We love because God first loved us.
To have been loved is to have encountered God.
I first received love from my family and that was where my vocation began.
I was born and raised Catholic in a family of four, which comprised of my parents and a younger brother. My family was pretty much an ordinary Singaporean family but I had extraordinary parents who would do everything within their power to provide the best for my brother and me. My dad would go the extra mile to send my brother and me to school, tuition classes and functions whether it be close to home or on the other side of Singapore. Whenever we had forgotten to bring school materials, he would rush home from work and deliver it to the school so that we would not miss out on lessons or be punished by the teacher. Collectively, my mom and dad would save on their own expenses so they could take the family out for a good meal or an overseas trip every few years.
Those were some of the things which I took for granted as a young boy and sometimes even until today. To illustrate how protected I was — I even thought that such love in every family was a given and that family problems were rare occurrences that happened mostly in television serials! As a young boy, I knew I was deeply loved by my parents and had an idea of a loving God who was watching over me.
From a family practice that began from my maternal grandfather, my extended family would gather during the weekends of May and October to recite the Rosary together in Teochew. This was something that I looked forward to as I was growing up because it meant that I could play with my cousins. Later, however, I began to see that prayer brought my extended family together and kept us together. In difficult times, our family would offer up prayers and intercessions for others who were seriously ill and it was there that I witnessed for myself, the healing power of God. As a result, my faith grew.
As I approached my post-confirmation years, I did not doubt the presence of God in my life. Yet, there were still so many things I did not know about my faith. Wanting to be “real” about my own faith, I began searching and was eventually led to Amplify Ministry at the Catholic Spirituality Centre (CSC). It was there that I had my first conversion experience at the Youth in the Spirit Seminar (YISS) and experienced tangibly, God’s love for me. This was when God became a personal friend to me whom I could turn to in my struggles.
Eventually serving at Amplify also allowed me to journey with many young people over the years. It was there that I was able to enter the lives of these young people, some who were abused, suicidal or struggling with life. This opened my eyes to the suffering of others and the blessings that I had taken for granted. I began seeing my life as an overflowing cup that had to be shared with others.
Sometime after completing national service, Father Jude David connected with me over lunch and asked me if I ever thought about committing more of myself to the Church. This got me thinking — I had come to know the person of God who has loved me so much, why had I not thought of doing anything in return? This led me to begin my journey of discernment. Coming from a loving family, I thought I would eventually have one of my own and never thought of the religious life or priesthood. Thus, I began my journey with a simple question, “God, what do you want me to do with my life?”.
As I began and progressed through university, I committed myself to daily masses and regular confessions. As I grew spiritually, I began to wonder if there was a possibility that God might be calling me to a religious or priestly vocation. That thought was initially frightening and it seemed almost impossible! However, as I continued with my discernment, it came to a point where the vocation of marriage and the priesthood were equally attractive to me.
Towards the end of my university days, I had the opportunity to work full-time as a software engineer in New York City while completing my studies part-time. I felt that life was good there as I enjoyed a flexible work-life balance with social gatherings in the evenings, occasional Broadway musicals and road trips on the weekends. I realised that I could live a life like this and be satisfied. Yet, it occurred to me — Is this what my life was about? If my life was just about self-sustenance, enjoying myself and suffering occasionally, how different would I be from a pet dog who shares the same desires? A quote by C.S. Lewis struck me then and I believed that I was truly searching for a deeper purpose in God.
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” — C.S. Lewis
Despite all the many things I could do in New York, I found and appreciated moments of solitude there. It was in the pews of the churches and in the Mass that I found a deep sense of peace and joy that the world could not give.
The call to action came after I returned home from the States and I attended a year-end retreat conducted by the Office for Young People (OYP). There was a “bible basket” there where they had slips of Bible verses meant to affirm or encourage the retreat participants. I took a bible verse each day and was shocked to see the way God had responded.
On the first day, I asked, “God, what is it you want of me?”
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your path straight — Proverbs 3:5-6
On the second day I said, “God, I will do my best to put my trust in you… What are you calling me to?”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” — Isaiah 6:8
On the third day, I asked, “God, where exactly do you want me to go?”
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few.” — Matthew 9:37
It was also on the third day that I encountered God in the Eucharist. After receiving communion, the “Suscipe Domine” was being sung as the communion hymn. I began reflecting on all that I had received from God in my life and continued to pray, asking what I was called to do with it.
Suddenly, I received a prompting from God:
“All that you have…I want it back”.
I was immediately stricken with fear and grief as I thought about losing all that I ever wanted, all that I had ever achieved. Then, a surge of hope came upon me as I began thinking of the possibility that God wanted everything so that I could do something great for Him. This feeling was followed by a sense of unworthiness with me thinking that it would be impossible for me to be called to something greater like the priesthood. However, a sense of peace and joy fell upon me shortly after, recognising that God would walk with me through the journey if this was what He intended for me.
This was the first time I had experienced such an amalgamation of emotions in a single moment. I was weeping throughout the entire episode and that experience for me was the definitive call to move from being “open to the priesthood” to “on the journey towards the seminary”. It was by no coincidence that Father Valerian Cheong, the vocational director for the seminary then, had arranged to meet me the day after that same retreat.
I responded in obedience to the call by journeying with the Seminary Fathers and eventually entered the seminary in 2019. I believe that where I am today is not solely because of my own desire to be a priest, but instead is a result of responding to the experiences and encounters God has placed in my life. Even though I find great purpose in the journey I am now on, doubts, uncertainties and my own desires for a family still arise every now and then. I do not know if I will one day be able to share in the priesthood of Christ as it will only be possible by God’s Mercy and Grace. Till then, I will strive to respond to God each day as He provides, knowing that He holds my world in His hands.
Here I am Lord, I have to come to do your will!
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam