My Life as a Catholic

My Life as a Catholic

(Parts 1 & 2 below)

Part I:
My religion is Roman Catholicism. It has been so for most of my life. I have been going to Sunday school since grade one and have continued up to maybe grade six. However, I may have missed a year somewhere during that time. I go to Saint Francis Xavier Chinese Catholic Parish which is at the corner of East Pender Street and Princess Avenue in Vancouver British Columbia. I also sometimes go All Saints Parish on Fairfax Street in Coquitlam. That one is closer to my house. The pastor there was Father (Desmon?) McGoldrick. He passed away a couple years ago in England. The pastor at All Saints now is Father Vincent Hawkswell. I haven't been to All Saints for quite a few years when I was in high school so I have no idea when Fr. Hawkswell came on and who was pastor for the parish between him and Fr. McGoldrick. Fr. Hawkswell contributes weekly to the BC Catholic Newspaper in explaining the readings for that Sunday.

SFX use to rent the Lord Strathcona school across the street of Pender from the church. We would have our Sunday school at the school before crossing the street for mass. I remember frequently skipping mass after Sunday school in grade four. How sorry I feel now for not having kept the Lord's Day holy! It was I guess in grade seven when our parish had to return the Strathcona school and so we had to use our school building on East Georgia Street. I don't remember what we did with that building on Sundays, however. I do remember attending chinese class there in grade three on Saturdays. It was in grade two (or was it three) that I got baptized. However, I don't remember who my teacher was.

After returning Strathcona, we no longer had Sunday school on Sundays. Rather, we had it on Wednesday evenings. We called these classes "CCD" whatever that stands for (maybe "Confraternity of Christian Doctrine"?). They were also called "catechism" classes. Our parish also has a daycare center across the street from our Georgia Street school. If my memories are correct, I attended class in the Georgia street building while, for some reason, also go to the daycare center as well. I guess this happened in my grade seven and eight years. The first few lessons in grade nine were held in the Georgia street building. After that , we just met at the daycare center. It was in my grade eight class that I prepared for confirmation. The teacher was Sister Elisa, I think her name was. I don't see her around anymore.

The last time I took CCD class was in grade nine. The teacher was Francis Chan. He was a pretty cool guy. Our class did a lot of stuff together. We played beach volleyball at Kits Beach, but that was in grade 10. We went to a retreat at the Vancouver School of Theology at UBC. The priest in charge of us there was Fr. John Horgan who was suppose to be pretty well-known speaker. We went to some small church in an Indian reserve or something and Fr. Horgan told us about the time when the church or someother church was on fire and a statue of Michael the Archangel was saved. The statue stands at the top of that church by the bell. On Saturday, me and a couple other guys got volunteered by Sister Tang to be sent back home because the residents complained. It wasn't even us three who were noisy. It was these two girls in our class who brought speakers along with their CD player. But then we prayed and then the residence manager and our priest said we didn't have to go back. Anyways, the guys of our class went to the Seminary of Christ the King in Mission for a weekend this one time. I don't know what the girls were doing; the seminary was a guy's place. Talk about simple living! My appetite was way too big for their meals. That last year in CCD was the best; I loved it.

So. My spiritual life didn't really climb to any significant level in terms of maturity. It wasn't until my second year in university that things started heating up somewhat. I got introduced to this family who were extremely devout Protestants. For the first few months, they challenged my Catholic faith. And throughout these couple years, an occasional (though not often) remark about a "mistake" of the Catholic Church was made. But in the beginning, they totally bashed Catholicism. I don't know if it was my back-talk or was it just them, but they totally gave me a headache! Maybe it was my lack of intelligent answers or maybe I was shocked at the hostility. I could barely answer any of their questions with the exception of basic Christian beliefs. They didn't attack the Catholic Church such that they would say it was the anti-Christ or something (at least not in my presence). Nevertheless, they cornered me and seem to be proud of themselves. I disliked their attitude. One time, the landlady told me that she wanted to know more about the Catholic position on Mary. I had brought some pamphlets over from home on the Rosary as well as the Fountain of Mercy according to Sister Faustina. I thought that my landlady would better understand Mary if she read about the Divine Mercy first. However, she just took the rosary pamphlet and after flipping through some of the pages, she started criticizing it. A short time later, she returned them and told me that she was no longer interested in Mary. She claimed the teachings to be too horrifying for her and that she couldn't take it. Well, so much for respect. It seems that she didn't actually want to know more about Mary - just looking for something to attack the Catholic Church about.

