, I was “forced” into listening to these shows carefully. I was exposed to many new dimensions of Christianity. I remember being exposed to the concept of Liberation Theology through an episode of Catholic Focus with Allyson Kenny and Rev. Naim Ateek. On the other hand working on the Where God Weeps episodes helped me to see the state of persecuted Christians all throughout the world. In other words, each show I worked on opened a new door of learning for me, not only on the technical side, but also on a spiritual side.

Some weeks after starting placement, I also started running the teleprompter during show recordings in studio. I often helped Fr. Matt Gworek and Noel Ocol during their recordings of Perspectives Daily and Vatican Connections. These two shows were news shows and by being present for these recordings, I was able to receive my “dose” of the Catholic news, especially during the duration of the Synod of Bishops on Youth and Vocational Discernment in October. I also assisted with the teleprompting for these two shows in French hosted by Charles Le Borgeois and Emilie Callan. While my French was not the best, I was able to learn some new French words here and there just by listening and running the teleprompter.

Other memories I have was the time I sat with Jay Turchansky in the editing suite as I learned and watched him edit an episode of Witness. Honestly, it was overwhelming as I sat in the suite with windows opened as Jay pieced the whole episode together. I have edited short films for Communications-Technology courses, and with my level, it would take typically one to two weeks to edit a 5-minute film.

I had a hands on experience as I actually worked in an editing suite with Philip Boudreau, a university-intern, editing Fr. Matt’s Advent Reflection videos. It was an interesting experience learning from others who have had much experience as they chose shots, added b-roll in a very efficient manner.

I am owe a big “thank you” to first of all, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB for his support of my intentions to fulfill my co-op placement at Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. I have learned much from him, not only about his leadership style but rather, many inner qualities: He is a great father figure, amazing contributor to the Church, an exceptional homilist and very humble.

I am also grateful for the guidance of Ms. Gita Hosek and Ms. Esmeralda Blasi who were my supervisors throughout my 15-weeks at Salt and Light. They have accompanied me and offered their assistance on the technical side, especially during the first weeks at Salt and Light.

My last words of gratitude go to the Salt and Light team from the production department to the master control department… I thank them for their hospitality and assistance in making this co-op experience a positive one.

I now have a much deeper respect for those who work in Catholic media. It takes a team of people who are passionate about the work they do In order to deliver to the Catholic audience salt that would flavour their spiritual food and light that they can use to shine on others.

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The Director’s Commentary: Le Carte

 

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As first semester wraps up, VACA productions is now out with their second film after last year’s Girarsi.

Challenged to create a film under two minutes, the VACA production faced some difficulty in figuring out how the events of Le Carte was going to play out. First, after the well loved Girarsi which was almost 5-minutes in length, we were challenged to tell an effective story within less than two minutes with a beginning middle and end. While some members wanted to keep the mafia essence of Girarsi, we decided to go a different route, focussing on the theme of family. Le Carte however, still retained the Italian essence that was exhibited in Girarsi.

Le Carte – a short film, only 1:30 minutes, as opposed to the 5:50 minutes Girarsi, strives to transmit a message that is relevant to today’s society. Le Carte addresses the topic of teenage choices: Friends or family? Cards or Party? Teenagers face these types choices everyday.

This year, while straying away from the church setting, VACA productions newest film Le Carte still has a hidden piece of Catholicism in it. After two Synod of Bishops on the family which resulted in a (controversial) Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Le Carte seems to be a perfect response to the Apostolic Exhortation:

“The tensions created by an overly individualistic culture, caught up with possessions and pleasures, leads to intolerance and hostility in families.” (Amoris Laetitia, 30)

Are people today becoming more and more individualistic? Have we become too self-consumed? Thinking more about ourselves than the needs of others?

Sometimes, I ask myself the those questions. I value family time and sometimes, I fear that I become too busy with extracurricular activities or parish activities that I do not spend enough time with family either physically with mom, dad and sister and/or a Skype call or writing an e-mail to family members overseas – something I have honestly been lacking.

If you have known me for some time, just by reading this commentary so far, you know I love to add the Catholic aspect into the media pieces that I do. While Le Carte was not filmed in a Church, I recommended that since we would take shots from Anthony Bortolin’s grandfather’s home, we should at least get a shot of some popular Italian saint and in this day and age, it is St. Padre Pio of Pietrecina. Padre Pio’s face is seen in most devout Catholic Italian homes… am I wrong to say this?

Going back to the technical side of things, I honestly found it more difficult to create a film in less than two minutes than a five minute short film. You can go on, and on, and on in a five minute film but with a two minute film, you need to keep the message short and concise – something I learned I need to work on.

Looking back, this is the last film I have created for the Communications-Technology course at Chaminade College School and indeed, a journey it was. I remember struggling to understand shot composition, repeating “the full action” in order to get a proper shot for a short Halls commercial. While I still face road bumps here and there while producing films, I believe I have come a long way and one thing for sure: VACA productions is not shutting down after this year’s IGNITE showcase at Yorkdale Cinemas on Wednesday May 29, 2019. I will still be directing films and with my experiences from my co-op at Salt and Light Media (a separate post to come), I hope to continue using digital media as a form of evangelization.

