A Letter to Saint Francis of Assisi

Garrett writes a letter to Francis of Assisi, his patron saint.

Dear Francis of Assisi,

Greetings, my patron saint! I believe this letter is long overdue. We’ve already had a long and interesting correspondence across the span of 800 years (and my comparatively shorter 25 years). You’ve definitely had a very strong influence in shaping my faith when I was younger, and your example continues to inspire me in various ways.

I think my first encounter with you was as a teenager reading Carlo Carretto’s fantastic book I, Francis. In this book, Carretto addressed the reader with your voice, giving an introduction to your life and thought. What I really took away from reading that book was your joy and appreciation for God’s other creations. At the time, I was struggling a lot with the question of how to make people see the beauty of the faith when it seemed as if no one was interested or had other things preoccupying their time. Thus, when I read your story, and learned about how you were so willing to be a fool for Christ in order to get people to pay attention and hopefully open their eyes to consider higher things. So when it was time to pick a confirmation name, for me the obvious choice was, of course, Francis.

However, I confess that I find your life, inspiring as it is, a little difficult to distill lessons from. Books upon books have been written upon the subject. I think part of the reason, of course, is that I personally do not have the same single-minded devotion to the Lord that you had. Not yet, at least. But I think another part of the reason is that it’s hard to pin down the specific charisms you used to serve the world – there were so many! Was it your famous love for animal life? Your embracing of ‘Lady Poverty’ as part of your call to holiness? Perhaps it is simply your infectious joy that led you to dance and sing the praises of God.

If I had to hazard a guess, I think I would say that more than all of these, you showed the world what it’s like to be a saint. Or at least, what embarking on that journey of sainthood looks like. Just like we do, you lived in a time of great turmoil (perhaps every era is, in its own way). Political unrest, civil strife, corruption, greed – all these things were not foreign to you, just as they aren’t to us. And it’s easy to deaden oneself to it all, live for the moment, and resign ourselves to not being able to make a difference.

But that was not the path you chose, was it? You decided to respond to God’s call to fulfill the purpose He called you to. And that call led you to a life that touched the lives of everyone – Pope and pauper, lord and leper, soldier and Sultan. Reading your life, it seemed that no one who met you came away unchanged. And although I know that your own spiritual journey had its own valleys and pitfalls, the joy that radiated from you showed the world that true joy and contentment really came from doing God’s work.

I know that everyone’s call to holiness is different. God created us all individually, and gives each of us unique gifts. But I think whatever form holiness takes, it bears something of the… ‘feel’ of your life. A saint channels the life of Jesus Christ, bringing light to the world in gentleness and truth, as He did. Please continue to pray for us, to discover our own calls to holiness, and to pursue this call with courage as you did.

Yours in Christ,

Garrett

© 2019 Christ Centered Conversations/Garrett Christopher Ng

将临故事中的客栈店主

可彬于此文章,分享将临故事中客栈店主的角色,试问我们是否有时也以客栈店主的身份对待圣家三口。

“他们在那里的时候,她分娩的日期满了,便生了她的头胎男儿,用襁褓裹起,放在马槽里,因为在客栈中为他们没有地方。”(路2:6-7)

我常想,当若瑟从客栈店主口中得知那里“没有地方”容纳他与身怀六甲的聘妻时,究竟有何感受?行路数日、历经坎坷的若瑟,必然气愤心烦,无比失望。我猜想,他甚至慌张失措。他有后备计划吗?夫妻俩总不能露宿街头吧?那怀有身孕的玛利亚呢?这样的生理状态下,仍要长途跋涉,肯定使她疲惫不堪,痛苦不已。听到一句“没有地方”,她是否也一时不能自己,无助痛哭?不知若瑟与玛利亚可曾感到消极、绝望?有时想想,也不禁感慨:我们熟悉的将临故事——那充满欢腾、盛满喜乐、灌满消费主义的故事——竟源于一次冷漠的拒绝。回首望之,倘若客栈掌柜知道自己拒绝的是圣家三口,他是否会腾出空间,让耶稣、玛利亚和若瑟三人入住?