Oh well, nobody's perfect. I didn't have any experience in explaining my Catholic faith to others and I didn't even know it as well as I thought I did. Thanks be to God, I was able to access a lot of information by exploring the internet and I learned a lot over the next eighteen months or so. I talked to Father Dominic Ip who was pastor of SFX for a few years. He's no longer around; he went to pastor St. Andrew's elsewhere in East Van. He recommended Fr. Rolf who is pastor at the Holy Cross Parish in Victoria as my "spiritual director". Both priests were of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). Holy Cross also had, I guess, an associate pastor from the Philipines called Father Rob. He hanged around for a bit and then left. Holy Cross was the church that I went to during my first year at UVic. I also went to St. Andrews Cathedral in downtown Victoria. That is the church I now go to because I don't have to switch buses going to church. Less walking and waiting too.

I didn't really liked talking to Fr. Rolf. He didn't seem to provide much useful solid and practical information. He often goes around in circles; not really what I was looking for. Fr. Ip, on the other hand, gets things to the point. He identifies the underlying problems and then goes to tackling each problem. They were more applicable to my situation. Maybe it was because Fr. Ip use to be a Protestant. This is not to say Fr. Rolf didn't do a good job; it's just that his approach, in my view, didn't suit my situation the best. His approach was more of a "easy, breezy, relax and have faith" type. I guess at the initial stage of my dealings with evangelicals, his approach didn't fit me well. My grasp of faith wasn't good enough. I thought it was just a lack of knowledge; I didn't realize that there is a lot more than just knowing history and theology. Faith also has a lot to do with it. However, now that I have learned a lot more, I may benefit more than I did if I went to talk to Fr. Rolf again. Besides, I think Holy Cross is better than St. Andrew's. Maybe it's the interior; the ceiling is so high above that it somehow doesn't seem as personal. Or maybe it's the way the priest does his sermon. Or maybe both.

I also go the fellowship meetings with the Canaan Fellowship at Victoria Chinese Alliance Church. The building is currently undergoing major renovation so fellowship meetings are held at the UVic campus. The meetings are held every Friday and I go every now and then. I've been to their Bible studies, prayer meetings, and evangelistic meetings. During the summer, I also went jogging, played soccer, basketball, badminton, and swimming. We even went bike riding once. I confess that I join in a lot of their activities, and almost none with the local Catholic congregations (the only thing I joined in was the ALPHA course offered at St. Andrew's and I only went for a few sessions). In all honesty, that is because I only know a few Catholics who go to UVic and they are not sincere church-goers. Also, I like to hang out with Chinese people and those evangelicals are the kind of people that I like to be with because they are nice (as opposed to those who smoke and swear and stuff like that). Also, I like to take time off and do something fun on Fridays.

Being with sincere protestants like that Canaan fellowship, I have been challenged by a number of members since I joined about two years ago. Almost each time I sit down to discuss with them, whether it's in the church or at the restaurant where we go after fellowship or at somebody's house, one or two hours go by. This one time, I spent six hours talking with this one member ("Timmy"). Timmy is probably the most knowledgeable of the fellowship members. He's really devoted; he says he spends hours doing bible study and he reads a lot of books. Unfortunately, most if not all of them that mention the Catholic Church are not orthodox material written by Catholics (just representations by evangelicals). We had that major talk at a friend's house and I basically stayed over. The actual talk about Catholic stuff was only about three or four hours; the rest of the time was more focused on Timmy's personal life and experiences. Frankly, I don't mind talking to him at all, but I just wish he was more open as he proposed to be from our very first "dialogue" about a year and a half ago.

Part II:
Anyhow, my researching about the Christian faith got me into creating webpages in an effort to voice my responses to the fellowship members, and so here I am. I have done quite a lot of reading of all sorts of things and have joined in quite a number of messageboards. I only started relaxing significantly around the end of 1998. Despite all that reading, I still felt something was missing. At first, I thought it was just the knowledge. So I kept on reading more and talking and thinking. But I still felt that there was something missing. I didn't know whether it was me or the evangelicals I discuss with or what. But I found myself thinking more and more about the role of Christian attitude, devotion, spirituality, and that type of thing. Even more was pondering about my own spirituality. I began to think, "Is my spiritual life really growing or am I just simply accumulating knowledge and thanking God for it?" I was quite at unrest about this.
See below...

I felt that I lacked faith and even a true understanding of what faith really means. I kept observing that so many of the Catholic clergy (particularly the bishops and of course the Pope) seem to have an enthusiasm that is so different from that of evangelicals. Evangelicals seem to be active in the physical sense that includes "evangelistic meetings", enrolling in bible college, and other activities that embody the concepts of "planting churches" and "reaching out". It's always one that is like "You gotta get on your feet and go and start doing something"; kind of like "Push, push c'mon let's go" type of thing. The Catholic Church (and Orthodox and certain mainline Protestant denominations) are enthusiastic more in the spiritual sense. The evangelical churches are more showy and (shall I say) more dramatic. The Catholic Church is more silent, waiting, and patient. It seems to be more faith-filled.

