Deacon Gregory Jude Chan
My call is one of awe and wonderment. As I reflected on my life, I discovered that God had called me more than once. In 2001, when I was in JB after the highly successful conclusion of a court case, I had called my parents to join me in JB to celebrate. When they were there they wanted to go to Mass and I took them to the closest church from my hotel - the Church of the Immaculate Conception. There, my parents and I met Fr. Anthony Ng. When he heard that I was a lawyer, he identified himself as a canonist. Then he asked whether I was married, to which I replied in the negative. He immediately asked me, “Why don’t you join us?” I replied, “I’ll think about it.” But I was not being truthful. I immediately dismissed it as a notion that was absurd.
In 2002, I was in Melbourne on a business trip. After three days of negotiation, the contract was finally signed and sealed. My business partners and I went out to celebrate. We had dinner at a lovely restaurant. Thereafter, my Australian partners said they would be taking us to The Gentlemen’s Club. On arrival, I discovered it was a stripper joint. Something inside me told me I shouldn’t be there and I left immediately, making the necessary excuses. The moment I got out of the building, I just walked and walked, not wanting to look back, not wanting my business partners to persuade me to remain. Then, when I was a considerable distance away, I realized that there were no cabs available for me to take. As I walked further and further away, I realized that I was lost. It was cold and dark and drizzling. I was scared, bewildered and angry. Scared because I didn’t know where I was going. Bewildered because I couldn’t believe I was in such a situation and angry because I was stupid enough to walk out. I remember scolding myself, “Idiot! Couldn’t you get off your high horse? See where you’ve landed yourself in. A right mess!”
As I walked on, I was able to make out a church steeple in the distance, and as I approached it, I saw that it was the Church of St. Ignatius. Strangely, the side door of the church was open. Not knowing where else to go, I decided to go in and pray. There was no one in the church. I knelt before the Cross and prayed. My prayer was one more of frustration. I couldn’t believe I had done such a stupid thing. I asked Jesus, “Why have you brought me here? What do you want from me?” In the stillness of the church, I heard four distinct words: “Know me. Follow me.” I was truly surprised. I remember turning round to see who was in the church, but no one was there. The words were said in a still soft voice. Strangely, I was not afraid. I left a while later. As I walked out of the church, a huge white man with big tattooed arms walked up to me. I waited in fear and trepidation. I thought I was going to get mugged. Then he asked me, “Excuse me, sir, are you lost?” That completely took me by surprise. On hearing my predicament, he gave me very clear directions and I managed to return to my hotel, feeling grateful but still bewildered.
I had not begun to appreciate the significance of the four words uttered to me in the stillness of the church. However, I began to read more about God and became more active in church. While I was already a lector and commentator for many years, I began to get involved with the Single Adults, RCIA, and finally, the youth through my work with ASAYO (Archdiocesan Single Adults and Youth Office). I also worked with abused children from Madonna Heights. I taught them to sing. I also took up a course on SPM Bible Knowledge so that I could teach the subject to schoolchildren. I became more and more involved in church and I began to leave more of my work in the office behind and become less involved in the things I used to do.
While serving in the various ministries in church was fulfilling, it lacked a deeper meaning. Thus, I began to explore the deeper meaning of life. In 2004, I heard that there was a vocation Stay-in in College General for single men and decided to attend to find out. I had no idea that I was supposed to speak to the spiritual director in charge of vocations for this. I went because I felt a very strong prompting to go.
There, I was totally surprised to find out that a completely different dimension had opened up for me. The prayers, the daily Mass, the meditation, the community life, all impressed me deeply and moved me profoundly. I remember one of the seminarians, now Fr. Dominic Santhiagu, who asked me to stay for one more day, but I could not. I was so loathed to say no because with all my heart I wanted to remain, but could not, as I had an Industrial Court matter the next day. When I returned, I remember rushing to the nearest church after my court case and breaking down. I cried and cried. This was what my heart was longing for. This aching moment of union with God.
I had huge obstacles in my way. First, my business partners. I was the founding member of the firm and I could not simply walk away. I brought in a significant amount of the business. Indeed, one of my partners told me immediately, “You cannot leave. What will happen to us?”
Secondly, I am the only child in my family. Who was going to look after my parents? Indeed, my parents had more than once expressed their intention of carrying and playing with their grandchildren. My parents were initially displeased when they heard of my intention, but being people of prayer, they did one thing which I will always thank them for. They asked me to discern about it and that they themselves would discern with me.
One by one, these obstacles were removed. A great number of my cases were settled out of court. My remaining cases were taken over by my partners. The profit from the remainder of my files which were still generating income would be remitted to my parents. The time soon came for me to ask them for their consent. My father signed it unhesitatingly. My mother had tears in her eyes when she signed it. After she signed it, she told me that God was asking for me and she had to give me up as promised. I didn’t know what she meant, at first. Then, she took out her old diary. It was in 1966, the year I was born. The month before I came to the world, she had written in her diary, “Went and prayed for the baby. Hope that it would be a son, and a priest.”
I always believed that my parents’ sacrifice, to grant their only child’s desire to be a priest, was greater than my own. I prayed that their great sacrifice would not go unacknowledged. I believe that my prayer was answered. Last year, Archbishop Murphy Pakiam declared that the date of my priestly ordination and that of my three brother Deacons be fixed on January 24, 2013. This marvellously coincides with the date of my parents’ 54th Wedding Anniversary.
Henceforth, my priestly vocation shall always be linked to their marriage, and for the rest of my days, the gift of the priesthood to me shall be inseparably celebrated with their wedding anniversary. Praise God! What more can I say, but echo the words of our Blessed Mother in the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.” (Lk 1:46)
I was led, by degrees, to discover the full extent of His will. That is what I have found to be so intriguing, so mysterious, so compelling. Had anyone told me that the full import of the words “Know me. Follow me.” meant that I was being called to the priesthood, I would have said that that person was quite mad. I now realize that when He called, He just didn’t call a part of me. He called all of me. Totus tuus.