Stephen Phoon

I attended CER 18, on the encouragement of my fellow Catholics. I had taken a major decision to quit my job of twelve years during the 2009 financial crisis, without a job in hand. This was after much prayer and discernment. During this period of not working, I began a journey of self-discovery and also to discern where and what God wanted me to do.

I came into CER without much knowledge or expectations, except that it was a retreat and so I would have time with God and that God would speak to me. What I did not anticipate was that during CER, I would feel God in such an intense and “in your face” manner! God became alive, touching me through different ways – Father William’s rather poignant sermons, the singing during praise and worship and how the volunteers (various ministries) loved us and supported us through prayer and fasting.

I realized that my former paradigm of repentance was incorrect. I thought we repent out of fear of our sins and the pain of hell. I now know we repent because we desire the love of God. And we love Him because He loved us first. We repent because God is like the loving father in the parable of the prodigal son. God is love and punishment is not his agenda. This realisation gave me the courage to own up to my failures, and to receive his love and forgiveness.

This readied my heart for conversion. It gave me the hope that, after repenting, I can live as a new person because I am healed. And because I am healed, I can also forgive. I need not fall again because the grace of God has removed the underlying wounds. The praying over for the gifts from the Holy Spirit provided me a similar assurance, since the Holy Spirit would be my newly acquired source of power and will.

Also during CER, I had prayed very hard to feel God in an emotional way. I am by nature an emotionally sensitive person, and I desired to feel high to taste the sweetness of the love of God. God decided I need not have an emotional experience, and that I only needed to respond to his love. Now, two months down the road I see His wisdom. God was preparing me to love him in a deeper way, a way which was not reliant on good feelings but on Christian joy and on His grace.

CER became a turning point in my life. The experience of the love of God during CER rocked my principles and belief systems. I could see a stronger desire in me to love my wife and others around me. I could also feel God’s healing upon me, and the grace to forgive those who have hurt me deeply.

After CER, the call to holiness became stronger. CER made me realise how small I was before God, and how backward I was in the path towards holiness. I began to have a deeper thirst for God. I began to pray more and longer. I began to read the Scriptures, especially the Psalms more frequently.

I began to take a genuine interest in others, and to spend time with them instead of making reasons to excuse myself. I offered assistance when I would previously avoid. I joined the Counselling Ministry and attend the Friday Growth sessions every week, unless I am out of town.

Attending the Discipleship Retreat proved to be another life-changing event for me. It was through this Discipleship Retreat that I received an important message from the Lord about how he wants me to serve. On the third day, through a song, I felt the calling to reach out to “wounded hearts.” I prayed about this, and God sent me further signs later that evening during the paraliturgy which confirmed his calling. He was asking me to be His instrument of love to soothe “wounded hearts”.

I have recently received a calling to serve in one of the Catholic charities. Through prayer and consultation with my trusted friends, I believe this was His calling for me, and I said yes to God. I am now three weeks into the job. There’s a lot of hard work, but I can share with all of you that I am filled with so much joy of the Lord working in this place. And I am sure this is a confirmation that it is His calling, and I thank God for the grace to discern and take up the calling. In retrospect, I believe God was doing his spiritual formation on me. He was preparing me to say the big “yes” to serve in this charity.

I hope my testimony of how He has loved and graced me would be another evidence of the abundant and unconditional love of God. May God bless and preserve you for his glory!

Stephen Phoon
CER 18