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An Exclusive Interview with a Catholic Lawyer...
An Attorney Finds the Fullness of Faith
To start off, could you please introduce yourself and give us some background information such as your name, age, occupation, where you live, marital status, where you got your degree(s), if you drive a BMW or Lexus and if you live in a penthouse apartment or mansion on the hill (ok, on this last bit - just kidding!)
My name is Kelvin Chia. If you include my Confirmation name and my full Chinese name, it'll be longer, but who'll remember it? Americans know Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li ("Lethal Weapon 4"), but do they know Chow Yuen Fatt (from the movie..."The Replacement Killer")?!?
I am 29 years old and I am a lawyer in Singapore - I am supposed to be the litigation partner. This is only my 4th year in practice (I graduated from the local university in 1994 and was called to the bar in 1995), but I've already handled a few major million dollar cases like... hang on, I'm confusing "L.A. Law" with my life! To be less dramatic and more realistic, I do have a few interesting cases and I make a decent living, but I don't think I'll be a billionaire in my lifetime (in the afterlife, who knows what God has in store for us:
1Cor:2:9: But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
I do not drive a BMW (though my brother owns one), nor a Lexus. Cars are horribly expensive in Singapore, and since the country is so tiny, I figured I'll be able to get from point A to point B (sometimes even to point C!) just by using public transportation. It also helps to have friends who are car-owners...
I am one of those thousands of graduates which give the Government sleepless nights. You see, we have in Singapore this organization called the Social Development Unit (SDU), whose aim is to get the graduates to meet, mingle and marry (I am not kidding!). I have met, and I have mingled, but for some reason or other, I have not married. Maybe I'm lookin' for love in all the wrong places (that's a song from the movie "Urban Cowboys", I think).
Very early on in my conversion, I did think of becoming a priest. I wrote to the seminary requesting information and possible admission, but after further discernment, however, I discarded the idea that I had such a vocation.
Besides being a Catholic, you are an attorney, right? I'll get to the lawyer jokes in a minute, but for now, please start by telling us a bit about your personal and professional background. And please, since we need a bit of controversy, we'd like you to respond to the rumor that you wear size 10 shoes...
My formal title is "Advocate & Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore" :-) As I mentioned above, I am a litigation lawyer, which means that I go to Court and fight cases for my clients. I handle mostly civil claims (though lawyers and the parties involved sometimes end up being less than civil during the hearing!), such as contract disputes, invoice claims, personal injury, defamation and other related topics; I do not handle divorce cases!!
Do I wear size 10 shoes? Only when I'm on the basketball court with Michael Jordan...
Shrewd answer, counselor, and it all sounds very interesting! Let's now look at the religious aspect of your life. You live in a country where the percentage of people who are Catholic is quite small. What is that percentage?
It's only about 4%. I have a keen interest in the growth of the Church in Singapore, and I've noticed an actual increase in the percentage of Catholics here - but in my humble opinion the Catholic population is growing too slowly. I think we need to step up on our evangelisation efforts.
What about the faith in your personal life: At which point did you acquire your faith? Were you raised in a Catholic environment?
I was raised in a Catholic family -- in fact Catholicism has been in my family for many generations, and I think this could explain part of the problem that the Church is experiencing in Singapore. The first converts in my family tree were probably considered to be pious and good Catholics. Unfortunately, mere "piety" and "goodness" are not sufficient in ensuring the preservation of the Faith - we need Catholics who are truly saintly, not just respectable! I have seen pious and good Catholic parents whose kids are lackadaisical about God and religion. Saintly parents however, produce Catholics like St. Therese of the Child Jesus and St. Bernard of Clairvaux. There is a spiritual principle, which can be expressed thus:
"If the priest is a saint (the saying goes), the people will be fervent; if the priest is fervent, the people will be pious; if the priest is pious, the people will at least be decent. But if the priest is only decent, the people will be godless. The spiritual generation is always one degree less intense in its life than those who beget it in Christ." ("The Soul Of The Apostolate" by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard at p. 39)
I think this principle is also applicable in the case of parents who pass on the Faith to their children. If the children do not come to a personal conversion in their lives and aspire to sanctity and holiness, the Faith will be lost little by little with the passing of each generation. So when the Faith (or whatever was left of it) reached my family, it was not surprising that we became only nominal adherents to Jesus Christ and His Church.
