The harvest is great, but the labourers are few” (Mt. 9:37). This could be seen as a very optimistic statement. Why??? Because there is so much of good that is waiting to be done by us in our lives. One of the ways to do this is to spread the Good News to those around us. God invites and calls us to be His labourers, to reap His harvest. Jesus called the twelve and commissioned them to reap the harvest. As for me, I have responded to this invitation and Call by becoming a priest. Many people have often asked me “how” and “why” did I become a priest… How did I recognise God’s Call and invitation.
I was then quite an “outstanding” Catholic… Always standing outside the church.
It Started with a Little Vision
It all started when I was about 15 years old. I remember attending one of the church missions conducted by the Redemptorists. I was then quite an “outstanding” Catholic… Always standing outside the church. And as I stood there trying to listen to the homily, I slowly began to dream, (as most of us often do when the homily is being preached), and as I stood there dreaming, I envisioned myself standing at the pulpit and preaching to the congregation. While this little “vision” was going through my thoughts, a little “Voice” from within me kept asking… “Why don’t you think of becoming a priest???”
I quickly brushed it aside, saying to myself, “No!!!… I can’t!!!… I am not worthy of the priesthood!!!” But these thoughts and promptings never left me. I then decided to speak to a relative of mine who is a priest, Father Simon Pereira. He told me: “Bosco, you are still young, continue mixing and socialising with people your age, but do try to deepen your spiritual life by reading the Bible. Read the Bible and keep a journal of your reflections.”
The Spirit was Willing but the Flesh was Weak
So I immediately got myself a nice file, decorated it and began reading the Bible and writing down my reflections. How long did this last??… Less than a week!!!! I found it very boring and exhausting. (Remember, I was only 15 years old). And I said to myself, “I just don’t have the perseverance, and there is no one to guide or motivate me”, so I abandoned it and gave up keeping a journal. My Bible went back to the shelf where it had been before, and began to do what it had done in the past, that is, to collect dust.
Besides, as a teenager, there were just so many distractions or should I say “attractions”!!!… Women, (sorry at that time they were girls)… They started entering my life… Anyway, I started mixing around and soon became a “party animal”. And so with all these things going round in my head… There was just no way that I was going to be worthy of the priesthood.
The Haunting of God’s Call
But this “Calling” from within would keep coming back to me every now and then, but each time it entered my thoughts, I would brush it aside, reminding myself that I was not worthy of the priesthood. Then, at the age of 22, after completing National Service, I was looking at the “world” in front of me. I told myself that in order to survive in Singapore, one would need the “paper-qualifications”. I did my ‘A’ Levels in Commerce, but felt more inclined towards the Technical side. So I enrolled myself at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic to study Mechanical Engineering. At the same time I also began to sit for some external exams and applied to universities abroad, thinking to myself that if I get accepted in a university, my paper qualification would be better than what I would get from the Polytechnic (a Degree versus a Diploma). Towards the end of my first year in the Polytechnic, this “nagging” feeling or “Calling” to the priesthood started “haunting” me. I then decided to “give-in” and “respond” to this “Call”.
I said to myself, “Enough!!” “I gave it a shot… No more thinking of the priesthood… Let’s face it, you don’t have a vocation!!”
Rejected by the Seminary
I went to the Minor Seminary and told the priest-in-charge (the Rector) that I wanted to give up everything then and there and join the seminary. He listened to me patiently, and then advised me to continue with my studies… Finish my education first… And then make a decision.
I left the seminary that day feeling very sad and disappointed. There I was, all eager to go in, and this priest told me “To go and study”… I kept asking myself, “What has Engineering got to do with the priesthood???… I will never be able to apply what I learn in Engineering to the priesthood… So why should I continue studying in this field???” It did not make any sense to me, and I said to myself, “Enough!!” “I gave it a shot… No more thinking of the priesthood… Let’s face it, you don’t have a vocation!!”
I Happily Fell in Love
Not long after this, I went for a “youth camp”. And while I was at this camp, Cupid shot his arrow straight into my heart… I was in love!!!! Head over heels in love!!! And I began to sing praises to God saying: “Now I understand why You did not want to accept me to become Your priest when I offered myself to You. You were sending this beautiful person into my life.”
And so began my love relationship… Soon afterwards, I received acceptance letters from some of the universities that I had written to. But now there was a change of heart. Studies were of secondary importance… Love was in… But I knew that if I wanted to be successful… I definitely needed a degree to be “one up” in the market. I then left Singapore for the United States and continued my long-distance love relationship. And when one is in love, one will do a lot of romantic, lovey-dovey things … And I must confess… I was quite a romantic. I wrote to her almost every day for the three years that I was away, sometimes even two or three letters a day!!! What did I write? Oh… The simple usual stuff… “I love you… I miss you…” and all that mushy stuff!!!
Torn Between God and Girlfriend
And when I came back for my summer break, we were inseparable, we discussed marriage and everything looked set. But somehow, this “nagging” feeling inside never left me, instead, it started getting stronger and stronger.
I must confess, I was quite angry with God and in my prayer I remember saying; “This is not funny anymore!!! I was ready to go in years ago, and Your priest said “No”… And then You sent this beautiful person into my life and now You haunt me on becoming a priest!!!” I did not know what to do. I kept bringing it to prayer, spoke to different priests about it and went for a number of retreats to discern further.
I want one more sign and this time I am going to make it difficult for You
Give Me a Concrete Sign – Within 10 Minutes!
Just before my graduation, I went for yet another retreat, and I told myself that this would be it. I was going to make my final decision at this retreat and there would be no turning back. During this retreat, I asked the Lord for some “signs” which He did give to me. However, I kept saying to myself that they were all coincidences. And so on the last night of the retreat, I went into the Adoration Room to pray and began a little dialogue with the Lord. I thanked Him for the little signs, but I told Him that I was still not convinced. I said: “I want one more sign and this time I am going to make it difficult for You. I want You, Lord to send me an “instrument” of Yours within the next ten minutes to tell me that I have a vocation”. And as I said this, I quickly opened my eyes to see if anyone was coming my way, for there were three or four other guys in there praying. But they were deep in their personal prayer. And just then, the Retreat Master opened the door and announced to us who were in the room; “Gentlemen, it’s getting late, round up your prayers and I will be back in five minutes to lock up the room.” I smiled to myself saying: “Heh… heh… heh, Lord, I gave You ten minutes, but Your priest gives You five, because once I leave this room… No more!!!… lt’s over!!” But just before leaving the room, the priest tapped me on the shoulder and said: “Son, have you ever thought of becoming a priest??” I immediately turned and looked at him in total shock and said: “Why???”… “Why did you ask me that??” He simply shrugged his shoulders and said: “I don’t know, but think about it… I think you’ll make a good one… Think about it!” and he left.
I looked straight at the Blessed Sacrament and said: “Lord I give up… I am not going to run anymore… Here I am Lord… I am Yours.” And the moment I surrendered myself, something very deep, personal and beautiful took place. A total sense of peace… A sense of peace that I had never experienced before just “enveloped” me, and I began to weep and weep and weep. The other guys in the room did not know what to do and I guess they must have thought that I was crazy because when they came up to see if I was “ok”, I began to laugh… And all they could do was shake their heads in dismay.
We embraced each other and she looked at me tearfully and said: “Can I still hold your hand?”
The Parting of Ways, Start of a New Journey
Then came the painful part of telling my girlfriend of my decision to end our relationship and to enter the seminary. I called her, spoke to her and we both ended up crying on the phone. Within a couple of weeks, I graduated and came back to Singapore, and she met me at the airport. We embraced each other and she looked at me tearfully and said: “Can I still hold your hand?” I put my arms round her and we walked out of the airport together. I then spoke to her parents about my decision. It was a dark and gloomy day, but I saw God’s Grace and Love work in and through them. Painful as it was for them, they gave me their blessings to be a priest.
And so there you have it, my vocation story… I joined the seminary and was ordained on 19 June 1996.
All of Us Are Called to a Mission
God does call each and every one of us. True, not all of us are called to the priesthood or to the religious vocations, but nonetheless, all of us are called to a mission, and the harvest is waiting to be reaped, because there is still a great need for people to hear and experience the Good News… The Good News of Hope, Salvation, Peace, Love and Healing. Each one of us has a role to play, no matter how small or mundane it may appear to be, if we respond to this call, we will be able to make a difference in our world. So let us continue to pray that we come to recognise our call and mission and also recognise that we are all in fact children of the harvest called to reap and spread the Good News.
Thank you and may God bless all of you.