“You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11)
I am a cradle Catholic and as a child, I grew up very interested in the faith. My parents cultivated a pattern of daily prayer at home and purchased comics about bible stories for us to read. I largely spent my youth and young adult years in church, where I joined the choir, catechists, and youth community.
I did not realise it then as I joined these ministries primarily for social reasons, but God was using these experiences in ministry to call me into relationship with Him. Music was a big part of my life, and I wanted to give this gift of God back to His church. God led me to my youth community where I learnt how to play the guitar and lead the community in praise and worship. He then called me to join the choir, where I began to compose tunes on the piano for the Responsorial Psalms for mass and thus become familiar with the beautiful psalm texts of praise and thanksgiving and hope. My time as a catechist challenged me to read up more and grow in the faith so as to be able to answer questions the young people posed.
However, during this time, while I knew a lot about God, it was mere intellectual knowledge. I didn’t know God and did not have a personal relationship with Him and felt empty as a result. I could not relate to God as my Father who loved me, as my own relationship with my parents was distant. They loved me through their actions and care, but I grew distant from them because I craved their affirmation and loving touch and did not feel it.
For 10 years, this emptiness led me to search for love in the wrong places, turning to relationships with girls as a means of receiving love, hoping they could fulfil me. I placed my identity in my relationships, that only in being attached would I feel a sense of self-worth. I had an incorrect and selfish notion of love, about satisfying my needs and on hindsight, my relationships were very self-centred and somewhat destructive.
Amid this, I was attending vocation recollections, and while there was some attraction towards the priesthood, God knew that I was not ready. I selfishly thought that going to seminary was a possible way to get out of the rut I was in with my relationships. Yet I would go for vocation events when I was single, and stay away when I was attached. Providentially, throughout this tumultuous period, God guided me to keep up regular meetings with my spiritual director (SD). Every time I got attached, I offered to discontinue the monthly SD sessions, but was encouraged to continue, that it was okay to continue journeying with him even while attached.
My turning point came during a 7-week retreat called “School of Witness”. There was a session which was about the parable of the Prodigal Son, which I have heard many times. Yet, for the first time, I related strongly with the older son, who felt that though he was always in his father’s house, he never really knew his father, and never really felt like his father’s son.
During the session, the facilitators portrayed a father and mother figure that would pray for us. It was during their prayer that God showed me how real He is, because He knew the exact words I needed to hear, without me telling the facilitators what I was feeling. The words He told me were: “I love you”, and “I’m proud of you”. When I first heard those words, my immediate reaction was to reject it, and I literally screamed out “No you don’t!” in disbelief. I realised that I had hardened my heart and buried my hurts, believing that I didn’t need to hear those words. But God showed me my brokenness deep inside that He wanted to heal.
In that moment, I doubted no longer, God became truly real to me. I had a new and deep experience of God’s love for me. He said, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11). No matter what, I was his son and He loves me. With this new conviction that God my Father loved me, I felt set free to be myself and I did not need to carry the burden and struggle of my perceived lack of parental love anymore.
I went back home from the retreat the next day, and I could not help but want to share my joy with my parents. God had literally planted a burning desire in my heart, and when I went back, I said to them, “Mum, Pa, can we try something different? From now on, I’m going to hug you everyday before I leave the house.”
This was the beginning of a new life in Christ for me. There was much healing between my parents and I, and I began to love them more freely. I began to desire to attend daily mass, and to change the way I approached relationships. I promised God that I would remain single for a period of time, without actively looking to enter a relationship, because I wanted to be right before Him first, to receive His love so as to know how to love others.
Awakening to the Call
Through this overwhelming experience, God began to awaken in me His little voice. The priesthood, which had previously only been just an option that I never seriously considered as I wanted to get married, began to be a real possibility.
Shortly after this turnaround in my life, I experienced a tangible encounter with God which led me to seriously consider the priesthood. It was at an ordination mass, while the priests were laying their hands on the candidate, where I spontaneously burst into tears, overwhelmed with a sense of acceptance and belonging.
God also led me to truly discern and choose between marriage and the priesthood. In my discernment, God showed me that He wanted me to give my life fully for others, not just in an exclusive relationship with one person. Through that discernment, I learnt that the only way to truly say “no” to anything is to be convinced of a deeper “yes”, to be fully aware of my choice and what it entails. Thus I made the choice to apply to the seminary, and God granted me another consolation of peace as I emailed my application to the rector.
On hindsight, in God’s great providence, He had already been preparing me for this path. It was only because I had taken up the role as full-time Youth Coordinator in my home parish of the Church of the Holy Family a few months earlier, that I was able to attend the School of Witness retreat. As Youth Coordinator, I discovered a renewed desire and compassion within my heart to reach out to and journey with the young people. I witnessed their longing for an encounter with God their Father, and began to share with them His great love for them. I also found myself being very comfortable with people of all ages in church and desiring to bring Jesus to them.
Looking back, God has been using everything in my past, my family, my relationships, my church experiences, to unfold His Call for me in my life, and I have been able to respond only because of the grace of God, who is patient with me in my failings and unworthiness, guiding and showing me the way back to Him each time I go astray.
My seminary journey has had its share of struggles, but I look forward in faith and trust. I know that God will journey with me as He journeys with you and calls you to Him in your own way too. God bless you!