“It is quite impossible for me to comprehensively share about my entire faith journey so far as sometimes words alone are rather inadequate in conveying the profound spiritual experiences that God has kindly graced me with even though I am unworthy. Nevertheless, I would like to highlight some of the more significant spiritual encounters in my life that had helped me in my discernment process to discover God’s Will for me – His Call, my response and subsequent decision to join the St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary and my ongoing relationship with the Lord.
A Very Catholic Upbringing
I am a cradle Catholic and since I was a child, my parents led exemplary lives as Catholics. Their faithful examples left a deep impression on me. My dad has already passed away. My mum who is a very devout, prayerful and caring person played a very important role in my faith formation when 1 was young. The other people who had influenced me in a very positive way were the La Salle brothers, the priest of my parish – the Church of the Holy Family and many others whom I met as I journeyed in my faith.
How It All Began
I studied at the Christian Brother School, St. Stephen’s Primary School and then St. Patrick’s Secondary School. 1 did my ‘A’ Levels in a private school.
I remember when I was in Primary school, a teacher asked me whether I talked to God. I was not sure then what she meant but I told her I do pray. She shared with me her faith story and taught me that I could speak to God and that God speaks to me through the Bible. Somehow her advice made me interested in the Bible and that was the beginning of my relationship w1th God. From then on, I read His Word almost daily and I developed a great love for Scriptures.
I was rather active in Church, serving as an altar server from the age of nine, and when I was in Secondary school, I joined the Legion of Mary as well. Furthermore, I also took part in the Archbishop’s Shield (on Bible quizzes and presentations) almost every year. It was during that period of time that I knew deep down in my heart that God had a mission plan for me. However, being only in my teens then, I did not think too much about it and just let the promptings pass.
My pre-University days were trying times. My Catholic beliefs and practices were challenged by my friends and I did not have any answers. However, I had a good second language teacher who shared with me his beliefs and affirmed my faith by quoting from Matthew 7:21, “It is not all who call Me Lord, Lord who can enter into the Kingdom of heaven but those who do the Will of My Father.”
When I did my National Service, I was in the Guard Unit and by God’s grace, most of my friends were devout Christians. Hence, though the army was tough, I could recall that the time I spent there was rather enjoyable.
Encountering the Divine Designer in Nature
After army I decided to pursue my career as a landscape designer as gardening and nature watch are my favourite hobbies. In studying these plants and trees and observing nature, I experienced a great and profound awareness and in the mystery of mysteries of nature – I encountered the Divine Designer. There was a very deep insight and realization that behind all of nature and people, there is a God who intricately designed and created everything that filled the earth. This gave me a very real and deep feeling of being loved by a Being (God) which for me was a very special spiritual encounter. Then one day, while tending to the plants, deep within me, I felt that God was Calling me not so much as to tend to these Plants but to nurture and journey with His people instead. I Pondered, “Why me, Lord? I’m so inadequate and I already have my own plans.”
Called to Tend to People Rather than Plants
Upon reflection I realised there were so many similarities, tending to these young plants is like tending to a child or a young person, who needs so much of one’s care and attention. Tending to plants, taking care of them, is just like being aware of the needs of people and to journey with them. God opened the eyes of my heart, to see things through the eyes of love. He made me realise that all of nature is His creation but human beings are created in His Image and Likeness. While nature is an end to itself but you and I are created with souls that are meant to be with Him for all eternity. I could identify with St. Francis of Assisi, who saw and encountered God in nature in plants and animals, in people and the whole of creation.
From my knowledge of nature, in the desert especially, there are plants that can remain dormant for thousands of years and when the weather conditions are conducive they will emerge from the ground, this for me was a message that life is indeed eternal, death is not the end but a beginning.
Encountering Jesus in the Eucharist
As I continued in my discernment process, I kept wondering if the promptings were from the Lord or the designs of my own human mind, because at the back of my mind I knew this mission that God was Calling me to was very difficult. I kept telling the Lord, “Why call me? There are so many others who are better than I am, call them.”
I had a girlfriend then who was a Christian and she suggested that I could be a pastor where I could do God’s work and yet at the same time be a family man. This was her proposed solution to my having to decide between marriage and pursuing my priestly calling.
One day, after receiving Holy Communion I felt a deep realisation within me, that the consecrated Host which I had received was truly Jesus, the true and mysterious Presence of Jesus. It was a deep interior conviction. I could then relate with St. Paul who said, “It is no longer I who lived but He who lives in me.” This was an encounter and awareness that convinced me that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist and John 6:53-54 became a reality for me, where Jesus said, “I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you will not have life in you. Anyone who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood, has Eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.”
