By guest writer Benny Seah.
Public life began for me in a neighborhood public school. Two years on, my father transferred me to his former school at the behest of an aunt; she chided him for not having enrolled me in St. Joseph’s Junior School (SJJS) which offered a better education. On the third year, I found myself in Class Primary 3A of SJJS, a Catholic school. That took me right through St. Joseph’s Institution, SJI, the high school, to complete my formal education.
I was highly motivated in SJJS and enjoyed schooling. Unbeknownst to me, the seed of my Catholic faith was planted in me. I took very well to the catechism lessons in which I learned about angels, and at the front of the school was a statue of St. Michael the Archangel standing victorious over Satan that I could relate to. Most compelling of all, my teacher would send me to the school canteen to buy bars of chocolate for the boys who did well in our tests, including those on the catechism. I was driven by material desires, nothing spiritual.
In the next year, a laSallian Brother took my class. He was very kind and fatherly. As I was quite timid, he helped me with my art lessons making plaster of Paris clay models. Robed in a white cassock, he made an exemplary impression on me. One night I had the most beautiful dream of my life. I dreamt I saw Jesus Christ robed whiter than white, standing at the entrance to my home speaking with my mother, telling her gently that He had come to take me from her. My family practiced ancestral worship and Catholicism had no place in the family.
Lost in worldly pursuits
My teenage years in SJI were spent chasing after things of the world, trying to be part of the in-crowd. School routines included saying morning prayers at assembly and the Angelus in class at noon. Us students were herded to Mass in the church next door on major feast days. I enjoyed the hymns but did not quite comprehend the Mass. However, the image of the crucifix mounted on the wall of each and every classroom stayed with me. The sight of the laSallian Brothers, more than half a dozen in every corner of the school as teachers dedicated in service, was most inspiring.
The worldly things and glories turned out to be illusions as I grew into adulthood. I met my girlfriend Cecilia, now my wife, in my second undergraduate year and we decided to attend the Saturday Novenas to Our Lady Of Perpetual Succor. After a few Novenas I decided to take up the Catholic faith. Thus, I was found and our Lady was leading me to her Son.
A kind, young and newly-ordained priest, Father Augustine Tay, taught me catechism. One day he invited me to follow him on his pastoral visit to residents in nursing homes for the aged. Before setting forth he said that I would be seeing heaven and hell. We arrived first at a home where residents had to pay to stay. The home was horrendous, reeking in smells of urine and feces; residents were clamoring loudly for attention but there were hardly any attendants in sight. That was hell.
Next, we came to the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged. Father celebrated Mass and I could see the residents dressed cleanly and neatly bringing themselves to the Mass. It was a striking to see their self-dignity expressed by their conduct. Most of them wore a smile and were freshly powdered; they did what they could by themselves. I found heaven, or rather heaven found me. The residents did not need to pay to live in the home because they had no money being destitute, the poorest of the poor. The sisters who ran the home gave their services for free, it being their vocation to serve.
Our patient Father
I was baptized on Christmas Eve 1975. The seed planted in me when I was 9 years old in 1961 had taken 14 years to germinate. God is our patient Father in heaven who has found me and does not discard me even when I have ignored Him for the things of the world. Through the years He has been feeding me in body, mind and soul, and guided me through the ups and downs of life — in short He prunes me.
God also drew my mother to Himself, and she was baptized in 2003 before passing away in 2011.
Now, in the autumn of my life at 64 He is faithfully with me at all times, thankfully, and hopefully for eternity. I am still growing, as St. Paul has written — “though this outer human nature of ours may be falling into decay, at the same time our inner human nature is renewed day by day” — 2 Corinthians 4:16.
Benny Seah retired from a hectic working life in 2005 to live a new life of trust in Divine providence and care. He is ever mindful that everyone is unique and that no one should compare oneself with another. Among the countless blessings he believes that his afflictions of nose cancer in 1989 and stroke in 1998 and recovery from them were gifts from God. In God and with God he has found Life. He is a child of God.