We feebly struggle, they in glory shine! Saturday, Oct 31 2009 

Today is the Solemnity of All Saints. This is the day we commemorate the entire communion of saints, of which we ourselves hope to have an eternal part. Today is an especially important feast for several reasons – the two that press on my mind right now are catechesis and intercession.

For catechesis, this is the day when best to explain to children or Christian neophytes just what we believe saints are. We do not believe they are a sort of pseudo-Christian pantheon, with patron saints merely replacing pagan gods. (more…)

Pope Benedict: The Great Unifier? Thursday, Oct 29 2009 

Fr John Zuhlsdorf of “What Does the Prayer Really Say?” has for years now described the Holy Father’s work and philosophy as a “Marshall Plan”. This has always irritated me a little, since the original plan was named for George Marshall and thus this new one would rightly be styled the “Benedictine Plan”. Nevertheless, even the slowest of friends and enemies alike are starting to realise the overall consistency of this pontificate. Pope Benedict was initially lauded for his conspicuous warmth to the Eastern Orthodox Christians, particularly Russia and Greece. He then set firmly the practice of offering the Most Blessed Sacrament only on the tongue, to kneeling communicants at all his Masses. Shortly after he took the initiative entirely upon himself to recover for posterity the Mass of heredity. Two years later, acting again on his own initiative he dispensed the four illicitly consecrated bishops of the Priestly Society of St Pius X (“SSPX”) from their excommunications. He went to America and Australia, fortifying the youth in their struggle to find and sustain a Christian identity in an increasingly idolatrous world. He went to Africa and prayed with the people struggling just to live. Then last week, he stunned the world by welcoming the Anglicans back home.

For such a long time, each of these steps have seemed like isolated gestures – “Pope goes to Africa, holds the line against condoms” or “Pope welcomes holocaust denying bishop back to church” but it has now become abundantly clear that above all else, the Holy Father’s utmost ambition for the Church is unity. What confuses people is that he does not see this unity as being merely amongst all Christians who happen to be alive and vocal at the moment, but rather as a true unity both horizontally and vertically.

(more…)

Treasure in heaven Monday, Oct 12 2009 

A few years ago I met Br Paul Rowse, OP. This year he has professed Solemn Vows, and I believe is to be ordained deacon in December. Please pray for him and all the Dominicans of our province.

At that time (in illo tempore…) we were enjoying a lighthearted conversation when something came up, to which he replied “I have nothing in this world”.

It was a phrase which I have never forgotten. So simple, so easily misunderstood by children of this age (like you or I), and yet perhaps the single best reflection on the grace of evangelical poverty. It is to me a particularly appealing aspect of religious life, which no doubt surprises my friends (who see me surrounded by expensive gadgets, and well know my love of the latest computer, the greatest camera, the finest clarinet). The willingness to let go of material objects as objectives, and use them instead as mere tools for reaching the final objective, is true feedom.

All this came back to me before Mass today. This time it was in Portuguese (celebrated by a magnificent Jesuit missionary) so I did my best to participate by absorbing the readings in preparation. The first is from Wisdom (7:7-11, RSV-CE)

Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her. Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem, because all gold is but a little sand in her sight, and silver will be accounted as clay before her. I loved her more than health and beauty, and I chose to have her rather than light, because her radiance never ceases. All good things came to me along with her, and in her hands uncounted wealth.

With a rush my heart was lifted to the clouds, a swirl of memories joining the gratitude of the moment. This passage describes better than I ever could one of the reasons I want to give the government of my own life back to God and serve him as a Dominican friar. To praise him in the Office and the Mass with my brothers, to bless his people with the most precious sacraments, and to preach his glorious love and the splendour of his eternal truth. The mere thought of these things fills me with an anticipation, an eagerness I can’t describe.

But beyond these, to contemplate in this life the mysteries by which I hope to be enfolded in the next. I have tried so many other things, and I simply cannot imagine a better way to use the gift that has been entrusted to me – myself.

Procrastination… Friday, May 29 2009 

…is from satan. He will even happily turn our attention to doing good deeds if it will affect the greater evil of neglecting pressing duties for the sake of things that can wait.

