A bit of a background of my ministry involvement, I joined the altar servers at Nativity as my parents decided to move to Seng Kang from Telok Blangah. Since St Anne’s Church was undergoing renovation then, my brother and I had our catechism classes at the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I remembered an occasion when my mother asked me to attend an evening Mass at 8pm with her at St Anne’s Church. Uncertain if there was really an evening Mass that late, I was a little reluctant to go. However, to appease my mother, I accompanied her. Upon reaching the church, I needed to use the toilet. As I came out from the toilet, I bumped into Fr. Kenny. He was the Spiritual Director for St Anne’s Altar Servers then. He knew me as an altar server from Nativity Church and asked me to serve the Mass.
I told Fr Kenny I couldn’t, as I’m not from St Anne’s altar servers although St Anne’s Church is my home parish. He permitted and said it was okay to serve the Mass. I served the Mass and was introduced to Fr. Henry, who was the Parish Priest and Main Celebrant, as well as then Br. Samuel, now Fr. Samuel.
It was only when the Mass started did I come to realise that it was a thanksgiving Mass for Priestly Vocations (organised by the Serra Club). After Mass, I left the sacristy to meet my mother. She was amazed at how her son went from the toilet, to the altar to serve. At this point, Br. Samuel came up to us. He made a passing remark to my mother that I had a calling towards priesthood. My jaw dropped! I barely knew him and wondered how he felt that I have a calling towards priesthood. Nonetheless, we exchanged numbers and he encouraged me to attend the vocation recollections and retreats. I tried to excuse myself from his invitation by saying I had servers meeting every Friday evenings.
After much persuasion, I decided to attend the vocation retreat, which was in Punggol then. Since that vocation retreat, I tried to attend the recollections as well. Looking back, I’m grateful to Fr. Samuel, who kept encouraging me to attend the discernment recollections and retreats.
I worked at a retail distributing company as an import administrator, after my national service. It was on my second year with the company where the priestly calling became more apparent. I had a God-encounter moment at Nativity Church that year. The youths from Nativity Church did a Lent production instead of the usual Passion Play, so I decided to watch the production.
I was kneeling at the church wing near the sacristy after ending work on that day, before the start of the production. My eyes were fixated on the huge crucifix at the sanctuary as I prayed. This was when I heard the Lord’s voice. I knew it was the Lord’s voice because there was a great stirring in my heart and the voice was so calm and absence of fear.
The Lord asked “Bernard, Bernard, do you love me?” I said, “Yes Lord, You know I love you.”
He asked again “Bernard, Bernard, do you love me? I replied, “Yes Lord, You know I love you.”
The Lord asked the third time “Bernard, Bernard, do you love me? I replied, “Yes Lord, You know I love you.” This time, He said, “If you love me, feed my sheep.”
I was completely overwhelmed by His love and was trying to wipe my tears as the production started. Later the same year, I was attending Mass and was praying if the Lord was calling me towards the priesthood. I felt a vibe that I’m going to experience something; a stirring began in my heart as I queued at the communion line. I went back to the pew after receiving the Lord and I felt as if I was inside this huge bubble and the Lord’s voice came. It was like a vacuum just between the Lord and I.
“Bernard, Bernard, do you love me?” the Lord asked. I couldn’t answer Him. I took the opportunity to tell the Lord why I don’t think I should be a priest instead. I was tearing and afraid at the same time. But I thought to myself, this is the only time I can ask God in His Holy presence.
I said to the Lord, “Lord, I’m unworthy to be your priest and I’m a sinful man.” The Lord replied me saying, “I come to call sinners.” I said to the Lord, “I’m just a polytechnic graduate, your priests are at least a degree graduate.” The Lord said, “Look at the twelve, none of them has even a PSLE certificate.” I said to the Lord, “I’m not a good speaker, look at your priests, all of them can speak so well.” The Lord said, “Look at Moses, he can’t even utter a word in front of pharaoh. I sent Aaron to help him.”
Once again the Lord overwhelmed me with His love and I was completely speechless. The Lord said to me again, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” However, even with all these God-encounter moments and ‘signs’, I still couldn’t really accept the reality of the priestly calling and tried to ‘run away’.
It was only in 2016 during one of the retreats organised by the Nativity Community of Intentional Discipleship that I realised I cannot ‘run’ from God anymore. There was a session on the Book of Jonah, the speaker explained how Jonah tried to escape from his mission given by God. As the session continued, I felt I was like Jonah, trying to do my own things and live my life according to what I want. Then the speaker said, “How long do you want to put me off?”
At that instance, the words pierced my heart like a sword. It felt as if God was asking me through the session speaker. I broke down and I knew the Lord has been waiting for me patiently with love, to answer His call to the priesthood.
And so my dear friends, as you read this story, I humbly request that you include my fellow brother seminarians and I in your prayers. May we be formed by His love and be priests after His own heart, serving Him and His church.