Monday, June 25, 2018

17 years in the Priesthood - a reflection

On 20thJune last week, I crossed yet another year as an ordained priest in the Holy Roman Catholic Church.  In terms of numbers, it wasn’t significant by any means.  It marked by 17thyear in the priesthood, and it isn’t a milestone as far as traditional milestones are concerned.  But in all fairness, considering that five years back I could have succumbed to Leukemia, each day is viewed as a gift from God and each anniversary a visible and tangible work of the grace of God to me. 

In years past, when I cross this date, I have often taken time to view the journey that I my priesthood had taken me on.  I encourage married couples to do this when their anniversary is celebrated, and since the priesthood is akin to a marriage in some ways, I apply that advice to myself. 

One of the things that I ask married couples to do is to look back and see if and how their spouses had gone through changes since their wedding day.  I got this idea from a book on the meaning of marriage written by a Presbyterian pastor.  In one of the pages, he quotes Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes as saying that when he married his wife, he had hardly a smidgen of sense for what he was getting into with her.  How could he know how much she would change over 25 years?  How could he know how much he would change?  He said that his wife had lived with at least five different men since they were we – and each of the five had been him.

I found that reflection to be worthy of something to sit with as I pondered over the past 17 years of my priesthood.  Could I say the same thing for myself?  Although I am still the Fr Luke Fong who was ordained back in 2001 in the parish of St Anne’s in Sengkang, am I also in some ways a different Fr Luke Fong now in 2018?  Would people whom I ministered to back then see the same priest ministering to them now if I was still in that parish?  If not, where were the changes?  And as for the parts that are still strong and familiar, what is it about them that somehow has resisted change?  And why?

If nothing at all in me has changed in the past 17 years, then something must be terribly wrong.  I do believe that I am constantly being challenged to mellow, willingly or otherwise. God’s grace is always inviting me and beckoning me towards not just existing but flourishing, and he often sends people and situations my way in order for this to happen.  Some can be altercations with friends or even parishioners, and some come in the form of physical challenges, like mine was back in 2013 with the gift of Leukemia.  That one was really a defining point in my life when something truly shifted in my core. 

Since that episode, the mellowing process has since taken on a greater dimension of suppleness and less of a resistance.  That perennial call to holiness and sanctification is very much clearer and rings more like a siren now when it was for more muted in the past, when it was more comparable to chime in the background.  

One thing for sure, it has vastly improved my prayer life.  I had made a personal vow to make a dedicated Holy Hour in prayer each day of my priesthood since my ordination, and it has been unbroken, with the grace of God.  But it has, since 2013 taken on a new purpose and a new depth, and where it was previously carried out with an intention to keep going something out of a personal obligation on many occasions, it is now very much more focused and predicated on a love for God.   
And it is for this reason that a large portion of any kind of counselling that I give to people who approach me for direction and guidance in life often seeing me asking if there is an element of prayer in their life, and most importantly, if loving God is the aim and purpose of their prayer.  It has ceased to surprise me now that when I ask this question, I get either a puzzled look, or a revealing pregnant pause, indicating in some way that it had never really crossed their minds that loving God has anything to do with praying.  

I am more and more convinced that it is when we begin to love God as Jesus said, with all our heart, mind and soul, that we discover and use the most effective weapon to fight Satan and to foil his plan to wreak havoc on our souls.  Sin occurs when our love for God and his will is diluted, thinned out and adulterated.  When a heart increases in its capacity to love God and love what God loves, it will, by becoming like God, find offensive and distasteful what offends God and displeases God.  Sin happens when a soul loves what God deems an affront, and doesn’t see goodness, truth and beauty in what God delights in.  What made Jesus able to love without sin is precisely because he loved the Father with his entire being.  The less we love God, the more sin has its sway with our souls.  

Having been ordained for 17 years, and having spent an hour with God each day would have seen me giving God around 6200 hours thus far.  Author Malcolm Gladwell is known to have propounded the 10,000-hour rule, where he said that for anyone to achieve mastery in any given field, one has to put in 10,000 hours in practicing and training.  

While spirituality isn’t about mastery, it is about constancy and effort.  There have been some studies that have debunked Gladwell’s theory.  But if I am to follow this rule of his, it looks like I still have quite a long way off to reach that 10,000 mark, since I am still a teenager priest at 17 years.

And wouldn’t it be interesting to see what kind of priest I would be when that mark is reached.


  1. Belated wishes and congratulations on your 17th Sacerdotal Anniversary Fr Luke. God comes to us in many forms but one sure form is prayer. We will continue to keep you in ours. Love and hugs. Joseph+Terri & ours

  2. Happy 17th Anniversary Fr. Luke. Thank you for your sharing on making one dedicated Holy Hour to God and how it improved your prayer life. I hope to improve my prayer life and would like to try to dedicate one Holy Hour to God each day. Please pray for me that I have the strength to persevere. Will also keep you in my prayers. Thank you.

  3. “........each day is viewed as a gift from God and each anniversary a visible and tangible work of the grace of God to me “. These words resonate with me for I felt they are so applicable to all of us - but especially so to God’s gift of priests to all of us. When we were schooled in the I J convents, I remember that the nuns who were our Catechism Teachers would make sure we pray for our priests ......for holy priests. As children, we were greatly amused that our priests would have to walk about with shining haloes above their heads!

    It was at a retreat by a French Jesuit that all of us were surprised to learn about personal holiness and especially the holiness of priests..........
    ‘If a priest is a saint, the people will be fervent; if the priest is fervent, the people will be pious; and if the priest were pious, the people will at least be decent; if the priest is only decent, the people will be godless!” ....... so he wanted us to really pray for personal holiness but especially also for our priests and somehow his sincerity committed me to continue doing so all these years.

    Father Luke, I believe it takes a lot of courage to make a defining decision - to serve and not to be served - which you did 17 years ago . You said that you may have changed over the years and that’s a definite yes ! But some traits are still consistent - such as being pastorally inclined, involved, concerned and committed on Parish Pastoral issues and priorities......and the care you take to prepare your homilies for each Eucharistic celebration.

    Congratulations on your 17th Sacerdotal Anniversary and I would like to thank you for your gifts to all of us in the parish .........your guidance and care. May the Lord continue to sustain you in all your future endeavors- trials and tribulations -such that you become his invaluable gift of God to all you meet in Life’s journey.

    God bless you,