How were the Catholic clergy able to remain so steady and peaceful amidst so much attack both in and out of the Church throughout its history? Look at me; I was just faced with some charges thrown by some evangelicals and I'm already freaking out about it. That was just basically one kind of attack. But look at the Church; it had to withstand so much heresies and violence that threaten its authority and even its existence. And yet it was able to keep on going. In this modern age where there are so many competing religions, sects, and occults, the Catholic Church has always remained so steady and firm in so many ways. Pope John Paul II is a good example; he is always so hopeful and full of a joy that has a lot of faith and is not showy and hyper. I keep thinking, "Is it really necessary to be so physically hyped-up and active in order to bring out alive a Christian faith?" Also, must you have the kind of physical enthusiasm that so many evangelicals display in order to indicate that the Holy Spirit is actually at work? What about a more silent, meditative, exploring type of enthusiasm? The latter seems to me to be more about faith and hope. I guess I have to expand my thinking to yet a more wider range when trying to understand what the Holy Spirit can and does do. Perhaps everything is about faith and hope.

But let's not forget about love! This is a key concept in ecumenism. Love is not just about doing good deeds such as donating to charity and helping an old woman cross the road. Love is also about mutual understanding and respect. It is about open-mindedness. It seems to me that fruitful dialogue can only be had if there is true love. While evangelicals always talk about doing the work of the Holy Spirit and living out the Love of Christ, they at the same time go around trying to make negative impressions about other religions on people so as to convince people to convert. However, it is good to know that in the past few decades, efforts have been made between the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and various Protestant Churches to engage in dialogues. Examples include the World Council of Churches and the more recent "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" between the RCC and the Lutheran Church. Those were between theologians. Examples involving the laity include "ALPHA" and "Taize".

It goes without saying, of course, that openness to dialogue with other religions must not mean compromising truths. This, I suppose, would be an example of having faith; having faith that the Holy Spirit would not guide the Church wrong. It is indeed a test for people like me who lack faith. A lot of people seem to think that it is not possible for "men" to have any authority for doctrinal teachings in the Church because men are sinful. The Reformers thought like that. That's how sola scriptura came to be because the Bible is text and text is presumed not to change, whereas "men" could change since they are sinful and could therefore mislead people. I often wonder if that was because of a lack of faith that the Holy Spirit could nonetheless work His Church despite the weakness of men. When Moses led the Israelites into the desert away from Egypt, the people complained against Moses and God. They were saying things like, "Why did you bring us out here to die in our thirst? We would have been better off in Egypt as slaves." The situation seemed as though God could not have been around guiding us, but God likes to use such situations to show His Wisdom and Glory. Perhaps it is because of this lack of faith that many people could not see this.

Examples of a lack of faith always abound throughout my life. Quite often I run into various situations where I really don't know what's going to happen next and it hinders me from stepping forward. Now, I find myself saying, "Oh well, whatever, I'll just leave it to God. He never leaves me no matter the situation anyway."

But then I realize that I often just turn to God whenever I'm stuck, but if I knew that I could do something successfully then I might forget about God and subconciously think that I could handle it myself and give myself the credit. So I need to also improve my love for God. I am still extremely weak in this respect; I still have too much love of myself rather than to God. I think the biggest weaknesses of man are: lack of faith and having some form of selfishness or self-centeredness. Adam & Eve matched this and caused us all to be subject to the curse of original sin. In fact, probably all sin is caused by selfishness (eg: Lucifer).

...from aboveAnyhow, regarding spiritual growth, I suppose there may be more than one approach to it. I could do a lot of devotions involving prayer and Scripture reading. But then what about studying Christianity in all its respects (ie: history, philosophy/theology, sociology/culture)? Could I still gain spiritual growth of at least a certain degree if I didn't do much solid daily devotion but I did a lot of research and thought about what God is and about the relationship between Him and His creatures? After all, spiritual growth involves improving one's relationship with God and getting to better know Him and appreciate Him. It kind of reminds me of St. Thomas Aquinas who wanted to understand God and ended up writing his masterpiece (the "Summa"). I wonder if you could just do one in place of the other. I mean, could you be an expert in theology and just say a few prayers each day and that's about it and still have a mature spiritual growth? Or would it be better just to do a lot of devotion and have very little knowledge of the theology behind a certain doctrine? To me, it just seems that you should have both heart and knowledge. On the other hand, I don't think all the Saints are learned theologians. I guess what is most important is not so much whether you can explain your faith at a most intellectual level, but whether you truly have a love for God and that you are able to demonstrate this love in your whole entire person through all that you do and think.

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