An Interview with Rev Fr William Goh
CatholicNews ran excerpts of an interview with Rev Fr William Goh, Spiritual Director of the Catholic Spirituality Centre, in its issue no. 8 dated 25 Apr 2010. The Catholic Spirituality Centre is pleased to provide the full text of the interview below.
CatholicNews: How did you get involved with CSC? What is your role there, and specifically, what do you do?
Fr William: I was appointed by the Archbishop to be the Spiritual Director (SD) for the then SFX in 2004. That was when it was re-named the Catholic Spirituality Centre (the Centre). A new mission was consequently adopted, which was for it to serve as the Archdiocese’s centre for the re-evangelisation of Catholics in Singapore, thereby complementing the work of the parishes in helping its faithful live out their Christian mission.
As the SD for the Centre, my responsibilities are both visionary and functional. Principally, my role is to help the Executive Committee in articulating the Centre’s mission and vision, and steering its programmes and activities in such a way as to ensure that the Centre remains constantly dynamic, focused and relevant to the Church in Singapore and its target communities.
Naturally, as the Centre’s SD, I am actively engaged in its various iconic programmes, specifically, the Conversion Experience Retreat (CER), the Friday Growth sessions, the 4th Saturday Healing service and more recently, the Prayer Experience Retreat (PER). These programmes were instituted with a view to help visitors to the Centre re-ignite their faith through a deep personal encounter with God and thereby receive healing and empowerment to live out their Christian mission in the world.
I am also keenly interested in developing the spiritual maturity of the sizeable CSC corp of members and volunteers, empowering and motivating them, and instilling in them a Kenosis (self-emptying) spirituality, as well as a service culture grounded in love, compassion and responsibility, with a pronounced emphasis on team ministry. Prayer and a commitment to holiness through reflection of the Word, regular receipt of the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist must form part of their growth in holiness. Without a deep prayer life, there can be no genuine service.
Naturally, it behoves me as the SD, to ensure that all these works are carried out through proper discernment of the movement of the Holy Spirit, since nothing gets built without the will of the Father.
CatholicNews: How long have you been working with CSC, and in your opinion, how has it changed/ grown? And why do you think this has happened?
Fr William: In the five years that I have been with the Centre, I have seen it grow from strength to strength, and this is definitely the grace of God at work. Then, the Centre was very much in maintenance mode. There were few programmes, and definitely fewer helpers when I first assumed office.
I continued with the Friday Growth and 4th Saturday sessions, but the turnout at these sessions was low and lacking in fire, as the critical experience of God was missing. And when we discerned that what people needed was a personal experience of God’s love, a conversion experience, the pieces fell into place.
In its early days though, when the concept of a conversion experience was alien to most Catholics, we had to carry out active outreach to tell more people to come and attend the retreats. But now, through the testimonies of all who have been touched, the places are filled up very quickly, with many on waitlist, even though we have doubled the number of retreats held at the Centre since the beginning of this year. Many of the CER retreatants go on to attend Friday Growth and 4th Saturday sessions to nurture their newfound, awakened spirituality, which is essential as this sustains their growth and continues to provide inner healing for their deep woundedness. It has convinced me even more fully, that ‘being’ should always precede ‘doing’.
Our outreach has also expanded to include programmes and activities aimed at deepening discipleship, prayer life and understanding of the Word. Hence the Growth Retreats and Prayer Experience Retreats were added, alongside ad hoc seminars by visiting speakers. We have also leveraged technology to further our evangelisation efforts. Apart from CD recordings of the talks delivered at our various services, Daily Scripture Reflections on the readings for the day are now available on our new website at csctr.org. Many have found these resources invaluable, not only for their own spiritual growth, but as useful tools to aid them in their work of evangelisation.
All the work we do at CSC is always accompanied by intercessory prayer and works of penance. I believe that the Lord hears the prayers of sincere hearts.
CatholicNews: How do you view the programmes of CSC? Why do you think it is helpful for Catholics to attend such programmes (including Friday Growth, 4th Saturday service, CERs, etc …)
Fr William: The programmes seek to fill a gap in the parishes where opportunities for ongoing formation are limited or unavailable. Currently, the constraint and reality of our Church is that catechumens have few options for formation after their baptism. Where courses are available, these tend to be intellectual in nature, rather than designed to help individuals cope with the challenges of living out their faith in a secular world. As a consequence, the faith of neophytes is not sustained, even though some may go on to join various ministries, including serving as facilitators and sponsors at RCIA. The CSC aims to help these newly baptised grow in their spiritual life through talks and programmes on practical day- to- day living of their faith, in prayer and action.
The programmes at CSC are also designed to re-evangelise Catholics in their faith – these may even include Catholics who are active in parish ministries but have had little or no faith and spiritual formation. Hence CSC ultimately serves the interests of the diocese by being the centre of spirituality, so that Catholics can increase in their love of God and serve more wholeheartedly, whether this happens in the local parish or diocesan levels.
CatholicNews: In particular, who would you encourage to attend these sessions?
Fr William: Everyone, regardless of which stage they are at in their spiritual growth – the general Catholic laity and active church members who have no systematic spiritual and doctrinal input, and those recently baptised. We have witnessed people from all walks of life, ages and spiritual maturity being touched.
CatholicNews: How do you decide what topics to talk about?
Fr William: There is a broad framework that we generally adhere to for the retreats. For Friday Growth and 4th Saturday sessions, the aim is to strengthen the faith of the community, which is then translated into an improvement in their prayer life, and a life of Christian charity. Generally, the talks cover subjects that every Catholic should and would want to know about in order to understand and grow in their faith. These range from Church doctrines, morality and spirituality, but with a pastoral slant. The 4th Saturday services are always about the healing touch of God in our lives.
Most of my talks are inspired by the interactions I have with people I minister to in counselling, etc, as well as taking in the requests and feedback from the community at large. As such, they are meant to respond to their thirst for God and to help them to resolve their faith issues and personal life struggles.
CatholicNews: Do you ever get worn out by so much ongoing sessions? If you do, how do you rectify this?
Fr William: My life is given to the service of my sheep. Seeing their woundedness, their spiritual hunger, their despair and desperation for meaning and focus in life, pushes me to carry on.
Conversely, I have also been edified by the many testimonies of lives that have been touched, and radically transformed through our intervention, be it through the retreats, the Growth talks, Healing services, or through the various spiritual resources available on our CDs and our website.
My love for the people of God, their hunger and love for God motivates me to give all that I can for them. I also have a very good team at CSC that supports me. And I know that I am constantly being lifted up in prayer, which is essential. And I spend time praying daily for the strength and wisdom to lead the people that God has brought to me.
CatholicNews: Lastly, on this year’s CSC’s 5th anniversary, do you have any reflections or observations of the CSC mission?
Fr William: Yes, even as we work to grow our range services to serve the expanding crowd at CSC, we also need to reach out to the many more who need the touch of God, but who do not yet know how or where to reach Him.
In tandem with our strive to grow our reach and intensity of programmes, we need to also look at expanding both the physical infrastructure to cater to the larger visitorship, as well as the organization and manpower needs. We need to be more specialized and improve on our services to the people of God. We need to maximise our gifts and optimise the use our membership resources more effectively. We need to strengthen the bond of the community and make everyone feel a sense of ownership, and desire for collaboration and team ministry. We have to think of a succession plan; of grooming new leaders and the next generation of leaders too. We have to empower our Catholics for the work of evangelization, build up their missionary and evangelical zeal.