Thank you Mr. Perrotta for your guidance, advice and valuable feedback! Thank you Anthony, Carlos and Domenico for your companionship and hard work in making Le Carte possible!

 

Official Le Carte website: https://lecartemovie.weebly.com/ .

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Vincent Pham’s 5 Notable Moments of 2018

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It has become a tradition for me to sit down at the end of the previous year and the beginning the new year to reflect on the events of the past year. This year, I chose not to call this post the “Top # Moments or 20XX”, but rather I chose to call it notable moments. The reason for this is because honestly, while there were many top and fun moments this past year, there were down moments, serious moments that I really learned something. The order of moments here do not reflect any precedence, but have been set up in chronological order.

  1. St. Francis Xavier Relic Pilgrimage at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica Jan 12,
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    Arm of St. Francis Xavier Photo: Catholic Christian Outreach Canada

    2018 – I love the act of veneration of relics within the Catholic Church. As Catholics, we do not worship relics nor the saints, but it is through devotion to the saints that we come closer to God through their saintly lives, and therefore come to worship God himself. It has honestly been a number of years since any major relic did a National Pilgrimage, or “tour”. Therefore, when I heard of the relic of St. Francis Xavier making a pilgrimage through Canada, (that was about late 2017), I immediately had a desire to be part of it and have a chance to pray with the arm of St. Francis Xavier. The day came on Jan 12 last year, and I took the subway directly from school down to St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica. The lines were not long when I arrived at about 3:45pm. I stepped into line with the pilgrimage prayer card and medal in hand in prayerful mode. Soon enough, it was my couple seconds in front of the arm and I gently placed the prayer card and medal in front of the reliquary, thinking of those whom I have been asked to pray for. After, I went to find a seat, a front seat, on the front right isle of the Cathedral. There, with Cardinal Collins as the presider, we celebrated a beautiful Mass. It was a packed Cathedral. Though snowing and outside, people still wanted to get a moment with the relic. This seemed to be the case all throughout Canada. The pilgrimage really brought Canadian to prayer and hope something like this would happen again.

  2. Eucharistic Adoration Feb. 9, 2018 – I have been to many  Eucharistic Adoration eucharist-2771033_960_720sessions at my parish, Catholic conferences, youth groups… but one that stuck with me this year was this specific one on Feb. 9, hosted by youth from my parish’s Youth and Young Adults ministries. Though I did help organize and collaborate, came to the Church right after school that Friday, I appreciated the fact that there were other people my age who wanted to take part in it through music ministry, reading, altar serving… That shows that the Youth of the Church are still alive. Not only so, that Adoration took place the night before my 17th birthday and there was nothing better than being in front of the Lord in the Church with lights dimmed down, focusing solely on the Eucharist. That is the type of Adoration that I love.
  3. Thầy‘s Calling to the Father April 23, 2018 – A teacher, mentor, “labourer in the
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    Thầy and I at St. Cecilia’s Church  Photo: Martha Nguyen

    Lord’s vineyard”, and friend of mine, Thầy Peter Tuấn Nguyễn was called “to the house of Father” the morning of April 23, 2018 after a battle with cancer. I will not go on a tangent because I have expressed my thoughts about this great man shortly after the sad day in this post. But I have been affirmed that death is never the end. I will write again about Thầy in a post on the First Memorial Anniversary, but I have noticed a sense of renewal within my parish’s youth. This was very evident in the 100-Day Memorial Mass we hosted at the parish in August, which I will save these reflections for the post this upcoming April.

  4. Involvement with Catholic Media – I have been part of The Catholic Register‘s Youth Speak News (YSN) team for the 2017-2018 term, and once again for this 2018-2019 term and I am ever grateful for the opportunity to write for an audience. Looking back at my 2017-2018 term and my current term, I recognize that yes, there are road bumps that I hit, stories and topics that may be more difficult to write about than others but I have learned that one should not give up and that thoughts will come up throughout the day. I am thankful to the YSN editor, Jean Kodin for her continued guidance, encouragement and here wisdom which has helped a great deal not only with the pieces I do for YSN but those tips are also helpful in academic writing. Thanks to the YSN retreat in May, I was introduced to The Catholic Register’s offices and to Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. That paved the path for me for in September, I enrolled in the cooperative education 2-credit course to fulfill the requirement for my Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program in Information Communications Technology. Back in the summer, thinking about a possible placement, I thought of Salt and Light and thankfully, I got a placement there (I will reflect on my experiences in depth at the end of January, beginning of February when I have completed the co-op course). My experiences in both YSN and at Salt and Light have been positive. Yes, up an downs, mistakes here and there but they are valuable lessons that will help me great deal in the future.
  5. Youth in Policing Initiative Summer 2018 – With an application process that No photo description available.began in January 2018 and an interview in March, I was one of the 152 high-school students selected to be part of this past summer’s Youth in Policing program (YIPI) out of close to 1000 applicants. Honestly, my summer couldn’t have been better. Spending 8-weeks working not only with police officers, but with other members of the community, it gave me an insight of the diversity of the City of Toronto in terms of activities, outreach and culture. I was sent to work with 14 Division where along with 3 other students, I worked the officers at 14 Division. The Division gave me an inside look of the work police officers do. Days at the Division, the YIPI students did much administrative work. Much of the work was geared towards the preparation of the Police Station at the Canadian Nation Exhibition. Besides, the officers there gave us opportunities to work with the community, working with children at Dovercourt Boys and Girls club, MJKO Boxing Summer camp and St. Alban’s Boys and Girls Club. I also took part in YIPI group initiatives, taking part in the weekly Rookie League Big Sport Days on Thursdays, sponsored by Jays Care Foundation and Carribana. I learned that the Toronto Police Service is not only present to enforce the law, but also to engage with the community. YIPI was not only a great employment opportunity, but ultimately, it was an opportunity to go outside of my comfort zone and try new things and at the same time engage with members of the community.

