Monday, June 17, 2019

Why I am still in the priesthood - a reflection as I celebrate 18 years as a Priest.

The US Catholic Bishop’s conference asked the young people in America through a tweet last week a rather poignant but very necessary question – “If you are a young Catholic who is still a Catholic, what has made you stay?”  I suppose it was something that has been very troubling for the Catholic Church in the United States, because a larger and larger percentage of Catholics there are either no longer practicing their faith on a regular basis, or have stopped calling themselves Catholics altogether, even though they had been baptized as infants.

I wouldn’t say with much confidence that our situation here in Singapore is all that much different.  Yes, our parishes are filled on Sundays and are also relatively full on the other four days of obligation outside of the 52 Sundays in the year, but I know for a fact that many families have young adult children who have jettisoned their faith and have stopped going to Mass on a weekly basis.  

I am making references to this current dilemma in the Church this week as I celebrate my 18thanniversary as a Catholic priest.  I was ordained on 20 June, 2001, and it does seem that so much has happened in this time.  I have given my life over to the service of the Church, and to be usable by God as his instrument to fulfill his divine plan.  It seems to be something incredibly lofty, even if only on the level of words.  But in truth, if this isn’t the reason why anyone becomes a priest, it will be reducible only to something that the individual wants or desires, with hardly any reference to what is supernatural.  In the light of that question that was tweeted out to the American Catholic Youth, it is also good to ask myself what has made me stay in the priesthood all this time.  If I were to forget the following, I will be putting my priesthood in jeopardy.

1.    It has been an invitation by God

I have to keep reminding myself that this is a gift and an offer to grace that I was never entitled to, nor ever will be entitled to.  To be kept grateful about this grounds me, and any priest, from being proud and arrogant in the priesthood.  I’ve always believed that once gratitude for anything is missing, one begins to easily act with hubris and some degree of self-importance.  Once I believe that my priesthood was something that I worked hard to attain on my own, I may end up talking at people, rather than talking to the people.  And besides, it may make me insensitive to the fact that for many people, the faith struggle is real, forgetting that I somehow had it a bit easier to activate faith in my life.  Remembering that my vocation is a gift is always going to not take this, or anything for granted.

2.    The energy of the priest for ministry is his prayer life

The ministry of a priest is so varied.  Some are called to teach and educate.  Some are called to pastor to souls in their parishes, and some minister to the sick and infirm.  I remember a rather cheesy song that was popularized by Sonny and Cher back in the early 70s called “A cowboy’s work is never done”.  In fact, not just a cowboy’s, but a teacher’s, a foreman’s, a domestic helper’s, and certainly in my case, a priest’s work as well.  But if a priest is defined solely by the work that he does, it makes him no different from any other man who is defined by his work.  What qualifies a priest’s work as different has to be that his work is energized and grounded by his prayer life.  There is a great temptation to abandon prayer, especially when there seems to be a mountain of work and tasks at hand to complete.  We make the mistake of thinking in terms of productivity and effectiveness, and if these are the standards that we apply to our ministry, we are in danger of running out of steam, and going into what is known as “crisis mode”.  

To be sure, our work, like that of a cowboy’s, will never be done.  There will always be sick people to visit in hospitals, paper work to handle, meetings to attend, and sacraments to celebrate.  If we are praying only when we have the time to spare, it also means that we are giving God the remnants and the unused bits of our time, as well as the unused bits of love in our hearts.  But if we are clear that our energy to minister as Jesus wants us to minister comes from the love that we have maintained in our dedicated prayer time, we are giving God prime time, and not what is left-over.  We are not praying only when our day has ended and find our energies petering out.  Instead, we are purposefully carving out a precious time slot out of the precious 24 hours that God has given us each day.  I am reminded then that my energy for my ministry comes from my prayer life.

