By Anthony Siew
Meeting the gentle and unassuming man for the first time, I was not prepared for his answer to my request that he confess to something about himself that people didn't know about. With almost embarrassment, he related that in the army he took up boxing.
LET'S KNOCK OUT some myths for starters.
Father Brian D'Souza (left) believes that the greatest challenge to a priest is to be holy and relevant.
Round 1: The call
Although it might hold true in a few cases, God's calling is unlikely to be of a "thunder-and-lightning" or "booming-voice-from-above" type. More often than not, God whispers over a period of time, at times teasing, at times affirming. But always nurturing. In the case of Father Brian, that call must have been nurtured in the course of a healthy prayer life. It began with the family praying together often, the D'Souzas being living testimony to the adage that "the family that prays together, stays together".
Another commonly held myth is that one must be a hundred percent sure before one joins the seminary. When Father Brian joined the seminary, he was still uncertain of his calling and was assailed with doubts, constantly asking God for signs and affirmation. It was only at a retreat during his formative years that he finally found peace and stopped asking God for signs.
Asked to point out something people didn't realize about priests, Father Brian offered that priests have hang-ups too, thereby debunking the myth that one had to be perfect to become a priest.
Father Brian fought all the stereotypical qualities a priest is supposed to bear, and all the doubts and anxieties in his discernment, to finally be ordained in July 2002. The one thought that went through his mind on that momentous occasion was "At last!" Round 1 to God.
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Round 2: Living the call
Father Brian has a youthfulness that belies his 38 years. Perhaps that is why he reaches out so assuredly to the group of people that brings him the greatest satisfaction. Youths around his parish greet him warmly and lovingly, all genuinely pleased to see him and be in his presence. And his smile reciprocates that.
Understanding that youths belong to a culture that is always on the move, Father Brian ponders on how to keep them still enough to help them see through the veneer of a prosperous society. How do we help youths to respond to the challenge of a society that shows little or no awareness of Gospel values and worships progress instead? It is by grasping these fundamentals that Father Brian has been able to make waves in his work with youths.
For instance, he introduces an informal touch to catechism, so that it's less about textbook learning and more about the sharing and discussion of real-life issues and situations. This helps establish the relevance of Gospel values in youth thinking.
Helping youths break out of their comfort zones to see Christ in the less fortunate in less progressive areas in the region is the goal of the mission trips he organizes. These trips have since morphed into exchange programmes in which their hosts often teach them virtues like hospitality, generosity and living the simple life in return. Youths are also given the opportunity to be Christ in schools, where students are encouraged to speak English through games; and in communities, through teaching simple health care and the prevention of dengue and AIDS through skits.
With youths in the good hands and care of this hip and dedicated shepherd, our future does look promising indeed. Round 2 to God.
(continued on page 3)
Round 3: Staying centered
Being a priest brings with it its fair share of challenges and trials that can tax the human spirit. Father Brian believes that the greatest challenge to a priest is to be holy and relevant. His work with youths constantly pulls him to the fringes of youth culture, which he must understand in order to bridge the gap with the church. He often connects with youths through camps and journeys alongside them to keep Christ in their field of vision, because there are more attractions of this world that are getting harder to resist. Journeying with them helps keep them grounded and centered on their faith.
To garner strength for his daily battles, Father Brian spends at least an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament each day. And whenever he finds himself distracted, he falls back on one of his favourite Scripture verses: "Seek ye first the kingdom of Godâ€¦." from Matthew 6:33, and he's back on track again.
This shepherd has no intention of wandering from his flock any time soon. Another victory for God.
Round 4: The joys of fatherhood
Within five minutes of meeting Father Brian, I already felt like I was talking to an old friend. It is with such ease that he forms bonds, and bonds bring Father Brian the greatest joy. He relishes being able to connect with youths, even outside of church and over a course of time. Maintaining that bond reassures him that they are never far from God. He treasures bonds made through his homilies, in which people are touched when they connect with Christ between the lines. And he celebrates the bonds made when believers fully understand and appreciate the living liturgy of the Mass, when man and God are reconciled time and time again. For which father isn't joyous and proud when his children are reconciled? And when all children are reunited with God, it's a resounding victory for our Father.
Adding to the joys of fatherhood is being able to serve God and his fellowmen 24/7, a realization of his youthful yearning to be more than just a Sunday Catholic - the first promptings of a call. And to be able to bring genuine hope and lasting comfort to all who need it in turn gives him hope and comfort.
So if things hadn't worked out, would he have considered picking up those boxing gloves again? Apparently not. "I'm a lover, not a fighter," Father Brian laughed as he professed proudly.
But then again, he may not be far from living that option. For he gets into the ring of life every day to fight for Christ, with love as his weapon. And God wins every time. Surely that's the best motivation and joy for any priest, present or future.