A Call to Priesthood: An Invitation That Was Always Open

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A Call to Priesthood: An Invitation That Was Always Open

By Cordelia Lee

Fr Philip Tay, OCD grew up like any other normal teen in Malacca. He is the third child in a family of four siblings. Due to his family’s financial situation, Fr Philip did not have the luxury of hanging out with friends during his younger days.

“My spare time was spent either helping my parents with their noodle business, revising my school work, working part-time or undertaking extra-curricular activities,” said Fr Philip, who was also actively involved in the Legion of Mary.

“My secondary school, SM St Francis Melaka, has a beautiful chapel where we would have Mass every first Friday and the students would organize the liturgy. I was involved in the choir. Every morning before assembly, a group of us ranging from Form One to Six would gather at the chapel to recite the Rosary, together with one of the Catholic teachers and La Salle Brothers,” related Fr Philip.

Despite his early involvement in liturgy and Mass, Fr Philip did not think about a priestly vocation. Instead, he was aiming for the usual milestones of a successful career to marriage and setting up his own family. “Like any other person of my age, I was aspiring to graduate, work, get married and settle down,” he smiled.

“Although the idea of priesthood had come up occasionally in my life, I never felt it really fit. I am shy by nature and don’t make friends easily so I tend to stick to those I’m comfortable with. I was not attached to any particular parish either,” said Fr Philip.

During his college days, Fr Philip went through a rough patch in his relationship with God. Despite his keen involvement in the Catholic Students’ Society to which he devoted much time and effort, he felt helpless and abandoned. But it was at this low point in his life when Fr Philip’s faith and love for Christ was rekindled.

“I think that was the lowest ebb of my spiritual life. One of my seniors in college (the brother of Archbishop Simon Poh) suggested that I attend a charismatic rally, “Youth Explosion”, organised by KLASE (KL Archdiocese School of Evangelisation). During the rally, there was an altar call for vocations. I remember it very clearly, the priest announced, ‘Anyone who feels called to the priesthood and religious life, please come on stage’. About three of my friends went up, but I did not,” recalled Fr Philip.

However, the Holy Spirit finally came upon Philip during a healing session. “I just ‘surrendered’ and let everything go and allowed myself be carried by the Spirit. I felt the love of God so strongly; I broke down in tears! I finally understood that God had not abandoned me. He had allowed me to go through the experience so that I could grow spiritually and fully understand how deep God’s love for me was,” explained Fr Philip.

The spark that ignited Fr Philip that evening never left him.

“After graduation, I worked and started to build a career for myself. But one day, it occurred to me that there had to be more to life than career and money,” he said. “I was also actively involved in the parish at that time, and it prompted me to think seriously of the time when I had been touched by the Holy Spirit.”

When the Archdiocese held a vocation weekend, Fr Philip signed up for it. By 2005, he entered College General but left in November 2006 to contemplate on his religious vocation. In 2012, Fr Philip applied to the Carmelite Friars and was accepted into its postulancy programme in Singapore. He later proceeded to do his Novitiate in Hsinchu, Taiwan. From 2015 to 2019, Fr Philip continued to pursue studies in philosophy and theology. 


Order of the Discalced Carmelite Friars

“After I left the Diocesan seminary, I realised that I was searching for two elements that I felt was necessary – a deeper prayer- life and strong community involvement,” said Fr Philip. Ultimately, it was the amount of time that was dedicated to mediation that drew me to the Carmelite Order. The other aspect were the writings of the Carmelite saints, which were rich and deep in spiritualty. There’s so much to learn from the three Doctors of the Church– John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Liseux.

“Throughout my journey, I have been deeply grateful for the unconditional love from my family and friends, who always gave me their encouragement and emotional support. Many of them kept me in their prayers and this helped me immensely,” said Fr Philip. “Of course, through it all, prayer played a very important part. Ultimately, a vocation is a gift and a call from God and if it’s not meant to be, no matter how hard one tries, it will never happen. A genuine vocation must come from God and it is always an invitation, one that we are free to respond to or to ignore.”

The greatest joy in my journey as a lay person was to serve the Church in various ministries. Now that I am embarking on the journey of priesthood, I hope I can use my knowledge and skills to guide Catholics in prayer and catechesis,” concluded Fr Philip.