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.

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

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

Poem Dialogue: Dag Hammarskjold

Chris writes a response poem-prayer to Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings.

Dag Hammarskjold, Markings

Give us

A pure heart

That we may see Thee,

A humble heart

That we may hear Thee

A heart of Love

That we may serve Thee,

A heart of faith

That we may live Thee,

 

Thou

Whom I do not know

But Whose I am.

Thou

Whom I do not comprehend

But Who hast dedicated to me

To my fate.

Thou –

 

Christopher Chok, Imprints

Grant us

A still soul

That we may touch You,

A contrite soul

That we may feel You,

A soul of Peace

That we may see You,

A soul of Truth

That we may know You,

 

Jesus

Whom I long to know

And Whose I’m loved.

Jesus

Whom I search all day and night

Yet Who has loved me into being
To this world.

Jesus –

 

Poem Dialogue: “Thermopylae” by C.P. Cavafy

Garrett attempts a response to the poem ‘Thermopylae’

A/N: Continuing on from Chris’ post last week, I’ve also tried my hand at writing a response poem. The poem I’ve chosen is C.P. Cavafy’s poem ‘Thermopylae’. Thermopylae is the place where the 300 Spartans held their ground against an invading Persian force until they were slaughtered to a man. As you can imagine, it’s a poem about heroism and sacrifice, the best of humanity. I thought it would be interesting to try (badly) to emulate that style while talking about another place – Gethsemane, where the disciples fell asleep while Jesus was praying before the Passion. Oftentimes, we’re a lot less noble or amazing than we think we are, but we are still loved nonetheless. Hope you enjoy it! 

Thermopylae
Honor to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also, and compassion;
generous when they’re rich, and when they’re poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.
And even more honor is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that Ephialtis will turn up in the end,
that the Medes will break through after all.
Constantine P. Cavafy

Gethsemane

Have mercy on we who for an hour
fall asleep on their watch at Gethsemane.
Blissfully unaware of the trials of our Lord,
the dripping of his blood upon the ground
but still trying to serve Him, despite it all;
despite the petty failures, trusting in His grace,
to break through our weakness,
and bring the Gospel to others;
with awareness of our sins,
showing mercy to others as well.
And have mercy on especially,
when we realise (as we have already been told),
that the cock had crowed three times,
but our betrayal is already forgiven.

Garrett Ng