by Brendan Ng, Cambridge University (second from left, back row)
Growing up as a cradle Catholic, I knew about God but was never convinced that He existed. He was just fiction. All this changed when I attended SOCL.
Back in primary school, whenever I received any exam results, my dad would always compare them to those of my peers. As I grew up, I naturally learned to do the same. In fact, I loved comparing my results because I usually performed well. This made me feel smart. Over time, I grew addicted to the feeling of being smarter than my peers. I was motivated to work extremely hard to get my fix of feeling intellectually superior and usually my diligence paid off.
I often performed best in maths and science, and naturally, I fell in love with them. The highly rational approach to these subjects intrigued me and so I chose to study them at university. There I met many peers who questioned my religious beliefs. All this while, I was just a Sunday Catholic, doing the bare minimum to meet my religious obligations so that I wouldn’t disappoint my parents who raised me in the Catholic tradition. But science students, like me, are supposed to be rational. So, when questioned on my faith, I realised I had never really believed that God existed. There was simply no room for God to exist in a world governed by the laws of physics and the rules of logic. Afraid that I would be seen by my peers as being irrational, I tried to prove the existence of God using reason but to no avail. I was forced to reject the idea that a supernatural God existed.
I continued to get my regular fix of feeling intellectually superior until I fell ill and missed a few weeks of lessons at the start of my third year in university. I tried to catch up once I was feeling better but was unable to do so given the fast pace of lectures. I grew increasingly worried that I would never be able to catch up. I feared for my performance in the exams. This anxiety soon grew into despair as I realised that I was no longer as smart as I thought I was. I was no longer able to get my regular fix and the withdrawal symptoms of mental health deterioration started to set in. My whole world was in a mess. To recover, I chose to intermit from my studies. It was during this time that I started thinking about what I really desired in life.
During my search, a Catholic friend invited me to attend a youth formation session at her parish. I eagerly accepted the invitation because I thought this would be my chance to find a convincing reason for believing. But I didn’t – if anything, it made me realise the multitude of paradoxes in Catholic philosophy. Strangely, instead of deterring me, these paradoxes got me interested in Catholic philosophy because I thought this was a chance for me to flaunt my logical reasoning skills to make me feel smarter than other Catholics. After consulting multiple priests and devout laypersons over the resolutions for these paradoxes, I was disappointed with the responses I received. They told me that these answers would only make sense after I experienced God. I couldn’t understand how experiencing God would affect my ability to reason His existence. In fact, I grew skeptical of the fact that they had convincing answers and believed that they were just trying to cover up the irrationality of their faith. It was at this time that another friend invited me to attend SOCL. I decided to give it shot since it was yet another opportunity for me to question believers regarding their faith.
During SOCL, I realised that the focus was on experience rather than theoretical knowledge. Wanting to make the best use of the ten days there, I put aside my doubts and desired to believe. I desired to believe even though I didn’t believe. This experience brought me the joy and calm I was looking for. During my time in SOCL, God revealed His unconditional love for me. Despite all my sinfulness, God the Father ran up to me, embraced me, and kissed me. He rejoiced in my return. I was indeed the prodigal son who had returned from a life of debauchery, far from the Father. When famine came, I found myself drowning in a mess of my own creation. After worshipping the false gods of wealth, prestige, and power, I finally returned to the Father. Indeed, the Lord has given me a new life in Him.
It brings me true joy to be grounded in the Lord and not on earthly desires. The false gods of wealth, prestige, and power conceal a minefield of misery under their attractive façades while the gift of faith from the Lord opens me to receive His love by being attentive to His presence in my life. The way of the Lord brings true joy for Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has called me by name to seek him, to know him, and to love him with all my strength. I no longer ponder on what I want in my life but rather pray to know what God wants. I want to want what he wants even if I don’t want it yet, for he gives living water so that I will never thirst again. Because I know He provides, I shall trust in His love and providence and allow myself to be moved by the Holy Spirit. I was afraid of giving my life to this non-existent God. But now I know that He lives. The encounter has not been an empirical one but a spiritual one.
So, brothers and sisters, doubt no longer but believe. The Lord calls you to be in communion with him. It all starts with a desire to seek the Lord. Are you willing to open yourself to the love of God?