One year ago, I was at the Church of St Francis Xavier, where I had dragged my then-fiancee Pei Shan to attend the Easter Virgil Mass. I remember feeling very moved during the Mass, yet feeling a tinge of sadness. Pei Shan was not yet baptised, and showed no signs of accepting the Catholic faith anytime soon.
As I watched the Catechumens being baptised, I said a silent prayer: “Lord, you have entrusted me with Pei Shan’s life. I want to take her to Heaven so she can be in full communion with You. But I have absolutely no idea how.”
It’s true: I wasn’t passionate or charismatic. I had only a basic, Sunday School understanding of theology. Even though I had been Catholic all my life, I had no idea how I was going to share my faith with my future wife.
But God already had a plan.
At that time, Pei Shan was attending a Protestant church but wasn’t baptised. To her, it was just a formal procedure, a ritual. If she already loved God, why did we need to bother about baptism? That simple procedure wouldn’t make much of a difference.
I tried explaining why I thought baptism was important, but it was tough because I was baptised as a baby. I didn’t have a choice, so what did the act really mean? Not to mention the millions of cradle Catholics who were lukewarm about their faith – hardly a resounding testimony.
Baptism wasn’t the only thing that I struggled to explain. In the past year, we had long, intense theological debates from the accuracy of the Bible (“It was written thousands of years ago and based on a bunch of stories, how do we know if it’s right?“) to whether Mother Mary was truly sinless (“Didn’t the Bible say that Jesus was the only sinless person?“).
We once debated on why Catholics go for Confession, and I showed her this article. She rolled her eyes and said “C’mon, that’s a terrible answer”. I had no idea how to respond.
Pei Shan and I struggled about the role of the Church. Compared to Protestant services, she felt that Catholic Masses were so boring and that she simply couldn’t connect with them. Why did we need the Mass or the Church? Why couldn’t she just worship God on her own, without being tied to any particular faith tradition?
I was grateful that even though she was skeptical (and rightfully so), she wasn’t closed. Every week, she followed me to RCIA on Tuesdays, 7G sessions on Saturdays, and Mass on Sundays.
Still, I felt a little sliver of heartache whenever she didn’t make the Sign of the Cross, didn’t say the Hail Mary, or didn’t kneel during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
I felt like a little kid who wanted to show this beautiful hidden treasure to his parents who just couldn’t see it. I wanted to scream, “This is beautiful and sacred and wonderful and I want to share it with you!!!” But I had no idea how to articulate my love for these Catholic concepts to her.
God Steps In To Help
Thankfully, God never leaves us to complete His mission on our own. In fact, He did most of the heavy lifting and slowly revealed Himself to Pei Shan.
First, there were the people He sent into our lives:
- There was Fr Jude, who asked the hard questions and broke down tough concepts during his fiery homilies.
- There was Keenan, who sat down and patiently explained to us whenever I scurried to him with questions like “Why is the God of the Old Testament so vengeful?”
- There was Yao, who pestered Pei Shan to attend RCIA and even drove her down to session when I couldn’t be there
- There was Ian, who doggedly asked her to go for weekday Mass, no matter how many times she said “no”
- There was Matilda and Esther, who lent her a whole bunch of childhood books about the Saints and their lives when Pei Shan was struggling with her baptism name
- There were the 7G community members, who invited her to go for weekday masses, got her involved in service teams, and SHOWED us what it really means to sacrifice their time, money and lives for the sake of God
Indeed, it was an entire CHURCH that got involved to bring this one soul into the family. I probably missed out a bunch of people, but almost every week, there was someone, somewhere who brought Pei Shan closer to the Church.
Next, there were the spiritual encounters. Knowing the answers to theological concepts was one thing, but true transformation crept into Pei Shan’s life only after she encountered God.
We attended retreats and events: Treasure, RCIA retreat, the 7G retreat, OYP’s Stations of the Cross, Nox Gaudii, Jason Evert. At each of these events and retreats, God sent her a little message saying, “Hey, I’m real. I’m here. And I want you to be with Me.”
I still remember the various uncanny encounters where God kept bringing up the image of St Peter to her: A vision at Treasure retreat. A randomly-picked scroll at a Sacred Heart Mass. An offhand comment during a conversation. A validation during the 7G retreat about her baptismal name – Faith – and how it could be stronger than her fear.
It didn’t happen overnight, but I could feel something change inside Pei Shan. She went from being skeptical, to curious, to desiring this immense great love that Jesus has for us, His Church, and the entire world.
The Walls Come Down
I remember the first time she knelt down beside me during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I didn’t ask her to, she just did it. When I asked her why she decided to kneel, she said, “I just have to surrender.”
I was blown away and overjoyed. My heart was so immensely happy and I didn’t know how to express it, so I just kept quiet.
She started to listen to podcasts by Fr Mike Schmitz. She started reading books about faith. For someone who couldn’t even get through even one book before, she suddenly devoured a biography of St. John Paul The Great by Jason Evert, Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn, and is starting on The Lamb’s Supper.
She started going for Adoration and weekday Masses by herself (no need Ian to drag her anymore!). She took leave to attend the Chrism Mass and stood for 3 hours to witness it. Heck, she was becoming more Catholic than me!
Seeing her draw closer and closer to Christ brought more joy to my heart than any promotion or material riches. I felt like the merchant who found a great treasure in a field and sold all his wealth to buy the field. Nothing made me happier than seeing the person I love the most walking towards her spiritual home.
The Joy Of Easter
Which brings us to today – Easter Sunday – the day after Faith was baptised into the Catholic Church, during the same Easter Virgil Mass I attended a year ago. The same Mass where I whispered a prayer asking God for help, which He lovingly answered.
As I look back, I can appreciate how much of a struggle it was in the journey towards Faith’s baptism. But I can also see that we were never alone. We had the Holy Spirit and the Church. We had the Sacraments which – rather than being a mere ritual – held a real, tangible power in Faith’s transformation last night.
And most importantly, we had Jesus who died on the Cross, who paid the price of his very life for us. Us! We bratty, sinful, undeserving kids who don’t even deserve it, but He chose to die for us all the same, just because He loves us.
That’s not to say that we are “done” in any way. Baptism isn’t the goal; it’s just the beginning. In fact, maybe things will get even more challenging from now on.
In the past year, God’s mission for me was to journey with Pei Shan towards baptism. But now, what are His plans for us? How does He want us to serve Him? How can we share the joy of His love that we’ve experienced this year?
I know it’s not going to be easy, but if this year is anything to go by, I know that we aren’t alone in our journey. Jesus is risen, He has conquered death, and he walks with us.
Have a very happy Easter, everyone!