1 March, Tuesday — the Rat Race

Brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, we are blessed to welcome Gerard Francis, who describes himself as always and forever a student…thirsting to learn but who has evolved to not just academic pursuits but also to learn about being a more compassionate and loving person.

Gerard is a cradle Catholic who attends the parish of the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He calls himself a Son, Husband and Father – the last of which he wears with a lot of pride.

A slow learner who often needs to be knocked down to finally get something in his head. But the more he falls, the more conscious the need to pick himself up and work at not falling again

He was introduced to Oxygen in 2016, never realising that it would become the crutch to help him journey that year. Today, it is a part of his daily morning prayer and he hopes to share a little bit of his faith journey with us.

Tuesday of Week 8 in Ordinary Time

1 Pet 1:10-16
Mk 10:28-31

“Many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

I began my working career at the tail end of the Asian Financial Crisis. I was blessed to begin work the very day after my final exams and before the results were even out. While my classmates were desperately hunting for jobs, here was I already working and in one of the most prestigious US Investment Banks – I felt I had arrived at the age of 25! I spent lavishly, with little consideration for the future. I worked 14 to 15 hours a day and on weekends too. There was little time for anyone or anything else. My only contribution to the church was as a Presenter at Choice. That too, I would show up late, tired and often not able to give off my best.

I had little time or patience for anyone who needed me. My parents hardly saw me, neither my old friends. I was just about me and my new-found friends. The confidence I had in myself was also peppered with arrogance. I never bothered about anyone who was struggling with office politics or trying to just do an honest day’s work and return home. I worked hard and long, and I expected the same of my team members. I remember rubbing several people up the wrong way at work and eventually succumbed to office politics. Nothing other than the rosary ring I wore spoke ‘Catholic’.

I witnessed the terrorist attacks of 9-11 on the screen and watched markets tumble globally. There was a long list of colleagues who were to be made redundant and I was advised by a senior manager to volunteer for redundancy. His words were “You’re young, you’ve made some mistakes, take this and start afresh somewhere else. Some people are out there to get you.”

I took the package and, with some difficulty, landed a new job in 3 months. It was a more junior role than the one I left and naturally the remuneration was also less. But I had a job. I struggled. I struggled with the culture, I struggled with politics, I struggled with myself. The irony was, that this wasn’t the biggest of struggles that I was going to face in life!

But it took a Catholic colleague to introduce me to lunchtime masses at Raffles Place and Suntec City. Attending mass was more of a “Ok God, I’m here….now please let this/that happen” – the self-centeredness didn’t end. It was all about what I wanted and what I expected to receive. But those journeys to mass, the reflections and my own thought process led me to realize over many years and many struggles that time with God is because we love Him. Because we want to spend time with Our Heavenly Father who has done so many things for us. Attending mass was not about ‘giving to God, so that He in turn would reward me that day’; rather, giving that time to God was because we want to honour him and spend time with Him.

But I am a slow learner and while I would understand the reason for attending mass, just like ‘the weeds in rocky soil’, the realisation wasn’t deep and very soon the ‘old me’ emerged and I would get caught up in work, social activities and whatever was of the world. This would repeat itself regularly, every time I experienced a challenge and sincerely prayed; before falling back to my old thoughts and behaviour.

Many years later, I experienced what must have been the most challenging event in my career. The pain lasted months, if not years. Having no where else to turn and not wanting to burden my loved ones, I turned to God in the Holy Eucharist. Attending morning mass before work was more than a habit. It became a journey to visit someone who loved me immensely and who only had 30-40 minutes of my day. Saying the daily rosary also became a daily habit and all these helped me become a person more attuned to others.

Sitting down and journeying with a colleague in pain or undergoing a difficult situation became important. Yes, I still need to fulfil my professional responsibilities; but casual chit-chat and gossip isn’t as important as that colleague who needs a listening ear.

The irony I sometimes witness is how people come into the workforce having been really grounded in their faith, growing up. But as time goes by, the world becomes them, and they become of the world. Back-stabbing, gossip, even unnecessarily putting someone down becomes second nature.

I started out like that, but I pray I’m evolving into a colleague and co-worker who can be a friend. Someone who can look beyond the professional capabilities and identify God in someone else.

I am nowhere ‘first’ now, I never really was first when I began my career and excelled professionally. I am still that dark horse that hopes to edge closer to a podium finish when I reach my heavenly destination.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Gerard Francis)

Prayer: We pray for those who struggle in their faith journey. As they negotiate this very mortal world and easily succumb to the ways of the world; that our Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirt may touch them and turn them back to Him.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the gift of faith and the gift of good examples around us. People who have showed us how to love without expectation and how to give till it hurts. May we work at making that difference to those we encounter.

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