诚然,我就是客栈店主,客栈就象征我的心房——一个满是担忧、顾虑,没有为圣家腾出空间的心房。无可否认,我在日常生活中,确实无数次拒绝了圣家。就因交际往来、因个人抱负、因名望声誉、因事业野心,我多少次将心房填得满满的,根本不留丝毫空间让他们住下。不好意思,若瑟。我没有地方容纳你们一家,因为我的心充满了自我、充满了种种自私的意图,种种世俗的欲望。玛利亚,我也得拒绝您,因为我没时间念什么玫瑰经、参与什么九日敬礼。而祢呢,圣母腹中的耶稣,赎世主,我灵魂的拯救者!也请祢让开,到较宽敞的地方生活去吧。如此一来,荣福童贞玛丽亚期待已久的耶稣诞辰,在我心里没有空间实现。

为了迎接圣诞,我思考着客栈店主在将临故事中扮演的角色。以下几个反思点浮现于我的脑海中:在日常生活中,我曾拒绝了哪些人?在工作环境里,或校园内,我又有意或无意地忽视了谁?圣本笃会规第53章写道:“该如接待基督似的接待众来宾,因为他将来要说: ‘我作客,你们收留了我。’” 天主正叫唤我们接纳哪些人?对于这些“作客”之人,我们是否反而选择了回避与拒绝?我是否没有认出爱的面孔,忽略了在生活中创造空间的使命?毕竟,我们需先认出耶稣、玛利亚与若瑟,方能将其迎入我们的生活。

耶稣于玛窦福音25:13提醒我们:“你们该醒悟,因为你们不知道那日子,也不知道那时辰。” 确实,时辰何时到,你我皆不知。耶稣、玛利亚与若瑟何时将敲打我们的心房,你我都不晓得。因此,让我们在享受佳节喜乐的同时,且在欢腾、珍爱与宽恕的当儿,认出并实现圣家三口的邀请,在心中腾出空间来。让我们沉心深省,开始除去一切无谓霸占空间的事物——一切使我们与天主逐渐疏远的担忧与顾虑。让我们也祈求天主赐予我们一份意识能力,得以在生活中认出圣家三口,并接纳他们。这个圣诞期,愿我们增加爱德,成为有地方容纳圣家三口的客栈店主。

耶稣、玛利亚、若瑟,我把我心、我灵、我生命,全献给你们。

耶稣、玛利亚、若瑟,扶助我于临终时。

耶稣、玛利亚、若瑟,赐我能在你们中得平安去世之恩。

立于耶稣、玛利亚及若瑟庇佑之下,并以圣十字为护:因父及子及圣神之名,阿门。

© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan

© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Clarence Lee

修直道路

Greg反思圣若翰洗者呼吁我们“修直道路”之意,从而发现自己有时误将“道路”视为“终点”。

有一个呼声喊说:
“你们要在旷野中预备上主的道路,
在荒原中为我们的天主修平一条大路!”(依40:3)

将临期的福音中,我们常听见圣若翰洗者准备迎接耶稣的使命。这个使命即是依撒意亚先知所预言,且圣若翰洗者所重申的这一点:

“我是在旷野里呼喊者的声音:修直上主的道路罢!”
(若1:23)

将临期提醒我们要在心灵之中为上主修直道路,好为祂的圣诞做准备。教会教导我们,修直道路的方法有好多:阅读圣经,尤其反思将临期的读经;检讨良心,在心中为耶稣腾出空间;深入祈祷,加深与天主的感情,等等。我想,这些都是准备迎来将临期的好方法。对我而言,此文章实属自我告诫:重要的不是道路,而是耶稣。

在反思这段福音时,我赫然发现,自己虽总是一心想为上主修直道路,却多次弄巧反拙。何谓弄巧反拙呢?我想,简单来说,我们常徘徊于两个极端:一,因为道路不够直、不够平,而将其铲除;二,因为着重于道路的建设,而忽视了建设道路的目的。简而言之,我将精力都放在建设那条道路上,却没太专注于它是否能让主耶稣一步步走进我的心房。

