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.
“…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.
September 14 is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and it is one of my favourite feasts of the Liturgical year. It is said that the day commemorates the occasion in which St. Helen (mother of Emperor Constantine) found the wood of the True Cross in Jerusalem.
While that is just one part of the feast, it is worth noting that the Cross of Jesus is spoken of prominently twice in the liturgical year, namely on Good Friday at the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, specifically at the Veneration of the Cross after the Liturgy of the Word, and September 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It seems that Good Friday takes on a number of different dimensions, and so does Holy Thursday. Thus, we notice that even though the Church celebrates the institution of the most Holy Eucharist, we celebrate the solemnity of Corpus Christi on the second Sunday after Pentecost. Again, even though the Cross is solemnly venerated in the liturgy of Good Friday, the Church has a feast to once again speak of the prominence of this cruel instrument of torture which has now become the sign in which Christianity is known by.
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.