Sometimes, for youth and adults, people might see the Faith as being dull and repetitive. So you were raised as a Catholic, but the Faith didn't really 'take with you' as a youth, did it? Tell me about your Catholic formation and your attitude towards the Church as a teen.
I had gone through the entire Catechism process. I had memorized the words of the Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and I knew the liturgy practically by heart. I remember winning prizes in Catechism class and actually representing my school in a religious knowledge quiz. So I did learn something, but what I learnt was not enough to prevent the encroachment of pagan influences into my soul.
I think Abp. Fulton Sheen expressed it very well, when he said that the modern man has knowledge, but not wisdom. I knew a fair amount of Catholic stuff, but I never saw how all those separate pieces of information were connected. Fundamentally, it never occurred to me that Jesus founded the Catholic Church, and that if I were to disagree with the Church, I would be disagreeing with the Lord Jesus Himself. Somehow, that point never sunk home, so I thought that I was at liberty to pick and choose what I wanted to believe or follow - the classic "cafeteria" or "buffet" Catholic!
More importantly, I had no religious devotion worth speaking of and no personal relationship with God. God and me were at "arms length". In a nutshell, I did not know God, I did not love God, and I didn't care to change that.
Your doubts and negative feelings all started to change as you matured towards adulthood -- do you think that the Catholic Faith can be lively and appealing? What began your attraction to the Faith?
Yes, indubitably! The Catholic Faith IS lively and appealing -- if it is presented properly. The fact that it does not appeal is because Catholics confuse it with the watered-down version of Catholicism. They look at the Faith as going to Mass on Sundays and days of obligation, Confession once a year, fasting on Good Friday, etc. This is not the Faith - these are only some practices of the Faith.
True Catholicism is about following the Lord, aspiring to holiness, going against the tide, extending the Kingdom, changing the world - NOT following a wimp, aspiring to mediocrity, going with the flow, destroying the Kingdom, conforming with the world!
I was initially brought back to the Faith because of a sensational event, the purported apparitions of the Blessed Mother in Medjugorje (I will be making my first trip there in September 1998 - God willing!). However, what drew me and kept me in (besides the obvious fact that the Catholic Church is the True Church) was the virile and uncompromising writings of the Saints. They would talk about giving it ALL up for God, loving Him with ALL our heart, serving Him in ALL ways. Then it dawned on me that the Saints said these things because they were imitating their Master, Jesus Christ, who said all these "uncompromising" (and sometimes "offensive") things as well:
Mt:5:48: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
I think the clergy has to really challenge the faithful. They have to tell people that the Catholic Faith is more than just observance of rules and regulations. The Faith and the Gospel are synonymous, and nowhere in the Gospel did Jesus ever say that it's enough to just go to Mass on Sunday to be His disciple or to be saved! The Faith is so much more than that! When I came to such a realisation, it was like walking out from a darkened cave to a great big open field with trees and flowers and birds and sun - it was simply glorious! I am amazed that I could have been so blind for 21 years of my life...
Mt:22:37: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
Lk:9:62: No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
In your part of the world, the major religions aren't Christian, so the religious attractions aren't Protestant vs. Catholic, as in the Western world. Tell us about that.
The big religions here are money-ism (not to be confused with "monism", which is similar though!) and mammon-ism (not to be confused with "Mormonism", which does not have a very large following in Singapore despite their success elsewhere). I'm just being flippant here, of course, but there is a lot of truth in saying that many people in Singapore practically worship money and material wealth.
I remember a few years ago, there was an interview conducted among the people of Hong Kong, in which they were asked to rank the things they wanted or desired most. Money came in first, followed by happiness. Go figure! It used to be that money was a means to an end (i.e. happiness) - now money has become an end in itself; who cares if you're happy or not happy having it!?
