A love story with Jesus Christ, my vocation story revolves around how I was chased by Him, how His love never failed, never ran out and never gave up on me.
My journey as a Catholic started when I was baptised at two years old. The only two people in my entire family tree that were Catholic then were my mother and her older sister (who naturally became my godmother). They were both converts, and so were also new to the faith. Therefore, I grew up largely in a Buddhist culture; Jesus Christ and His Church were hidden away from my view. Apart from weekly chapel sessions as a student of Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road), I didn’t have much going on with Jesus. The only thing I knew then was that being Catholic was somehow different from being Methodist. I didn’t know what or why though.
As I grew older, family life became increasingly turbulent. My parents went through a divorce and thereafter an annulment. It was during those times that my mother decided to bring my siblings and me back to Church and enrolled us into a “fast-tracked” Catechism course. Upon completing the course, I received my first Holy Communion in 2003, when I was 12. That marked the start of Jesus’ gentle pursuit to draw me closer to Him.
While going to church for Mass had become a weekly event on my calendar, truth be told, I was present only to follow my mother’s wishes. I wanted to be a good and filial son after all, to always be on my best behaviour; I was the man of the house and had to be a good example for my two younger sisters. God had not filled many parts of my life and my world continued to revolve around anything I found enjoyable and fun. Some days it was my computer games and on others, it was cycling or running about the playground with kids from the neighbourhood.
In the blink of an eye, I was confirmed into the faith and joined what made most sense then – the youth catechists at the Church of Saint Francis Xavier (SFX). It was there that I learned more about Jesus Christ, and it was as if I had gone through another round of Catechism. After six years of journeying with two batches of confirmands, I felt like I knew all there was to know about God. Yet something was still missing. My heart didn’t quite know Him as yet. I lacked a deep and intimate relationship with this God who supposedly created me, who supposedly knew all about me.
Jesus was slowly becoming a close companion, an awesome friend who was faithfully there for me. Yet a mere friendship now did not seem enough for Him, and for me.
It was then that I joined one of the youth communities and began my friendship with Jesus. Active and intentional in my actions, our friendship matured through formation sessions, breaking of the Word, the sharing of lives with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and ultimately, partaking in each other’s life journey. Jesus was slowly becoming a close companion, an awesome friend who was faithfully there for me. Yet a mere friendship now did not seem enough for Him, and for me.
During my National Service, I found myself getting into the office much earlier every morning just so I could finish all my work in time to rush from Base Camp back to SFX for evening Mass later in the day.
I started falling deeper in love with Him.
Those were our daily date nights – meeting Him in the Eucharist, praying the Divine Office after Mass with whoever was present and closing the night with dinner together.
It was not long after that Jesus asked if I wanted something more, almost like asking a girl if she wanted to be your girlfriend after a period of dating. During one of the Masses, He stirred within me this desire to celebrate the Eucharist. Without knowing how, I felt like I had teleported to the Altar and in that split second had taken the place of the priest consecrating the bread and wine. Needless to say, I freaked out that very instance! I must have been over imagining things; it must have had been some kind of a joke or a mistake.
My relationship with Jesus then soured. We argued, or rather, I just got upset that He seemed to be getting too greedy for my liking. The newly added prayer intention for more vocations at Sunday Masses didn’t make things any easier, intensifying my dread towards Jesus, and of giving him more.
I was torn and upset because I had now found myself with two lovers, two masters of my heart.
I was torn and upset because I had now found myself with two lovers, two masters of my heart. On the one hand I was in a comfortable and steady four-year-long relationship, yet on the other is now this Jesus who died on the cross for me, who seduced me, who knew me perfectly.
In the seemingly irreconcilable choices that had presented themselves to me – it was one or the other – I decided to give Jesus one chance. I availed myself for a 9-week stay-in program called the School of Witness (SOW) organised by the Office for Young People (OYP). In SOW, I learned how to trust in Jesus in all that I did, even if that meant dancing and miming for our outreach events which were clearly out of my comfort zone. At the end of SOW, Jesus spoke right into my heart. Flipping the bible one afternoon, I found myself at John 21:15-17. Into the depths of my heart, He asked, “Brandon, do you love me?” and I answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you”.
It was then that I embarked on a journey to discern my call more deeply, seeking and purifying my desire to enter the seminary. I started my discernment with so much zeal that I even questioned why I needed to enter University to study Computer Science. I felt that not only was it irrelevant and did not contribute to my eventual end goal, it also brought about unnecessary expenses. Yet, my family seemed to agree with my Spiritual Directors that it was crucial for personal growth, and that I would learn something from the arduous academic journey. Out of obedience and still not quite fully understanding why, I promised myself to do my best for the next three to four years of my undergraduate studies.
Today, as I look back at my time at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), I realised the immense growth, not just at my waist, but also in my maturity, leadership, and thought processes. Most importantly, I had made many good friends who supported and challenged me in my walk with Jesus. In the moments when I felt alone and struggled to make sense of God’s plan for me, they would swoop down to pick me up and be God’s mini cheerleaders to spur me on.
Unexpectedly and possibly to the surprise of many, I fell in love with someone during my course of studies. Well, I was swept off my feet, as some of my friends might say. While the journey towards the priesthood had made me a more intentional disciple, at this point in time, it seemed as if it was only meant to better prepare me for a new relationship. So we eventually decided to get together but to take things slowly, allowing God to still speak. In all honesty, it felt good to be able to love and to be loved exclusively again.
However, God continued to reveal that He was calling me for something else.
… while I desired an exclusive love, my heart longed to share my life with even more people – the people of God and His Church.
As a couple, we had our fair share of disagreements. Most pertinent was the tension between spending time together and dedicating capacity and energy to ministry in church. In navigating this, I then came to discover very concretely that while I desired an exclusive love, my heart longed to share my life with even more people – the people of God and His Church.
The lyrics from the song “First Love” by Chris Tomlin struck a chord within me for it spoke of how Jesus remains my first love, my guiding light, my greatest joy, and I’d declare that He has won my heart. From then on, I reached the realisation that yes, while exclusive love brings joy, listening to the call and will of Christ would bring even greater joy. The song became my prayer and my commitment to Him.
Being the gentle and loving God He is, I was given an image of two different cars – one representing Marriage and the other, Priesthood. It was clear that both cars would lead me on a blessed journey and an awesome ride, yet I could only choose one. I was dying on the inside knowing I had to make a decision – I had to get into one car, shut the door, drive off and not think of the other car; to put my hand on the plough and not look back (Luke 9:62). When I made my choice, I felt like I had lost something that was dear and important, but I knew my decision was made in freedom and in love. Even though I felt a part of me was lost, I seemed to have also unlocked an indescribable peace within me.
And so today, as I embark on this new phase of life and of adventure, I know that when the journey gets tough or does not make sense, He will mould me, teach me and be my guiding light.
He is Christ, the Lord
He is Christ, our Saviour
I bow my heart before no other names
I bow my heart before no other King
– “A King Like This” by Chris Tomlin