By Celestina Ter, Singapore Polytechnic Catholic Students’ Society
Prior to being in the SP Catholic Students’ Society (SP CSS), I was not involved in any parish or youth community. My faith was built solely on past encounters I had with Jesus and sustained by the weekly attendance of Sunday mass. I was only aware of Jesus when I faced challenges, such as when I could not deal with a problem or when I was looking for something I had lost. Otherwise, I lived my life independently, pursuing earthly things such as fame and beauty. I struggled to see who Jesus was and where He was in my life and felt that I could do everything on my own. It was in 2018, that I got to know about SP CSS through SHINE (an encounter retreat for polytechnic students).
While I decided to join SP CSS, being so used to being independent in my spiritual journey thus far, I was initially not used to sharing so deeply with and being accountable to my community. However, the friendly faces of the members, which were so sincere and welcoming, slowly opened my heart. I remember coming into sessions and seeing how joyful the community was. Some members even came to make conversation with me, checking in on how school was and how I was doing. These small gestures melted my heart and I saw the love of God through them. I felt like I belonged. My community members’ sincere acceptance of the real me, without the need for me to fake any personas or try to fit in, made me realise that I did not need to change myself nor live up to society’s standards to be loved. That the people who God intends to be a part of my life would accept me for who I am. I am who I was made to be and I am loved by God. The sharing sessions were the most impactful to me as I listened to all the lovely reflections. I could sense my community members’ love for God and their desire for Him, which inspired me to pursue Him too. Faith stirs faith and this is really the power of community and what helped me keep my gaze on Jesus despite being constantly distracted with school activities and my personal life. I also became more aware of Jesus’s presence in my life through regular reflections and the Examen.
As I journeyed with SP CSS, I was then challenged by the Lord to take on the role as shepherd of the community. I was filled with doubts, worries and the feeling of unworthiness. However, the stirring of love for God and the community, my desire and hope for the community’s growth and the excitement to know what God has in store for me gave me courage to say yes to becoming the new shepherd. The transition to becoming a shepherd was still a challenge despite the joy of service. While discerning themes to guide our session and planning activities I often questioned if it was from God or from us. I often felt unworthy and feared leading my community astray. I failed to surrender fully to the Lord and trust Him. Through prayer and encouragement from a sister in Christ, I found myself learning to trust more in Him and to let go and let Him take charge. In times of doubts or struggles, I turned to prayer and trusted that the Lord is walking forward with us always. Although discernment is still a challenging process, I learnt to take leaps of faith and to allow Jesus into my heart and mind. In doing so, I trusted that He used us shepherds as his vessels to do what would build the community up. At times I still find myself wavering in trust and relying on my own strength (such as when conducting the sessions), but I know and believe that Jesus has good plans and will multiply our humble efforts.
Despite being a shepherd, in my personal life, I still struggled with striving for good grades and with prioritising my spiritual life. My relationship with Jesus went through ups and downs as I grappled with putting Him first. However, Jesus continues to love me and provided me with whatever I needed – strength and perseverance, while patiently waiting for me to look back to Him. The pursuit of worldly things always leads to exhaustion. In hindsight, this tiredness I experienced was a blessing as it prompted me to step back to reflect. I realise again and again that Jesus is the only one that can satisfy my desire to be loved, and fill my heart with peace and joy. Jesus also blessed me with fellow shepherds and my community who inspire me in their pursuit of Him. Faith stirs faith. Seeing their desire for Jesus, continues to inspire and renew my faith. Jesus is so present and moving in many lives. His goodness never fails and continues to pour out upon many.
A year as a shepherd of SP CSS taught me what servant leadership is. This was greatly different from all the previous leadership positions which I had taken up that were mainly about getting work done efficiently. Instead, being a shepherd taught me that to lead is to serve, to humble myself, put God first and to constantly rely on Him. I was continuously pushed out of my comfort zone which challenged my trust in Him.
Looking back at the start of poly until now, I have matured both mentally and spiritually with God’s help. From discovering who He is – my strength, my comforter and my light, to who I am – a child of God, I am no longer so focused on pleasing everyone. With His goodness and never-ending love, I am more confident of myself and am more hopeful. When faced with struggles, I find myself letting go and letting Him take control. In times of setbacks, I am able to trust more in Him and I believe that He has great plans for me and will not forsake me. I have been made stronger by Him. Thank you Jesus for providing me with the grace I need to push through every obstacle, for walking through the storms with me, for giving me hope when I feel like giving up, for the peace when I worry or am dejected, for all the people I have met, and everything you have done. You are the reason for who I am today.