Meditation, community, the key for Deacon Philip Tay

On Thursday, August 6, Deacon Philip Tay Kok How, OCD will be ordained to the Order of Presbyter by Archbishop Julian Leow at the Church of St Francis Xavier, Petaling Jaya. One of our writer spoke to him on his calling and journey towards priesthood.

Aug 01, 2020

By Gwen Manickam
“My journey to join religious life began almost 25 years ago,” said Deacon Philip Tay Kok How, OCD.

“From a young age, church activities played a huge role in my life. My gorups included the Youth Ministry, Catechetical Ministry, Legion of Mary, the school chapel choir, and prayer group called Footprints in Setapak – from where the now Fr Simon Lau embraced Catholicism.

“I think it was my involvement in these groups that led me to believe it was God’s will to serve the people, not necessarily as a priest, but it did serve as a starting point towards my journey,” said the 45-year-old.

Fresh out of secondary school and armed with boyhood dreams to graduate from college, join the workforce and settle down, his relationship with God hit a rough patch. In trying to reconnect with his spiritual life, friends encouraged him to join the vibrant “Youth Explosion Rally” by the now-defunct KLASE (KL Archdiocese School of Evangelisation). Shortly thereafter, he went to the 1995 World Youth Day in the Philippines.

It was at this gathering that he felt the first seed of religious life was planted in him.

“I had never considered a religious vocation. Suddenly, a Filipino lady came up to a friend and me and asked if we were seminarians. Feeling it was an odd question, I replied no, and asked why she said that? Nonchalant, she said “You look like seminarians”.

“Seriously, what do seminarians look like?” quipped this friar of the Order of Discalced Carmelites. He is one of several young Malaysian Catholic gentlemen who attended that World Youth Day and went on to become a priest. The others include Fr Michael Chua and Fr Patrick Boudville.

The lady’s random words got him think ing and when he returned to Malaysia, he began journeying with the Jesuits, who were then in charge of Campus Ministry. That did not amount to much and upon graduating with a Diploma in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering from Tunku Abdul Rahman College, he went on to build his career.

But, there was always a nagging feeling that there had to be more to life and he revisited the notion of joining the seminary.

The third of four children, he entered College General in 2005 but left in November 2006 to discern his religious vocation. For the next five years, he worked as a sacristan in SFX (for two years) before becoming an HRDF (Human Resource Development Fund) certified trainer. His career as a trainer grew but he soon returned to the idea of religious life.

“After I left the diocesan seminary, I realised I was searching for a deeper prayer life and strong community support. It is not that the seminary lacked these aspects but once you are ordained, you live alone without a community.”

In 2012, unbidden thoughts of religious vocation resurfaced and it was at a retreat that he discovered the Discalced Carmelite Friars. The Order of the Discalced Carmelites was founded in the 16th century by Spanish saints, St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. Discalced comes from Latin meaning “without shoes”.

What drew him to this order was the amount of time dedicated to meditation. “There are different methods of praying but I find meditation the best. It helped me centre myself back to God and keep my sanity (especially when I was studying).

The other attraction was the writings by Carmelite saints, which he found rich and deep in spirituality.

“However, at that point, I was not ready to give up on my career. Eventually, I buckled down, submitted an application and was accepted into the Postulancy programme in 2013. It was also the year my dad passed on from cancer. Fortunately, he was able to accompany me when I moved to the Formation House in Punggol, Singapore, at the start of my Postulancy.

It was not an easy journey for him. “A few months into my first year, I was ready to quit. I hung on until the year-end assessment, which I cleared, and proceeded to my Novitiate in Hsinchu, Taiwan. The Novitiate was even more challenging, and again, I wanted to give up but I soldiered on. I passed the three assessments and took my first vows in January 2015 with a seminarian from Singapore and another Malaysian.

“I strongly believe it is Scripture and time before God that sustains and helps in my time of need, as a lay person and now, as a Carmelite.”

He spent the next few years in Singapore for his Philosophical studies before moving  to Sydney, Australia, for three years to learn Theology.

“I worked very hard to earn a decent grade. I also did not like the study of Philosophy although I think that boils down to the lecturer. Metaphysics is considered the most difficult subject in Philosophy, but I enjoyed it because of the way it was presented. When I started Theological studies in Australia, it was initially challenging because I had been out of formal studies for nearly 20 years. It took me a while to get into gear and Theology was more gratifying because it was not purely academic. There were a lot of pastoral applications which helped develop my critical thinking.”

He completed his ecclesiastical studies at the Catholic Institute of Sydney, Australia in 2019.

He was ordained a transitional deacon in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Varroville, NSW, Australia on Dec 14,  2019.

Deacon Tay hopes to promote Carmelite Spirituality to Catholics in Malaysia.

“I find Malaysians are thirsting for a deeper spiritual life and I would like to guide them using our methods.

“To anyone aspiring to embrace religious life, do not make decisions when you are still young. Live life, study, work. Know what it is like to have money to spend, freedom and maybe a girlfriend. It is when you have experienced all this, you will know what you are giving up. It helps you become a better religious and eventually how to connect with parishioners from different walks of life.

“Another fundamental thing for anyone discerning his vocation is the Mass. Make it a point to attend daily Mass when possible.”

Deacon Tay will be the sixth Carmelite friar to be ordained in Malaysia.

Total Comments:2

Gteg hon
Nice n insightfull of self!
Nice article! Thanks for sharing the vocational journey of Deacon Tay. We accompany him in our prayers Blessings!