A Renewed Relationship with God
Encountering Christ in the Eucharist was the beginning of my renewed relationship with the Lord. This led to a profound change in my life; I developed a deep love for God and for those around me. I wanted to do more for God and to share the Good News with everyone, that God loves us and wants us to dwell with Him for all eternity.
It was through this profound God-experience, where I felt the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist that the teaching of the Church that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist became real and personal to me. Therefore, for me, I realised that only if I became a priest, could I give myself completely to God and His people. As a family man, I would have to give priority to my family and the flock of God’s people would become secondary in a sense. Hence I realised that the option of being a pastor and a family man at the same time was not an option for me.
My Heart was Restless
But responding to His Call was not easy, it took me 10 years of discernment which started by my attending a vocation camp. I always felt unworthy; fearful as I felt I lacked the abilities and talents that others have. Though I enjoyed my work, I never felt a sense of fulfilment, my heart was restless. Hence, I continued to consult my Spiritual Director and shared with him my inner promptings and spiritual encounters. With his assurance and encouragement, I was able to abandon my fears and feelings of unworthiness to seriously take up the challenge, to make a concrete decision to positively respond to God’s Calling. The Lord never gave up on me despite my taking such a long time to make that decision.
The Lord Continued to Walk with Me
I finally joined the seminary in 1997. As I had laid studies aside for awhile, going back to serious studying became a challenge for me. Hence the initial struggles in the seminary were trying to cope with my studies. However, through the encouragement of the formators and my fellow seminarians, I managed to overcome this shortcoming. Subsequently, I came to appreciate that the studies was as an important aspect of my formation to be a priest; studying not so much for myself but more to be of service to God’s people.
The journey in the seminary had its ups and downs. The whole cycle is likened to the Lord bringing me up to Mount Tabor, the mount of transfiguration, like the disciples Peter, James and John – it would have been beautiful to remain there, but the Lord also called them down to serve the people. The downside of the journey is not always easy and during my difficult moments, I would ask the Lord, “Why?” And the Lord would remind me, “Anyone who wants to be My disciple, must renounce himself, take up his cross and follow Me. I was betrayed in the garden, I stood stripped before Pilate, whipped and I was made to carry the wood which I had created, to Calvary, but don’t be afraid I will walk with you, I will send Simon to help you carry your cross. If you are walking to Calvary because of Me, I will raise you up on the last day.”
Seeing the Face of Christ in Those Suffering
Yes, seminary life had its ups and downs for me, but I felt a sense of fulfilment in my pastoral work, my visits to the sick, those in pain and suffering, even in the court rooms, to see those on trial, my heart really goes out to them, the depressed, and the rejected and so many others who are suffering.
The Lord continued to encourage me with inner promptings such as this, “When you visit the sick, those in pain and suffering, the courtroom, the depressed there you will see My Face.”
When God Calls
God calls all of us in different ways. For those who are discerning their vocation, it is important to be prayer-centred in order to hear His soft promptings. God is all the time inviting and He is waiting for our response. God speaks to us through Scriptures – His Word; and through His people. It is by being sensitive during our time of prayer when we can listen to God’s soft promptings. For those who feel that God is calling them to the priesthood or religious life, I would encourage them to speak to a Spiritual Director who will be able to help them “process the promptings” which they may have encountered so that they can eventually respond to God’s Call.
The Difference I Would Like to Make
Through my love for God, I hope that I will be able to share His Word and love with the people I journey with as a priest. It is my prayer and hope that people too will come to love God in a deeper way and discover for themselves that one of the ways that God speaks to us is through sacred Scriptures. In every difficult situation that one might encounter in life, one can find comfort and strength in God through reading the Scriptures for they are Words that are life-giving.
Furthermore, I hope that I will be able to help people I minister to come to a deeper appreciation and understanding of the Mass so that they can become true witnesses of Christ in their lives and in turn be able to share the Good News with others and be of service to the Church.
I am grateful to the Lord for this great gift of my priestly vocation. I have been asked if given the opportunity to live my life all over again, would I have chosen this same path? My answer is a definite YES as I want to give my life to God to be of service to His people.
As I continue on my journey as a priest, do remember me in your prayers.
First published by © The Serra Club of Singapore in 2006.