2016 is coming to a close and 2017 is opening its door very soon. In the last moments of the year, the Church sings the Te Deum Laudamus (We Praise Thee, O God) to express the Church’s thanksgiving to God for all the blessings received during the past year. Despite some of the terrible events during this past year, there comes some fruits out of it. We may not see the fruits immediately, but over time, the fruit will bloom. An example would be the fact that 90,000 Christians were killed this year. This seems terrible for Christians, and indeed it is, looking towards the future, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of faith,” said Church Father Tertullian.
Today, during the last hours of the year, I reflect on my top 5 moments of 2016.
Starting THIS blog – I have written short reflections on different aspects of Catholicism since I started using Facebook in 2014. These were just short reflections (and many have grammatical errors :)). However, I did so as a form of evangelization. I was part of the Business and Technology 102 course at Chaminade College School during the 2015-2016 school year and had the chance of building my online profile. As part of the course led by Mr. Anthony Perrotta, students in the BTT 102 course were encouraged to create a personal website (blog) and a professional Twitter. I was very happy about this and here it is… the site you are on right now was created in January 2016. Though I don’t have the time to type my reflections and post them on here or on Facebook as before, I try my best to so at least once a month. I do posts with the hope that it will reach people who are Catholic and invite them into deeper reflection with me. However, it is also a form of evangelization too. While posting, I hope that non-Catholics may look into the Catholic faith through my work. Recently, I purchased a copy of The Church and New Media and blogging has been brought up quite frequently and I do not regret creating this website!
Steubenville Toronto (July 22-24)- Looking back at my faith journey this past year, this must have been one of the most impacting events I took part in thanks to the youth and young adults ministry YaYA Toronto at my parish, and the generosity of the parishioners of Vietnamese Martyrs Parish. “The Church is not the Church if it is stuck in the church,” is something have said quite often this past year. My thought is that if Catholics are always inside the Church and we do not go out and approach other Catholic and non-Catholics, then why do we call ourselves the Catholic Church? Catholic means “universal” and therefore, I find it is important for Catholics, especially the youth to go out to conferences like Steubenville to get to pray, sing and adore Jesus Christ in the Eucharist with other fellow Catholic youth.
Jubilee of Mercyevents (Dec. 08, 2015 – Nov. 20, 2016) – The Jubilee of Mercy covered most of 2016 and recently concluded on November 20. I have been blessed to passed through the Holy Doors in the Archdiocese of Toronto several times during this past Holy Year. It was the first Holy Year in my life and it was great to have Holy Years brighten up to mood in churches. It was a year where all Churches around the world celebrated mercy and united to live a merciful life. The logo and motto of the Jubilee of Mercy, “Merciful Like the Father” appeared in almost all the churches I have stepped foot in this past year. I have collected several items from this Jubilee Year such as prayer books, pamphlets and even the two giant banners with the Jubilee logo hung at St. Cecilia’s Church throughout the duration of the Jubilee. However, my most prized article would be the wax Agnus Dei disk I have acquired from the Jubilee of Mercy office in Rome. These Agnus Dei disks are probably based off of the Agnus Dei sacramental that were distributed to the faithful during a Pope’s 1st pontificate year and the 7th year thereafter during the Easter Season. I was very happy when two of these wax disks came in through the post. I gave one of the two disks to my parish priest, Fr. Joseph Tập Trần.
Mother Teresa’s canonization was a notable moment during the Jubilee of Mercy. I woke up early (about 4 am) to watch the Canonization Mass. It was moving to see a great model of mercy, model of charity being formally recognized as a saint. Another notable moment was Pope Francis’ closing of the Holy Door on November 20, 2016 at St. Peter’s Basilica. I again woke up early to watch that historical moment as those bronze doors will not be opened again until the next Holy Year, the Ordinary Jubilee of 2025. The official hymn of the Jubilee, “Misericordes Sicut Pater” was sung for the last time and Pope Francis silently closed the Holy Doors. In his homily, Pope Francis said a quote that I still remember, “Even if the Holy Door closes, the true door of mercy which is the heart of Christ always remains open wide for us”. The closing of the Jubilee was just the start of Catholics’ mission to be missionaries of God’s mercy.
