Monday, September 30, 2013

Building up the body and the Church

In my very slow recuperation from the stem cell transplant, I have seen days that were just completely tiring for me.  It’s not that I had been actively moving about, causing me to feel fatigued.  I have that gut feel that when I am feeling nothing but weak, that one of my blood counts must be low, and thus the body is not operating at its maximum.  By reports of stem cell transplant recipients themselves, I am to only expect a return to my previous levels of energy and strength after a year, if not longer.  To think that I ran marathons in the past! 

Each time I visit the hospital on my weekly visit, I pay a huge bill, which thankfully, I can claim from the insurance that the Archdiocese bought for its priests.  From the hospital, I make my way to the Cathedral office, where I submit my receipt for the insurance company to reimburse my payment.  Every time I look at the dilapidated state of the back of the Sacristy of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, my heart sinks a bit, because I feel that we are somewhat in the same state of (dis)repair. 

It saddens me that our Mother Church, the place where the Bishop has his cathedra, is in such a state of shambles.  The construction of the buildings around the Cathedral had caused much structural damage to our Mother Church and it is being propped up by external buttresses and doesn’t look safe at all from the outside.  The rector of the Cathedral has been sourcing for funds to the tune of about SGD$35 million.  Yes, it is not a paltry sum, but it is a known fact that restorative work always costs more than building up something from scratch. 

Nothing will happen to this building in terms of being restored if there is nothing coming from the people who make up the Body of Christ.  In the same way that I would not have been given a second chance at life if not for the completely altruistic and generous donation of the stem cells who was my perfect match when the transplant took place. 

Let’s face it.  No corporation or company is going to help rebuild the Cathedral.  There is nothing in it for them, and even if they do have funds for such purposes, there is always going to be the counter argument that there are other religious sites that are also worth conserving.  The harsh fact is that this has to be an internal funding, and we are the folk who can and must make the difference.  It’s easy to lament about how terrible the state of the Cathedral is, each time one passes it.  But how much are we really putting of ourselves and our resources to see that something is done to improve things? 

In a way, yesterday’s reading of the rich man and Lazarus reminds us of not just what we can do to better the lot of others with all that we are blessed with, but that we MUST realise that we are not mere individuals but are in this together as Church and as the Body of Christ. 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful of each parish could contribute out of its surplus a sizeable amount that would make the restoration a reality?  Sure, every parish has renovation plans of their own, and they have heard appeals aplenty for generous donations from the ambo.  But have we really given of ourselves and stretched ourselves in ways that require us to tighten our belts and live a little less comfortably?  Most of us give out of our excesses.  It is not wrong, but the nagging question that should haunt us is “is it all we can do”?

Just as the presence of Lazarus must have been a sore-point for the rich man each day as he passed him by outside his house, the presence of Lazarus was actually a reminder, perhaps like an itch he could not scratch, of how much larger he should be living.  I wonder whether the visible sight of a church that is propped up by external beams and pillars is like a similar reminder to each of us as well.

Perhaps in my convalescence, I have become wistful of my past, when I was a student of SJI which was then located across the road from the Cathedral.  Each morning, I would join two other friends for the morning Mass celebrated by the Archbishop, and thereafter head across the road to begin classes.  Not only was it our routine, it was something that we cherished that we could do.  And if for any reason the Mass extended causing us to be late for school, those of us who were at the Cathedral for the Eucharist would be allowed through the school gates with no questions asked whatsoever.  I am sure my vocation began as far back as then.

I am one who fully believes that our generosity in dealing with others is in direct relation to the mercy that we have encountered in the living God.  Why so many Catholics seem ambivalent and even nonplussed at the many projects that require funding and generous hearts is not that they are tight-fisted.  I firmly believe that they have just not been touched by the love of God, who makes all things possible.  When people have been truly converted and moved toward real Christian living, money is hardly seen as something that one needs to hoard.  It will be seen as a gift from God that is meant to be shared.  You can always tell the difference between one who is giving because one has been touched, and one who gives in order to receive a further blessing.  

Our Mass readings last week saw how important it was for the Jews to see the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.  There was so much pride that they took in doing this act.  Of course, we are not Jews, and the Cathedral is not a place of central worship for many of us.  But symbolically it is a reminder that we have a Mother Church and that we are led and shepherded by a bishop who tends his sheep with love and care.  Doing very little to contribute to her rebuilding is akin to being satisfied seeing a very dear family member crumble before our eyes and just lamenting each time “look how frail he/she is!” 

My building up of my energy and strength was dependent very much on the generosity of my donor who doesn’t know me at all.  I believe that the re-building of the Cathedral is very much dependent on the generosity of the members of the Body of Christ whom the Church knows.  


  1. Good morning Fr Luke, just a word of encouragement - you are now running a different marathon even though your road to recovery is moving slowly, it is but surely you will get there! Yes it's sad to see the state of our Mother Church as she is today after having attended numerous masses during my school days from across at CHIJ. Now I only pray for a wonderful miracle to see her back in all her glory.
    Have a pleasant day Father, God Bless!!

  2. Good morning Fr Luke, in fact just last week I was lamenting to a friend the poor state of our Cathedral is in as my oversea colleague who came n visited our Cathedral passed a comment that she couldn't reconcile the fact that in Singapore with all the state of art buildings, our Catholic Cathedral is in such poor state. I felt so ashamed to call myself Catholic at that very moment. Seeing your post, I know I have to do something but not sure how. For myself, I'll start my little campaign to ask people I know to save the money that they intend to spend on Christmas presents to donate to our Mother Church Building fund. And I hope people who are good at raising fund will help to do something for our Mother Church because God deserves the best.

  3. Hello Father Luke,
    I love the Cathedral too. It's old and rustic, and absolutely stands out in the midst of all the shiny buildings. Although it is in a worn state, I'm enamoured whenever I visit. Nowadays, it's us Catholic students in SMU who run across to Cathedral! (for evening mass, we go to st peter's and paul). Mostly, we go for masses on days of obligation; rarely, we (or I speak for myself) escape to Cathedral because of despair and fatigue from school.
    At those lunchtime masses, the Cathedral is brimming with officer-workers, all prim and proper in suits and dresses. There are non-Singaporeans, tourists, and some old people who come every day. On Sundays at 10am, the music and singing resonates through the Cathedral and fills my heart with joy, though I often end up staring at the widening hair-line cracks and gaps behind the altar.
    I've been looking at the 'Fund meter' at the entrance, it has risen slowly but surely. I don't have much money as a student, but I do love this grand old dame. Perhaps offerings during lunchtime masses in the CBD can be collected for our Cathedral and parish priests can encourage parishioners on Sunday. If only more people knew how beautiful our Cathedral is!