At the end of each calendar year, I make it a point to list down the fruits that my life has produced during the year that is ending. It is not an assessment of how efficient my life has been or how many new feathers I have added to my cap. If anything, the pandemic year that has been has taught me that achievements count for nothing in this life if there are many people around me who are struggling to simply make a decent living.
My "key performance index", if you like, is about how much goodness I have strived to bring into the lives of others in our human society. Right at the outset of the pandemic, I had made a choice to not allow myself to assume the role of a policeman by judging how little other people are doing to respond to the current situation confronting humanity. I resolved to focus on putting all my effort into actually doing something myself -- anything -- that might be helpful to ease the sufferings of others and to help others find hope amidst their trials.
With a deeply grateful heart, I acknowledge that the Lord has kindly showered His favour upon my efforts throughout the year, resulting in the blessedness of the endeavours below. All this work has been done in addition to (not in place of) my usual official duties inherent to my vocation as a deacon, such as assisting at Eucharistic celebrations, parish catechetical ministry, pastoral home and hospital visits, as well as pastoral care over those other communities put under my charge:
1) MISSION TRIP TO NORTHEAST INDIA
In January, I went for a third mission trip to Northeast India. The privilege of spending several days with hundreds of people who gather from various interior villages to listen to the Gospel being preached to them (for hours at one go!) is one that I always cherish.
I have found that beginning each year with a mission trip sets a good tone to the year, as it reminds me of the mandate given to me in my life as a Christian and vocation as a deacon.
2) RUNNING TWO PILGRIMAGES FOR 2020
In February and March, my companions and I organised and ran two pilgrimage trips, one to the Holy Land and another to the state of Nagaland in Northeast India. Of course, it is unusual for us to have only two trips in a year. But as soon as the pandemic was announced and the entire world was under threat, all overseas travels were halted with immediate effect. We have no idea when we will once again be able to travel to visit our wonderful friends in faraway lands, but we will not be doing it until such time we are certain that such travels will not pose unnecessary risks to our pilgrims. All the same, our two trips early in the year were extremely fruitful.
3) PUBLICATION OF THREE E-BOOKLETS
In March and April, I wrote and published three electronic booklets. As soon as the pandemic hit, I felt rather lost for several weeks (as did everyone else, I reckon). But in the midst of trying to find peace with the new uncertainties, my eyes and ears were open to what was going on in the world. I quickly realised that I had to be strong about the situation, and that I had to be introspective and reflective in my response to the effects of the pandemic for the sake of others. In my realisation that many other people were bewildered by this historic experience, I began sitting down for hours on end to write down some thoughts and reflections that eventually became three e-booklets that were published and circulated to help people gain proper perspective on how they should respond to it.
4) GIVING FORMATION TALKS ON ZOOM
From June onwards, I began giving formation talks on the Zoom platform. Believe me, prior to this pandemic, I had absolutely no idea what Zoom was. It was just that, being prodded by a dear brother (who also offered to make available his Zoom account for our use), I decided something needed to be done to keep in touch with the many friends who had in previous years been regularly receiving faith formation during my annual conferences in their towns/cities. The very first talk given on Zoom was experimental in the sense that I need to test if it was sufficiently effective for its purpose. These talks continue until now. To-date, I have given more than eight formation talks on Zoom between June and December this year.
In addition to that, I have also been giving talks to RCIA groups in several different parishes using the Zoom platform. There have also been several sessions of lectures being delivered via Zoom to the students of an Anglican theological college in Kuala Lumpur. It would seem that despite the limitations of Zoom as a communication platform, it is what is needed for now.
5) LAUNCHING INTO E-LEARNING
From June onwards, I have also been regularly recording and publishing formation talks on an e-learning interface in order to make available faith learning resources for friends who wish to deepen themselves in various aspects of the Catholic faith. Up until now, more than ten one-hour videos of my talks have been recorded and published on the Splendour e-learning interface.
I readily admit that these long-drawn recording sessions are utterly tormenting for me. I have no problems speaking to crowds of people who are able to interact with me spontaneously, but speaking to a camera that does not reciprocate what I say is one of the most difficult tasks I've had to deal with throughout this pandemic. What keeps me going in this effort is the constant thought that there are friends out there who desire to continue being fed with the Word of God and the teachings of our faith.
6) ESTABLISHING A THEOLOGICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE
In September, with the help of some friends and like-minded contacts, I established an ecumenical theological research institute called the Christian Institute for Theological Engagement (CHRISTE). CHRISTE, being a research institute chartered under the prerogative of the United Nations Treaty Series 49006/49007, is made up of academic scholars and experienced industry practitioners from various parts of the world. The Research Fellows and Practitioners of CHRISTE work across cultures, geographical boundaries, and research disciplines, but always with reference to the Christian faith that we share in common within an ecumenical framework. It is our sincere hope that CHRISTE will be able to help Christians from various backgrounds to think more theologically about societal issues and to respond in thoughtful ways.
7) EDITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK
Throughout September and October, I was working hard to edit a book to be published by CHRISTE. This book was a result of contributions from the various Research Fellows of CHRISTE who were specialists in different fields of study. I was utterly delighted with the results of this publication, as it provided some very concrete and beneficial guidelines to help readers respond appropriately to the pandemic.
If anyone asks me, I would certainly say the year could have been better. But I would not say that the year has been wasted. Much goodness has come out of it, and much has been achieved by those who, like me, refused to allow the year to be characterised by bewilderment and idleness. Even in the midst of a pandemic such as this, we can continue working hard to communicate life to the world.
The above projects that I have embarked on throughout this year are by no means the only things that have kept me busy. They account for only about a third of the work that occupies me routinely. As a teacher, preacher, theologian, and pastoral worker, I have spent many, many hours in study, research, writing, preparation, conversations, hosting visitors, conducting meetings, doing administrative work, and a host of other unspoken and unenviable tasks. I do all this with deep joy, always staying true to the principle "what must be done, must be done!"
I am happy with all that I have been privileged to achieve this year, inspired and strengthened by the Holy Spirit and aided by friends and comrades. Next year may or may not be an easier year. Either way, I am resolved to step into 2021 with the same desire and determination to work for the glory of God and the good of my neighbours. I wish all of you a blessed 2021, and assure you that my daily prayers will accompany you throughout the year.