是这样的:我常因为自己只能够静默祈祷10分钟,无法长达15分钟,而感到心烦意乱;也常因为无法克制自己的各种欲望,无法全心侍奉天主,而感到忧虑自责;我坚持练习各种神操,也是因为认为它们是遇见耶稣的必经之路。想必我们都曾陷入这个陷阱:在勤于准备迎接耶稣之时,却没发觉祂也渴望进入我们的心房。我因为不断专注于修直道路,竟忘了道路前面正等着我仰望祂的耶稣圣婴。我忘了这是一个甘心降生成人,诞生于小马槽的天主;一个受到牧人探访,而非君王朝拜的天主;一个为了世界的救赎而蒙难,被钉在十字架上,死而安葬的天主。这是一个不在乎荣华富贵的君王,一个不在乎道路是否完美的君王;这是一个关心我的君王,一个愿意将圣神注入我内,和我携手建设这条道路的君王。

到头来,依撒意亚先知和圣若翰洗者呼吁我们忏悔改过,不是为了忏悔而忏悔,也不是为了改过而改过,而是希望我们能够全心迎接耶稣,让祂在我们的心中诞生。因此,在这将临期,我要想的不是如何修直道路。我要想的,是如何认识耶稣、接受耶稣,并在来临的圣诞期学会时时爱祂,时时珍惜祂。

© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan

© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Clarence Lee

Did Curiosity Kill the Catholic?

Greg muses how being curious can enhance and supplement our Faith.

Don’t you love how children always question the things around them?

“Mummy, why is the sky blue?”

“Daddy, why is 1+1 equals to 2?”

“Mummy, where did I come from?”

As we grow up, we learn more and more things. Eventually, we begin to stop questioning every piece of information that comes our way. During one of my random thought moments (I have plenty of those, although a majority of the thoughts probably aren’t the best), I’ve begun to realized how much I’ve stopped allowing myself to be curious. Maybe it’s due to my thoughts being too all over the place to be properly inquisitive. Or maybe it’s because the effort and time needed to begin looking for those answers was way too much (relative to simply accepting said information). Maybe it’s just that I’m not so bothered by it anymore.

Whatever the case may be, I’ve realized that I’ve stopped asking and started to merely accept. Now, I grew up in a school system where asking questions were fine, but the answers given could sometimes be simply dismissive (“You don’t need to know this yet”, “It’s not in the syllabus” ,” It’s too complicated” and other such derivations). I then recalled the age-old adage: Curiosity killed the Cat. In my case, it was more unanswered curiosity. (To be fair, in the past, Google hasn’t really become a thing yet)

Similarly, I think many of us were brought up in the Catholic faith with a similar mindset. We came in curious but slowly, the curiosity stopped when we realized that our questions weren’t answered well enough (often given “textbook” answers, as many Singaporeans like to term it) or that the questions were simply dismissed. Heck, the Bible even has a story to discourage questioning (read: doubting Thomas in John 20:24-29). And yet, CCC 94 tells us “Thanks to the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the understanding of both the realities and the words of the heritage of faith is able to grow in the life of the Church:

– “through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts”; it is in particular “theological research [which] deepens knowledge of revealed truth”.

– “from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which [believers] experience”, the sacred Scriptures “grow with the one who reads them.””.

Basically, there is a need to continually study and to research. This means that to begin this whole process of research, there is a need to question. St Anselm had a motto: fides quaerens intellectum or “faith seeking understanding”. The Catholic Church is not a church based upon fideism (faith alone). Pope St John Paul II even wrote an encyclical titled “Fides et Ratio” (Faith and reason), and it is this tradition of faith and reason that the Catholic Church stands by.

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart the desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that by knowing and loving God, men and women can come to the fullness of the truth about themselves.” – Introduction to Fides et Ratio

So then what was doubting Thomas all about? Why did it seem like Thomas was being chastised for his questions? Bishop Robert Barron, in one of his earlier videos commenting on faith and reason, answers this and navigates the tension of having faith and yet, questioning the Catholic Church. Thomas was not chastised for asking questions but rather, it was the intent and the way in which the question was asked. As Bishop Barron succinctly puts it, “Is it wrong to question? No. But is it wrong to be so aggressive in one’s rationalism that one wants utterly to control the situation? Yeah. That’s a problem.” (Also, do watch his video in the link above! Really interesting watch! 11/10 would recommend!)