As an example, I have today begun a project I’ve had in mind for a while. As mentioned earlier, a lot of people are finding this blog while searching for information about Catholic parishes and things in Japan. At the moment I don’t have much up at all, and what there is can’t be easily found (buried in comments), even my own searches have turned up very few online resources for English speaking Catholics in Japan. There are a precious few sites with essential information in broken but usually understandable English (Mass Times for 外人). The site linked in that entry is buried deep in subsections, links circularly, can’t be easily navigated, and can’t be easily found with a straightforward search in native English.

Of course, I can’t complain if I’m not willing to use my own abilities to fill the need. (more…)

Quick update Thursday, May 28 2009 

Apologies dear reader. My blogging habits still haven’t settled. However, it’s worth noting that a lot of the time I comment on my flickr uploads in a way akin to twitter, so it’s certainly worth clicking the left sidebar to see my flickr photostream from time to time. I’ve found it to be a lot less troublesome commenting on my photos that way than trying to illustrate coherent blog posts with them.

This weekend another major assignment is due for UTS, so I’ll probably write a big, deep post here in a fit of procrastination. I’ve been meaning to write about last Tuesday’s birthday outing for my friend Fay (we went to “kaiten (revolving) sushi” and karaoke, both firsts for me) as well as our trip to a small town in Yamanashi which is the centre of the local traditional paper manufacturing industry (I made a lamp!).

I’ve noticed a steady stream of people clicking through to this blog looking for information on various elements of Catholic life in Japan, which I haven’t yet got around to publishing. I will do my best to get to Tokyo soon and record what I can.

Please pray for me everyone, so that I can focus well and produce some decent work for my taskmasters back in Sydney. The current assignment will probably be on how the five different Catholic communities (divided by language) in Kofu worship, and developing my research methodology. 2500 words!

PS: Also updated the UTS Yamanashi blog with some more details in the finances, university, and residence sections. Feel free to take a look and leave suggestions!

A hymn for Ascensiontide Wednesday, May 27 2009 

Hymn number 35 from the Divine Office, sung during “Eastertide II”.

Come down, O love divine,
Seek thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with thine own ardour glowing;
O Comforter draw near,
Within my heart appear,
And kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
Till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let thy glorious light
Shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity
Mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing.
True lowliness of heart,
Which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong,
With which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace,
Till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.

Bianco da Siena d 1434
Tr R. F. Littledale 1833-90

I wonder if the original language was Latin or Italian. Guessing by the composer’s death, probably Latin. I should see about finding it.

The value of Sunday Thursday, May 21 2009 

In an earlier post I called the Sunday evening Mass the “Last Chance Mass”, and said that for the most part, people who attend this mass do so because it lets them engage in leisure on Saturday night without having to worry about getting up for Mass on Sunday morning. Now, if I were a big and prominent blogger this comment would have immediately brought about protests from people calling me out for my lack of compassion towards people who can’t avoid working Saturday nights or Sunday mornings, etc. The fact that I acknowledged them immediately afterwards wouldn’t have made a difference.

Over the weeks I have come to a better appreciation and understanding for this preference of the Church for Mass on Sunday morning. (more…)

Five priests! Monday, May 11 2009 

Last night I stayed up very late editing the (other) blog, so I slept right through both alarms (missing Lauds) and singing the Regina Cæli an hour late. Stumbling out to the kitchen for toast and cereal, I wondered if I would be able to understand anything at all in today’s Mass.

You see, I live in Kofu. (more…)

First experiences of Catholicism in regional Japan Thursday, Apr 16 2009 

It has been slightly more than two weeks since I arrived in Kofu, and I have attended three masses. The first was, amusingly, in Spanish on Palm Sunday. It lasted two hours long, and I understood perhaps a third to half of what was said, and most of the actions (my Spanish heritage and early upbringing gave me some help, the rest was filled in by a lifetime of attendance at Catholic liturgies). Instead of a homily, the “Way of the Cross for Migrants” was prayed. This accounted for the extra hour, as a song was interspersed throughout the stations (much as in other places a verse from the Stabat Mater is sung). Unlike the chanted Stabat Mater, we sang a single verse in Spanish to a guitar accompaniment. It was “¡Bendito el que viene en nombre del Señor!” – “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

I was a little surprised at how casual things got between “phases” of the mass. Just before the Via Crucis, the good and friendly priest (who had dutifully covered his Roman Collar with an amice under his alb) called out to the congregation for each of the “station readers”. His was a booming voice, and I felt like for a time mass had been suspended and instead this was a performance rehearsal. People were chatting and arguing over how their sons couldn’t read a station because they only spoke Japanese, could someone else please take it? I had gladly taken a seat by the wall, and the people around me understood that while I could understand some of their Spanish, and read well enough to sing the responses (always accompanied by the guitar, how very Iberian) I couldn’t possibly be expected to read a passage.

