One of the things that is new for me now that I am back in seminary is that I have just begun my theological studies. Often, in class, my brothers have been teasing me that they have been waiting for me to come back because they know that I will ask many questions in class. Although they are only joking, their teasing sometimes makes me wonder why I am known to have so many questions. I do admit that it is true that I do have many questions - I guess it stems from my desire to be clear, especially since I feel the weight of my seminary studies in terms of the teaching role I would play as a priest and also, I think it reflects my personal search for the truth. It could also well be that I am slower to grasp the subject that is being taught which can be embarrassing but I must accept that and of course my greatest fear in asking questions would be if I am holding back all my classmates or the lecturers in advancing further into the course if I had not asked those questions. I guess the issue at hand is whether the questions are pertinent and useful to the subject or are merely irresponsible and irrelevant questions. That is something I must continuously discern.
However, I would like to use this example of my own life to reflect on something deeper. I think that most of us Singaporean students prefer not to ask questions. I guess it is part of the education system we grew up in or maybe it is also just part of our Asian culture not to question because it may seem disrespectful or unnecessary. We would certainly prefer it if all the answers were just given to us on a golden platter. I guess this holds true at every level of our education and it is no wonder then that the ten year series books with worked solutions are always so popular for our major exams as we all want the worked out solutions. This could also be true for us when it comes to the bigger questions of life.
Let me sidetrack for a while by sharing with all of you a question that has been on my mind recently. In the Singaporean Catholic community, we have been praying for vocations for some years now and although we are seeing some change in the tide of vocations, I do not think that we have seen a dramatic change. Maybe it is still early and we are still at the stage of ploughing the fields so that the Lord can plant the seeds of vocation and we can look forward to the great harvest but I wonder if there are also other possibilities. In recent times, I have also been quite amused with the fact that I have met and heard of good and balanced men who begin on a search to discern whether they are called to the priestly vocation only to discover that they are not being called. I salute these men for their honesty and courage. But in recent times, I confess that I have been wrestling with God about why many of the men who are serious about discerning are not being called by Him. With so many people praying, it surely cannot be that the Lord has not heard our prayer. My wrestling with God is not that He is not calling people because I strongly believe that He is; my wrestling with Him is on why He seems to be bestowing the Call on all those who are probably not seriously discerning instead of those who seem to have. That is, I think what my question is at the moment. Part of the answer I get when I reflect on this is that God also wants us to reach out to the men who are still not yet discerning but have been called. This is a real challenge and I guess it is something we have to persevere in doing.
Recently, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, was reflecting on St. Bonaventure and he noted how when St Bonaventure had finished the equivalent of secondary school, he experienced the questions that so many young people ask: "John [later Bonaventure] asked himself a crucial question: 'What must I do with my life?'" This led Bonaventure to join the Franciscans and became one of the most important theologians in the history of the Church.
I guess this is what the crux of my reflection is. I think that one possible reason why we are not having vocations, and more importantly, why so many of us seem to be living mediocre lives is because we are not courageous enough in asking the right questions about our lives. I guess the classroom is just a brief reflection of our greater fear of asking questions. I do not think that I myself have been very courageous in this area. I think that often, it is not so much that we fear asking the question, although it can be embarrassing at times, but it is the answer that we fear. The answer could and normally does demand more than we can give or it could turn our whole worldview upside down and challenge us at the core of our being – whatever it is, the answer changes us in many ways and so, in reality, the question also changes us. Asking questions requires an element of vulnerability and trust. We have to trust that there is an answer that makes the question worth asking and that when we ask, we will be supported and not ridiculed. I guess this is where we are trying to do all we can to give a supporting and safe environment where our young Singaporeans can be courageous enough to ask the right questions. Maybe, they too will be courageous in asking with St Bonaventure, “What must I do with my life?” and so hear the voice of Christ. After all, the first words of Jesus in St John’s Gospel is a question - “What are you looking for?” (Jn 1:38)
And maybe, the courage that we show in asking the right questions in life would then inspire others to also ask the right questions and so begin living a radically meaningful life. Thus, we shall become salt and light of the world! Let us be courageous in asking the right questions!