by Joseph Fernandez
I grew up in a Catholic family, where I was considered a “good, Catholic boy”. I would attend Mass and Catechism (I mean, when your mum is the catechist, you pretty much have no choice) and, after my first God experience during Confirmation camp, I joined the Youth Ministry in my parish. Right there, was the problem lies. It was a ministry, not a community. Up to that point, my faith was very much built on the things that I had done and accomplished, be it in school, CCA, Church. The cornerstone of my spiritual life was not Christ but me. I was like the house built on sand, and like that house, when the storm came, my faith life came crashing down.
That storm was National Service. Cut off from my ministry and lacking any real faith community with whom I could be open and vulnerable to, I had no one to turn to when the days became tough. That was a time of spiritual dryness and, as I stood upon a shaky foundation, it did not take long for me to lose sight of God, and even to pretend He did not exist. Because if God was not real, if God was dead, then I could do whatever I wanted, and that is precisely what happened. For in my thirst for companionship, in my hunger for real friends, I turned to the people in my unit. My Friday nights were spent at Clarke Quay and Holland Village drinking (my meagre allowance) away. Soon, however, this meaningless existence of alcohol and materialism could no longer satisfy me, and I began searching for something more. I found it in CAYA, one of the communities here at OYP. They helped me to rebuild my faith in the waning months of my national service. It was through them that I learnt about this event called KICKSTART. Back then, I was still far away from God, but the difference was that, with CAYA, my restless heart was stirred up to search for meaning in life. Out of curiosity, I signed up.
KICKSTART was, if I were to use a word to describe it, heart-breaking. Literally. For in those two days, I came face to face with the fact that my heart was hardened by years of serving Christ without letting myself first be loved by Christ. I saw that, in my pride, I had placed my works and my accomplishments at the centre of my life, where Christ should have been. Beyond all that, I came face to face with the loving God who, in Ezekiel 37 promises, “I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh”. And God, being ever faithful, kept to His promise, because He showered me with love all throughout the retreat, through confession, Mass, sessions, but most importantly, by letting me meet the people from Ubi Caritas, the Catholic Community at Yale-NUS. All it took was one tea break with two members and, somehow, God convinced me, through the love and passion that these people were exuding, to make Ubi Caritas my community.
The rest is history. I stand before you all today, not because I am a perfect Catholic student. Far from it. It has been a year since I went to KICKSTART. Life has been filled with ups and downs. That is simply reality. But now I do not walk the journey alone. I have my brothers and sisters in Christ with me, sharing in my life as I share in theirs, loving them as Christ loves me. And every day, I get to fall deeper and deeper in love with the one who made my heart, and for whom my heart now burns for, and for whom my soul thirsts for. I no longer rely on my own strength. Instead, I have Him. For now, He is truly the King of my Heart and the centre of my life; which I build my faith on.
So for those of you who are about to enter university, and, I think, especially for our young men who have finished or are about to finish NS this year, I have only this to say: God has not forgotten you. God has not abandoned you. He is looking for you like a shepherd searches for His lost sheep. Come Home, the Lover of your Soul is waiting for you.