I remember many years ago, in 2002 when I graduated from seminary, the graduating students of my cohort chose the theme "A New Song" as the theme for our graduation. This theme was certainly not an indication that we meant to forget the old phase of our life in seminary, but that a new phase of our lives and ministry was now presenting itself before us as a continuation of the "old song" that we had sung until then. The "new song" we were now going to sing, i.e. the new phase of our lives, was going to entail new and exciting challenges for us, and the "old song" we had sung prior to that was what had prepared us for the day of this "new song". Since that day, I had always been aware that change and dynamism were intrinsic to the life of ministry.
This reflection comes a little late, as I had meant to write it in conjunction with the fourth anniversary of my ordination last month (June 2014). But as it turns out, I have been so busy I have had to lay my intention aside for a while until the month of June was over. Of course, there is no such a thing as a reflection that is too late. So here, I am writing a brief reflection which also doubles up as an announcement (which may be significant to some, but not really to others).
In the past seven years, even prior to my ordination as a deacon in the Church in June 2010, I had done a considerable lot of travelling as I involved myself in being at the service of other dioceses and parishes all around the region in the area of evangelisation and faith formation. Unknown to many though, was the fact that I was concurrently also serving in my Diocese of Melaka-Johor as the Director of the Pastoral Institute. Understandably, many people (especially those who are outside of my diocese) do not even know what the Pastoral Institute is, and I suppose for these, this announcement is utterly of no significance at all, since from their perspective it does not change anything in any way that pertains to them.
After having served as Director of the Melaka-Johor Diocesan Pastoral Institute for five years, I have recently stepped down from this role. Of course, this does not mean that I am also no longer functioning as a deacon. A deacon does many (MANY!) other things besides such administrative work. As a deacon, I will continue to assist the clergy in my diocese with tasks such as organising the Monthly Clergy Recollections, assisting my bishop and the priests with liturgical functions, preaching, teaching, blessing, marrying, baptising, and a good number of many other tasks.
But more importantly, I will now be able to focus more intensely on assisting with faith formation and evangelisation in various parishes and dioceses at requests of bishops and priests without being bogged down by administrative obligations. In a sense, this is nothing very new, as I have already been doing a lot of this in the years past. So I guess, one may say, my "new song" is not very new after all! For me, it is just a very welcome opportunity to remain focused on what I have always felt called to do.
But the old song is not forgotten. I am very grateful to all my colleagues at the Melaka-Johor Diocesan Pastoral Institute - clergy, religious and laity - who have worked closely with me in the past five years in such a spirit of cooperation and collaboration. The collaboration has not ceased, as I am just a phone call or an email away if my help is ever needed. The only difference is, directorship of the fort has now been handed over to a very capable person who used to be my Administrative Assistant but who was so capable to the point of enabling me to be of service to others even beyond the Pastoral Institute, and who is now the Interim Director. I am very grateful for all the friendships that have developed over the past five years. I am sure that I had many shortcomings as Director of the Pastoral Institute, and I am grateful that they had such a high level of tolerance for me which enabled me to grow in my journey towards holiness.
I am also grateful to my bishop for the support and encouragement he has given to all my initiatives throughout my five years at the Pastoral Institute. I am thankful for a bishop who has such a heart for mission and evangelisation and who has freed me to continue labouring in this endeavour of evangelisation and faith formation.
Well, the ministry that I continue to exercise as a deacon of the Word will not look very much different from what I have been doing so far in these past years. But nevertheless, for the few who have had direct links with the Pastoral Institute, I suppose my departure does mean a "change" for them. A good change, I trust. As for me, a new phase begins which fundamentally looks very much the same as the old.
As always, I have strived to be a humble deacon at the service of the Church. And hope to remain so.
All right everybody, back to work!