Thu 13 October 2016
Canossians, Carmelites and the calling - a conversation with a recently returned sister, who followed in the footsteps of Italian nuns in Hong Kong over 150 years ago.
Click here to listen
When I was growing up in a Protestant family, I often felt that Catholicism was the strict older aunt - you could see how you’re related, but you also know that she’s got a way about her, a set of staunch principles and schedules she lives by, a perspective that will set you straight. Contemporary non-denominational services had always been easier to grasp with their pop-inflected hymns, direct testimonies and conversational preaching, while Catholicism seemed to be where you would get the stick, the commandments, the do’s and don’ts. I carried this with me for a while - that Catholicism was the type of Christianity for grown-ups, who could better appreciate the ritual and liturgy.
I’d never been to Sunday Mass until the recording of this episode at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, on Star Street in Wanchai. There’s something about witnessing a service that shares a similar foundation, but is remarkably different from the faith you’ve grown up practicing. It makes you try to pinpoint what it is that you find spiritual or holy, when you seek to tease it apart from pure ‘feeling’, and attempt to identify what the new practice is imparting upon you. Standing there in the crowd, I felt that Catholicism was illuminating a contemplative thread of Christianity. I’d once had the privilege of staying at a Benedictine monastery, and it was ironically a whirlwind to keep up - waking at 5:30am everyday, attending six or seven prayers, bowing and kneeling and sitting during all the wrong moments, wrangling my tongue around Gregorian chants.
When everything feels foreign, a space opens up, and you have the opportunity to imbue that space with intentional meaning. Definitions of what something is supposed to signify or invoke within you haven’t been set yet, and it allows for an expansion of your understanding in a world where boundaries and forms are more fluid. For me, there was a power to the silence that made itself present - not as a pause, or a breath, but as an existence that carries weight - something I had never known I needed.
Enzo Bianchi, who founded the Monastic Community of Bose, wrote that “interior silence makes us capable of listening intelligently, speaking with discretion and discerning what burns in the heart of another.” The way that Sister Maria Hsu carries herself reminds me of this - and through that reflection, she is able to serve her communities in the ways that they need.
Music:Previous welcome Ammar Mosque Next