Following is the “Meet a Reader” feature that appears on the book page of the current print issue of The Catholic Post.
How you know me:
I am pursuing my Masters in Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Illinois. I go to St John’s Catholic Newman Center for Mass and I also help to cantor or set up for Mass. I grew up in Singapore and came to the University of Illinois in 2011. I am a convert and my family and I are the first Catholics in our family. We were received into the church in 2008.
Why I love reading:
Earlier in my faith life, I saw Catholicism as being part of a ‘cool club’ of ‘good people.’ As long as I checked off the check boxes and did all the things I was supposed to do (Go to confession at least twice a year, go to Mass every Sunday, etc.), I was in God’s good graces and could live the rest of my life however I wanted. In college, I realized that my faith was not, could not be, just a ‘Sunday obligation.’ It had to be the core of every part of my life.
Previously, I had put my faith and my intellect into separate categories, but I came to realize that they both informed each other. I came to find that life in Christ was so much richer than I ever thought! I wanted to be “transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Romans 12:2). Now, spiritual reading is a regular part of my daily life. When I was young, I loved reading Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and all manner of books. Now that I am older, I know that Christ was calling me, even then, through the books I was reading, and now, continues to call me to Him.
What I’m reading now:
The Way of Trust and Love – A Retreat Guided by St Therese of Lisieux by Jacques Philippe. St Therese is a dear friend of mine, and each year, I try to find some time to read about her life and meditate on her spirituality. I really enjoyed another ‘personal retreat’ with her, I Believe In Love, by Fr Jean d’Elbee, and I wanted to try this one because I read another book by Jacques Philippe, Searching For and Maintaining Peace, and found it to be very beautiful and beneficial to me. This book is the transcript of some talks Fr Philippe gave as part of a retreat, and provides excerpts from St Therese’s autobiography and his advice on how to live St Therese’s Little Way in our daily lives.
In this book, Fr Philippe says, “Every crisis is a chance to grow, an invitation to undertake a certain kind of work on ourselves. […] In every trial it is essential to ask oneself a question along these lines: What act of faith am I being invited to make in this situation? What attitude of hope am I being called to live by? And what conversion in relation to love, leading to a love that is truer and purer, am I being summoned to undertake?” This is a great challenge for me – to accept all that life brings as a gift from God, and to be a “cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7) It reminds me of He Leadeth Me (Walter Ciszek), where Fr Ciszek meditates on being sent to a Russian prison for preaching the Gospel, “I had to continuously learn to accept God’s will – not as I wished it to be, not as it might have been, but as it actually was in the moment. And it was through the struggle to do this that spiritual growth and a greater appreciation of his will took place.”
I’m also reading Crossing the Threshold of Hope, a book-length interview with Pope John Paul II conducted in 1994. In it, journalist Vittorio Messori gives voice to the questions of the hearts of the faithful, from “Is there really a God?” to “Have the youth of today abandoned the Church?” I used to think of popes as faraway figures, to be respected, for sure, but I did not think they cared about me as a person, nor did I think that they would ever be a part of my life. I was so wrong! The popes are very accessible.
In it, Pope John Paul II says: “This world, which appears to be a great workshop in which knowledge is developed by man, which appears as progress and civilization, as a modern system of communications, as a structure of democratic freedoms without any limitations, this world is not capable of making man happy. […] Against the spirit of the world, the Church takes up anew each day a struggle that is none other than the struggle for the world’s soul.” Every Christian is given the divine calling to ‘Go and make disciples of all the nations’, and the popes are not exempt from that. As the Vicar of Christ on earth, John Paul II sets an example for us, as the “Pope of surprises”, to witness to the Gospel at all times, “to shout from the rooftops […] that there is hope, that it has been confirmed, that it is offered to whoever wants to accept it.”
The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. I read it before my conversion, but the book taught me that even in the darkest of times, there is good that is worth fighting for. The book drew me to hunger for an adventurous life, a life that would have meaning beyond what I can see, and I have found that “life with Christ is a wonderful adventure,” as St. John Paul II has said.