AUGUST 31, 2008, Vol 58, No 18

 

FATHER LAWRENCE YEO was diagnosed with cancer of the prostrate in September 2005. He remained in good spirit throughout his illness after an initial bout of feeling down, said members of his family and parishioners who knew him well.

He was parish priest at Church of St. Joseph (Bukit Timah) when he fell ill. Although he appeared well for some months after his treatment, the cancer returned after that and he had to go through radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

The illness forced Father Lawrence to step down as parish priest in January 2007 after serving in that position since February 2002. He remained at the parish as a priest-in-residence before moving to the home of his younger sister Pauline in May last year.

Archbishop Nicholas Chia wanted to celebrate his 60th birthday but Father Lawrence preferred a quieter affair. He opted for dinner with some parishioners and close friends instead.

"[At the celebrations], he said that he wanted to come back to St. Joseph’s to serve the parishioners," said his younger brother, Father James Yeo. "He had very good fighting spirit. Despite his illness, he wanted to live very much."

Father James anointed Father Lawrence with the sacrament of the anointing of the sick before he was admitted in late July to Mount Alvernia Hospital, where he remained for 14 days until his death. Pauline said he was actually very alert during that period but had problems breathing.

Family members visited him and were praying together in the Critical Care Unit of Mount Alvernia Hospital when they were informed by the doctor that Father Lawrence had passed away in the midst of their prayers at 10.33am.

Pauline said that despite his suffering, Father Lawrence did not complain about the illness or the surgeries and chemotherapy over the last three years. It was only after the last surgery in May when he lost his strength in both hands that he showed frustration at not being able do things on his own. "But he always remained patient about what he had to go through," added Pauline.

She remembers him as a very accommodating and committed priest. "Even if his body tells him something isn’t right, he’ll continue and work till he drops," she said. "On one occasion I went to see him at St. Joseph’s and it was 8.00pm and he hadn’t had dinner and was rushing off to a confirmation meeting."

She added that there was no need to remind him to take dinner because he was simply "very dedicated to his work" and would not stop.

Archbishop Nicholas Chia also told Father Lawrence that he was a "real role model" on one of his visits to him at the hospital.

Even in hospital, Father Lawrence always said he would get better, "with some exercise, day after day". He was looking forward to returning to serve his parish. It was not to be.

Father Lawrence was ordained on Dec 1, 1974 and his first appointment was as Assistant Priest at Church of St. Vincent De Paul where he remained until 1976. He then went to Church of the Holy Family and stayed till 1979 when he left to study for three years for the Licentiate in Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

When he returned, he was appointed Rector at the St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary and remained there for 22 years until Archbishop Nicholas Chia transferred him to Church of St. Joseph (Bukit Timah).

Father Lawrence Yeo’s funeral at Church of St. Joseph on Aug 11 was packed with friends and parishioners. - By Joyce Gan

WE DO KNOW, deep within us, that humans are not like other animals. There are things that some animals do that we do not, or at least know we should not (such as rape and cannibalism). In the same way, there are some things that we can do to other animals that we cannot do to humans. This is because there is something very different about us, something that sets us apart from other animals – we are made in the image and likeness of God!

As embodied persons, we express the spiritual reality of God’s image, of his love, in and through our physical bodies. When a married couple engages in the marital act, they make visible in a special way the eternal exchange of life-giving love that is found in the communion of the Holy Trinity.

There are two important points we can gather here:

When a married couple engage in sexual intercourse, they proclaim to each other God’s love, in and through their bodies – a love that is free, total, faithful and fruitful. Take away any of these components and it fails to properly
reflect God’s love. For example, when a couple chooses to use contraception to actively prevent a pregnancy from resulting from their sexual union, they fail to express God’s love as they should.

Since God is life-giving love, the "one-flesh" union of the bodies of the married couple has the capacity to make visible that reality in the new life (a "new flesh", so to speak) that may arise from that union, a baby, if God so wills. Therein lies the deep beauty and dignity of the human person, of sexual intercourse and of married love as God has deigned.

Thus because a baby is so special, he should only be conceived as a direct result of the love of his parents made visible in and through their bodies, in the marital act. He deserves no less. He is to be "begotten" through the loving union of his parents, not "made" in the laboratory through manipulation by scientists, even though his parents may have provided the "raw material" for his conception in the petri dish. A married couple have the right to engage in the marital act, but no one has the "right" to another person; in this case, a child. Every child should be regarded as a gift, not an object of desire.

Once we lose sight of that dignity of every human person at the beginning of his existence, once we see him as an object of desire rather than as the fruit of married love, other abuses can and have, in fact, set in.

For example, because each batch of egg collection can number many, even up to 20 or more for some women, "surplus" embryos that have been created in the laboratory are put in deep freeze "for future use", either in case they are needed should earlier attempts at conception fail, or for embryo experimentation. In addition, embryos are now almost routinely screened for defects before they are put back into the wombs of their mothers. Does that reflect God’s "unconditional love"? Or does it say something like "I desire to have you, baby, but I want to make sure you are free of defects, as far as I can help it?"

