Friar David Au, OFM shares with readers of Today’s Catholic his journey into the Franciscan Order and why the Franciscan vocation is so special to him.
Please share with us briefly on your background.
I am the youngest from a family of five. We converted to Catholicism in 1987 when I was 14 and St Joseph’s was our first parish. After completing Form Five, I went to study in Singapore for the next 9 years. It was during my college days that I came across Fr John Paul Tan OFM who was the spiritual director of a group I was in. Although I was intrigued by religious and priestly life at that time, I was advised to explore working life, not only to acquire more life experience, but to gain clarity into what my heart truly desired. As such, I returned to Malaysia and proceeded to work as an engineer for 10 years.
How and when did you discover your vocation? What inspired you?
Somewhere during those 10 years, my brother (Fr Felix Au) entered the seminary. Since that would leave me as the sole provider for my ageing parents, I ruled out religious life for good. I thought my future was clearer now – and in a sense, I was grateful for it.
But as the years went by, my heart remained restless. I asked, “if I should leave my job, would anyone even notice that in a year? In 6 months? What would be my happiest moments at my deathbed? My saddest?” I then realised that I had been dedicating all my time, effort and talent in service of a company which truthfully, didn’t owe me a living. In the bigger scheme of things, my life up to that point, began to make less and less sense.
That’s when I prayed and asked God to intervene. Was there something more he was calling me to? It took honesty, courage and God’s grace to listen and respond. When I finally took the leap of faith to resign from work and join the friars in 2010, I wasn’t hundred percent sure I had a Franciscan vocation. At that time, I felt drawn to a shared life of like-minded people who wanted to do their best for Christ – and for me, that was enough. God didn’t reveal his plans to me all at once, but my journey unfolded in stages where I was able to continue hoping and living in his grace. It was a process.
Moreover, I wasn’t sure how my parents would be provided for. But it was clear to us all that God, in his love and abundance, is a much better provider than me! And so, I began my journey with my parents’ happiest blessings.
Why the OFM?
One of the key charisms of the Franciscans is fraternity. In my journey, I discovered the richness that came from living with brothers with talents and gifts which complemented me. Coming together to pray, fellowship and minister as brothers is truly a beautiful thing when God takes centre-stage in everything we do. That’s what makes the Franciscan vocation so special to me.
A lot of people may be more familiar with the formation for diocesan priesthood. Could you please share with us briefly the formation process for an OFM friar?
In our Custody (which covers Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei) initial formation begins with postulancy which is normally a one-year live-in experience with the friars. This is followed by a one-year novitiate, which aims to ground the person in prayer and prepare him for the profession of temporary vows. After three or more years in ‘simple’ profession, the friar may apply to take his solemn vows for life. At this juncture, he becomes a full-fledge member of the Order. For me, this journey took six and a half years.
It is important to note that not all friars are priests – there are brothers who minister as teachers, nurses, lawyers and other professions with the idea of building God’s kingdom and serving His people.
Others who feel called to the priesthood complete their seminary studies and are subsequently ordained as deacons, then priests. All in all, the entire formation period from postulancy to ordination as priest may take 9 years or more, depending on the person.
Now that you have taken your final vow. What’s next?
God willing, since I am discerning to be a priest, I will continue with my theological studies in Singapore for another 1 ½ years. Please pray for me to not only grow in knowledge, but more importantly, to fall more and more in love with God and his people, so that I may give glory to God by serving you to the best of my abilities.
Do you have any messages for our readers?
To all the young people who feel called to share this vision, I encourage you to seek God out with sincerity and purpose. Contact a priest, nun or a spiritual guide. But don’t wait for absolute certainty before taking the plunge though – it never comes. After all, that’s why it’s called an adventure and a journey of faith!
Lastly, thank you for your unfailing love, prayers and support.
Today’s Catholic Vol.28 No.5 August 2016