As far as "religious" groups are concerned, the statistics show that, in the last few years or so, 2 categories have been showing steady increase in Singapore:
The 1st category is not surprising, since the Christian Faith is, by nature, evangelistic and ever expanding. The 2nd category is worrisome - it shows that a growing number of people are abandoning whatever little religious faith they used to have in order to pursue the Almighty Buck. It is an exchange of the Creator for the creature. The threat to Christianity in Singapore is not so much other faiths, but the whole materialistic and (sometimes) hedonistic outlook of many people. As the Epicurean declares: "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!"
You seem to be quite devoted to your Faith. If you had to say in a few sentences why you are Catholic, what comes to mind? Is it based on history, reason, Scripture, personal experiences - what?
Yes, yes, yes and yes!!
Catholicism is Historical - I was astounded to find out that her beliefs went all the way back to the 1st century - meaning, to the time of Christ.
Catholicism is consistent with Reason - if Catholicism isn't true, nothing else makes sense!
Catholicism is Scriptural - time and time again, doctrine after doctrine, the Catholic Faith has shown that it is well entrenched in Scripture.
Personal experiences? The Faith is life transforming, grace endowing, spirit uplifting - in the Church, I receive the peace which the world cannot give (cf. John 14:27). I'll probably have more to say about this when I return from Medjugorje!
Our readers will include a large variety of people: some may be Catholic but not on fire for the Faith, some may be considering converting to the Faith, while others perhaps were Catholic but fell away - as you did for a time. What would you say to each of these groups?
To the Catholic who isn't on fire for the Faith: I know what you're going through, because I've been there myself... for about 21 years of my life! Give yourself and the Faith a chance. Seek out good and holy priests and lay people who will explain the Faith to you the way Jesus would have - charitably but with no compromise. Read, surf the 'Net, find out what it is that's going on in the Church today which is drawing in converts as though this were a 2nd Pentecost!
To the potential convert and the lapsed Catholic: There are only a few things to sort out before converting or "reverting". Is Jesus for real? Yes. Will He teach the Truth? Yes. Did He establish a Church? Yes. Is the Church supposed to teach Jesus' Truths in His Name? Yes. Where is the Church? The One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church! Will you join the Church, the Body of Christ??? Enough said.
You are a co-founder of ACT. Tell us what ACT stands for and what it does. You can give us that URL as well, since most people wouldn't believe that this is a real interview if there wasn't a plug for something! You can also tell folks that your site, likes ours, is completely non-commercial!
All right - The URL of our ACT website is http://www.scroll.to/act . Our site, like Tony's "ABCs of Faith," is completely non-commercial. Did I say that right, Tony? :-)
Some time in 1993, I met these 2 other guys, Andrew Kong and Lawrence Ho. We discovered a mutual interest - apologetics. Seeing that there was no group in Singapore specifically doing Apologetics & Evangelisation (A&E), we set up the Apostolate for Catholic Truth (ACT) in 1994 to do just that. Our beloved Archbishop gave us the "green light".
We met with some opposition in the beginning - people accusing us of being pre-Vatican II and anti-ecumenical and triumphalistic, etc. (Somebody actually called me a "fundamentalist"). However, we weathered the storm, and 4 years later, I think we've gained some credibility in the local Church. If you take a peek at our list of ACTivities for the year 1998 and the previous years, I think you will see that we have got quite a number of speaking engagements. We have a few exciting projects lined up for the rest of this year, too!
Was ACT a response to the Holy Father's call for a New Evangelisation?
I can't speak for the other 2 co-founders, but for me ACT wasn't necessarily set-up as a response to the Holy Father's call for a New Evangelisation. I saw the need for an A&E group in the local Church, and I thought, what the heck - we can try to be that group! In other words, even if the Holy Father had not said anything about the New Evangelisation, I would have gone ahead to form ACT anyhow. But it is, of course, wonderful to know that we are contributing in some small way to the Holy Father's mission!
You also have your own web site. We'll give our readers a chance to see your humorous and yet compelling testament to faith, by giving our readers a hyper link. What is that URL again, I think I misplaced it...