There you have it, my 5 notable moments of 2018. There were many other moments that I had not mentioned here. However, the moments relayed here were notable learning opportunities that I hope others will have similar experiences.

2019 will be roller-coaster of events, at five days into 2019, it’s already been. I will be hopefully blogging these experience more frequently this year.

Wishing everyone a happy new year, and the Lord watch over us!

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Reflection: Emmanuel – God is with Us

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“Come, come, Emmanuel! Son of God appear. Heaven and earth, rejoice! Salvation is drawing near.” That is the refrain of Steve Angrisano’s Advent Hymn, Emmanuel.

It seems to me that as the years pass by, the name Emmanuel bears a different and deeper meaning. When I was young, in school, I recall that in class, the teacher taught about how Jesus is known by many names, Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, Saviour… Then, at English Mass you hear the classic, “O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” a very common and classic Advent hymn. I recall those years, I only understood was another name referring to Jesus.

Growing up and listening to the Gospel attentively, the answer finally came to me when Matthew 1:23 was read, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.””

If one extracts the definition here in Matthew 1:23, “God is with us,” it is such a beautiful definition that describes Jesus. Jesus, true God wanting to be with us in the form of true man, the mystery of the incarnation – that is what Christmas is all about, God wanting to be with us. But God was not born as a worldly king. Though Jesus came from the line of King David, Jesus was a king born of a woman, with a stable as a palace, with a manger as his throne.

One of the Christmas Gospel options for the Christmas Eve Mass that may not be the most interesting to some, the Genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1:1-6). Is it a long 16 verses just listing names of people of Jesus’ family tree from Abraham to Jesus, many of the names in which you have not even heard of before? Jehoram? Jotham? Hezekiah? These are people of the Old Testament who were all sinners. They have done mistakes. Yet, God chose to be born from such a family line, because God wanted to be one of us, he did not want to be different than any human being, but that of sin.

Understanding the term Emmanuel is important because we hear it so often during the Advent and Christmas season that we say it, we sing it without letting the definition of the term sink into us. Emmanuel within Advent and Christmas hymns is our call out to God, asking God to be among us in this world full of darkness and terror, like the people of the Old Testament. I see that Emmanuel a response to the invocation in Psalm 42, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (Ps 42:1-2)

Within the context of the Liturgy, we are reminded of Emmanuel very often as the presider and the proclaimer of the Gospel says, “The Lord be with you”, and we respond, “And with your spirit”. Do we just respond out of routine? Is the minister himself conscious that every time the exchange, “The Lord be with you – and with your spirit,” takes place that we are asking Emmanuel to be among us, or reminding one another that God is with us in Word and Sacrament?

Looking into our daily lives, how do we make Emmanuel present within our daily lives? How do we let other know that God is with us? Our lives must be reflective of that fact that we have Emmanuel present within our lives. That means, we must let our faith in God be reflective in word and deed everyday, but in a more prominent way, during this Christmas season as we are constantly reminded of the wonderful gift God gave us. Christmas is an opportunity to serve your family, your friends, you parish community and wider community. Let Christmas dinners and gatherings be chance to remind us of Emmanuel, that we are here today because God is with us. Let this be a time to serve the poor at homeless shelters, at food banks, a time to serve the people of the peripheries. Let this be a time so the unfortunate know that Emmanuel – God is with us and that they are not abandoned. I repeat, let this Christmas time be a time so that we may be reflections of the Emmanuel to our brothers and sisters. It is only when people see that God is with us, then will people rejoice because they know that God is present in their lives.

“Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

 

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Vincent Pham’s Top 5 MUST LIST

As part of a graphic design project for grade 12 Communications Technology, I was tasked with creating a Top 5 Must List. Take a look:

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I have not been able to blog as frequently as I want to. This has been a busy month of not just school work and other ministry work, but also an intense time of discernment as I move on to post-secondary studies after this academic year. I hope to share a lot of my experiences as Christmas draws near and offer some reflections.  I ask for continued prayers as I discern my future. God bless!

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Q & A: Catholic Bible 365 Challenge

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I have announced over the summer on various social media pages that starting September 30th, 2018, I will be challenge myself to read the Bible in 365 days. However, I wanted to open the challenge up to others. Today, I want to deliver a blog post that pertains to this challenge. Unlike other posts, I will do it in Q & A form for easy reference.