Meeting Cardinal Collins several times and letter from the Office of the Secretariat of State on behalf of Pope Francis – I had the honour of meeting Cardinal Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto on three separate occasions. The first time was at the end of February for the annual St. Patrick’s Mass at St. Cecilia’s Church. I was honoured to serve as the “Chaplain to His Eminence”. Sounds like a big job right? Not really… the title sounds fancy but my job was to simply hold his mitre and crozier as directed by the Master of Ceremonies, Fr. Edward Curtis. However, having the chance to talk to the Cardinal before Mass and after was great. I gave him my business card (not really a business card since I have no business, but perhaps a contact card would be a better term) and asked him to ask my replica of Pope Francis’ pectoral cross. Before leaving, I said “see you March 1st” as we talked about the Ordinandi Luncheon earlier. I had the pleasure of attending the Ordinandi luncheon on March 1st. The seminarians’ stories were very inspirational. As expected, Cardinal Collins came, a little later than expected. He remembered me when I went to see him at the front door of the hall. My school group, Chaminade, got the chance to take a picture with him, an image that the boys will cherish forever. I also had the chance to meet with Cardinal Collins at the annual Vietnamese Martyrs’ Shrine. That time I took a personal picture with him not just anywhere in the shrine. Rather, we took the picture in front of the shrine’s Holy Door. It is one of my most treasured pictures of this year. I keep a copy of the photo on my desk.
This is probably one of the secrets I have kept the longest and had to wait for the perfect time to reveal it. Late May 2016, I wrote a letter and faxed it to Pope Francis via the Holy See Press’ fax number. I never used fax to send anything to anybody before but I did so with hopes it would reach someone in the Vatican. In the letter, I addressed some issues and greetings to the Holy Father from Toronto. I never expected any response when I faxed the letter. However, the Monday before Steubenville Toronto, I received a plain white envelope addressed to me without any sender’s address. I had some fear about its contents. I searched up the postal code on the postal sticker (in pink) and found out it was from the Apostolic Nunciature in Ottawa, ON (the Apostolic Nunciature is the Vatican embassy in Canada). I wondered why the Apostolic Nuncio contacted me. I opened the package contents. I unfolded the letter and surprised to find the Papal Keys symbol of the Vatican. A great feeling of joy went through me when I read the letter. The letter was sent on behalf of Pope Francis by Papal Assessor, Msgr. Paolo Borgia. Enclosed was a copy of the official Vatican portrait of Pope Francis and interestingly, a rosary blessed by Pope Francis. The rosary is one of the ones that Pope Francis gives to people whom he meets, especially during Papal travels. I am grateful to the Holy Father for the rosary and I have used it on several occasions. I’ve been thinking that unless Pope Francis makes an Apostolic Journey to Canada in 2018 or 2019, that is the closest I can get to him!
Volunteer opportunities outside school and parish – I have been blessed to have volunteered outside of my school and parish on two occasions this past year. I took part in a one-day program hosted by TCDSB called, ACatholic Call To Serve (ACCTS). Besides time of prayer, Mass and discussions, students were assigned to volunteer at different charities and shelter in Toronto. I was blessed to volunteer at Mary’s House in Downtown along with some other of my brothers and Chaminade College School. I recalled my experience in much detail in my post, Holy Door Closes: A Call to be Missionaries of Mercy. However, just a few hours ago, I was blessed to volunteer at Good Shepherd Ministries, again in Downtown Toronto with my brothers and sisters in YaYA Toronto from Vietnamese Martyrs Parish. I had the chance to volunteer at Good Shepherd once back in 2015 as part of my preparation for Confirmation. I enjoy volunteering at Good Shepherd because the jobs there are endless! You are always on your feet. However, Fr. Ed, the chaplain of Good Shepherd Ministries always has that smile on his face that brightens up everyone’s mood. Through my volunteer work today, I witnessed him being a real shepherd. He put in all the bed sheets out of the laundry machine and put them in the dryer. Later, he took the hot sheets out of the dryer himself. Despite the very hot laundry, he cracked a few jokes. During lunch, the volunteers were invited to have lunch in the dining room with its clients. Fr. Ed was there serving the food. I was glad to see the image of real service. Fr. Ed is a tireless man of service, very similar to that of Cardinal Blase Cupich, Pope Francis and many other clergy members.
I had so many memorable events this past 2016 year but the post would be too long if I wrote out everything.
We should ask ourselves the following questions as the New Year 2017 approaches:
-Did I fulfill my responsibilities this year?
-Did I spend enough time in prayer?
-Did I spend too much time on social media and forgot about God?
-Did I spend time with family?
-Did I try my best to help those around me?
-Did I try my best to live the Gospel this year?
-Did I try to practice any virtues this year?
-What qualities in my spiritual life do I need to improve this coming year?
-What should I ask God to help me with this year?
By asking yourself these questions, you can determine your New Year’s resolution. It is important to set an outline of your year so to improve yourself, strengthening yourself physically and spiritually.
As this year comes to a close, we should leave our old self back and wake up as a new person so that we will be prepared to welcome a new “Year of Our Lord” (Anno Domini).
Wishing all of you a new year full of “good fruits”. May all of us be strong in faith, filled with hope and a heart of charity this new year 2017.
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, Society & Law, and Philosophy along with a minor in Christianity and Culture. Vincent is an alumnus of Chaminade College School in Toronto (Class of 2019). He has a great love for all things Catholic, especially Catholic liturgy.