Today is 31st January, 2005 which means Father Stephen’s last day at Holy Spirit Cathedral. Last Saturday, I shed a few tears at his farewell. I was dripping all the water on my grey choir robe as if I know him well. I am very new to the church. But Father Stephen has given me many smart directions in the short time I know him. So, I am joining Peter and Bart to give him special honour and the gratitude I had for Father.
When I was taking the RCIA, he joined our course and lectured a few times. I was probably the most idiotic of all because I asked the most stupid questions like :
- Father, all the Catholic priests are supposed to leave their own family to be a priest. Does that mean you have no more family? (not true, they still have their family but they dedicated their lives by staying in church and only visit the family sometimes)
- Father, suppose at some point in your life, you decided you do not want to be a priest anymore, can you un-priest yourself? (Catholic priests lead a celibate life, which means they devoted themselves to Christ and do not have any relationship or get married. Answer : A priest can really un-priest themselves by going through some rites which Father did seriously take time to explain to this curious cat.)
After my baptism, I was embroiled in some territorial matters and someone told me I don’t belong to the church but another one. That someone was not tactful at all in her approach and got me very mad. So, I did what I am good at. Emailed Father Stephen. I thought he might want to tell me that yes, I belong to a different area.
But, when I see him, he called me Lilian and I was on the verge of singing Hallelujah ala Nicholas Cage in Face Off. Hey, I am a mere few days old Catholic and this priest knows me by my name. With a church of 1,000 over parishioners (people), he knows my name! Never mind that my stupid act earn that recognition.
Then, there was once when someone who is dying wanted to give me her daugther because she wanted the girl to grow up in a Christian home! Yeah, I had pretty dramatic life. But I went to Father and asked him for his wisdom. I told him that the girl has a Buddhist grandma which did not see eye-to-eye with her dying daughter. I told Father that religion is not important here but the welfare of the girl. Father told me to leave it to God to do what is best. True enough, I managed to reconcile the dying woman with her estranged mother just hours before her death.
Another time, I encounter situations where someone (a few actually) needed religion to hold them up. I know they cannot accept Christianity as they deem it too ‘foreign’. So, I asked them to go to a Buddhist temple and seek enlightment from the monks. I asked Father and he said I am doing the right thing. His favourite advice is ‘Leave it to God’.
When things annoyed me or matters puzzled me, I often refer to Father. Usually, my questions are compacted to mere few words. And Father’s reply also come in mere few words. I must say that it is not often I clicked with another individual like I did with Father Stephen. For that, he will stay close in my heart. My respect and admiration for this man who dedicated his life to serve God and share his wisdom with laymen like me.
Last Saturday, I did not say goodbye to Father because I know I am going to visit him in St. Anne’s church in Bukit Mertajam.
To Father Stephen, excerpt of lyrics of the song we sang for him:
May the Lord protect and defend you
May you be deserving of praise
Strengthen him oh Lord