I realised after a couple of stations that though nobody was genuflecting, we were indeed praying “We adore you oh Christ…” – I think it’s simply because the instruction had not been printed in the book, and the pews are very closely spaced. Despite my girth I genuflected for each station, though this was only possible because I had room to twist. After each reading, a prayer was offered for a particular kind of downtrodden immigrant suffering discrimination. Though I could tell even through the Spanish that these prayers were particularly squishy, the message has a raw relevance to foreigners in Japan. Despite its near perfect image for hospitality and generosity on the international stage, Japan is thoroughly notorious for blatant discrimination against and abuse of foreigners in their lands. I realised during these prayers that my material and bodily welfare over the next year depends in a very direct sense upon the Grace of God, because in general the corporate attitude towards foreigners in Japan is one of callous indifference.

Finally the stations ended, and the mass resumed. There was a change – Father was still wearing his alb and stole as before, still standing behind the altar like a game show host would stand behind a podium, but the chatter died down. The commentator (who had been giving a stream of directions from his lectern on the cramped sanctuary) stepped out of the way, and the sacred vessels were placed on the altar for Father to prepare.

The silence during the Eucharistic Prayer was a pleasant change. The reverence given to the words of consecration could be tasted, as more still seen in the line for communion. There was a single queue, down the single aisle of the church. Father gave communion to each of the faithful, first blessing the catechumens. There was a single extraordinary minister bearing the chalice (at which, sadly, much self-intinction was witnessed). However, Father raised absolutely no objection when I asked him to intinct the Sacred Species for me. I suppose the others who may have been watching wondered what was going on, but all I noticed as I returned to my place was a church full of people praying after Holy Communion. The Liturgy of the Notices followed, when Father individually welcomed each of the newcomers (mistaking me for a Dominican Priest at first, but quickly correcting himself and telling everyone that I was a “treso” or something). After some applause and reminders of the Holy Week services, the Mass ended and everyone genuflected, finished singing “bendito” and chatted their way out of the church.

I have to admit that I was so glad to have not only found a Catholic Church in Japan, but found one with beautiful statuary, a properly ordered sanctuary, and a full congregation; that I chanted a full Te Deum and Benedicite as my thanksgiving. I was of course quizzed on this after mass by Father, who thought that perhaps I was under obligation.

In all, my first experience was one I hardly think will be matched by others in a hurry. Spanish Mass in Japan? Two hours long, in the ordinary form? Via crucis instead of a homily, but priest without even a chasuble? Good luck. I’ll post about the other two masses soon (Holy Thursday and the Great Vigil) – as well as some photos of the church, when I get the time and permission to conduct a full survey.

Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia! Tuesday, Apr 14 2009 

Prospera Pascha sit! Happy Easter to all, for our Lord is risen as he said, Alleluia!

What a turbulent fortnight it has been. After my last post I had a whirlwind day finalising business in Sydney, picking up my last pre-departure purchases, racing home, repacking all my luggage, then literally catapulting to the airport… only to have my flight delayed an hour due to engineering problems. I chuckled when the pilot spoke of “phoning Canberra [the capital city of Australia] to request a dispensation from the 11 PM curfew at Sydney Airport”. I had never, ever heard “dispensation” used outside a strictly canonical context.

We arrived at Narita International Airport around 0700 local time, perhaps half an hour behind schedule. Catching the express bus to Kofu, Yamanashi we arrived about lunchtime after a three hour trip through Tokyo’s tangled knot of highways and the extra-urban countryside of greater Tokyo-to and Yamanashi-ken. Since then I for one have been busy around the clock trying to negotiate bureaucratic kerfuffles, purchase living supplies, navigate the intensive Japanese course (including a proficiency test barely 24 hours after disembarking the plane) and, most importantly, hunting down a Catholic Church.

More on these tomorrow afternoon – for now, rejoice in the Mystery of Salvation! If you haven’t already, pray the final segment of the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday. Besides the Exsultet of the Easter Vigil, it’s my favourite part of the Sacred Triduum. You can find it here at Universalis.

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