The recent article on Making a recessive journey [by Fr Ron Rolheiser, published on Catholic Outlook on 13 August 2022] prompts me to reflect on my own journey to baptism, sacramental marriage, and finally into the permanent diaconate.
I was born into a Chinese family in Malaysia, who were descended from refugees fleeing the opium wars in south-eastern China in the 1850s. My mother’s family came from Kwangxi province, while my father’s family came from Fujien province. I am the eldest of four children – two boys and two girls. I am also the only Catholic in my birth family.
It is important to remember that my ancestors in Malaysia came from the peasant class, and did not belong to either the ruling class or the scholarly class in China during the opium wars. Being peasants, they saw themselves as Chinese in Malaysia, rather than belonging to a specific faith tradition such as Chinese Buddhism, Taoism or Confucianism. In fact, the Chinese customs and rituals that they practised had elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
Given this background, my parents were never interested in matters of faith. Economic survival was always the goal, and education was seen as a means to achieving this goal. This was the reason that my parents sent me to a De La Salle brothers’ school for my education. I spent 11 happy years with the brothers, before coming to Australia at age 19, and was baptised at the Easter Vigil in 1975. Initially, my parents were wary when I informed them that I wanted to become a Catholic. They were worried that they might lose their son. So, I had to reassure them that they would not lose a son, but rather, would gain a new family!
Over time, I graduated from university, married and bought our first home. From this base, I was able to bring my parents and two sisters to Australia to settle. While both my parents have now died, yet in a human sense, they did have a major impact on the human aspects of my faith, and therefore also on the lens through which my faith is expressed.
My parents were both simple people. They did not want for much, and their main focus was on the happiness and welfare of their family. Their love for their children was fundamental to the way they brought up our family. They also taught us to respect others, and not to discriminate against others on the basis of wealth, race or education. This has left a lasting impression on me – in that no matter how well-educated I have become, or how successful in my professional career, or how financially secure I might be, that I always remember the need to simply be human, caring and inclusive in relating to others.
My parents also did not take much interest in matters of faith – they saw religious faith traditions as all teaching us to be kind and compassionate towards others. On the whole, I am grateful to my parents for their love for their children. My parents’ love has always been there for me, and for that I am grateful. While they never took any interest in my faith journey, nevertheless they also placed no obstacles in the way also. While both of them are now dead, I was fortunate that I was able to conduct the funeral services for both of my parents. May they both rest in peace in the compassion and mercy of God.
Deacon Michael Tan is a member of the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Parramatta and serves the parish community of St Madeleine Sophie Barat Parish, Kenthurst.