To be more concerned about being with people.
I was baptized Murphy Nicholas Xavier: named Murphy – in the hope that I would one day become a priest like to well-known Fr. Murphy, SJ of Loyola College, Chennai, who also taught religion in the College where my mother studied. I was named Nicholas, as I was born on December 6th, the feast day of St. Nicholas; and Xavier as it was the middle name of my paternal family tree. And so I had several powerful saints to monitor me and guide me on my faith journey of the priesthood.
Most priests will attribute their vocation to the faith and prayer of their mother; so it was with me. Having named me Murphy, she made sure that I came to know some stories about Fr. Murphy's fame and how he was instrumental in converting several people to faith in Jesus Christ.
Both my parents come from strict catholic traditional, where religion and church practice were ingrained in family customs so, daily family rosary and Sunday mass was sacrosanct. After Sunday lunch, it was my mother's privilege to gather her brood of 7 children around her bed and have the gospel of the day read by one of us and then explain to all; other stories got inter-spersed; hymns followed before we each went off for a nap. As the parish priest knew of our family devotions and practices he exempted us from the catechism camps for outstation children that we regularly held; even though we were not enrolled in Catholic schools (in those days it was obligatory for Catholic students to be enrolled in Catholic schools). As we were only a few English speaking Catholic families in town, we were familiar with the sole priests who were posted there and participated in nearly all church related activities. The priest would drop in at the home for a chat and sometimes for a game of cards; they were always held in high regard and respect.
In those days there were no private doctors' clinics, especially in small town, doctors in the district hospital were big shots in town, so the hospital assistance were the one approached by the ordinary people from surrounding villages and rubber estates for medical advice and medicines. So my dad's help was often sought as he had a cheerful disposition and readiness to help. My mother remained a housewife by choice, though she was college educated; she wanted to give full attention to the upbringing of the children; so there was less family income, we walked to school, had no pocket money, and never ate out in shops except on the few family outings to the cinema. One regular feature was that in the afternoon there were often vendors and poor friends who will drop in to sell their wares and get engaged in long conversations with mum; women's gossip perhaps but they found it refreshing to unburden their concerns and worries to a reliable person.
I mention all these background happening of my roots because it gives shape to a priest's hard to be concerned for people and their concerns. It helps me as a priest to be more concerned about being with the people and being interested in knowing them as persons in their families. It is then easier to tell them that Jesus is concerned about them and their families because I represent Jesus for many.
In those days the mass was in Latin and the solemn tones of Gregorian chant were sung at high Masses. I remember as a young kid seeing and hearing the priest solemnly singing the preface of the Mass in Latin, and I said to myself, 'one day I want to stand up there at the altar and sing the praises of God'. Many years later, I went to say my first Mass in the parish. The former parish priest drove me there. I shared with him my childhood dream and he shared with me how he used to practice hard and for long hours, singing the Gregorian chant whilst in the seminary. It struck me how God works His grace: the long hours of practice enable him to sing well enough for a young kid to be inspired to aspire for the priesthood.
We do many small ordinary things but because of our faithfulness to our duties as priests God somehow touches someone and draws him or her to Himself to goodness.
I have happy memories of the people in the three parishes of Nibong Tebal, Parit Buntar and Bagan Serai as I used to be around there on weekends from 1989; what memorable experiences we had through the many PRE sessions, the Lumko series, the launching of the R.P.P. programme of for some sensitive inculturation efforts, etc.
20 years later, I now meet some one-time children of those years around K.L. and it is nice to recall the names of people back home. Sad to know of the leaders of by-gone years have gone to their reward in heaven, but joyful to learn that their children are now active leaders in the church community. It is a priest's joyful task to remember all in his prayers.
May the Good God bless all.