Having discussed the immorality of artificial reproductive techniques such as IVF, we must still address the anguish of couples who want to have babies but are unable to. In actual fact, there are some effective and morally acceptable methods that married couples can use to try to achieve pregnancy, such as the Billings Ovulation Method (developed in Melbourne, Australia. See www.woomb.com) and Naprotechnology (developed in Omaha, USA. See www. naprotechnology.com).

Even if a married couple tries these methods and is unable to conceive for some reason or other, it might be an occasion for them to live out God’s love in other ways, such as adopting children from families unable to care for them, or providing assistance to other families and to poor or handicapped children. God’s love knows no bounds. We just need to have that faith in him, that his plan for us will work to the glory of his name. -

The issue of infertility and other areas related to sexual ethics (such as contraception and pornography), as well as the teaching authority of the church will be presented and discussed at a congress on Oct 27, 2008. Titled "Love,
sex and babies – what is the church doing in my bedroom?", it will be held at the Blessed Sacrament Church. Details can be found at www.prolife.sg/lovesexbabies. Enquiries and registration can be made at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

- By Dr John Hui

Dr John Hui is the Immediate Past Master of the Catholic Medical Guild.


SO, THE FOOTAGE of the "footprint" fireworks was digitally inserted in the TV coverage of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. And Lin Miaoke, the adorable nine-year-old "singer", was miming the Ode to the Motherland, as seven-year-old Yang Peiyi’s voice floated over the 90,000-person crowd and was transmitted across the world.

Peiyi wasn’t pretty enough; Miaoke’s voice wasn’t pure enough. So what’s wrong with a combination that results in the best of both worlds? Why has this story made front-page headlines in western democracies and elicited so many strong negative reactions? Have we overreacted?

I believe the answer is no, and that our immediate reaction was based on a strong moral intuition that something was wrong. So far, however, we haven’t fully identified what that is. To do so, we need to explore the ethical and value issues implicated in this incident. They include deception, integrity, authenticity, trust and the search for perfection.

But, first, a word of warning: There is almost certainly a cultural miscommunication or even clash in this situation. My guess is that it never occurred to the Chinese how their approach would be seen by people from other cultures.

Western democracies are intensely individualistic cultures. Indeed, the highly individualistic western approach is manifestly obvious in the media stories reporting this incident, whether in the New York Times or a local TV
news report. The entire focus is on Peiyi and how cruel it was to tell her she wasn’t pretty enough and how hurt she must have felt at being excluded – which, I hasten to add, the journalists are right to recognize as a wrong.

In stark contrast, Chinese culture is an intensely collectivist one – if two girls are more "perfect" than each alone, and that benefits the collectivity, the Motherland, go for it.

That difference means we need to cut the Chinese some slack in regard to this incident, not just to
be fair to them, but also in our own long-term interests of trying to cross the divides between us, and certainly not to make them wider.

Deception is the central issue involved and deception is always ethically suspect. But does this deception really matter? Leaving aside the hurt to Yang Peiyi from being dumped at the last minute and her voice still being used (it’s hard to imagine that the issue of consent to such use was even considered), seeing the opening ceremony as grand theatre would give the organizers permission to use techniques that allow the world audience to suspend its disbelief. So why were we so shocked?

Unlike the situation that prevails in relation to the theatre, we the audience did not agree to be deceived. The ethical problem is intentionally presenting as real something that is not real. That is to breach trust, and it is this breach that is at the heart of our concern.

The opening ceremony incidents might also have shocked us to a degree beyond what seems reasonable at first glance, because of their context: The deception contravened the very spirit of the Olympic Games – the inspiration generated by the gathering of the "youth of the world", the noble aspirations, the no-cheating-with-drugs, "spirit of sport" ethos and its espoused values. It came across as cheating, as a breach of trust. Breaches of trust are often experienced as a betrayal; this was a betrayal of the Olympic spirit.

The word integrity frequently arises in discussions of trust. In 2005, integrity was the most frequently searched word in Webster’s On-Line Dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary defines integrity, in a moral sense, to include: Soundness of moral principle; the character of uncorrupted virtue, especially in relation to truth and fair dealing; uprightness, honesty, sincerity. This definition could be used as an advertisement for the spirit that is meant to inform the Olympics, cynical as we might sometimes be about the authenticity of such a statement in relation to a mega event with enormous commercial spin-offs.

Integrity is at the core of ethics and ethical conduct, and an essential condition precedent to implementing all of our most important personal and communal values. And integrity is the beating heart of democracy, justice, and respect for human rights. These are the values and principles on which, in western democracies, we build organizations, institutions, and the state itself. Without integrity, these values and principles cannot be implemented and they, and the institutions built on them, die.