Now, we may feel like even though the Church says it’s ok to question, we still get dismissive or “textbook” answers that don’t really answer or shed light on our questions whenever we raise our own questions. Trust me, I’ve been there. But sometimes I wonder, could it also be that the person being asked that question has never thought about it before? That they do not know and cannot adequately shed light on these queries? That they, too, are wandering and in search of questions as you and I are?  Or maybe they are not sure if the answers they provide may be bringing us closer to God? Are we not, by growing in our impatience and our frustration, still trying to control the situation? Are we not then like Thomas in that “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)

Jesus once said, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14). As children, our questions weren’t to take control of the situation but simply out of curiosity. We asked not because we needed to know the answer but because we wanted to know. I once saw a post (not sure how true it was) about how there was a second part to the common saying of curiosity killed the cat: “but satisfaction revived it”.

In our case, it is not the satisfaction of getting all the answers because, let’s face it, humankind doesn’t have all the answers and will probably never have. It is the satisfaction of realizing that our quest brings us closer and closer to the Truth that is God. And after we have reached the limits of our human reason and experience, the joy In knowing that we have been given by God the divine revelation and the grace of Faith to supplement our limited rationality. As St John Paul II says in Fides et Ratio (which is also an amazing read), “reason and faith cannot be separated without diminishing the capacity of men and women to know themselves, the world and God in an appropriate way.” May we continue to be curious in our faith and may our questions bring us deeper and deeper into the Mystery of God instead of shutting out the Truth of God.

© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan

Thanksgiving

Before coming to the United States of America (USA), Thanksgiving didn’t mean much to me. While I caught glimpses of this holiday in American sitcoms, my understanding of it remained at that: distant and apathetic. My impression of Thanksgiving was limited to stuffed turkey, cranberry sauce, mash potatoes and sweet corn – delicious yet highly superficial. Similar to some of the holidays in Singapore, Thanksgiving was an occasion synonymous with good food and merry-making. Yet, akin to an increasingly commercialized Christmas, there has got to be something deeper and more meaningful to Thanksgiving right?
In 2012 during my year abroad in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I was fortunate to have a friend, Lindsey, invite me over to her home for Thanksgiving. I was lucky to have an “adopted” family for a span of 5 days. And in retrospect, I could not have asked for a better way to spend my first ever Thanksgiving in America; a thanksgiving spent with the Luxon family.
My impression of thanksgiving became very different immediately after we left our university for Lindsey’s home. Her home was approximately three hours away and the majority of the journey was spent on the interstate highway. But our journey took longer than three hours – we were stuck in heavy traffic. Entering the highway, we saw bumper to bumper traffic; different vehicles of all shape and sizes with one common destination: home. (Imagine rush hour traffic on the CTE or PIE – it was something like that, only with much more cars and lesser lanes on the expressways). Yet, the scene of the traffic jam immediately made me perceive Thanksgiving in a deeper light: family and friends were all heading home together. Very much like the reunion dinner for the eve of Chinese New Year, Thanksgiving reunited family and friends. From the onset of the trip, this was turning out to be a very meaningful Thanksgiving for me.
