The first day of the year [or the 8th day of Christmas :)] also marks a special day for us Catholics – the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. The Virgin Mary who in her singular act of submission and faith at the annunciation carried the Christ, the Saviour, in her womb for nine months; who in her motherhood nurtured the Prince of Peace.

This day also bears special meaning for me, marking the special role that the Virgin Mary has in bringing me closer to her Son. Many have asked about my faith journey in the past, but it was that one aspect of my life that I kept personal for a long while. Yet this morning, I was prompted by the words of the Gospel reading of the day, that while Mary “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart”, the shepherds “went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” (Luke 2)

I thought that perhaps there’s no better time than now to open up on this part of my life that has meant much to me and my family.

My journey in faith started when I was sent to my father’s alma mater for my primary education. Maris Stella was still very much a mission school, with a number of Marist Brothers still teaching. School Mass and chapel time were fascinating to me and I picked up praying the morning Rosary in chapel before school started.

I didn’t come from a Catholic family, but a rather multi-faith background. We had Buddhists, Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Catholics and even an Armenian Orthodox in the extended family. My dear grandmother was a staunch Buddhist upasika, yet she and my parents were open to faith. Of all her children, only my father was Buddhist, my aunts were Anglicans, Lutherans or Methodists – influenced like me by an early start in denominational mission schools.

But while I prayed the Rosary regularly, I had not considered becoming a Catholic myself. One small incident was to prompt me in that direction. It began with a family trip to Malacca. I had by this time entered secondary school. It was a time of rebellion, teenage angst and generally being everything that a teenager was expected to “misbehave” in. The Rosary was forgotten for now, my beads tucked into a corner of my study drawer.

Read related story: My Mother was there all along

It was just after lunch at a Peranakan restaurant no less, we had parked a distance away and I took a slow walk with my parents back to the car to make the drive back to Singapore. The road was strangely deserted for a weekend afternoon. In the mid-day heat, I had bent my head down to avoid the glare of the overhead sun and it was then that a small paper icon lying in a dirty roadside drain caught my eye.

I recognised it from my time in Maris Stella, it was an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Something in me thought that a dirty drain wasn’t the place to leave it lying so I stooped into the drain and picked it up, dusted it and stuffed it into my pocket. And it has never left… Till this day, the icon, though tattered and torn, sit in my wallet.

To Jesus through Mary
The icon of Our Lady I carry in my wallet

As we took the drive back to Singapore from Malacca, I took the icon out and read the prayer that was printed on its reverse. That mark the first step in the long journey of my conversion. It was slow and gradual, not an eureka moment, but I have come to understand my own journey just as a mother prompts and prays for her child – that no matter what the child does, the mother always stands patiently waiting for the child to return.

The journey took me through different denominations but ultimately led me back to where I began. By the time I entered JC, I spent every other weekday afternoon helping at the midday Mass at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. Weekends saw me parish hopping from Holy Family to Sacred Heart to St Bernadette etc. Eventually, the same icon beckoned me by chance when we moved further east and we lived within the parish boundary of where else but Our Lady of Perpetual Succour!

When dad was hospitalised after his heart-attack in Macau, I was still in National Service. I felt lost during that time. He was rushed from the airport to the hospital and endured a long complex operation. That chain of beads that sat in the back of my drawer drew me once again to intense prayer. By God’s amazing grace, dad made a complete recovery so quickly it surprised even the medical team.

The next step in my journey took me overseas to England. There I became part of the large and vibrant community of St John Stone Chaplaincy. It was there that I made my big step towards the Catholic Church. I was conditionally baptised by Father Peter Geldard on Ash Wednesday in 2002 at the St John Stone Chapel in Canterbury and received into full communion the following Sunday by Bishop John Hine at the Franciscan International Centre Chapel.

My spiritual birth as a child of God and brother of Christ started at that point. But I am also reminded of the sacrifice of motherhood by the example of the Virgin Mary by her role as the Theotokos or God-bearer. It brought me closer to my own mom and dad who by their many sacrifices made me who I am today.

I spent the next few years helping Father Geldard with the running of St John Stone House, the Catholic Chaplaincy in Canterbury. They were fulfilling times of my life. I left England for Singapore after 4 years and to seek another spiritual harbour.

Farewell Mass at the Franciscan International Study Centre where I spent 4 happy fruitful years

Back in Singapore, dad moved us once again and we settled into our new home just minutes away from OLPS. I began worshipping there in 2005 and grew to love the parish which is now my second home. Father Gregoire played a big role in guiding our spiritual growth as young Christians. It was here that Jocelyn was baptised. It was here that under the watchful eye of our Lord and our Lady that we exchanged our vows in Holy Matrimony. It was here we turned to in our grief and were comforted when we lost Peter Thomas our first child. It was here that we returned in joy to present Francis Alexander to God on the Feast of the Presentation after his birth. It is here that Jocelyn and I are called to humble service to Christ. It is here that we will again celebrate the new birth of our little baby through baptism in over a month’s time.

“She brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne” – Revelations 12:5

Our Lady’s crown, inspired by the crown of Our Lady of Fatima [Photo Credit: Adrian Liaw]

For me, it is without doubt that the grace of Jesus and the help of Mary that has made all this possible. In 2015, Jocelyn and I were humbled to present a new crown to the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. The design and crafting from start to finish took us over a year and we were blessed to witness the crowning of Our Lady and the Christ Child by Father Kenny on 28 June when we celebrated our parish Feastday.

Father Kenny crowning the icon [Photo Credit: Adrian Liaw]

So as we enter into 2016, my other theme for the new year is faith. And I take Mary as my guide to discipleship.
  • Like the Mother, may I always be devoted to the Son
  • Like the Mother, may I always be trusting in His ways
  • Like the Mother, may I always see the work of God in all things
  • Like the Mother, may I always be docile to the voice of the Spirit sent by the Son
  • Like the Mother, may I always glory in the kingship of the Son, and;
  • Like the Mother, may I always have compassion in my heart
  • Like the Son, may I always be dedicated to my family
  • Like the Son, may I always be passionate for others
  • Like the Son, may I always lead others to the Father

Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb

 Thank you Blessed Mother for leading me to the Son. May everyone be truly blessed this new year! Happy New Year everyone!
Alex Yam
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