What is the Catholic Bible 365 Challenge? The Catholic Bible 365 Challenge is a program that will help Catholics worldwide read the Catholic Bible in 365 Days. It is a “challenge” spiritually. It is a call to be committed both to prayer and to reading the Bible.

Why should I participate in Catholic Bible 365 ChallengeThe Bible is a book that should be read in its entirety at least once in a Catholic’s lifetime. Have you ever read the Bible in its entirety yet? This is not a page skimming, but a sincere challenge for oneself to set aside 15 to 30 minutes a day everyday for a year to read the Word of God. In a world where we are so distracted by technology, we tend to make excuses for not fulfilling prayer time or reading scripture. However, “Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ,” said St. Jerome. To not set aside time reading scripture, we put Christ to the sidelines of our life.

Who are in invited to participate in Catholic Bible 365 ChallengeEveryone is invited to participate in this challenge, Catholic or non-Catholic, Christian or non-Christian.

Is there a sign up sheet or form? No, you may “like” the official Facebook page (@CatholicBible365), or you may let this challenge be one just between you and your friends and God. This is not a contest, but a challenge for that will benefit one’s spiritual life.

When does the Catholic Bible 365 Challenge start? The Catholic Bible 365 Challenge starts on September 30th, 2018, the memorial of St. Jerome. St. Jerome is the translator of the Vulgate Bible into Latin. He is a saint of scripture and had a deep love for the Word of God. The challenge will end on September 30th, 2019.

Which Bible will you use for the Catholic Bible 365 ChallengeThroughout the duration of the challenge, I will use two copies of the same translation, the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). One is Oxford’s Catholic Study Bible Third Edition, which I reviewed back in 2016. I don’t want to skim through the Bible, but I want to read it thoroughly and read the footnotes at the bottom of the Bible. However, I will be on several trips and retreats this year and it is not feasible to bring along a thick Study Bible. Instead, on such occasions, I will be using Catholic Book Publishing’s St. Joseph Edition of the New American Bible Personal Size Gift Edition which I will review in the near future on The Catholic Man Reviews. I have always liked the NABRE because of its detailed footnotes and it brings me assurance that the this translation is an approved translation by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I do have the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Catholic Edition on my shelf, which is the official Lectionary translation in Canada. However, the lack of notes in that version steers me away from it. The NRSV though is a more ecumenical translation, used by a wider population of Christians in different denominations. It does not matter which Catholic translation. Just make sure it is a Catholic translation. Non-Catholic translations may not bear some books, the Apocrypha and its notes may be misleading for Catholics.

I don’t have a Catholic Study Bible. What other resources can I use? There are many Catholic Bible resources available online including:

How do I make time to read scripture? “What would happen if we turned back when we forget it, if we opened it more times a day, if we read the message of God contained in the Bible the way we read messages on our cellphones?” Pope Francis asked the people on a Sunday Angelus in March 2017. We constantly make excuses why we leave our bibles out to collect dust. We put aside out phone and/or social media when we want to do something we like, such as watching a movie or playing sports. When it comes to faith-related activities, we tend to procrastinate. Make God the centre of our lives. When we do that, we let the celebration of Mass, prayer, and scripture reading sink into souls and it is only then do we understand and love what we do as Catholics.

Is there a prize for completing the challengeNo, there is no material prize for completing this challenge. Rather, there is a spiritual prize: When one sets aside time to read scripture everyday, one gets to know God and His Church better. A lot of what we do in Catholicism derive from scripture. For example, reading Leviticus, one can see some parallels of the ancient rituals with today’s liturgical practices. Ultimately,  when we set prayer and scripture at the centre of our lives, we will see changes in the way we act, see and live among God’s people.

How do I know what passage to read each day? I found a chart online, which I reformatted to fit one page. This can be printed, folded in quarters and slipped into your Bible. Find the PDF here:

Feel free to print as many copies as you need, and share it with others so that others can join you in the challenge!

Please share the Catholic Bible 365 Challenge so that your friends and others can may want to join you!

Throughout the duration of the challenge, many aids and videos will be shared on the Official Facebook Page (@catholicbible365), or simply click here:

www.bit.ly/catholicbible365

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Answer: How do I Find Time to Pray?

In the midst of homework, sports tournaments and practices and other extra-curricular activities, prayer tends to the last thing on a Catholic teenager’s daily to-do list. Not only is this the case for Catholic teens, but also the case in the lives of many adults as well. Prayer seems to become the bottom thing of the pile of work we do, and it gets buried in the dump. The irony is, prayer is an essential part in the lives of Christians, no matter what denomination you belong to. Even though Christians are divided in doctrines and teachings, the act of prayer is what unites Christians.

