Tears and hugs as mother attends her only child’s ordination

Newly-ordained Diocesan Priest Father Gabriel Wong.

Jared Ng

In your words, be compassionate. In giving the sacraments, be understanding. Your primary task now is to show the face of God – these were solemn words of Archbishop William Goh to newly-ordained Diocesan Priest Father Gabriel Wong.

Standing before the Archbishop, loved ones, friends, the majority of priests from the Archdiocese and lovingly watched by his mother, Fr Gabriel and the congregation listened intently to the pastoral advice that His Grace had for him.

“Many people are wounded, hurt and suffering because they cannot see the face of God anymore. They cannot feel His presence and love, and end up having no purpose in life,” said Archbishop Goh.

“We [priests] have been chosen amongst men to show the face of God … through the sacraments which mediate His mercy and love to the people.” [See homily below]

There were touching moments as his mother, Ms Grace Chew, sat in the pew occasionally wiping a teardrop or two.

After his ordination Mass which was held at the Church of St Bernadette on Jan 1, Fr Gabriel, 36, spent a few moments embracing his mother in a warm and loving hug. They then sat and prayed together.

“My only kin left is my mother. She is all I have left,” he told Catholic News. As the only child, one fear that he carried in his heart was the thought of his mother being alone. He lost his father at an early age.

Fr Gabriel said he had also worried about how he could be a “father” to so many when he himself had no father for most of his life. Only through knowing Christ in the RCIA and feeling God’s love did he learn to surrender these fears to God.

He said when he first felt called to the priesthood, he had asked God, “Why me? There are a lot of better men out there than I.”

He recalled an occasion in the adoration room at the Church of St Francis of Assisi. Feeling low and with tears flowing down his face, these words came to him, “Yes Gabriel, you are right. There are many better men than you out there. But not many people can say yes to me in the same way you can.”

“My tears stopped and a great sense of peace came to me,” said Fr Gabriel.

In his spare time, the new priest enjoys jogging, cycling and spending time with good company over board games.

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Be the face of Jesus

A condensed version of Archbishop’s homily

Father Gabriel Wong with his mother Ms Grace Chew and Archbishop William Goh. Photo: VITA Images

There are so many problems and challenges in the world today. There is so much suffering in the world, at home, in the offices and in society. This world is a harsh place to live in. People are selfish and individualistic. There is a lack of compassion and forgiveness. If we make a mistake, all the good we have done are forgotten and erased just by one error we make in life.

Why is all this happening? In a secular and humanistic world where God is no longer seen and felt, He has been forgotten and made redundant. Without seeing the face of God, we are confused about our real identity and true calling in life.

When we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, we are saying that Jesus is the face of God in and through His humanity. Jesus reveals to us the face of the Father in His life, words and deed. Today, on your ordination, you too are in a special way configured in Christ. You are called to be the Sacrament of Jesus just as Jesus is the Sacrament of the Father. You are called to be a sign of God’s love and mercy to all. You too must reveal the face of Christ in and through your ministry. You must become Jesus to them.

As a priest, you are called to be the mediator, the bridge to God. By your service, your humility, your patience, you are called to show the face of God to others. That is why they call us Father. Do not be harsh with our people especially at the confessional box. Remember that we are sinners ourselves. Because when we are harsh, arrogant and dictatorial, our people who see us as representatives of the Heavenly Father will feel rejected by God as well. They will leave the Church and give up on God. Be firm but also be flexible. Do not apply the laws of the Church rigidly without taking into consideration the spirit of the laws. Do not behave as if you are a CEO or a manager but act like a shepherd who cares for his sheep, as a Father to their children.

When you exercise the sacraments, do not perform them in a perfunctory manner as if they are merely rituals. The sacraments are means to help people to encounter God’s love and mercy and so give them hope. Celebrate the sacraments especially the Eucharist, Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick with devotion, love and faith because they are powerful means to mediate the grace and goodness of God to our people.

Be faithful to your prayer life. This is the only thing that can save you in your priesthood. Once you give up praying, the priesthood is over. It will become just another function or another work that we do.

You will be led to frustration in your ministry, you will become angry with God and bitter with the people you serve. So you need to keep pondering in your heart the gift of our Lord in His life, passion, death and resurrection. Spend an hour contemplating before the Lord whether you are happy or sad, whether you feel like praying or not.

Give a place to Mary our Blessed Mother. Have a devotion to her. She will keep you faithful to your priesthood. Make a space in your heart for Mary. Pray to her and meditate on her love so that you too can give birth to Jesus in your heart and Jesus can take flesh in you. In this way, you will become the face of God to others, be their hope and joy.

Finally, let us continue to be filled with the amazement of the shepherds and those who heard their story of how the angels told them about Christ the Saviour born in Bethlehem. We should be amazed at the Sacrament of Ordination as well. For human and fragile as we are, God has chosen us to act on His behalf especially by offering the sacrifice of the Mass and be His representative to forgive sins. You must always remember this day well and go back to contemplate this day of your ordination so that you will not take your priesthood for granted.

A letter of thanksgiving

Dear Lord,

Not many people realise that vocations nurture vocations. Here is a tribute to those who have come before me and touched my life in a powerful way.

I would like to thank His Grace, Archbishop William Goh, for being a father to me during the first four years of my seminarian life.

I remember the first seed of vocation was planted by the loving example of four priests who lived together at the Church of the Holy Cross. Monsignor Francis Lau, Fathers John Joseph Fenelon, Ignatius Yeo and Valerian Cheong. The way they related to each other was one of genuine concern and from their bond came a sincere care for all parishioners. During my time in RCIA, they were the ones who helped me to encounter Christ.Mgsr Lau was the one who eventually baptised me and became my Latin teacher in the seminary. I am also indebted to Fr Frans de Ridder CICM, who guided my mother to the Catholic faith through the Mandarin RCIA.

During my time in NTU, the Franciscan Friars were fantastic in relating to us young people. I am especially grateful to Frs Clifford Augustine, John-Paul and Derrick Yap for providing me a glimpse of how wonderful it is to live in a community.

In the seminary, the formator Fathers played a huge role. I learnt humility from the late Fr Ignatius Huan. I learnt the love of Scripture from Mgsr Ambrose Vaz. I learnt how to love in the community from Fr Kenson Koh, who drove us to see the doctor whenever we were sick. I learnt about prayer from my spiritual father, Fr Aloysius Ong. I learnt how to preach from Fr John Bosco. My fellow students in the seminary were always a source of solace when we talked about the beauty of formation in our respective houses. That camaraderie among the students made classes a joy to be in.

My vocation wouldn’t have been strengthened were it not for the Religious Brothers and Sisters. The Carmelite Sisters were really special to me. They have always been praying for us day and night. The Canossian Sisters guided us young seminarians to care for the sick and dying. Sr Theresa Seow led us into a beautiful community of interfath talks. The Sisters from the Missionaries of Charity taught us seminarians compassion as they took care of the elderly.

The Carmelite Friars helped me to deepen my prayer life and appreciation for community life when they allowed me to do my pastoral attachment in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul.

Sr Francesca, Sr Linda, Sr Elizabeth, Br Dominic, Fr Christopher Soh and Br Collin Wee gave me many insights into how to remain steadfast in my vocation and discernment.

Lord, I wouldn’t have come this far without these wonderful people in my life.

Thank you for the gift of them.

I learned to love from their examples.

And they loved because you loved us first.

Father Gabriel Wong