By Joe (not his real name), a member of Courage Singapore
“Remember Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession, was left unaided.”
These words from the Memorare were my constant reminder and source of hope as I grew up in a parish on the north-eastern side of Singapore, once hailed as the “holy ground” of Singapore. This parish produced a record number of vocations from its flock for the Church. Steeped in Catholic tradition and its local culture, I was constantly reminded by my late grandparents to always turn to our Blessed Mother in times of challenges or trial, or as they always say, “kiu siah boh” in the Teochew dialect.
On every 2nd Sunday in September when the parish would honour the Blessed Virgin Mary in her Feast Day celebrations, I would be asked to bring a beautifully arranged flower basket to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s shrine in our parish. I always felt the peace and security of a child in a mother’s bosom when I did this. Gradually, this became a habit as I would always spend time at Mary’s shrine whenever I attended Mass or was in church.
The Marian Masses held every May and October would culminate in a candlelight procession as the congregation recited the rosary in English, Mandarin and Teochew. During these moments I felt our Blessed Mother’s assurance to me as the “Buang Hock Ma Li Ah” (Hail Mary Full of Grace) was melodiously chanted.
This planted the seeds of my faith and devotion to our Blessed Mother in my youth and these have continued throughout my adult life. For as long as I can remember, Mary has always been the first person I would turn to whenever I was faced with challenges, toubles, or fears.
The first major challenge in my life happened on the day I received my GCE ‘O’ Level results. It did not turn out as I had expected, and I could not pursue the intended tertiary education track of my choice. I was filled with fear and sadness as I had no idea how to break the news to my parents about my results. As my tears welled up when I left my school for the final time, I kept walking aimlessly and I found myself kneeling before Mary’s shrine at our parish as I poured out all my fears to her. It was also during this period that I began attending the Saturday devotions at Novena Church where I sought comfort and solace in our Blessed Mother. Fast forward three years later, I found myself pursuing a very innovative and exciting polytechnic course which equipped me with skills during a time of innovation and development. The icing on the cake was a 4-month internship which brought me to Europe where I was also able to reaffirm my faith as I had the opportunity to visit the historically Catholic city of Prague.
Looking back on this time, Mother Mary was clearly guiding me towards something better than what I had wanted.
It was during my NS time that I affirmed my sexuality as a gay man. I came out of the closet due to some bad decisions made back then. Since then and until the time I was pursuing my degree as a private student, I began parish hopping as I could not find a community that I felt I could belonged to, and my faith took a deep dive. I was now attending Mass simply to fulfil my obligations as Catholic and to prevent myself from going to hell at the end of my life.
As I hopped from parish to parish every weekend, I soon found myself returning almost every weekend to a church in the city with a strong devotion to Mary. During the devotional Masses to Our Lady of Fatima on the 13th of each month, the dimming flame of faith in me started to burn again. Once again, I was kneeling before the Blessed Virgin Mary in church, asking for her intercession and guidance. Mary had led me back to God at the lowest point in my life.
During that time, my relationship with my family had taken a strain as I struggled with my sexuality and communication between us was at its bare minimum. I was no longer sharing my life with them, and everything felt so distant. This continued until the time when my mother and I took ill at the same time and had to undergo medical treatment.
I found myself again at the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary at this moment of anxiety asking for her assurance and guidance. Through her intercession and God’s grace, both my mother and I recovered. Through this trial, our relationship began to heal, and now we communicate better and are much closer to each other than before.
My devotion to Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary our Mother, has been nothing short of a gift. A gift I will always be grateful to my grandparents who passed on their own devotion to me.
As I slowly reach the middle of my adult life, the desire and yearning for a sense of intimacy, normalcy and stability in a relationship continue. It is indeed challenging to come to terms with these feelings. Mary has once again guided me towards something better than what I desire.
Almost a year into my journey with the Courage Community, the strong bonds forged through the heartfelt sharing of each other’s lives and struggles in, and beyond, our regular meetings has redefined and broadened the meaning of intimacy for me. The love shared between the brothers and sisters in Courage has shown me what it means to be in a genuine relationship that is lived in the image of Christ’s love. The availability of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist made by our SD has also provided me with the stability and normalcy to be truly honest to Christ of who I am without fear of being judged as a gay man.
In the words of the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi, “It is through giving that we receive…”. Just as I have received so much from the community at Courage, I hope now to also give back by reaching out to the many LGBT brothers and sisters out there who have yet to experience Christ’s redemptive love. I want to tell them the message that they will always have a place in God’s family, in the church.
Let me end with these words from the popular hymn, “Praise Her with a flower.” They succinctly summarise who Mary is for me – the one who always leads me to Jesus, and now to Courage:
“[She] wipes my tears away; who melts my frown… Who always saves my day, the one who wears the crown. Thank you for granting things, for our answered prayers, and for the hope you bring to many who are in their dark despair…”
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The opinions and experiences expressed in each entry in the Reflections page belong solely to the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of Courage Singapore. Some entries have been edited for length and clarity.
Joe is a Courage member who enjoys spending time in nature where he finds peace of mind, serves in the outreach ministry at his parish and has a strong devotion to Our Blessed Mother.