Earlier in my life, I wanted to be the concert pianist, the chess master, the scientist who made the discoveries……………I gave pharmacy school a go as I was good at chemistry, and did really well, but……………
Like many people of today, I struggled to find what I really wanted to do in life. You know how in every career path employers are looking for the ‘full package’. I was never one of these. My life ultimately became a lot of ‘what ifs’, after a lot of shattered ambitions – all of which gave me the same response to every career path I chose – “there is something that I don’t have that fits the brief, that an employer ‘wants’”.
Looking for the missing puzzle piece I had a niggle to become a priest, so I decided to enter the seminary to discover what this might be. I thought it, too, was going to evaporate fairly quickly like every fantasy ambition to do great – I remembered going into the formator’s office after my first week asking “am I doing ok?”
Sure, priestly formation is not easy, no two ways about it. As I learnt with any lifelong commitment. Through it, I had to acknowledge my own human weaknesses that I could easily avoid by focusing solely on a career ladder job. There were times of extreme doubt and loneliness, always questioning with some of my closest brother seminarians “is this really for me?”, “is this all worth it?”
But it was both the incredible staff and brother seminarians at Holy Cross Seminary and Te Kupenga – Catholic Theological College who constantly affirmed me. I soon became more convinced that Jesus wasn’t your usual employer. I realised I too can share the joy of finding Jesus at the well, just like the Samaritan woman. Jesus knew everything about me….in the hardship of the midday sun…..my wants, my lacks, my many affairs as I courted various talents to make a career out of – the many ‘wives’ also offering the hope of success, but also, giving me deep insecurities of never being good enough. I too can leave my water jar of wants at the well, and be courageous enough to go out into the deep.
Perhaps there is one little story that when I was discerning for the seminary that struck me deeply about the priesthood that I can share:
A little boy once met a priest and said to him, “Father, I want to be just like you”. The priest, perplexed, said to him, “Why is that”? The little boy replied, “because I want to go to heaven”. The priest muttered “well, not only will you go to heaven, but you get to take everyone along for the ride with you”.
I hope we can all go to heaven!
I want to thank all who helped me drink deeper at the well and accompanied me on my journey. I hope I will be able to return the abundant love Jesus has shared with me through all of you in my years to come.
Fr Alfred Tong was ordained on 24th September 2022 and is currently serving at Te Awakairangi Parish, Lower Hutt.