Encountering God in School: Katherine Taylor and Anika Muthukumar, SJI International

Archbishop Most Rev. William Goh’s pastoral letter on “Finding Alignment in Catholic Education”  emphasises a Catholic Education seeks to enable every young person to live a vibrant life and be the glory of God. This thus calls for inclusivity to love, dignify, serve, and lead, even as each school celebrates the richness of its own charism.

In this feature, Katherine Taylor and Anika Muthukumar of Saint Joseph’s Institution (SJI) International share how their Catholic Education encourages them to live their faith in action and be of service to others.

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Katherine Taylor

Connecting with Christ through the Liturgy:

In our morning prayers and reflection in the Chapel daily, it is a haven for us in seeking peace in God’s presence. It also helps when we have conversations with our teachers and talk about our faith, especially when we are stressed having to juggle with a few obligations.

One of my memorable experiences in school was attending the Good Friday service and Easter Vigil as a community. The readings and Gospel are usually longer, yet it also allows me to ponder the message and visualise the Passion of Christ and his Resurrection more profoundly. Through this, I begin to appreciate the humane relationship we have with God.

 

Moments of Doubt:

There were also times when I questioned my relationship with God. He is not physically present, yet I know He is with me, seeing me through my trials and tribulations. I developed my relationship more with Him through various kinds of activities in school, like leading camps and trying to enlighten the younger students about Him.

One other example of how I forged a stronger bond with him was because it was difficult for me to make friends in school. I felt socially excluded sometimes, and wondered if God loved other children more than He did of me, since unlike my other peers, I did not have any close friends.

Yet, in such moments, I also depended on God and became more aware of His love. As I started having communities in school and going for Catechism classes, I built an inner confidence. This made me realise that God puts certain challenges in my life, in order to allow me to learn and prepare for the future He has in store for me.

Looking back at how His plan for me came into fruition, I am grateful I am able to develop self-growth and step out of my comfort zone to eventually have a group of Catechism friends that I can count on.

I have non-Catholic friends too who are skeptical about our faith. Therefore, when I share God’s teachings and His presence among us in the daily things we say or do, I try to be mindful not to enforce upon them my beliefs, but rather be respectful of their differences. Had it not been for the inclusive Catholic environment I have in school, I would not be able to practise such patience and objectivity.

 

Going beyond Secularism to spread the Faith:

With the secular influences in life, our school has taught us that God sees us in terms of how we can spread love and kindness instead.

Rather than being defined by achievements, I strive to be more generous and provide help when someone needs it. For example, when my peers are struggling to grasp the concept in class, I take time to explain it. Instead of a rat-race that focuses on survival of the fittest, I feel it is more heartwarming that I am able to help someone overcome their difficulty.

At times, they may have hurt me unintentionally and may not say sorry, but it is most rewarding for me when I am able to forgive and not bear a grudge. As much as we will sin, God is always going to be there to  love us even during the times when we have done wrong. This enables me to focus on being more Christ-like, and to cultivate purposeful relationships with others.

Moving forward, I pray that I can continue to be God’s instrument to lead and comfort those who may need a listening ear or some guidance. I am thankful for the church and chapel in school; it is our sanctuary and our safe place, for it is where He will speak to us. It is also my wish, especially for my juniors, not to be caught up in things which are of this world, but rather, turn to God as He is our fortress and stronghold always.

 

Anika Muthukumar

My Faith at Home & in School:

Since kindergarten, I have always been in a Catholic school. Growing up in such an environment has shaped me a lot because I am reminded of my religion as we start our day with prayer and attend weekly masses in school. This parallels my family situation, where we pray together as a family, especially since my mum is a staunch Catholic.

I see God as a friend who is always watchful over me and is present in the things and people around me. I am not afraid to ask Him questions, especially when I encounter personal problems. In the SJI chapel, I will sit in solitude and talk to God which brings me comfort. In this process, I develop patience and understanding that God may not always answer our prayers immediately, but he does not forsake us.

Similarly, when my friends are having problems, I will usually bring them to the chapel as I feel it is a safe place for them as well. Being in a Catholic school together means we embrace and journey together, so much so that when I bring my non-Catholic friends to the chapel and they know it is open to all, there is no animosity.

In fact, it brings comfort as I invite them to sit on the bench to talk and to pray. Just as Jesus has always been there for me, I also hope to extend the same kind of friendship and fellowship to my friends, and through such acts, may they see Christ in me.

 

Helping the underprivileged:
Looking back at my younger days, I was first taught the value of humanity and compassion when my mum brought me to the Philippines to visit the various charitable organisations. This heightened my awareness of how I can be of service to the marginalised.

I had a chance to relive the encounter when my school had an overseas community service project last year as part of our International Baccalaureate programme.

I went to Baguio, Philippines, and we helped the underprivileged community. We interacted with the children, whose living conditions were poor, and they lived near a garbage field where they could smell the stench every day.

It was very appalling for us, but we controlled ourselves as we did not want to appear rude. This has reinforced the value of compassion and gratitude in me, which was edified in my years in a Catholic school. In being grateful for the things that I have, I also recognise that there are so many other people in the world who need our help.

Subsequently, I was also involved in a service project in school, which is a charity art auction for Fukushima, a town in Japan affected by the nuclear disaster in 2011. We wanted to bring the children from Fukushima who were affected by the radiation to Singapore. Through such fund-raising efforts, which paid off well in 2019, we were able to bring 30 or more children here through the sale of our works of art.

I do hope that these efforts can continue despite the Covid-19 pandemic.  We organised other fund-raising activities like ‘Hair for Hope’ for the Children’s Cancer Foundation last year too. As a senior counsel myself, I set an example by having my head shaved. A lot of my friends and their parents were also forth coming and there was overwhelming response.

One of the values which our school has inculcated in me through these experiences is that of compassion. This is why I am motivated to talk and listen to people, and work directly with them to resolve issues.

 

Personal growth for my future:

On a personal front, I feel that I have grown in maturity and have learnt to be more understanding towards my friends and society. However, there is a need to continue to learn and strengthen my faith beyond what the school has ingrained in me.

Besides being a parishioner of the Church of St. Ignatius, I am part of the worship community, ‘Seeking Surrender’, where we come together weekly to share and pray through praise and worship. Such sessions enrich me further, especially when I love to sing.

Music has a calming effect on me, and I feel most connected to God when I listen to the words of a song, or sing the psalms and parts of the mass. I like listening to the reading of scripture passages at mass too, and hope to become a lector eventually to proclaim God’s word.

I like Bible stories which speak about God’s love and exemplify how Jesus preaches compassion to other people. The passage in John 13:1-17 about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet touches me deeply as it shows that God is truly our friend who will go down on His knees to wash our feet.

This was similar to my own experience at Confirmation camp, where my mum washed my feet and I broke down in tears. This act itself demonstrated her great love for me, and I should never take her for granted. Similarly, my Catholic education has reinforced in me how God’s love is sacrificial, and He would do anything for our redemption.

Moving forward, I pray that the Church stays united, despite our different opinions. May we never become divided because of our own perspectives, but instead find a common connection and continue to be united as we pray together for unity within the Catholic faith.

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