“How do I find time to pray?” some people ask me. Here is how I schedule my prayer life:

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My breviary during a retreat

Morning: I wake up, I try to remember to do the sign of the cross. If it is a school day, I do my morning hygiene and breakfast in order to head out to the bus stop to catch the bus. When I catch the bus, I take out my breviary to pray Morning Prayer. If it is a non-school day, I pick up the breviary and pray it first, before starting anything.  For some, it may be tempting to put your phone on your night table. For me, I keep my phone on my desk, on the other side of my bedroom. I keep my breviary on my night table, making it the first thing I pick up when I wake up either to pray it right away on the weekend, or reminding me to put it in my backpack on a school day. I also download the breviary texts on my phone via iBreviary, so if I forget my breviary on a school day, I still have texts with me to pray.

Midday: I always try to remind myself to at least do the sign of the cross before meals, especially before lunch when I would often forget. During lunch, I sometimes find my way to my school chapel just to visit the Eucharist, even if it just were a minute or two. Lately while working, I try to find a nearby church that is open. Most of the time, it is not possible as the churches are locked, but I have managed to find one for myself. It is very calming and prayerful environment, especially because not many people are present in the church building during noon.

Evening and Night: Our family prays together every evening, simply just a decade of the rosary and the reading of the gospel of the day, because as Fr. Patrick Peyton, the rosary priest said, “The family that prays together, stays together.” Sometimes, evening family prayer is the only time that recollects the family together after a busy day. Before I go to sleep, like the morning, I take out the breviary and pray Evening Prayer (even though it may be 11pm), but Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are the chief hours of the Liturgy of the Hours. Therefore, I strive to pray at least those two Offices.

A prayer routine varies from person to person. You have to find what fits for you. For me, I find a sense of renewal every time I pray the Liturgy of the Hours as it changes everyday over the course of four-weeks. I also like the fact that the Liturgy of the Hours is said universally as a Church along with the clergy and religious all over the world.

However, for some, praying the rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet may be one’s preferable style of prayer. Or perhaps singing along to praise and worship song can be one’s style. For some, painting icons is their preferred form of prayer.

Lately, I have wanted to be more prayerful. I have many “full-length” rosaries at home.

Inspired by the many paracord rosaries I have seen sold online though, I decided to make my own decade rosary a couple weeks ago.  A difficult part of the rosary was selecting the cross. I considered puchasing a new one. However, while looking for one in my collection, I came across one I knew would fit. The cross is contains not only the corpus, but symbols of the four evangelists. At the back depicts the 14 stations of the cross. I realized I bought the cross at a discounted price of $1.00 in 2016 at Marylake Shrine after crossing the holy door and found no use for it until now. I decided to add three medals: the miraculous medal in honour of Mary; a medal of St. Joseph, my baptismal name and patron; a medal of St. Anthony of Padua with a relic at the back… I have a deep devotion to him.

Making a rosary is a prayerful act in itself. Consider making one for yourself or make one to gift a friend in need. But making the rosary would be pointless if you do not pray with it. I have tried to use it while on the bus, subway or on a walk rather than being on my phone.

Prayer is connecting with God. When we fail to place prayer at the centre of our daily lives, then we remove God from the centre and put Him to the side. Let us find ways to pray so to foster our relationship with God and therefore, strengthen our faith in God.

Read more: The Strength of My Day: Liturgy of the Hours

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Pilgrimage: A Journey

pilgrimage

This past Saturday June 09, 2018, the Vietnamese Catholic Communities of the Archdiocese of Toronto and surrounding areas made the annual pilgrimage to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario. I have been to the pilgrimage since I was only 5 months old, making this year’s pilgrimage the 18th one. The pilgrimage for me is a very important of the year and I simply cannot go through a year without going to the Martyrs’ Shrine.

However, it is during these days that I reflect on the meaning of the term pilgrimage. To make a pilgrimage to a holy site is a journey. It is not a field trip or a vacation. A pilgrimage requires both material preparation and spiritual preparation.

Material preparation refers to material needs required for a pilgrimage. Nowadays, it is the act of preparation for a pilgrimage financially. In the old days, pilgrims had to walk long distances to real holy sites and therefore, they had to prepare for the long journey including physical endurance, food and drink. Pilgrims today have it easy: purchase a plane ticket, board the plane and you arrive at your destination in a matter of hours. Spiritual preparation refers to the preparation of the inner state of oneself, including prayer, fasting, and the reception of the sacraments. It would also be appropriate to do some research on the history of the holy site so that one may be more connected and understand the historical significance.

I will be attending Chaminade’s 2019 Europe Trip during March Break. The itinerary includes many holy sites, including Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica, to name a few. I have never stepped foot in Europe before, let alone step foot in any of these churches. Yet, in order to achieve this goal, I have to undergo physical and spiritual preparations.

I can imagine the day that I step foot into St. Peter’s Basilica, at the site of St. Peter’s tomb, the heart of the Catholic Church. It is the site where the Catholic Church gathers for Canonizations, Holy Years, and papal funerals. I hope that making the pilgrimage of St. Peter’s will liven up my faith and my passion for Catholicism. As a toddler, I played with crosses, holy cards including one of Pope John Paul II and interested in anything Catholic. I even recall faintly watching St. John Paul II’s funeral on TV and nine years later, watching his Canonization.  This all connects to the beginnings of Catholicism: The cross: the symbol of the faith, St. John Paul II, the successor of St. Peter. Being at such site would bring liven up one’s faith in a tangible way, a culminating point in the life of a Catholic.

