Trinidadian Gerard Woo Ling was ordained a deacon for the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia on August 13, 2016, by Bishop Robert Llanos at St Theresa’s RC Church, Woodbrook, his former parish (CN Sept 25, 2016). On Thursday (August 24) he will be ordained to the priesthood at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney. Rev Woo Ling shares his journey to the priesthood.
In my journey of life, the themes of mercy and simplicity have echoed loudly and continue to be an active and integral part in my vocation.
Growing up in a Catholic home, attending Catholic schools, going to Sunday Mass and praying the family rosary were all present in my faith journey. One can say the seed of faith was indeed sown but grew very little. For the first 35 years of my life, I will describe my faith as one that was below par, one I never took seriously and in all likelihood, was lukewarm for the most part.
I was going through the daily motions of life – just working and socialising. For me being Catholic was restricted to the private sphere. It had some impact on my daily conduct and decisions but minimally.
When I moved to Australia, I came face-to-face with many realities. No family, no friends, no job. What was I doing? In hindsight, what was Christ doing? Who had I taken for granted? What really gives direction, meaning and value to life, I wondered. Totally unaware at that time, I was on a Damascus trek.
I believe my moment of conversion started when I encountered God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There and then I felt my sense of wretchedness and sinfulness truly encountered the unfathomable mercy and infinite love of God. Desire meets desire. Lover encounters lover. Heart speaks to heart.
I was so overwhelmed that tears of sorrow and joy welled up. A healthy dose of God’s grace gushed forth onto my limp sapling of faith. According to St Thomas, God’s greatest attribute is His mercy. It is here I witnessed the convergence of His wisdom, His power and His goodness.
A few months later I became involved in the Surry Hills’ parish of St Peter’s. My life and faith journey began to take another course. Many great things were happening at the St Peter’s community that enabled me to grow in my faith. Starting a regular sacramental and prayer life provided an invaluable help in nourishing my faith. Other faith-forming factors included scripture studies, spiritual talks and DVDs.
In 2008, the parish was one of the designated catechist centres for World Youth Day in Sydney. The parish was also blessed to have the presence of the Missionaries of Charity Sisters.
Being exposed to the spirituality of Mother Teresa was formative in my faith development. The Sisters were wonderful witnesses to the Christian faith. One particular charism that stands out for me is their spirit of simplicity in their manner of living. Having worked for a number of years in the financial services industry, living a worldly life with all its appeals, the way of simplicity was becoming more attractive for me.
A gradual maturing of my faith meant a greater sense of detachment from the things of the world. Hence, these were some of the contributing elements in discerning my vocation. In 2010, I commenced my journey towards the priesthood.
Walking the way of mercy and simplicity were key in my seminary formation. I often need to recall Matthew’s beatitude ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy’. Those who are filled with mercy are those who repeatedly encounter the forgiveness of a most loving and tender Father. One can only extend that same forgiveness to others. So long as you are merciful, God will heap mercy on you.
Mercy underpins Jesus’ teachings. Mercy extends beyond forgiveness. Mercy encompasses an attitude to see varying points of view; it is patient and understanding in bearing with others’ faults; it is being compassionate with others. It is not quick to take offense or to gloat over others’ shortcomings.
Mercy is the opposite of revenge. Likewise, walking the way of a simple heart allows ‘me’ to be open to the workings of the Holy Spirit. Walking the way of a simple heart helps ‘you’ in the growth of Christian virtue. Walking the way of a simple heart draws ‘us’ to the Cross and guides ‘us’ to our heavenly home.