You mean you didn't bookmark my website, Tony? Shame on you!!!
The URL of my homepage is ("Enter the VIN-Yard") is http://web.singnet.com.sg/~kelvchia.
You'll find my conversion story and some other Catholic stuff and links, as well as assorted nonsense about me, on my site. Please visit and let me know what you think about it!
You seem to be very outward with your Faith. What moves you to share the Faith with others, on-line and in person?
What motivates me is the knowledge that the person who converts will become well and truly happier than he ever would be - in this life as a member of the True Church of Christ, and in the life to come as one of God's Saints in Heaven. And of course it all redounds to God's Glory, and gladdens the Sacred Heart, the Immaculate Heart and the entire Court of Heaven:
Lk:15:7: I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
What do you think the world would be like if it was Catholic?
It depends: nominally Catholic or TRULY Catholic? If the first, there'd be some improvement because the percentage of saintly Catholics would probably increase - but if the world were TRULY Catholic, I think the major problems and crises faced by humanity would be eradicated. And I don't think I'm being naive in saying that either! Paradise on earth - that's an attractive thought...
How can Catholics share their faith with others? What are the steps, in your mind, to a holiness of life to which Jesus calls us? Feel free to share your favorite Scripture verses on this point.
Catholics first have to be converted. If they're not convinced about the uniqueness of the Faith and how special it is, why would they want to share it with others?
Furthermore, holiness of life is essential, since any evangelistic enterprise without Jesus is a total waste of time - even worse, it betrays pride on the part of the "evangeliser"!
Jn:15:5:I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing.
I'm no expert on how to be holy, but I think saintly and ascetical writers usually enumerate the following daily "norms of piety":
1. Morning Offering;
Add to that: Weekly Confession, Monthly Recollection, Yearly Retreat and constantly putting oneself in the Presence of God - did I leave anything out?
3. The Angelus (or Regina Coeli);
4. Spiritual Reading;
5. Holy Rosary;
6. Visit to the Blessed Sacrament;
7. Holy Mass and Communion;
8. Examination of Conscience.
I have a little write-up on the Personal Apostolate which readers might be interested to check out. It's on the ACT homepage - look for "ACTnotes" and the link "The Personal Apostolate".
That was a great answer! You really are committed to the Church aren't you? I mean, you do all this in your spare time, and it certainly doesn't make you any money, right?
No, but you get all these wonderful treasures in Heaven, as Jesus promised:
Mt:6:20: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.
Do you think the media and pop culture tends to draw people away from the Faith? What are your thoughts about the tug-of-war between the world and Faith? How should the faithful respond to those worldly attractions?
I think St. Francis de Sales' advice on recreation is apt:
"It is necessary sometimes to refresh our spirit and our body also by some kind of recreation. Cassian relates that one day a hunter found St John the Evangelist holding a partridge in his hand which he was stroking by way of recreation; the hunter asked him how he, being so great a man, could waste time upon a thing so mean and trivial; and St John said to him: ' Why dost thou not always carry thy bow stretched?' 'For fear,' replied the hunter, 'lest being always stretched, it should lose its power of resilience, which is essential to its usefulness.' 'Do not be astonished, then,' said the Apostle, 'if I sometimes relax the application and attention of my spirit, to take a little recreation, in order to apply myself afterwards more earnestly to contemplation.' There can be no doubt that it is a defect to be so rigorous, boorish and unsociable as not to be willing to take any recreation oneself, or permit others to do so. To take the air, to go for a walk, to take part in cheerful and friendly conversations, to play the lute or other instrument, to sing to the accompaniment of music, to go hunting, are recreations so proper that, to make a good use of them, we need only use ordinary prudence, which gives to all things order, time, place and measure, etc." ("Introduction To The Devout Life" by St. Francis de Sales, at p. 211)
I think the guiding principle here is prudence. The faithful should not go overboard in recreation: they should never, never put the pursuit of enjoyment above God. The temptation is there, of course, since the world (with all its glitz and glamour) is very attractive - but to go to the other extreme and to completely shut out the pleasures of the world would be to become a puritan and an ungrateful child of God. It goes without saying that we're speaking here of moral and legitimate pastimes - no Catholic should fool around with dubious or immoral activities!
