I had a pretty long Archdiocesan Vocation Promotion Team meeting last night and by the time I made it back to my room after closing our seminary gate, I was pretty much exhausted. Although the temptation was just to say my Compline (Night Prayer) and hit the bed, I felt a desire to pay a visit to Our Lord in our Prayer Room late last night.
As I opened my weekday missal to listen to the Lord’s voice in today’s readings, the words of today’s scripture readings touched me deeply. The entrance antiphon reads, “I will be a witness to you in the world, O Lord. I will spread the knowledge of your name among my brothers, alleluia”
These words kind of spoke to me because I think at the back of my mind, there was this nagging thought of whether all these efforts we are making as an Archdiocese in terms of vocation promotion is bearing fruits. We always say prayer is important and I know for a fact that we are all intensely praying; yet, the young men of today seem to turn their heads away from the Lord’s voice even when he may seem to call them to the priesthood. As Samuel shared in his earlier reflection, indeed, we could beg the Lord on our knees and he too in his compassion and love for his Church could call out to many young men out there, but they may choose to exercise their God-given right to freedom of choice and still turn their heads away. So in some ways, human action, or rather human inaction is still a stumbling block to our God, who out of his total, gratuitous Love has allowed himself to allow us, his mere creatures (who are here by day and gone by night) to have a say in our lives – the freedom to choose, the freedom to not choose.
As I went in to the Prayer Room with these thoughts at the back of my mind, the Lord spoke to me from the very onset of the entrance antiphon of today’s Eucharist. Indeed, I am called to be a witness and it is my heart’s desire that God would use me to be his witness even with my limitations, weaknesses and shortcomings. It is also my prayer that, “I will be a witness to you in the world, O Lord. I will spread the knowledge of your name among my brothers, alleluia” I found it meaningful that the word used was “brothers” for I immediately thought of the many excellent young men whom the Lord could be gazing upon here in Singapore and inviting them to be his witnesses as his priests. “I will spread the knowledge of your name among my brothers!” – This is indeed a very difficult call and sometimes, I even resent it. I always joke that we seminarians are sometimes like lepers amongst young Catholic men. When they see us, they tend to run as if we were the plague because they are afraid that we would pop the question, “have you considered if Jesus is calling you to be a priest?” It’s sometimes painful for us as seminarians to play this prophetic role of inviting young men to consider the priestly vocation and it certainly makes us “notorious”. But should we stop? Indeed, the day we entered the seminary, we had declared, “I will be a witness to you in the world, O Lord. I will spread the knowledge of your name among my brothers, alleluia” Therefore, in all humility, even with the pain of being “ostracized”, we must declare the name of Jesus to our generation of “brothers” for the “fullness of life” that seminarians ourselves have experienced in responding to the call of Jesus thrusts us forward.
Then, as I read the Gospel, the good Lord brought me back to a day many years ago in my own life as if to remind me of my own struggles, confusion and pain as a young man who was considering the priestly call amidst all the demands of the “world”. Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus saying, “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth.”
I was an aspirant with the seminary for about 9 years before I entered and they were often painful and confusing years of seeking the Lord and learning surrender, patience and humility. After a few years had gone by and although my heart was already desiring to enter the seminary, my own situation in life at that time did not permit me from making any concrete steps forward in my vocational journey. I was getting a bit frustrated and impatient with the Lord and wondering if all these thoughts about the priesthood were my own human desires or was it really from God. I remember even wondering if the good Lord liked to play “hide and seek” with me and if he did, he certainly had the upper hand. Here I was being captivated by him and yet the possibility of my entering the seminary almost seemed impossible when I thought of all hurdles that I would have to cross before I could even consider joining the seminary.
At that point, I was still in NUS and it was probably around the same time of the year as we are in now. I had finished my exams and the priest I was journeying with then had asked me to come and spend a few days in the seminary to just be with the :Lord and to get to know the seminary community better. Of course there were many hesitations and fears and I had to tell my family that I was going away for a youth retreat when I was actually going to the seminary out of fear of the reaction if would cause amongst them.
Amidst all my pains and frustrations during that stay in, I decided to take it to the Lord in prayer. After all, if he was truly calling me, all my problems are his problems so he would have to take care of them for me. I was in the Prayer Room in the seminarians block and as I was speaking to the Lord, he pointed me to this same Gospel passage as today’s mass - “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth.”
I remember I was deeply moved by this passage back then as I read it in the seminarians’ Prayer Room. I felt the Lord telling me that there were many things he still wanted to tell me and that I was not ready for it yet. He could disclose them to me at that time (not that he didn’t know) but it was for my sake that he was not telling me – for I would not be able to bear it. The ever thoughtful Jesus did not want to give me an information overload. And so I sat there in the Prayer Room, feeling the invitation to trust in the Lord. That he knew where I was heading; where he was calling me and He himself would reveal every step of the way for me through his Holy Spirit - the Spirit of truth who leads me to the complete truth. So it was that my heart was still in the Lord and yet, there was this pondering in my mind – would I ever be able to sit here in that same Prayer Room as a seminarian some day? It was a question that I had but only Jesus knew the answer and he decided for that moment that it would be too much for me to bear at that moment. He would need more time to prepare me for the stuff he wanted to tell me.
That was almost 6 years ago and the years have flown by and so much has unfolded since that stay in. I completed my university studies and the Lord led me to realizing that he wanted me to go out and work and so I did until my entry into seminary over 2 years ago. The awesome thing for me last night was that after so many years, the Lord reminded me in the same Prayer Room where I had once prayed many years ago and he told me, “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth.” – he repeated those same words to me last night in today’s Gospel reading and reminded me how he was faithful to his promise. Indeed, to know about the many more years of journeying the Lord had installed for me even after that day when I did the stay-in in seminary may have been too daunting and overwhelming for me and the Lord withheld such information from me if I was truly going to be able to enter the seminary some day. But now that I am here, I see His mighty hand retrospectively leading me and shepherding me; I have experienced the Spirit of Truth leading me to the Truths of my life in Jesus Christ. What an awesome gift to share in this great adventure of vocation with Jesus! I share this with much gratitude and awe for indeed, the Lord’s ways are beyond our ways. He himself leads us to complete Truth through the action of His Spirit at a pace that we can take, lest we get an information overload! Even know, I do not know what my future holds, none of us do, but I know the Lord is saying to us even now, “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth.” The future is His to reveal and ours to live!
I thought that I would share this photo of our seminarian’s Prayer Room with all of you because it’s a place that most outsiders won’t get to see and yet, this is the central place of solace for us seminarians within our living quarters. It is here that we are recharged, find strength, share our joys and run to the Lord when we are in tears amidst our daily life. What a joy to have Jesus as a tenant in the same block we are in. It is one of the greatest privileges of being a member of Kampung Punggol :)