As the car turned into the driveway of Lindsey’s home, I saw Lindsey’s father standing outside in the cold, waiting to welcome us. And that tableau of a father waiting anxiously for the arrival of his daughter back home really moved me. In a typical Singaporean way, I greeted him enthusiastically with a handshake and said “Hello Uncle!” However, my greeting was met with a huge chuckle. In my excitement, I forgot that people in the USA did not usually greet their friends’ parents by “Uncle” or “Aunty”. Nevertheless, I felt happy and proud to bring a bit of my Singaporean manners to the Luxon household. Entering the home, I was greeted with the aroma of delicious home cooked food (oh how I miss thee!), a fully prepared dinner table and the warmth smile of Lindsey’s mother (whom I happily addressed as Aunty).
Dinner was a really enjoyable affair. Apart from the incredibly delicious cuisines, what made dinner even more wonderful was seeing love personified through the conversations of Lindsey and her parents. The conversations were not incredibly profound or extraordinary – far from it actually – it was simple, genuine and heartfelt. “How are things in school?”, “Don’t stay up too late to study!”, “Are you eating well? Here, have more of the mashed potatoes.” These conversations reminded me of my very own family, the simple things that my parents and I talk about during meal times. Isn’t it incredible how love (and the presence of God) becomes so real in the simplest things of Life?
The next few days spent with the Luxon family was an incredible experience. Preparation for thanksgiving was really fun! As I have always enjoyed cooking (perhaps half as much as I enjoy eating), I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with Lindsey’s mother to prepare food. I made the turkey stuffing and had a hand in stuffing the turkey thereafter. I was given a quick lesson on the intricate ways of baking a turkey and had a few interesting conversations with “Aunty” (she even shared with me a family secret for preparing coffee!). Thanksgiving became more tangible to me; I was beginning to grasp the crux of its purpose better.
The highlight of my stay was during the family’s thanksgiving lunch. The array of dishes on the dining table was everything that I imagined it to be, and more. That meal was easily the best that I have had in months. But what encapsulated the entire meal and made Thanksgiving all the more memorable was the moment before we actually began eating. With family and friends around the table, “Uncle” began to lead us in a prayer. But unlike previous prayers before meals, he began to give thanks for the many wondrous things that God has given to him in his life: a lovely wife, a loving family and a meaningful career. He also gave thanks to God for my presence with his family on this special holiday.
That prayer best described Thanksgiving for me. Apart from its meaningful historical narrative, Thanksgiving in essence is a holiday for giving thanks to God. Thanksgiving at its core is the awareness of the many graces of God in our lives. And while it is true that we really should not only give thanks to God only during Thanksgiving, this simple yet profound shift in the understanding of Thanksgiving moved me incredibly.
Thanksgiving now means so much more to me. Apart from being a holiday for family reunions, good food and merry-making, it calls us to take a moment to pause, reflect and give thanks to God. Interestingly, Thanksgiving also occurs at a very apt timing – it happens just before Advent, it is the holiday before Christmas. Seen in this light, Thanksgiving becomes a very wonderful occasion: it allows us to be appreciative and receptive to God the Father, before God the son comes to us in the form of baby Jesus during Christmas. Let us then use the remaining time we have in Advent to give thanks to God as we welcome the birth of our savior in our own special and unique thanksgivings.

