Father Paul Goh is an advocate of personal development. At age 71, he enjoys learning to use his iPhone to send text messages, and surfs the Internet with his iMac. Daniel Tay meets the priest who knows a little about everything.
FATHER PAUL GOH has always been curious. It is this innate curiosity that drives him to learn new things every day.
As a child, whenever his friends went out to play football, he preferred to stay home or visit the library where he read encyclopaedias about everything under the sun… and beyond. Soon, the different sciences which taught him about the world, the skies and beyond,also helped him to discover their Maker.
An amateur astronomer, Father Paul has spent many nights gazing at celestial bodies through a telescope. It was by staring in awe at the sheer magnificence of the universe and all it holds that he found God.
“Learning is a beautiful thing,” said Father Paul, a firm believer in lifetime learning.
Over the decades, he has acquired a wealth of knowledge that has helped him to make many important decisions, and picked up many useful skills.
One interesting skill is radio building. Several years ago, Father Paul went a step further and learnt how to build his own computer from scratch, with some help from a friend.
Father Paul has since converted to using a Macintosh because he finds it more stable than a PC.
Today, he is learning how to use a digital camera, is “curious” about computer programming, and wants to learn how to service his own computer.
On his days off, he likes nothing better than to visit Sim Lim Square to catch up with the latest technology.
A man of faith
During the interview at his office in the Church of St. Vincent de Paul where he is assistant priest, Father Paul also spoke much about faith.
According to him, Catholics often have the wrong idea about what faith is.
Faith is not the belief that God will protect a person who attends many novenas and says many prayers. Neither is it a belief that God protects us from all difficulties and suffering. These are fallacies, he said.
Rather, faith is “tested by trials, by disappointments, and by personal sin”, he said.
Father Paul likened a person who has faith to a plant that opens its leaves to receiving sunlight. “We must be open to God’s grace in our lives,” he said.
Christians should not be praying for God to take their troubles away, but rather for the strength to go through them. Otherwise their spiritual growth is stunted and they become what Father Paul called “bonsai Christians”.
He also tells people not to run away from trials, but “learn to hope against hope” because what changes people is “reliance on God”.
After all, “Catholics are like tea bags – the hotter the water, the better the taste”, quipped Father Paul.
Father Paul gives such advice as one who has gone through much hardship, particularly in the form of crises of vocation and of faith. These crises have helped form Father Paul into the man of humour he is today – one who is able to laugh at himself.
“Humour doesn’t come easily. It comes through pain, but we learn to smile through tears,” he said.
Speaking frankly, Father Paul revealed that being unable to forgive a person and harbouring this unforgiveness almost caused him to lose his vocation.
It was only through much tears and prayer that Father Paul was able to hold on to his vocation, with the grace of God.
His friendships with fellow priests have also helped to tide him over the difficult periods of his priesthood.
“Friendship is important. It helps to have friends to talk things over, because this helps to defuse the pressure that builds up within,” he said seriously, a change from his usual cheerful demeanour.
Faith is also what drives a person to respond to a call to religious life.
Father Paul explained that when those who feel called to serve God struggle with feelings of unworthiness, it is a good sign because “such people will depend on God”. So too are those who are fighting a particular weakness.
To such people, Father Paul says this: speak to a priest you can trust, pray, give God a chance to work on you, and don’t give in to the sin of impatience.
This is because for Father Paul, faith is “a slow discovery of the person of Jesus and how your life is linked with Him”.
He advised all who work with God to “be patient with God, with the Church, and with yourself” because all move at different speeds.
If there is one thing his 40 years of priesthood has taught him, it is the unshakable truth that God loves him, and because of this, there is nothing to be afraid of.
As he wittily puts: “Only fear God and you have nothing to fear; don’t fear God and you have a thousand fears to live with.”
Father Paul has been spiritual director to the Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Singapore, for the past 10 years.
He has also served in seven parishes including the parishes of Sts. Peter and Paul, Our Lady of Lourdes, Queen of Peace, St. Teresa, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and Immaculate Conception (Johore Bahru).
He will be celebrating 40 years as a priest with a thanksgiving Mass at Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour on Dec 20.