3.    Am I still hungering for holiness?

If I lose this essential raison d’etre of both my baptismal identity and my priesthood, I would have, as they say, lost the plot.  I need to have the attainment of holiness as my topmost priority in life, and also the desire to impart this as a top priority for my flock and those under my care.  I have to create a thirst for this in the lives of my people because if this is lost, the elements of the world will easily find their way into their hearts, and into my heart as well.  I need to impart to them on a daily basis that it is when we set our bar high in this regard that we make inroads to truly changing the world and how it works and how it thinks.  There is a pressing need for everyone to see that holiness is not a unicorn but a reality that is truly attainable and a goal worthy of all our efforts.  

There is so much evil that surrounds the world, and it is no surprise that even in the hierarchy of the Church, sin and scandal has pervaded into the upper echelons as well. It is clear that even in the higher-ups, many appear to have ‘lost the plot’ in their desire for holiness.  

4.     Do I impart joy in my priesthood?

The best testimony or sales pitch for the vocation to the priesthood has to be when a priest is seen to be a joyful person.  No one would be interested in the priesthood if all they see is a priest as a person who is hardly cheerful and who, while carrying his cross, is sending the bill to everyone he meets.  I may not even have to tell others about the priesthood, but if I express an abiding joy and peace in my life while carrying various crosses in life, I am also in that way giving an effective testimony that goes beyond any words that my mouth can utter.  

It was clear that when I had the gift of leukemia when I was at a very vibrant part of my young priesthood, it was God’s golden gift to me to show how one can live with a heavy cross with joy and not with bitterness and harbouring negativity. I realized that my preaching platform was from that point on going to be not just the ambo in the sanctuary of the church, but the way I live with a debilitating illness.  I do not know whether and if I have been a source of encouragement to others who walk in similar shoes, but I need to believe that this is part of my ministry, and is something that is uniquely given to me by God out of love.  

I remember reading an anecdote taken from the life of St John Mary Vianney, also known as the Cure of Ars.  It happened when he was on his way to his parish assignment at the small village of Ars in France, and he was at a crossroads and wasn’t quite sure which fork of the road to take.  He saw a young man and asked the directions to the village of Ars.  The young man indicated which fork to take, and he said to the young man, “sir, you have shown me the way to Ars.  I will show you the way to heaven.”  Indeed, this man of small stature but a giant of a soul ended up bringing so many of his parishioners to heaven via the path of holiness.  

My purpose as a priest needs mirror that of the holy Cure of Ars, which is to see that the souls under my care hunger for heaven, and are shown the way to get there. Certainly, in terms of years, 18 isn’t spectacular by any means. It’s not a jubilee and neither is it a milestone.   But as in all things that matter, quality should never be mixed up with quantity.  But a reflection of this nature is necessary for me to continue to live my priesthood with great purpose, love and effort if it is to bear fruit that God delights in.  

If you, dear reader, have been praying for me in my priesthood and my ministry, please know that you have my gratitude for having made it thus far.  I am truly grateful.


  1. Beautiful sharing Fr Luke. Please share this with your brother priests at the upcoming retreat to reinspire them in their vocation. God bless you as you continue to serve Him and His people! Blessed Anniversary!

  2. Thank you, Fr Luke for sharing. I always look forward to your weekly reflection ❤

  3. Congratulations Fr. Luke on your 18th Anniversary as a Priest! May God continue to Bless You and used you to spread the Good News.

  4. Congratulations Fr Luke on your 18th Priestly Anniversary.May God Shower His Blessings upon you to continue His Work here on earth.

  5. Congrats Fr Luke, God bless!


  6. God bless you Father Luke as you continue to lead souls into heaven. Your blog inspires me.

  7. Thank you for sharing. This is so true for both priests and the laity as Baptism calls us all to a common priesthood. Happy Anniversary!

  8. Thank u, Fr Luke. For all your time in OLPS and in your priesthood. And I truly thank God for all His wonderful works on his disciples. Please continue to pray for us, lay people. Amen!