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.

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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?

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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.

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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

Why Learning Complements Our Faith

Garrett muses on how the faithful should not fear learning, but learn to employ it.

“For although correct conduct may be better than knowledge, nevertheless knowledge precedes conduct.” – Charlemagne, De Litteris Colendis

This is a quote from a letter written by the Emperor Charlemagne, who ruled over much of Europe for much of the 8th century, to Baugulf of Frida, the abbot of a monastic community. A towering figure who came to the support of the popes, Charlemagne was also extremely interested in the topic of education, and in the ability of the Catholic Church at the time to educate people (keep in mind that these were hard times with low literacy rates). In this letter, the Emperor expresses his desire that churchmen should feed the minds of the people as well as their souls:

“[…] bishoprics and monasteries entrusted by the favor of Christ to our control, in addition, in the culture of letters also ought to be zealous in teaching those who by the gift of God are able to learn, according to the capacity of each individual, so that just as the observance of the rule imparts order and grace to honesty of morals, so also zeal in teaching and learning may do the same for sentences, so that those who desire to please God by living rightly should not neglect to please him also by speaking correctly.”

Reading this letter was interesting for me as I’ve always valued learning, and never really saw any disparity between knowledge and the faith. In fact, my faith was strengthened greatly by reading as a young boy the works of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and while my understanding was somewhat limited, it drove me to learn more and more about the faith and why we should believe. And indeed, one could argue this was the way God ‘trapped’ me – even if I were to want to walk away from the faith, I think deep down inside I would know that it would be a fundamentally dishonest act.

But that said, I find that most of my friends have become somewhat wary of knowledge and learning. And while their reasoning has merit, I think there is a better way to approach the problem, and if we’re going to grow as Christians, especially in a modern city like Singapore, it is necessary to strengthen our knowledge of the faith. Thus, this article will be serve as a discussion and hopefully a proposal on ways we can use knowledge to strengthen our faith.

So what is the main problem people have with knowledge? I think it lies in the fear that being so immersed in the technical aspects of the faith detracts from one’s personal relationship with Jesus. This worry can be summed up in the maxim that some people “know a lot about God instead of knowing God”.

I won’t say that this is an unfounded fear. I think most people in Catholic communities might know someone like that. Someone extremely widely read in matters of faith and spirituality, but whose knowledge gives them a sense of superiority over others. For such people, their knowledge has become a stick to beat others with, and not surprisingly, leave people with a bad taste in their mouth.

However, despite this potential pitfall, I don’t believe that we are justified in simply tossing out learning wholesale. As with all things, there is a right and wrong way of approaching the issue. One wrong way is the one I just described, to use learning as a means to engage in theological pedantry and endless (often fruitless) wrangling.

And yet I have had moments where being theologically informed did come in useful when ministering to others. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said that “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing”. What Bishop Sheen said about the Bride of Christ is true of her Spouse as well. There are a lot of misconceptions people have about God, and many people have false conceptions of Him. Even our fellow Catholics, and even ourselves. No one can know God in His entirety, but we can know what He has revealed to us, through scripture, tradition and the teaching of the Church. In a sense, learning about God is getting to know Him better as well, and helps us to introduce Him more effectively to others.

 “An hour of study, for a modern apostle, is an hour of prayer.” – Saint Josemaria Escriva

St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, was a big believer in the value of study and learning. So much so that he dedicates an entire chapter of short sayings on the topic in his most famous work, The Way. Having reflected on his writings, I think this is born of being appreciative of the time God has allowed us to live in. Think about it. We live in a time of extremely high literacy rates. Electricity allows us the ability to continue reading and learning even at night. This is both a blessing and a curse for us urban city-dwellers. On one hand, we have so much information available to us. On the other, we are overwhelmed by the plethora of ideas and views that seem omnipresent on social media and other things we interact with on a daily basis.

Thus, I feel that it is more important than ever to embark on an adventure of learning, to truly appreciate for ourselves the beauty of the Catholic faith, and to communicate that to others as well. I hope that this article inspires you to explore the amazing breadth of our Faith and learn more. God bless!

© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Garrett Christopher Ng

Updates!!

Hello everyone! 🙂 Our one year anniversary is coming up REAL SOON (it’s actually tomorrow!! WOOTZ!! 🎉). So instead of our usual article upload today, we’d like to give you all some new updates that can be expected from us in the upcoming second year of our blog!
New Writers!
We’re very happy to announce that we’ll have some new writers joining us on this Grace-filled journey with us! Over the coming year, we’ll slowly be introducing some of these new brothers (and sisters 🙆‍♂️) so do look out for them and keep them in your prayers as you have been keeping us in your prayers the past year! 🙂
Readers’ Involvement!
In line with our name, we’d like to create more conversations and discussions in our blog! As such, sometime in the year ahead, we will be calling out for new ideas and discussion topics (and maybe even articles, hmm 🤔) from you, our readers! So if you have any thoughts, prayers or edifying experiences you’d like to share with us, please do so!
New articles!
As always, you can look out for new articles every Wednesday! Following the warm reception of our themed months, we will continue to have such themes in the upcoming months. Look out for those! Furthermore, we will also be launching articles in… wait for it… MULTIPLE LANGUAGES!! That’s right!! In order to reach out to more people in a multilingual country (and beyond), we’ve decided to release articles in other languages – so stay tuned!
That’s all, folks! Keep a look out at our YouTube page for a very special video tomorrow to celebrate our first anniversary!

Poem: Dining in the Desert

In this special post, the three of us come together in a collaborative effort to weave our individual searches for Jesus together into a poem.

A/N: Blessed Wednesday everyone! To round off Odes to October month, Chris, Greg and I thought we would try writing a poem together. After giving it some thought, I struck upon the idea of modeling the poem after a Japanese collaborative style of poetry called “renga”. 

You may notice that Greg’s first three lines take the form of the famous “haiku” – the three line, 17-syllable Japanese poem. A renga consists of a series of haikus linked together by a couplet – two lines of 7 syllables each. I thought the structured form of this poem would both impose healthy creative limitations (the challenge was to sum up the state of our current spiritual lives in a haiku), and aid some of us who had grave (and unfounded) doubts about our poetic abilities (*cough*Greg*cough*).

So over a long video call across various time zones, the three of us spent a light-hearted three hours listening to each others journeys and trying to fit our spiritual lives into 17 syllables, as well as finding ways to express where our spiritual lives overlapped, mainly in our combined desire to search for Jesus. Do let us know your thoughts on social media or if you ever wish to try a similar exercise with your community or loved ones. We hope you enjoy the read!

– Garrett

Greg:

I walk the desert 

Relishing in a mirage 

More real than the rain 

Garrett:

Truth reveals reality 

Turning desert to summer; 

Lazy summer’s day 

Seeker puts his satchel down 

To hear the Lord’s words: 

Chris:

“Why search for answers outside? 

Can you find rest in me, child?” 

New yet familiar 

I cook a meal for Jesus 

I am loved; He smiles. 

Greg:

My meal and His Eucharist 

We dine together and live 

© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Garrett Christopher Ng
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Christopher Chok