To many people, being an attorney is a very pragmatic and a worldly type of occupation. Do you think there is a conflict between being an attorney and being a Catholic?
No, I do not. Being a lawyer does not mean that you have to be a "snake in the grass" or a con man or a "fraudster". There are lawyers who practice in this unedifying fashion, of course, but I think the generality of lawyers are honourable.
At the end of the day, it is my Catholic values that tell me what I can or cannot do as a lawyer. I do not believe that I should try to win a case for my client at all cost! There is always the question of morality and ethics. I do not believe for one second that "the ends justify the means". Do we sin that good may come? God forbid!!!
Your answer raises the topic that many of us really want to hear about - the Catholic attorney. Is it a conflict of interest? Also, how is the practice of law different in Singapore then in the U.S.? Do they have the joke over there about the lawyer and priest that met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates?
A "conflict of interests" only arises when we elevate our worldly interests and put them on the same plane as God's interests - otherwise, there is no "conflict" because there would be a hierarchy, an order of interests. "Conflict" comes about because we wish to serve two (or more) masters. But as the Good Book says:
Mt:6:24: No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
The simple solution for every Christian is captured in the equally simple motto of the Cistercians, "GOD ALONE".
How is practicing law different in Singapore? Well, I think the Singapore society, as a whole, is less inclined to fight in Court than the American society. This is due partly to cultural and social factors, you know: the Asian mentality, not wanting to "lose face", etc. - and also because Singapore legal practice prohibits a "contingency fee" :-) Touting, ambulance-chasing and unregulated advertising are disallowed. As a result, the Singapore legal fraternity is generally perceived to be a respectable one, which is why people are genuinely horrified when, on occasion, an errant lawyer is hauled to Court and charged with, say, cheating his client.
But, yes, we do have "lawyer jokes". People send them to me from time to time - and I must say most are pretty amusing!
To wrap this up, I think it is only fair that the interviewed has a chance to ask the interviewer a question. So have at it...
OK, here's my question: What drives you to spend so much time and money in putting up a wonderful website like "The ABC's of Faith"?
If you don't want to answer that, my alternative question is: Can you relate some interesting stories about people who have surfed your website?
The reason is simple. I totally believe, as you do, that Jesus our Savior established the Church, and that when we hear the authentic voice of the Church, we are hearing Christ! (cf. Lk. 10:16) To know that we can have an intimate union with God in the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist...thinking about the humility of our Creator, and His great love for us - it is enough to bring tears of joy. I feel very humbled at the blessing the Faith offers me, and since I like people, the best gift I can give someone is to share the light of Christ with them!
Interesting stories? Well, if someone would e-mail me their comments, I'd be happy to share a story or two with you...
...actually, the stories are so different and varied, it is amazing what on-line evangelisation gives back! There are the prayer requests, the questions and comments from people around the world - it is a truly universal, a Catholic experience! I'd invite others to do as you have done, share their time and talents, with us on our site, or by building their own.
Kelvin, this has been great fun! Thanks for sharing time from your busy schedule with our readers!
In closing, since you sign off your letters with "A.D.M.G!", I should ask you to tell our readers what that means. Interviewers are supposed to act like they know everything, I'll surprise our readers by letting you give the Latin meaning behind those letters, and giving me (oops! I mean, our readers) the English translation.
Uhhh, that's "A.M.D.G.", I think :-) It stands for "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam" - For the Greater Glory of God. It is the motto of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits! Cool, huh?
A.D.M.G - A.M.D.G. - I knew that...really, I did! I have this reference book, you see - oh, never mind that...! You can share your favorite prayer with our readers here too.
That'd be the Memorare composed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux. I'm sure you know the words!
Thanks again, and God bless you and your evangelisation efforts!
And the same to you too. God Bless us all!
Visit Kelvin Chia's 'The Vinyard' website , and drop him a line - thanking him for doing this interview!
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