Ministry and Theory of Mind

Garrett talks about the Theory of Mind and how it can help us understand the spiritual journeys of ourselves and others.

One piece of advice I will never forget receiving from my Spiritual Director is this: in ministry, you must learn to speak the language of the heart. This means learning to empathize with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and identifying with their struggles and hopes. Being a more bookish and studious sort of guy, I must admit this changed the way that I approached my ministry. When before I looked to form ideas from high concepts to improve the institution or society as a whole, I started again from the ground up, having casual conversations that eventually led to a deeper sharing of lives, which in turn helped me gain a deeper understanding of the universal struggles of the human condition. I realized how crucial it was to understand the hearts of my fellow members of community, and how easy it was, as a leader, to become out of touch with the average member’s spiritual needs.
But rather than turn my back on everything that I had read, I found my established literary foundation an invaluable tool in learning the language of the heart. This intellectual formation, coupled with carefully processed intuition, helped me form and connect ideas, especially when my friends found that they lacked the words to describe their situation. Often, after I managed to draw that connection, I was met with an exclamation of ‘Whoa, you read my mind there’, or on one particularly memorable occasion, ‘STOP STARING INTO MY SOUL, GARRETT!’. I started to wonder if I had struck upon something, if I had begun to figure out the way that the head and the heart can come together in walking this faith journey with others.
Perhaps a little anecdote will serve to elaborate this idea further. Recently, I attended a panel discussion titled “The Relevance of Literature in a Time of Confusion”, organized by the Singapore Management University. At the end of the discussion when the panel was opened up to the audience, an elderly professor who was in attendance shared his own answer to the question. He gave the biblical example of John 8:1-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery. The professor brought up the fact that this is the only time in the whole of scripture that Jesus is recorded as writing, when he “bent over and wrote in the dust with his finger” (Jn 8:6). What did Jesus write? We may never truly know, but some believe that it was the Law of Moses, and the professor’s response seemed to place him among their number. Others, referencing the Old Testament, see a connection with this verse: “Lord, you are Israel’s hope; all who abandon you will be put to shame. They will disappear like names written in the dust, because they have abandoned you, the Lord, the spring of fresh water.” (Jeremiah 17:13) Could Jesus, then, have been writing down the names, or even the sins, of those who were accusing the woman?
Whatever the case may be, the professor put forth the idea that perhaps this is the only glimpse we have of Jesus the literary critic. He had to analyze the letter of the Law of Moses, the hearts of the accusers, the accused woman, and whatever he was writing on the ground. And from this analysis, Jesus was able to draw out from this chaotic situation an amazingly compassionate response: “Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her” (John 8:7). Perhaps, said the professor, this was the most compassionate response in all recorded writing.
I would propose that a good way to learn the language of the heart is practicing the Theory of Mind. The definition of the Theory of Mind is given below:
Theory of mind (ToM) is the ability to recognize and attribute mental states — thoughts, perceptions, desires, intentions, feelings –to oneself and to others and to understand how these mental states might affect behavior. It is also an understanding that others have beliefs, thought processes and emotions completely separate from our own.
Theory of Mind is a skill, just as much as St. Ignatius’ Discernment of Spirits is a skill. As such, it can grow better with practice, as you hone your intuition and become better at attuning to the thoughts of others. In a nutshell, this process consists of taking what a person is telling you and forming a theory about the underlying patterns that influence these thoughts and behaviors. It remains a theory as it is impossible to completely understand the mind of a fellow human being, and your conclusion may be right or wrong. The theory of mind is also similar to empathy, but the key difference is that empathy is the ability to feel what the other is feeling, while theory of mind relies on intuition and leaps of logic.
However, I would argue that this does not make the latter any less valid in the process of journeying with someone, as empathy has it’s limits. As humans, our experiences are all different, and that means we aren’t necessarily able to feel completely everything associated with someone else’s experience. This is where theory of mind helps fill in the gaps: “Oh, so-and-so probably feels X because Y.” Furthermore, theory of mind is something that everyone practices instinctively on some level. As such, it can be understood and harnessed to bring others to Christ.
In my opinion, to develop theory of mind in the context of Christian ministry, I would propose that three things are important:
  1. Firstly, prayer. As with all things in ministry, prayer is at the heart of everything. In this case, I believe that having a deep prayer life is of the utmost importance, as we are helping each other along in our Faith. Like any aspect of psychology, the theory of mind can be used to sinister or manipulative ends. Knowledge is power, and the very act of journeying together implies a mutual trust between two Christians that this knowledge will not be abused. So we must continue to pray that we will be given the grace to honor that trust, and to use it for God’s purposes, to lead others to Christ and to grow in Faith ourselves.
  2. Secondly, reading fiction. I understand that reading fiction is a luxury that few can afford, but it is nevertheless a very good way to develop the theory of mind. Stories resonate with people because the author, if competent, is able to replicate on the page experiences which resonate with the readers. Why did Harry Potter react that way? The narrative trick of ‘show, don’t tell’ forces you to think and guess at the motives of characters from the author’s description.
Another way that reading fiction helps is that stories and narratives bring people together, and which parts of a story people are drawn to can tell you quite a bit about them. I once gained an insight into someone’s particular emotional baggage and spiritual struggle by his sharing with me why the character of Darth Vader appealed to him so much.
  1. Lastly, spiritual reading. Journeying with others in a ministry or community setting necessarily operates on the assumption that humans have a spiritual dimension to them that cannot be ignored. Therefore, understanding this spiritual dimension is paramount if we want to use the theory of mind in helping others develop in their relationship with Jesus. I particularly recommend the works of Henri Nouwen, as he draws deeply from his own experiences and understanding of humanity, making his works extremely relatable. Spiritual reading helps us to uncover the common yearning that all humans, including ourselves, hold in their hearts, allowing us to help each other along in our journey.
So this has been my short and no means comprehensive introduction to a particular cognitive skill I think anyone in ministry should be aware of and aim to develop. I hope that as inadequate as it is, it will inspire readers to do their own exploring and reach their own conclusions.
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Garrett Christopher Ng

Why do I… believe in God?

Greg weighs in on the difficult existential question, “Why do I believe in God?”