However, going a pilgrimage to a holy site is a reminder of our own earthly journey. Life is a pilgrimage, as we face many battles in our spiritual life, but we try to overcome those battles through prayer and perseverance. We are constantly on the pilgrimage towards the holiest of places, The Heavenly Jerusalem – Heaven. During these past months, with the passing of Mr. Nguyen, a friend, teacher and mentor, the theme of Earthly Pilgrimage has come up in my mind from time to time. Life is a pilgrimage, but how do we overcome our battles? Do we give up or do we walk that pilgrimage to the very end?

We go on pilgrimages in order to seek God through the saints. This, along with our ministry and everyday routine are segments of a larger pilgrimage to the Heavenly Jerusalem.

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The Six Month Journey with Thầy

RIP Thay

“Mr. Nguyễn was called to the House of the Father this morning,” I messaged to some people the morning of April 23rd, 2018.

I learned that a beloved teacher, friend, and mentor of mine, Thầy Tuấn was diagnosed with rectum cancer on October 14, 2018 as parishioners of both St. Cecilia’s and Vietnamese Martyrs Parishes were celebrating the centennial of the Fatima apparitions. I went home after having a celebratory dinner. My dad told me that night that Thầy Tuấn was diagnosed with cancer. I was shocked and was very sad.

Thầy Tuấn was noticeably thinner as the weeks went by. Despite his health, he still continued his usual parish duties, as a book keeper, catechist, music director and other administrative tasks. He did all the things he loved and did not let his health get in the way. From time to time, I still had a little laugh or talk with him, exchanging some thoughts.

Mid-February, I did not see him, probably days before the Family Day weekend this year, I did not see him at the Church. That was about the first weeks of Lent. I saw his wife coming by the sacristy after 1pm Sunday Mass with a pyx to bring the Eucharist to him on several occasions. The St. Cecilia Band, a band that he founded a little more went through the major Liturgies of the Paschal Triduum without his direction as it was during this time that his condition worsened.

I sent an e-mail to Thầy on Easter Sunday. I will never know if he ever opened it. However, just a few days after Easter Sunday, April 3rd to be exact, I learned that his condition has worsened and that the cancer has spread to the bone. It was a pain to learn of the news, knowing that he might not make it.

A day after Divine Mercy Sunday, Monday April 9, 2018, the Solemnity of the Annunication of Our Lord, I went with my dad to visit him at Sunnybrook Hospital. On the car ride there, my dad said that it would be likely be the last encounter I would have with Thầy Tuấn. I was heartbroken and sobbed on the way, asking my dad, “What do I say to someone who I am seeing for the last time?”

My father and I go into the room where Thầy was residing. His wife, cô Phương was accompanying him. Some parishioners and a Vietnamese school classmate was there before me. I went immediately to him and put into his hand a small holy card with the image of Divine Mercy. I recall him greeting me with the ever familiar greeting, “Hi Việt!” Thầy Tuấn was one of the only people in the parish to use my actual Vietnamese name. Besides, others used the name “Vinh” which was a nickname our Pastor used to refer to me, or by Vincent. It made sense that Thầy used Việt because his youngest son, a classmate of mine at Chaminade was also named Vincent.

It was very a very emotional visit that I will never forget. His wife mentioned that Thầy has already read a letter I wrote to him, that I asked a close friend he visited him very often to hand to Thầy. His wife said that Thầy was very proud of me. Thầy Tuấn with all his strength said that again to me and it was very humbling.

All present said the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the prayer that coincidentally, was on the Holy Card I gave him.

I cried for much of the visit since I just couldn’t contain my emotions. I did not know what to say but to thank Thầy for all that he did for the me on a personal level. He has helped me so much to put me in where I am today at the Parish. I assured him that his work has bloomed.

A promise I made to him that night was that: no matter what happens, I, along with the youth at the Parish will get the Youth Pastoral Plan completed. Early February when Thầy was still around, I talked to him how I will start to compose a Youth Pastoral Plan to keep the youth of the parish alive for the years to come. He agreed, saying that eventually, the current generation will be going off to University and for him, his health may no longer permit him to do what he was doing.

I made the promise to Thầy, and he said that God-willing, if he would be healed, he would help me 100% in its completion.

Before I left him, I asked him to pray for me and vice-versa, I would pray for him. I told him, “Let us all be happy”. That moment, I was referring indirectly to Archbishop Paul Đọc’s motto, “God is my happiness” (Archbishop Paul died early March during the Ad Limina visit of the bishops of Vietnam. I wrote a column about his death and that column was published The Catholic Register’s April 8th, 2018 issue).

As the days went by, I heard nothing about Thầy, except for the fact that he transferred rooms. I continued to keep him in my prayers and prayed to the Venerable, Francis Xavier Cardinal Thuận Nguyễn. In the letter I gave Thầy earlier before the visit, I included a second-class relic of the Venerable.

