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.
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.
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.
There is no doubt that the recent revelations on the finding in unmarked graves on grounds of residential schools first in Kamloop, British Columbia, and gradually more and more discoveries around Canada, have sparked anger, disappointment, doubt, confusion and reopening of wounds of a dark chapter in Canadian history.
The Catholic Church, has made many mistakes throughout its 2000-year history. As Thomas Cardinal Collins has stated countless times in the past few weeks, the Catholic Church in Canada (i.e. its dioceses and religious orders) should have never participated in the call from the government to run this residential schools because it took children away from their families. Added on to that pain, the abuse of children, the conditions in which they had to live in were horrific and there are no words to describe the pain and suffering that residential schools brought upon Indigenous children. The Catholic Church was wrong. This is just one of many, many mistakes throughout its 2000-year history.
Today, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Corpus Christi – the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.While Ordinary Time (part 2) started nearly two weeks ago, for me, this Solemnity closes the Easter celebrations as we return to green vestments on Sunday all the way till the Solemnity of Christ the King in November. We have been through much this year due to the effects and restrictions of COVID-19 Pandemic. However, it was was with these thoughts in mind that I composed the following reflection for the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement Kateri League-of-Chapter’s second issue of HIGHWAY magazine. I wish to share it on this site as well.
I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that over a year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, Toronto has been under a lockdown that has technically lasted nearly six-months long, meanwhile some dioceses south of the Canadian border have in recent weeks been able to take off signs and ropes on pews, restore hymnals back in the pews, fill the Holy Water stoups and most significantly, attend Mass in a back-to-near-normal manner. Churches throughout the dioceses in the province of Ontario are still locked as cases continue to hover around in this third-wave. While I honestly do speak much about this insane reality, it is reality, and we must face it. This narrative of “reality” is probably by now too familiar to us.
My second year of undergraduate studies wrapped up last Friday with my last final assessment (a.k.a. exams). It was not a year any undergraduate University of Toronto (UofT) student, either first-year or fourth-year would have expected, with a full year of online learning. As a second-year undergrad student, I gratefully have had some experience on campus prior to the pandemic in March 2020 and had my share of campus life. I look back at this year with mixed emotions… not only because of the downs of online class, but also to the ups of the online university experience. Today I want to share five things I learned, a mix of pros and cons of this past online school year – a school year to remember.
We once again arrive at the Paschal Triduum with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We still have the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic looming over us, at least here in Toronto, and things do not seem to be getting any better, but rather, worse with the variants.
I think during the past year, we have heard so much of lockdowns, masks, social distancing… This pandemic rhetoric is making people sick of hearing it, including myself. However, we observe this safety protocols out of charity for our brothers and sisters in society. It is this charity that I wish to reflect on in light of today’s Gospel, today’s commemoration and the ongoing pandemic.
Holy Week has once again come to the Catholic Church with the Liturgy of Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord. For many, this Holy Week will be memorable because it may mark as Lent that has been dragging on for more than a year, particularly because of the absence of Holy Week Liturgies. However, I share in the pain with those who cannot partake in in-person liturgies either because of health risks, or because churches are closed in their respective dioceses. We pray that this pandemic will soon end so that we may soon be able to safely gather for public worship, because Catholic Liturgy is not meant to be celebrated virtually, but physically, with the people, because the sacraments are not meant to celebrated virtually, but physically, just as Christ makes Himself physically present among His people in the Eucharist.
Who do we want to live for? I think these are questions that have been scattered throughout the themes of Lent this year, particularly with this year’s Lectionary cycle. The First Sunday of Lent, we hear the call to “repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mk 1:15) On the Second Sunday of Lent, we read of the transfiguration of our Lord, a sign of the Divinity of Christ was revealed. The Sunday after, we read of the cleansing of the temple and we pondered upon the notion of the Temple, as a place of Worship, the Lord’s dwelling, not meant for profanity. Last week, we read of Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus and are reminded of God’s eternal love for every one of us.
This Sunday, the priest will wear rose vestments for Laetare Sunday, the Sunday of Joy which marks the midpoint of Lent. However, this year’s Laetare Sunday for me, is different than most years. Yesterday, it was announced by the government of Ontario, where I live, that places of worship will be able to reopen at 15% capacity. That means that starting Monday March 15, 2021, public worship will be able to return, and Masses with the presence of the faithful will make a return just in time for the last weeks of Lent, and thankfully, in time for Holy Week.
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.