I became a ‘Sunday Catholic’ when I started work. I was far from God and my faith life was just attending Sunday mass until my mid-40s.
Life was comfortable, my family was happy and my children were growing up fine. I was paid fairly well in my corporate work in the oil and gas sector, but somehow, I felt a sense of emptiness.
After a few incidents at work, I came to my lowest point despite my seemingly happy life at home. Then, I re-connected with a Protestant friend who had left the corporate sector several years before and had set up a hotel in Vietnam as a social enterprise with Christian principles as the guiding force.
I could sense his joy and fulfilment when he spoke about Christian values, and I told myself that these were what I wanted at my workplace too.
First Steps Forward
By chance, I came across a retreat at Kingsmead Centre by a visiting American priest, Fr. Matthew Lin, with themes that centred on “healing the mission of life.” It was my first retreat in 30 years and although I was late in signing up, I was enrolled as a stay-out participant.
“I sensed God speaking to me and telling me I was not alone in my search.”
That retreat was the start of my journey, and at the end of it, I felt a deep sense of divine peace, something that I’ve never felt before. I also sensed God speaking to me and telling me that I was not alone in my search.
Coincidentally, a lady I met at the retreat urged me to sign up for the Conversion Experience Retreat (CER) by Archbishop William Goh at the Catholic Spirituality Centre (CSC). She even offered to ballot on my behalf if I was unable to apply for it.
I was a little intrigued as I could not imagine a retreat being so popular and needing a ballot for entry and so was curious enough to Google it. On a whim, I asked my wife if she wanted to attend the CER retreat together but was immediately rejected and reminded that she barely had time to commit to a 5-day retreat.
Six months later however, my wife’s ex-boss unexpectedly brought up the topic of CER. What she said struck my wife as it was the same words used by the lady I had met at the Kingsmead retreat – “If you don’t have time to ballot, I will ballot on your behalf.” I joked with her that this was God calling us to go.
My wife agreed to ballot for the CER, but at the back of her mind she thought that we would not get a place, given that she had never been lucky even in winning lottery. Miraculously, God’s providence allowed us to be enrolled on our first try.
The Turning Point
The CER was an enriching and life-changing experience for me. The days flew past in the blink of an eye, and I remember waking up on the last day thinking to myself that this does not feel like 5 days.
“I was filled with a deep sense of longing, connection, and wanted more. It was like falling in love with God.”
The following Sunday after CER, I took my first step towards serving the Church. When Fr Jovita made an announcement for help in the RCIA ministry, I did not hesitate and said “yes”. This led me to learn how to be a facilitator, which refreshed my knowledge of the Catechism of the Church.
By the end of that year, through discernment with a spiritual director, I was also comfortable enough to leave my job in the corporate sector to take a 1-year sabbatical.
Opening Up to God’s Calls
During Advent that year, I also went on a mission trip with ACTS (A Call to Share) to Battambang, Cambodia. It was something my friends had been asking me to go but I had made excuses previously. This time around, I said “yes”, as I was more open to venture into new areas that God is calling me to.
Another act of providence at my first ACTS trip was meeting Anthony, who was then the Deputy-Chairman of Caritas Singapore. Anthony had not planned to go on the mission trip and was a last-minute participant.
Whilst we were painting the walls of a remote village kindergarten, Anthony and I shared our faith stories and I asked him for advice on where I could volunteer the following year during my sabbatical.
Anthony asked if I would consider volunteering in the Roman Catholic Prison Ministry (RCPM). Initially, the thought of going into prison scared me, but not wanting to appear fearful, I put on a brave front and asked Anthony more about the prison ministry.
He said that “prison ministry is like RCIA” where we journey with inmates to help them grow their faith. Given that I was in the RCIA ministry back then, I was immediately comforted and open to listen further. I said “yes” knowing that God does not call us to something we are not prepared for.
Venturing Into The Unknown
After that mission trip, I prayed and discerned further about joining RCPM before finally taking the plunge. At my first session in the prison, I remembered being a little nervous.
However, I was comforted by the Holy Spirit, and for reason unknown to me, I could remember the names of each of the guys, something that I usually struggled with. Because of this, I felt welcomed by them.
I have not looked back since that day. For the past 5 years, I have been going to prison once a week, to celebrate communion service with them. I have also learnt to share and break the Word with the prisoners, which has also strengthened my faith.
Over time, I have begun to journey with the guys after they are released. Getting to know them on a one-to-one basis has allowed me to learn about them as a person, a friend, a child-of-God with full dignity and with the same fears, joys and aspirations like any one of us, but in different circumstances.
This ’aftercare’ part of the ministry nonetheless proved to be more challenging. Their lives were beset with issues pertaining to shelter, work, family relationships and social stigmatisation, and many fell back to their old ways. When this happened, I felt helpless and wondered if more could have been done.
“Yet, I know that I need to lean on God’s strength and continue to show His love, mercy and hope.”
No Looking Back
After my year’s sabbatical, my RCPM experience sparked off my interest to study for a part-time degree in counselling, and I never went back to work in the corporate sector.
I go on mission trips with ACTS every year and am also active in the organising committee. Along with that, I serve in the managing committee of CARE (Catholic AIDS Response Effort) which ministers to people living with HIV/AIDS. I am also involved with the Caritas Formation Committee which sees to formation programmes with member organisations to advocate Catholic Social Teachings within the Diocese.
Looking back, I cannot imagine my journey from being a Sunday Catholic, to serving actively now. I have learnt to trust in Him as he prepares me for my callings. I have come to place my fears aside and offer my ‘volunteering work’ up to Him.
“Our God is indeed a God of surprises.”
Each time as I seek to plant the seeds of God’s love, graciousness and hope without any expectations, I realise that He blesses me with so much more. He does not give something to me, until he knows I am ready. All I have to do is to say ‘Yes’. As in the words of prophet Micah (Micah 6:8), “This is what the Lord asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.”
My Prayer for the Catholic Church’s 200th anniversary
Dear Lord, we would like to thank you for the Catholic Church in Singapore, for planting the mustard seed 200 years ago and growing it to where it is now, a tall majestic tree with strong branches providing shade and shelter to the Church in Singapore.
Lord, we like to thank you especially for the missionaries, both local and foreign, religious and laity who have sacrificed and committed their lives to building the Church in Singapore over the years, loving us, serving us, teaching us, comforting us, encouraging us and proclaiming the gospel to us.
Lord, we pray that you continue to grow the Church in Singapore, sending your spirit to a renewed encounter with the risen Lord for each and everyone of us, so that we may be inspired to say “yes” to your call to become a Church of missionary disciples, going forth to proclaim the good news to all, growing our communities of faith, loving and serving the poor and marginalised and giving us the strength and courage to renew the Church and its structures in order to make it more vibrant.
We make this pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.