The evening of Saturday April 14, my dad said during dinner that according to his wife, Thầy only had a week left to live. I was heavy-hearted. Throughout the week, I prayed and thought of Thầy every moment. Wednesday of that week, April 18, two friends of his son, Vincent, two Chaminade student from the parish and the two chaplains of our school gathered in the chapel to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the same prayer myself and others gathered at his bedside said during that visit on April 9.

Saturday April 21, 2018, First Communion Mass at our Parish. As Mass was being celebrated, our pastor found out that his mother has passed away. In the sacristy, some people were expressing condolences to him. The pastor mentioned that the parish would likely be facing not one funeral, but two because Thầy Tuấn’s day was likely nearing.

The pastor was right. A little past 7:00am the morning of April 23rd, 2018, the phone was ringing. My parents were prepared to go to work. My mom picked up, and it was Thầy Tuấn’s wife. Thầy Tuấn passed away about 6 am. I quickly went down to ask my mom who was on the phone at such early of a time. She said that Thầy Tuấn just passed away. I didn’t cry right at that moment… absorbing the information.

I quickly sent out messages to my friends, some of Vincent’s friends and some teachers at Chaminade. I did not want to use the term death, or passed-away. Instead, I used the terms, supposedly used by John Paul II as he neared death, “called to the House of the Father”. As I wrote an e-mail, I cried.

FB PostThen, I quickly filtered through my picture archives and found a picture of Thầy handing out ice cream during one of the parish’s Ice Cream Sundays. I wrote, “Labourer in the vineyard of the Lord,” because that is what I believe Thầy Tuấn was at our parish.

I left my home at 8:00 am to head to school. On the bus ride with sunglasses on, I opened my Breviary, not reading the regular Easter Morning Prayer, but the Morning Prayer of the Office of the Dead. Throughout the day, my phone was flooded with messages about Thầy’s passing.

This past week, I just couldn’t keep my thoughts straight. All of my thoughts were about the memories I had with Thầy. I was so blessed to be in his Level 2 Vietnamese Credit Course class. His lessons that he taught I will treasure. Interestingly though, it was during this same time that Thầy talked about the theme of death as the Church reads the Gospel of Lazarus during a Sunday of Lent (I don’t remember).

Tuesday, a day right after Thầy’s passing, there was a Memorial Mass for him. The Mass was a weekday Mass but about 100 people showed up. The pianist was a close student of Thầy. The hymns were sung so beautifully by the congregation. I did not serve that Mass because I wanted to recollect myself.

On Thursday, my dad and I went to the Funeral Home for the viewing. I went up to the open casket and was a little sad that he did not look like the Thầy I knew so well. I went to the left and embraced his wife and his sons, along with the other family members.

The next day, Friday, I had an appointment after school but tried my best to make it to the Funeral Home to see Thầy for the last time. I led some of the prayers as I did on some Saturdays at the parish and I saw it as an honour.

Yesterday, Saturday was the Mass of Christian Burial (Funeral Mass) for Thầy Tuấn. I served this Mass as I do for major solemnities and Sunday as Vietnamese Martyrs Parish.  It was honestly the saddest Mass I have ever served and the first time I shed tears of sadness while serving.

The front door of the church opened as Thầy’s casket was being carried by the pall bearers. That would be the last time Thầy would enter the Church that served for over three decades. Then, the altar servers and I went back to the sacristy to process down with the deacon and priests down to welcome Thầy like the day he was baptized.

I have served some funeral Masses, but this one was one that I put my whole mind and heart into its texts and rituals. The celebrant sprinkled Holy Water on the casket and draped the white pall on the casket, symbols of baptism.

The hymns as I was told, were chosen by Thầy before he passed away. These were not the generic hymns used at our parish’s funeral Mass. I sung to the hymns as Thầy’s band, the St. Cecilia Band played with their whole heart.

The Liturgy of the Word was interesting at Thầy’s funeral Mass. It was probably Thầy’s intention to have a reading be proclaimed in English so to be inclusive to all present, especially the youth. The Responsorial Psalm used was not Psalm 51, as generic for our parish’s funeral Mass, but rather a joyful setting of Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd) that he taught the band to play for many years. The Gospel was the story of Lazarus’ death (cf. John 11:17-25) which I still remember vividly Thầy teaching my class about the meaning behind this specific Gospel. Msgr. Peter Bá Phạm was the homilist and spoke so well of all the themes of the lectionary readings with Thầy’s life.

Thầy Tuấn

Thầy Tuấn and I during a Choir practice, playing song, Lắng Nghe Lời Chúa.  (Credit: Martha T. Nguyễn)

Thầy’s son, Vincent, read the General Intercession. I teared up each time he said, “…bố con,” Vietnamese for, “…my father”. I was heart broken.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist was celebrated reverently, as I recalled all the part of the Eucharistic Prayer that Thầy taught the class last year. I knelt right behind the celebrant at that Mass, listening very carefully to all the prayers, realizing that this was the last Mass with Thầy Tuấn in the Church he loved.

