It was a phone call asking for a “Fr Terence” even before he was anywhere close to becoming a priest that made Fr Terence Kesavan think seriously about the clerical life.
Kesavan, 35, was then active in the young adults’ community at St Francis Xavier parish.
When he received the call for a “Fr Terence” on his phone, asking for the person in charge of the youth at the parish, Fr Kesavan thought the caller was “playing a fool” or looking for Fr Terence Pereira.
Fr Kesavan then laughed over it, but the idea of priesthood started taking root in his mind. Words and other thoughts related to the priesthood came to his mind over the next few days as he attended Mass and during his prayer time.
He then began to contemplate seriously about whether God was calling him to be a priest. It was the “last piece of the jigsaw” which fitted into newly ordained Fr Kesavan’s journey to the priesthood, he told CatholicNews.
When he was younger, Fr Kesavan had thought of becoming a priest. As an altar server, he was also often encouraged by senior parishioners to consider taking up the vocation.
However, he came up with five reasons against it: he felt he was unable to speak in public as he was a shy person, he did not pray outside of church and family prayers, he felt bored reading the Bible and other spiritual books, he had not experienced the spiritual call, and he found it unthinkable to attend a 30-day silent retreat which seminarians had to go through.
However, the turning point came when he had a crisis of faith in 2002.
He had returned to Singapore after his studies in Melbourne and returned to join the young adults’ community at St Francis Xavier parish. He felt he could contribute more to the community having led sessions in a Catholic community in Melbourne.
However, he realised that the Mustard Seed Community had deepened its faith considerably compared to what he had experienced previously, and members were sharing their experiences of God in their daily lives.
He started to examine his own experience with God and found little he could share about. “That totally shook my faith,” he recalled and led him to ask, “Is God real?”
“I guess I was at the crossroads of my life…after graduation…looking for a job…and everything was wide-open,” he recalled. He then realised he was leading a double life, practising his faith in church but not outside of it.
At the same time, his non–Catholic friends were talking about career, cars, clubbing and sleeping around. He remembered asking himself, “If God is not real, what is stopping me from doing that? Why am I wasting my time in church?”
This struggle lasted a few months and he thought of leaving the Church until he spotted a car with a bumper sticker that said, “If you’re going to live life as if God doesn’t exist, you better be sure.”
He then started praying more, and reading the Bible and other books on faith. Soon, he was able to see God’s presence in his life and his prayer life also deepened.
So when the strange phone call came, Fr Kesavan felt that four of the five reasons were no longer valid, and he was willing to undergo the silent retreat if he had to. He also recalled that there was a sense of peace within him even though he would have preferred the married life.
Fr Kesavan said he enjoyed his studies in the seminary though exams were a challenge. This was especially so as he had a science background and preferred “everything black and white”. However, with God, certain areas are a mystery, a big patch of grey, he said.
Describing himself as an optimist, he said he feels the joys of his journey to the priesthood outweigh the struggles and challenges, which included the passing of his mother. Even then, he was able to feel God’s presence, he said.
A search that led him to a personal encounter with Jesus
It’s all about falling in love with Jesus and His Church, says newly ordained Fr Jude David, as he describes how he came to embrace the priesthood.
“I was so captivated by Jesus and the beauty of the Church. After I began to read more about the Church, I became convinced that the Catholic Church was really the true Church,” said Fr David.
“I was very moved by all the work the Spirit was doing in the Church especially in the renewal of the Church,” Fr David told CatholicNews.
Although he was an altar server in his early years, Fr David, 34, said his personal encounter with Christ came during his college days. A crisis of faith back then led him to a search to discover more about God and Catholicism.
He had also felt discouraged then because he felt some Catholics were not as enthusiastic about their faith compared to other Christians.
“It was this personal search that led me to the personal encounter with Jesus Christ,” he said, adding that his experience as an altar server gave him “the grounding for that personal realisation and awakening of faith in my heart”.
On the positive side, he was inspired by various Church movements and how young people responded to God’s call to serve Him.
Together with a few other like-minded young people from the Church of St Francis Xavier, where he was a parishioner, they formed a youth group called Youthworks, now known as the Mustard Seed Community.
They would come together twice a week for Bible study and sharing, attend Mass together, and take part in community prayer and formation. They would even visit relatives of parishioners who were in hospital to pray with them.
Fr David said this experience gave him “the perspective and a broadened vision of Church and pastoral ministry… in a very existential way” rather than just in a “theoretical” way.
Fr David told CatholicNews that although he had thought of the priesthood in his early years, he had ignored it as he was fearful of the sacrifices involved. He was also the oldest of three sons and felt a duty to take care of his family.
After working for two years following graduation, he felt God calling him to enter the seminary. Although it was difficult for his family, they gave him his blessings, Fr David recounted.
His formation years were not smooth sailing as he encountered various challenges. Nevertheless, he persevered, trusting that the God would take care of things.
Fr David says he feels joyful and privileged to be in love with Jesus and His Church and hopes to “be the face of Christ to His people”, to “encourage people in their low moments”, to “celebrate with them in their joys” and to “truly be a father to them”.
“So ‘Father’ is not just a title or rank for me, but really a relationship...to be a father to God’s people…to reflect the love of the Father to them,” he said.
He says he would like to “journey” with people and “mediate God’s presence in their lives” in his ministries at the Catholic Spirituality Centre, the Office for Young People and the Church of the Holy Spirit that he has been assigned to.
By Darren Boon