‘One thing I ask from the Lord…’

Deacon Joseph Gomez’s journey to priesthood has been half a century in the making. Like the psalmist in Psalm 27 who only wanted one thing – to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life – Deacon Joseph’s single-minded pursuit to become a priest stems from his deep love for God and his desire to serve God.

JoeGomez

Life rarely takes us on the straight road to our goal, and we are all the richer for it.

As we sat down with Deacon Joseph Gomez to try and coax his story out of him – I mean, how come he is not-so-young and on his way to becoming a brand new priest? – we saw a man who is both reserved and resolute.

If little children played doctor or teacher Deacon Joseph, recalling his childhood in the early 1960s in sleepy Teluk Intan, played priest. He would drape blankets and, over a makeshift altar, “say” mass.

He said his routine of church-school-home, his mother’s deep faith in the Church and the example of his then parish priest may have sparked his interest in the priesthood.

When Joseph completed his secondary schooling he was approached and admitted into the minor seminary in Singapore.

During a six-month break, after philosophy at the Major Seminary in Pulau Tikus Joseph found employment and taught English Language in a Kelantan state school.

“Until then I was sheltered. I had very little life experiences in the outside world. I had never worked in my life,” he said.

He so enjoyed teaching that he lost track of time and effectively missed the reopening of the sessions at the seminary.

He attempted to return to the seminary the subsequent year but was turned down. He continued teaching and prepared himself for the Higher Secondary Certificate, hoping to gain entry at a local university.

He was admitted into Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in 1979 where he read political science and sociology. Upon graduation he worked in Kuala Lumpur as an underwriter for an insurance company, for a short period.

The opportunity arose to read Law at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England. After completing his degree he prepared for the Bar Examination at Lincoln’s Inn. He even planned to settle down after qualifying.

However, things didn’t work out as planned. He even left the Church as God, it seemed, had failed him.

Once when he decided that he was no longer interested in pursuing a career in Law, Joseph worked at several jobs to sustain himself.

During this time, he began to discern where God was calling him. A year later, on Good Friday, Joseph stepped into a church.

“It was a return to finding God in my life once again. It was a return to attending daily mass and the sacraments,” he said.

He recalls a moment of epiphany as he sat in the Brompton Oratory looking at the icon of God the Father.

“I realised that ultimately God had been all along at my side. He is my Father. It was a slow but sure return to seeing God as the stronghold of my life. As time passed I felt God was calling me once again back to ‘follow Him’,” he said.

While discerning, with the help of a priest, where God was calling him, Joseph looked at several religious orders and was attracted to the Jesuit way of life. In 1991 he became a Jesuit Novice, and after taking his vows was sent to study philosophy.

During his time with the Jesuits he had the opportunity to work on a voluntary basis with special needs children, handicapped adults and at a cancer hospice. All these experiences led him to a closer relationship with God.

On completion of his studies in 1996, Joseph was told that the Jesuit way of life was not his calling. He found employment to support himself but could not shrug off the restlessness he felt.

He trained and qualified as a teacher in the UK, and worked for a time as a Religious Education teacher in both state and public schools. He also looked at one of the missionary Order as a possible way to serve as a priest. On realising that the Order was keen on him being a brother, Joseph left and went back to teaching.

“I was marking books one day in my room and I had this thought, Why not go back to Malaysia, do you want to teach for the rest of your life?”

In 2013, Joseph returned to Malaysia. He gained employment as a teacher in an international school. He also applied to Malacca-Johor diocese and was accepted in 2013.

But when there was a change in leadership in that diocese, Joseph was told once again that the priesthood was not for him.

In Easter of 2017, Joseph submitted all to God and made yet another try, writing in to Archbishop Julian Leow, who called him in for an interview.

“During the interview, I was asked why I should be taken in. He said that all this while I have faced nothing but rejection, isn’t God trying to tell me something?

“I said I didn’t know, I just have a deep desire to become a priest. I said the only way I would know if God was calling me is if he opened a door.

“I didn’t hear from the Archbishop for seven months. I packed my bags and was ready to return to the UK when I received an appointment to meet with the Archbishop.

After a long interrogation, Archbishop Julian agreed to accept Joseph provisionally on a trial period of testing. He was sent to do pastoral work at different churches until his ordination.

He was first posted to the Church of the Sacred Heart, Jalan Peel, and then to the Church of St John Vianney, Tampin before being sent to the Church of the Divine Mercy, Shah Alam.

In February of this year, Joseph was ordained as a transitory deacon by Archbishop Julian. In a recently-released Chancery Notice it was revealed that Deacon Joseph will be ordained a priest on June 6.

“Looking back, it has been a journey which started in 1969. Since 1991, I have lived as a religious. Yes, I have studied much but nothing is more important to me than to live in the house of God, and serve as a priest.

“My formation and my experiences in life have shaped me to be stronger person,” he testified, and added that “I may be older but all my life I have interacted with students”.

Deacon Joseph advises young people to find out what God means to them. He stressed that the centrefold of our lives as Catholics is to have time with God in prayer, and to let this intertwine with your daily living.

“I would not give anything for all my experiences, so continue to gain experiences in the real world and to work with God through the people, especially the marginalised and the poor. It is through them that one experiences the saving grace of God in one’s life. The world may attract you in many ways, but it is important to take God and your faith seriously.”

Deacon Joseph Gomez is to be ordained to the Order of Presbyter on Thursday, 6th of June 2019 at 10.30am at Church of the Divine Mercy, Shah Alam by His Grace, Most Reverend Julian Leow, Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur.

by Jofintha Josha
Jofintha hails from Kuching, Sarawak. 
She is currently pursuing her Degree in Law and serves in the Media & Communications Team in CDM