The rite of Final Commendation followed the remarks by the family. This rite was presided by Bishop Vincent Nguyen, whom Thầy Tuấn served faithfully for him when he was still a priest, administrator of then, Mission of the Vietnamese Martyrs, during the young priest’s one year term with the community. It was touching as the Bishop sprinked Holy Water and incensed the casket.

The procession, led by the cross and candles processed out the church. The clergy sprinkled Holy Water for the last time on the casket of Thầy. Then, the pall bearers carried the casket out the Church. That time, would be the last time Thầy would step down those stairs of the Church which he had known so well.

The Rite of Committal and interment was at Assumption Catholic Cemetery in the area reserved for the Vietnamese people. Many attended the burial as Msgr. Bá presided over the Rite of Committal, bidding farewell to Thầy.

His band, the St. Cecilia Band was present to play last songs to him. Then, members of the youth choir and band stepped up to the area of interment as one of the youth represented all the youth and promised to continue to continue the mission of the Band, to (1) Serve the Sacred Music at Liturgical Services, (2) Be a place where youth can spend time together. Myself and many others cried our hearts out, knowing this would be the last time we would be able to gather around our dear Thầy.

The president of the Pastoral Council, bác Tạo, before departing said to the youth, that to the very end, the youth was in the heart of Thầy Tuấn. I cried at this, knowing that Thầy Tuấn loved the youth very much. Bác Tạo said that if we love Thầy, we should continue to be like Thầy and continue to listen to our parents so to be the future of the parish.

The Rite of Committal concluded with the singing of the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (Kinh Hòa Bình). I saw a two fold meaning in the prayer. First, it was the fact that Thầy Tuấn lived out the prayer so well. He was so selfless and always at the needs of others. Secondly, the prayer was for the youth and those present, that we, like Thầy Tuấn can serve others selflessly.

***

This past week has been a very sad week for me personally and certainly the case for many who have known Thầy Tuấn.

I have been so blessed to have worked with this great man of faith. He was a faithful husband, father, teacher, catechist, friend and mentor. Whenever I approached him to ask for something, Thầy would find all the means to obtain for me what I needed. This even went to the extent of obtaining the Jubilee of Mercy banners at the church. I asked Thầy what happens to banners at the Church once an occasion is completed. He said that they usually just store them away. Thầy probably understood my intention. My dad went to the Church one night to assist in the taking down of the Nativity Scene. When my dad came home, his hands were full with two banners. I opened them up, to see that they were the Jubilee of Mercy banners that hung for a year at the parish. The next week, I thanked Thầy, saying that they are great souvenirs of the Jubilee, especially because this was an extraordinary Jubilee Year.

One day during summer about 2/3 years ago, I had to go to the Church to do something per a request. That person left me at the Church without any arrangements to go home. Thầy Tuấn was there, and said he would drive me home.

I was very blessed to be a classmate of his last year in his Vietnamese Credit Course class. He told many stories and learned so much from him, not only about Vietnamese culture, but life lessons. He only handed back two of my assignments, but the comment on one still sticks with me, can be translated as, “Very well done. Let’s talk about it when we have a moment” (Hay lắm Việt. Lúc nào rảnh nói chuyện thêm). Yes, I have talked to Thầy on uncountable number of occasions.

Thầy Tuấn was a very kind and humble man. He undertook very important roles at the parish. He was once the parish secretary. Then, he undertook another job but still continued assisting the current parish secretary, doing administrative tasks. He took care of the taxes and tax receipts of the parishioners. I have been able to learn much about the parish administration system, and the history of St. Cecilia’s Church.

Thầy always took time for me. I recall the day after Lễ Bế Giảng last June (2017), Thầy was in the Parish Office drawing plans on a form for the Annual Vietnamese Martyrs Shrine Pilgrimage. He was busy, but when I walked into the Parish Office, he said, “Hi Việt”, can explained some facts about the Lễ Bế Giảng the day before. Then, I asked Thầy in Vietnamese, “Thầy, did I do bad on the Vietnamese exam?” He said, “Certainly no! But why did you think so?” I answered that earlier that day, I went to check on MyBlueprint to see my Vietnamese Course mark, and saw that it was an 85. He quickly left everything and went to the other office to open his laptop to verify the mark he gave me was a 99. I was at relief. Then Thầy dug through the report cards, and noticed that my mark was somehow put on as an 85. He promised to change it. The following school year, September 2017, Thầy assured me that he will change it. He kept his promise and that was fulfilled in November.

***

Thầy Tuấn, I love you a lot as a teacher, friend and mentor. Thank you for all you have done for me. You have helped me be where I am today at the Vietnamese Martyrs Parish. I will keep my promise just as you have kept all the promises you have made to me: to complete the Youth Pastoral Plan, in the path you have envisioned as you have told me on numerous occasions during your lifetime.

Thầy, you stayed true to what you taught. Your life proved that. You were faithful to Christ until the end, even in pain and suffering, especially during the last six months of your life. Yet, even in death, you were giving others life as you donated your eyes, heart and liver to those who needed them. You are model of selflessness. Pray for me, for the youth and our parish when you are in heaven.

Requiescat In Pace, Thầy Tuấn.

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