Father William Goh talks about his role as Spiritual Director to Catholic Spirituality Centre, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year, in the article "An interview with Father William Goh".
Ordained: May 1, 1985
MY FIRST YEARS in the seminary were trying times. Firstly, it was not easy getting back to studies after a lapse of so many years. As such, I was quite diffident about my ability to cope. I had no inkling what I would be studying, but I was naïve enough to think that seminary studies consisted only of scriptures and theology. To my surprise, I found myself reading philosophy in the first two years, which I deemed too secular. I could not understand why I was wasting my time studying philosophy instead of theology. What made it more daunting was that my first lesson was Metaphysics! I was clueless as to what it was all about. Indeed, the subject was really quite a challenge. But struggled, I did.
Apart from the studies, I had to cope with a new environment. As I did not begin my seminary formation at the minor seminary, I went to the major seminary not knowing anyone. Initially, I had much difficulty trying to find my place in the community. Almost everyone was a stranger to me, and in that unfamiliar environment, surrounded by people from myriad cultures, I could not find any emotional support. I struggled to find a sense of belonging, and acceptance in the community. I was alone, and terribly lonely.
In my loneliness and bewilderment, I turned to prayer. Indeed, there were many occasions when I thought of giving up because I could not experience any real sense of fraternal love in the community. I often felt misunderstood, ostracised for being a loner and uncharacteristically ‘pious’. In these moments, I would reminisce about the great friendships and carefree days with my colleagues and friends in the secular world, at work and at church back home. I felt very insecure and unsure of myself. Much as I tried to deny it, the seminary community as I experienced it, was not the ideal Christian community that I had imagined after all.
But God must have loved me, and intended for me to stay, for He sent a few brothers to comfort me and give me encouragement in my lonely journey. Through them, I found the strength to persevere.
Eventually, things got better. Of course there were still many community problems and frictions to be overcome, but I learnt to manage them better. I was no longer scandalised by them. I became more realistic about the humanness of my fellow brothers and our solidarity in sin. I gave up being angry, judgemental and finding fault with the community. My studies were improving, and I became more confident of myself. Most of all, I remained faithful to my prayer life, regardless of what others thought. I continued to spend an hour of personal adoration every evening before the community Evening Prayer, just as I did since my first day in the seminary. I believe that this was the source of my strength, vocation, faith and perseverance. God gave me the gift of faith and the gift of prayer.
Yes, He continued to love me. I was, at least in the eyes of most formators and students, righteous, upright and serious. I worked hard and was diligent, both in studies and in community work. I was regarded as a model student, capable and intelligent. I was friendly and non-partisan when it came to community living. Somehow, I managed to pass the rest of my seminary days relatively happy.
It was in the last two years of my seminary formation that I came to accept that no Christian community was a perfect community. I too had my faults and imperfections. I learned to appreciate the goodness I saw in my brothers and affirmed them accordingly. As for their weaknesses, I learnt to identify myself with them, yet was careful not to follow in their footsteps.
Thus by the time I reached the final year, I was able to love and appreciate the community, not in spite, but because of its imperfections, and also the many virtues in it. Indeed, I came to recognise that growing in true love and holiness could only come about by engaging both the good and bad around me for, like a rough diamond, I was being polished through these interactions. Through their human frailties, I had learnt to grow in humility, patience, tolerance and compassion. Through them too, I discovered my own sinfulness. I was able to thank God for them, pray for them and soon, I became very positive towards the community. Indeed, I was quite amazed that when it was time for me to leave the seminary, I actually felt very sad because over the years, I had grown to love and appreciate the community as an inauthentic community trying to grow to be more authentic. n