James (centre) sings for the church choir today, after ending his search of the meaning of life in God.
I WAS BAPTISED on Easter 2004 at the Church of St. Anthony. We were the first batch of the new RCIA process conducted by Father Terence Pereira who had just become our parish priest a year before. My story really began two years earlier.
At 37, I was considered successful by most people with a wife and three kids, a good steady job as a mid-level manager with a large multi-national corporation. But I was not happy. Something was eating away inside of me. My relationship with my wife, Regina, had been very good, given that we had been a couple for eight years before we got married. But through the years of financial, career, and family pressures, our relationship became strained.
By the time we had our third child, Samantha, I felt miserable. I did not like my job but we were trapped by the lifestyle we had. Although we were drawing quite decent salaries, we were struggling to make ends meet every month. My dad had just passed away a couple of years earlier and it was only then that I learnt he had been in debt, having worked so hard all his life to provide for his family. And I was heading down that same path.
I began to realise that like most Singaporeans, we were brought up believing in the Singaporean dream. Suddenly, I began to see the futility of that dream. In some 20 more years, I might be like that person lying in the coffin. Suddenly, my life did not make that much sense anymore.
But it was difficult for Regina to understand what I was feeling and I found myself wishing that I did not have this family to care for so I could go places and do things that I wanted. But in my heart, there began a soft voice telling me that I was heading for trouble. I soon fell into depression and stopped talking with my wife to avoid quarrelling. My temper towards my family grew with time. I was losing myself a piece at a time.
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Then, one day, I attended a motivational seminar conducted by a guru from the United States. He asked, "What is it in your life that you have been putting off, that if you commit to do, you know will change your life forever?" I looked deep within myself, and I heard a voice within me saying, "Quit your job, and become a Catholic." I had no idea where the second part came from, but somehow, it made sense to me.
While I did not have any resource to do the first, I spoke to Regina about starting my journey to become a Catholic. (Regina was converted to Catholicism in her teens. We were married in church and she has always encouraged me to attend Mass. In 2001 my depression began and I stopped going to Mass altogether.) We learnt that I could still join the new RCIA process though I was late for a week. Little did we know that this was to change our lives forever.
At the first retreat, I was sceptical, especially with all the praise and worship going on. But I decided that since I was there, I should at least be open to it. A voice told me, "Just let go and feel". Suddenly, the memories of all the pain, the hurt, pressures and worries of my life just started to flash back into my mind and pour out of my heart. But I began to feel a comforting warmth flowing through me. Tears started to swell in my eyes.
Then as we went around offering signs of peace with hugs, I felt a sense of closeness and kinship that I had not felt for a very long time, ever since my childhood. When it came to my turn to hug Father Terence, I was hesitant at first. Growing up in a mission school, my image of a priest was that he was way up high at the altar. Never would I imagine to be so close to one, let alone to hug him. But I did anyway.
Something happened. As I hugged him, it was like hugging my own father again, except somehow in a much closer way, I felt a closeness that I have never felt before but have always longed for. Tears poured out of me and I was crying like a baby!
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As the months passed, God revealed to me many things about my life through the RCIA lessons and retreats, among which was that my wife was indeed a gift from God. I always loved my wife Regina but have never seen her in that light until I saw her through God's eyes! Looking back, I realised she had come into my life when I prayed for someone to love and to love me. She was the one person in my life who has constantly steered me, guided me, and supported me even when she disagreed with me.
Through the lessons, I found myself looking at my life and my values. Examining how the pains and frustrations in my life came from the misplaced desires and values that I have picked up, I learnt that putting God first in our lives makes everything else fall in place though it may not be as we imagine!
Through this RCIA experience, my life and my entire family has changed. Regina and I are now serving in the choir, the same one we joined during my journey through the RCIA, and where I found my godparents.
Most recently, my mother who has been a devoted Taoist decided to join our choir and has started to go for Novena every Saturday on her own. As a result, she is attending Sunday Masses without fail. Looks like she intends to join the RCIA for the upcoming June intake. Praise the Lord!
To you who are reading this, I want to say that the Lord works in his own way. Sometimes, we can become his instruments and touch someone's life and change them forever. If ever there is an opportunity that arises, don't hold back. You might be saving their lives without knowing it.