The fact that much of the world is worried about justice, respect for human rights, and ethical conduct in China, and hopes one day to see democracy in that country, might also help to explain why there has been such a powerful negative reaction to what is, on its face, a minor deception in the opening ceremony.

Acting with integrity is also linked to maintaining social trust, a central component of what is being called "social capital" – the accumulated common good that we need to maintain a healthy society of the kind that most of us would want to live in. A culture of social trust is difficult to establish, fragile, and easy to destroy. The espoused goal of the Olympics is to build worldwide social trust and certainly not to damage it, as the opening ceremonies incident might have done.

In general, we trust what we can perceive directly with our senses – what we can see or hear or touch. But virtual reality means things that are not real can seem real to our senses and that has resulted in an overall loss of trust in society as a whole. If that loss is to be halted, it’s especially important that the media can be trusted not to deceive their audiences. Both the miming incident and the "footprints" one need to be examined from this perspective – although again, like the former, at first glance, the latter seems a minor liberty to take.

I’ve often mused on why seeing the original of a famous painting is not only different from, but much more exciting than seeing an exact copy. Or we can think about how antiques lose their value if they are refinished – when the effects of the many human hands that have touched the antique have been erased, we consider that the antique is no longer authentic, no longer unique, no longer the "real thing"; its priceless intangible essence is gone. In fact, although in one sense we might regard refinished antiques as more perfect, less blemished, we value them less because in our touching them to alter them, they can no longer touch our imagination with the same profundity. Seeking the "perfect" little composite girl means the same is now true of the Beijing Opening Ceremony.

Then there is the question of authenticity: What is required for the Olympic Games to be authentic in their very essence, without which that essence is lost? One important element is that athletes must compete only on the basis of their own natural talent, unenhanced by prohibited means such as drugs. But the Games, as a whole, must also be authentic.

The opening ceremony faced the Chinese authorities with a choice between authenticity and perfection, as they saw it. Their choices were a) to go with authenticity at the expense of the perfect; b) to chose the "perfect" but to be transparent about it up front and disclose this choice; or c) to do what they did. Ethically, it was the wrong choice. Often, the search for perfection is just that. - By Margaret Somerville, MercatorNet – New Media Foundation Ltd

 

Margaret Somerville is director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University, and author of The Ethical Imagination: Journeys of the Human Spirit.

Lin Miaoke (left), the girl who "sang" the hymn to the motherland at the opening ceremony for the Beijing Games, only mouthed the words to the song. Chen Qigang, the musical director for the ceremony, says that little Lin’s only contribution was her image.

The voice was that of another girl, Yang Peiyi (right), with a more beautiful voice but with imperfect teeth and a less charming face. Chinese blogs are accusing the organizers of the ceremony of preferring image over content, and are asking what could possibly be objectionable about the simple face of a seven-year-old girl, who not only sings but also paints and loves the Beijing opera. Chen Qigang emphasizes that the choice of image over content was made for the sake of "national interests".

Another revelation – confirmed by the Olympic organizing committee – is that the fireworks displays seen on television were not real, but were generated by computers. The illusion was necessary because on the evening of Aug 8, the Beijing sky was cloudy and hazy – because of the pollution and heat – and visibility was poor. - AsiaNews

 

ARCHBISHOP FULTON SHEEN has said that a special child in a family brings tremendous blessings to the whole family, making saints of everyone. So the presence of this child is like a magnet drawing graces and blessings on everyone, especially the parents. The womb she or he spent nine months in, is sanctified by this holy child, so that further pregnancies of his future brothers and sisters (God willing) would be holy because of the generosity of the parents.

This child draws the best out of those who lovingly surround him or her. It makes them go beyond the self and makes this child into the utmost teacher of what unconditional love really is. Those surrounding and lovingly caring for the child with special needs grow aware of the absolute preciousness and sanctity of human life while drawing deeply from their own wells of creativity and powers of love.

Parents entrusted with a special child have a unique vocation. It is not an exaggeration to say that children with special needs are among the great evangelizers in the world of today.

In the Gospel of Saint John there is this liberating passage (Jn 9:1-3):

"As he went along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?’ ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned,’ Jesus answered, ‘he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’"

First of all, it is of great importance that parents and next of kin know that the special needs in the child is not the result of anyone’s sins, or as heard so often, a punishment from God.

Secondly: the works of God deserve a short reflection: I have come across a translation in the Bible that said: "so that the glory of God may be displayed in him". This has two priceless messages:

1. The tremendous efforts parents, grandparents, doctors and specialists make to bring this child to live a meaningful life is a miracle in itself. The meaning of life is to love and to be loved! All these people in the caring and healing ministry are part of the miracle: co-workers of God.

2. It is precisely the child’s special needs that stir and open up peoples creativity and unlimited resources of love; not only beyond average, it becomes a manifestation or visibility of God’s loving and powerful presence in all those who have committed themselves to this journey, enabling them to love as God loves. - by Father Frans De Ridder