Now, this topic has been discussed, debated, pondered and meditated upon ever since the beginning of humanity – whether you believe we were created in 7 days or evolved slowly over billions of years – an issue which splits even Catholics into 2 camps, not unlike Moses splitting the Red Sea. There are so many answers and ideas about this very topic by everyone scientists to saints, philosophers to priests and anyone who ever had a notion on where they stand on this issue. Ideas from brilliant thinkers such as Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawkins, Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant, St Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine and many more have attempted to justify their answers to this question:

Is there a God?

What I’m trying to do now, in the spirit of this series, is to try to make sense of this through my own experiences, beliefs and teachings that I know of, however hard this task may be. To this debate, I will probably not add anything that is not unknown or that has yet to be said (after all, the question’s been there since like humans appeared). However, what I will add are my own thoughts on this matter and that is that I believe there is a God (otherwise I wouldn’t have become a co-founder to this blog, would I?).

Personally, the main reason I believe in the existence of a God is the fact that not believing in one would be a less rational choice than actually believing in God. Let me explain. As one who is studying within the field of science, a foundational idea within science is cause and effect. A common example of this would be Newton’s Third Law, which is widely known as the law that states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. While Newton generally devised this law to refer to forces, the idea of causality is not restricted to simply the domain of physics. Our body’s own homeostatic responses involve some form of reaction to a fluctuation of our body’s natural and healthy state. A major component of historical research is discovering causes that led to certain events. The door opens when I push/pull it. In short, to all things, there is a cause. Thus, by extension, the creation of the world, the stars, the universe must have a cause.

Even though many might point towards the Big Bang, what caused the Big Bang? Well, I think scientists are still trying to figure this model out but if you have any theories to this, please seek out your nearest physicist for, what I’m pretty sure will be, a very stimulating talk. Aside from that, you get the idea. If you continue this pattern of regression, there must be an initial cause to all things; a cause that cannot be regressed upon, or as St Thomas Aquinas puts it, the Uncaused Cause. This Uncaused Cause (or as Aristotle puts it, the Prime Mover) is what is commonly known as God. Quite appropriate actually considering that the Bible constantly refers God to Yahweh, or “I Am”. For example, “I am who I am” in Exodus 3:14, the one who is unchanged and uncaused; the Alpha and the Omega.

Now, this seems like an awful lot of theorizing based on causality. What if causality’s a sham and Nature is random and disordered. What if it’s all just chaos or some sort that we’re just caught in? Here’s where the concept of beauty is so intertwined with truth: the sheer elegance of the world, in my perspective, just cannot be simply explained away with sheer chance. Maybe there’s a deeper explanation on the idea of chance in scientific enquiry but I cannot fathom how the creation of the universe, life, evolution and development of mankind are all simply caused by a series of very fortunate events happening at just the right time and space. Delving deeper into the mysteries of the world, you learn how interconnected the world is. Molecules and atoms obey a set of laws (be they quantum or classical) that allows for reactions to take places. Nature leverages on these physical phenomena to optimize cellular activities via enzymes and various pathways. This, in turn, allows living things to function, adapt and thrive in their environment. In nature, you can find tons of cycles, both on the microscopic and macroscopic scales, allowing resources and materials to always be recycled and used in an efficient manner (That is, before we messed things up slightly). That aside, there are just so many intricate details that are beyond human understanding in each of these concepts and yet, they all just work. They click. And that, brothers and sisters, is something that cannot simply be pure chance. That, is part of an intelligent design; one created by God.

Now, at the end of the day, I could give you all my thoughts on this topic. However, going back to truth and beauty, we must remember the last of the three transcendentals: goodness. A brother of mine once shared that faith is like a litmus test. Until you actually dip the litmus paper into the solution, you will never know the acidity/basicity of said solution. Likewise, unless we have experienced the goodness of God, how can we believe in our faith with all our hearts, mind and body? Just like how I have run synthetic reactions in order to believe that my synthetic mechanism yields good results, I too must experience God’s goodness before I am able to fully commit to Him. That is the crux. If someone is unwilling or unable to do so, then no matter what arguments I may have for them, it will never really turn into a belief. Until and unless somebody is able to see God’s goodness in Nature (and anything else really!), science remains simply a pursuit of knowledge instead of a gateway into understanding and delving into the mysteries of God’s Creations.

“I want to know God’s thoughts – the rest are mere details.” – Albert Einstein

© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan