Growing up as a cradle Catholic and in an interfaith family, one question I always had was, “Why was I baptised a Catholic?” Dragging myself out of bed to attend Catechism classes and Sunday Masses, as I look enviously at my older sister, who was a free-thinker, sleeping in on weekends – I wished that I was not a Catholic so that I did not have to abide by such rules and obligations.

Comparatively, my sister had an easier time growing up while I seem to encounter more challenges and trials. “So what’s the point of being a Catholic? Life seems easier when you’re not a Catholic or tied to a religion!”, I thought to myself. The list of shoulds and should-nots grew longer as I started to explore my sexuality and relationships when I started dating. My life seemed to be dictated by rules and obligations – and when I lived life my way, I had to deal with tremendous guilt and shame within me.

There was no joy in being a Catholic at all!

Gift of Faith

Slowly, I began to resent the faith and my mother.

Who gave her the right to baptise me? I was just a baby and could not make any decisions. And now I am left with no choice! UNFAIR. As a young, angsty and frustrated teen, I asked her, “Why did you baptise me?”

My mother, who was converted to the Catholic faith, shared her conversion story with me. All her life she had a deep desire to search for a personal and relatable God. She knew that she found the One when her friend introduced her to the Catholic Church.

“Being a Catholic is the best thing that has happened to me.
This is the best gift I know which I can give to you,” my mom quipped.

I could not understand this back then.

Double Life

Nevertheless, I tried to be a good Catholic by going for Sunday Mass, serving in a Church ministry and attending retreats where I encountered the Lord in a deep and personal way. But I was also leading a double life. I struggled to remain chaste. I had given myself to my then-boyfriend whom I thought was the one for me.

As part of my work, I had to travel extensively. The ways of the world were enticing that I gave in. There was no one to tell me what I can or cannot do. I led a hedonistic lifestyle according to my whims and fancy – eat, sleep, rave, REPEAT.

My desperation to be loved also drove me to become a person that I grew to despise. When I found out that my boyfriend had cheated on me, I tried to move on. But not knowing how to deal with the hurt, anger and rejection, I sought love in the wrong places – married men. I truly struggled.

How can something feel so right and yet be wrong at the same time? Even though I was loved and desired, I could never be proud of the illicit relationships. My life became a big lie and I had to hide in the shadows of darkness.

Upheld by His Love

But God’s love has always been there for me, like a divine elastic band that will never snap. His love for me never wavered even when I was so wayward. Each time when I was overwhelmed by the guilt and shame of what I had done, I sought His infinite love and mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and encountered Him through loving and compassionate priests. Deep in my heart, I knew I could not carry on living life like that.

During my travels, I continued to make an effort to locate Catholic Churches in the vicinity where I stayed and attended Mass week after week. I don’t know why I made that conscious effort, maybe because it was a deep-rooted practice and I attended it out of obligation without any thought.

One day as I was reflecting, it occurred to me that if I resented the faith and did not want to be held liable to the rules and obligations, now would be the perfect time for me to leave the Church! I finally had a choice! I was no longer policed by my mother given that I had the physical distance and freedom to decide if and when I wanted to go for Mass.

Recognising the Gift

Yet, it was then that I also realised this faith which I used to resent had become my lifeline. Without God in my life, I don’t know where I would be. I experienced a deep sense of gratitude knowing that I was baptised into this faith and this God who loves me unconditionally.

My faith was no longer a burden made up of rules and obligations, but was slowly transforming into a conscious decision of pursuing a relationship with the very One who created me, who loves me and accepts me as I am. This God who pursues me relentlessly every single day because of His infinite love for me.

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

It was through this realisation of what my faith means to me that I had the determination and firmness of heart to cut off all unhealthy relationships and to set my life right again with Him.

Chosen and Beloved

I have come to realise that without God in my life, I would be living through my life with so much guilt and shame – thinking that I am unworthy of anyone’s love. But through the Sacrament of Baptism, the truth is that I am chosen by God and I am truly His beloved child. He does not condemn me, He only asks that start my life afresh and not to sin again.

“Jesus said [to the woman caught in adultery], “Neither do I [condemn you]. Go and sin no more.”John 8:11

Even though I still struggle to accept that my past is part of my faith’s journey, I recognise that in God’s eyes, there are no mistakes, only lessons to be learnt to help me grow and mature in my faith. He uses everything, the good and the bad, for His glory – only if I allow Him to. This is also now my mission to proclaim that God loves each and everyone of us infinitely, just as we are. He is for us, wanting only the best for us. He is waiting to draw closer to you, to embrace you – the question is will you allow Him to?

I now truly appreciate this gift of faith and what my mother had done for me when I was a baby. Just as parents who register their children in renowned play schools to get a headstart in life, so did my mother.

She enrolled me in the best school of faith, where I came to know and love the Lover of my soul, the very reason for my existence. Now, it is up to me to continue to cultivate this gift of faith and the relationship that I have with my God and make Him known.

Giselle Ong
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