My faith journey would not have been possible if not for my family.
Born into a typical Catholic family in 1989, I was the youngest and only son amongst eight children. My dad worked hard, taking on three jobs to feed the family, and yet still found time to serve the Church. Even in his last days, he did missionary work with a group of friends and shared his faith wherever he went.
My mother dedicated her life to the family, looking after both our physical and spiritual needs. During the little free time she had, she read the bible and prayed the rosary for the family. Her deepest concern was her children, even during her final days on earth. Both my parents had formed the foundation and core of my faith that I immensely grateful for.
The First Prompting
My first prompting to serve came from my family, in the form of a challenge to answer the call for altar servers during a recruitment drive.
Hence at the age of 10, I signed up and started serving as an altar server before moving to other ministries as I continued to respond to God’s call – serving as a catechist, an RCIY facilitator and coordinator, and now as a lector.
In University, I also served in the Catholic Students’ Apostolate and the Legion of Mary, taking on various appointments.
Not always a Smooth-Sailing Path
It has been 22 years since I first started serving, and I do have my own fair share of challenges: be it from internal struggles of laziness and pride to external factors like timetable clashes with exams or parties.
I recall the first challenge in my faith journey was in Primary School, when I was constantly bullied verbally and physically. Despite the Gospel teaching to “offer the other cheek” when one side was already red from the embarrassment and hurt, it was completely absurd to me.
I remember locking myself up in my cabinet door and crying as if my heart was going to be ripped apart from all the pain. I asked Jesus all the “whys”. When I finally had enough of bawling my eyes out, and more so because I was frustrated that I had received no answer and no comfort, I opened the cabinet door. This was the very moment when my teary-red gaze was fixed upon the crucifix that greeted me. Seeing the cross upon which Jesus hung, these words formed in my mind:
“If you think what you experienced was bad, look at what they did to me.”
I began to weep again, this time not out of anger, but from a sense of being in union with the resurrected Christ. I took comfort in the power of the crucifix, and while I knew the bullying might continue the next day, I was no longer afraid, for I have God who will walk with me through this.
My Family Crisis
My other major challenge was when my mum’s health took a turn for the worse and she contracted pneumonia while fighting a long-drawn battle with cancer. I was 19 and in my final year at the Polytechnic then, and it broke my heart to see my mum suffering so much.
Yet, I knew it was pointless to search for an answer to all her struggles. This was because she had showed me through her actions- that while she did not have an answer to the bullying that I faced in school in my younger days- she was always there to shower me with love and affection whenever I got home.
It was my turn to do the same. I had no answers for why she was ill, no idea if she would get better or not, I only knew that I will do all that I can to love and care for her as she did for me.
In the many weeks that she was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), I spent nights in the hospital with my relative, taking turns to check on her along with sacrificing our sleep on hard plastic chairs. She eventually passed on a couple of weeks after my 20th birthday.
On the day of her passing, I recalled a nightmare I had when I was still in kindergarten, where I had dreamt that my mum died. I had woken up in tears, and I started to beg God not to take her away until I was in my twenties. With her passing, I wept even more in gratitude and thanks, for relieving my mum from all the pain, and for answering the prayer of a child back then to prolong her life for over 15 years.
A Tougher Ordeal
Just when I thought there were no greater hardships, God put me to a test four months after my mom’s passing when I was due for enlistment. Having heard so many stories of how military service broke people down mentally, physically, and spiritually, I was afraid of what was to come, while my dad was alone at home.
I remembered weighing my options – to malinger and get a cushy 9-to-5 role so that I could return home every day to spend time with my father, or to endure two years of national service.
I continued to waver until the day of my enlistment. It was only when I was on board the ferry to Pulau Tekong, that I realised I was using the passing of my mum and having to keep my dad company as an excuse from having to undergo the hardship in the Army. I felt embarrassed, knowing that my mum would be upset with such reasons because of my own fear.
The test of my will came just an hour later when I was allocated to the Ninja company. During my time, it was renowned to be the toughest company for recruits. I soldiered on, with thoughts of my mum as my source of strength, and the desire to do her and my dad proud. These carried me through some of the toughest times in the Army.
Grounded and striving
While I continue to serve in my church, I recognise that beyond a physical building, the Church is where God’s people are, and we are all called to serve Him in our own special ways.
In my encounter with people from various walks of life throughout the past 22 years of service, we have come together to worship, build churches and grottos, paint murals, mourn the passing of dear ones, welcome newborns, celebrate weddings and anniversaries, and so much more. From being part of the World Youth Day 2016 contingent and being blessed by Pope Francis as a newlywed during Sposi Novelli, to simply arranging chairs and tidying cabinets for catechism or RCIY classes, I hold all these experiences dear to my heart.
Indeed, God has kept me grounded and faithful. Similarly, in my workplace, He has blessed me and entrusted upon me to share this beacon of light with those I work.
While others might be self-serving, I prefer to look after the well-being of my colleagues beyond my interests. While others might be engaged in power play, I choose to play fair, giving everyone equal opportunities to the best of my ability. And the toughest was when I was called to love the person who used me for his/her own benefit and took credit for my work.
I can only do so with the grace of God, and because we are all people of God. Regardless of religion or character, I acknowledge that titles do not make me more or less than others. In fact, the higher I climb, the lower I must bend, just as Jesus who humbly did to serve all, love all.
My Prayer for the Catholic Church’s 200th anniversary
Dearest Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of the Church and our community. As we celebrate 200 years of history, we thank you for gracing us with the gift of being part of your story- the story of unending life and boundless love.
Thank you for the many role models you have blessed us with in our lives, from the prophets of old to the saints-in-the-making today. Through them, we experience your mercy and grace, and a glimpse of the heavenly kingdom that you have prepared for us since the beginning of time as we journey towards our eternal home with you.
May those who know you not, receive love; May those who have forgotten you, find love again; May those who love you, grow ever deeper in their relationship with you. In all that we do, may we always give praise and glory to your name. Amen.