“When Jesus saw Nathanael coming, he said of him, ‘Here comes an Israelite, a true one; there is nothing false in him.” – Jn 1:47
Brothers and sisters in Christ, was there something that you disliked to eat as a child but as you were growing up, your taste changed and that something which you used to dislike has since become something delicious? Personally, I used to dislike bitter gourd. I would not touch it if my mum were to cook it. But now, I love it with plain porridge. You could say that my faith journey is something like that…
Unlike most of my seminarian brothers, I am not a cradle Catholic. Growing up in a traditional Chinese Taoist family, I did not know Christ at all. By God’s grace, I was enrolled in an Anglican primary school (which was not my parents’ initial choice). And through a cousin, I was introduced to a protestant church at Yio Chu Kang Road where I attended Sunday school as a child.
But while the seed of faith was planted early in my life, the thorns choked it. In fact, for the longest time, my image of God and my view of Christianity were distorted and prejudiced. I resented any form of organised religion and regarded everything with suspicion. I was driven my own sense of self-righteousness. I could definitely identify with what Nathanael said of Nazareth in John 1:46, “Can anything good come from that place?”
In this aspect, St. Paul has been a great inspiration to me. As you know, before his conversion, St. Paul went by the name of Saul and persecuted Christians as he thought it was the right thing to do at the time. Like St. Paul, I am a convert and like him I used to persecute Christians though not outwardly, but at least in my thoughts. This makes my call to priesthood seem incredulous.
But as we know with God all things are possible. For the longest time, I had a bleak outlook of life and without God; there was a void in me, which nothing in this world could fill. It was at the darkest moment of my life that my connection with God was rekindled. My encounter was truly eye opening for me, for I realised how much I was loved and that He was calling for my return. I said my first ‘yes’. Yes, to be a child of God. After my baptism in 2011, I could finally call Him Abba Father.
The seed that was prevented from growing by the thorns was regaining life under God’s gentle care and touch. Ironically, this realisation of God’s love for me also left me feeling ‘sorrowful’ for I thought that I had been wandering needlessly in the wilderness all these years when He has been right there before me – waiting for me with open arms all this while. The Father’s faithfulness and patience have allowed me – His prodigal son – to return without fear. I fell so deeply in love with my creator who is so merciful and loving that I began to be open to His other prompting – to share His love and the joy of knowing Him with others. And He is prompting me to do so not just through sharing of my faith story but also through enabling others to encounter Christ through the Eucharist which only ordained priests can do.
As a result of this prompting, I went on a personal pilgrimage to Rome Vatican, it was there that I had had another deep God-encounter and fell in love with the Church and all it represents. I felt the call to priesthood most intensely when I was in Rome. I broke down several times (crying inconsolably) while praying as I felt I was unworthy. But then, who among us is worthy? However, God would make those He chooses worthy (Romans 8:30). So upon my return to Singapore, I contacted the Diocesan Vocation Director to start my discernment for priesthood. Three and a half years later, I said my second ‘yes’. Yes, to God’s call to priesthood and joined the St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary in 2015.
In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul describes that his vision of God is not very clear and that he could see only very dimly because of his faith. I believe that the light of Christ is the answer. For through the light of Christ, we will be able not to just catch a glimpse of God’s kingdom but be part of that glorious vision: to be a child of God, to be loved and to love. If anywhere along your faith journey, you were to stumble, remember what God did for me. Jesus called me just as he had called Nathanael in the Gospel of John. And just like Nathanael, I have transformed from a sceptic into a believer. I am someone who truly does not deserve God’s love but for it is purely God’s grace that I have come to know that I am loved and am able to share this love with others.