Moving to Glasgow from Malaysia, Aoife Ong found a community at Glasgow University chaplaincy that changed her life.
In the summer of 2016, I was preparing to start over on the other side of the world. I had been accepted to study at the University of Glasgow and would be leaving Malaysia.
I came to Scotland that September not knowing what to expect and not knowing a soul in Glasgow; but I was excited, and I had no doubt in my mind that this was what God was leading me to.
I had every intention of seeking out perhaps one or two Catholic friends to share in my love for the Faith. To my delight, I discovered Glasgow University’s Catholic chaplaincy, Turnbull Hall, which was teeming with students from around the globe.
I started to spend more and more time there, and before I knew it, I was at the chaplaincy most days, going to daily Mass, lounging around, and occasionally doing university work.
It wasn’t long before I developed a deep admiration for many individuals I encountered at the chaplaincy. Each of them was unique – they had their own interests and quirks, and yet there was a harmony throughout the community which flowed from a common love of God.
Our chaplain, Fr Ross Campbell, was extremely generous with us and catechised us well, and the community as a whole was flourishing under his care.
Over the course of my degree, I developed friendships with these people who drew me ever closer to the heart of Christ. We weren’t perfect, but we pursued God together, and He gave us the grace to push on in our humble journey.
St Francis de Sales beautifully describes the merits of Christ-centred friendships saying: “Truly it is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in Heaven, and to begin that friendship here which is to endure for ever there.”
In a confused and distracted society, it is incredibly important to find others who can help us fix our eyes on Christ, and to live our Faith courageously. Needless to say, my Catholic friendships strengthened me in my faith and inspired me in my times of weakness to hope in God’s mercy and to strive for sainthood.
As my friendships grew, the chaplaincy became my second home. It was somewhere I could go to be with the people that I loved and to pray before my God who made life beautiful.
I remember once my mother anxiously asking me if I was finding more of a home in Scotland than in Malaysia or Ireland, my two home countries. After considering the question, I told her it wasn’t necessarily Scotland I was finding my home in, but rather the Catholic Church.
Even though Turnbull Hall, as a chaplaincy, is different from many parishes by its nature, it served a purpose in my life which all parishes should do for their members – namely, to provide a loving community in which ordinary people such as myself can encounter Christ and flourish.
How, then, can we foster God-centred communities throughout the Church? We are a people of God, and our parishes must focus on God.
One of the most obvious ways to achieve this is by making the Sacraments readily available to the faithful. With regular Mass, Adoration, and Confession, the community as a whole will receive much-required spiritual nourishment. Another way to build up a healthy parish is to approach our community with a disposition of generosity. During my time at Glasgow University, I found myself giving much of my time and energy to the Catholic chaplaincy.
While it was a temptation at times to view this as a distraction from my studies, I ultimately realised that God was the most important thing in my life, and I allowed myself to be immersed in the work of the chaplaincy. Giving myself in this way to my community allowed me slowly to give myself more fully to Christ, and of course He is never outdone in generosity, even in this life.
Giving oneself to God by also giving oneself to others may be arduous, but it is worth it. We as humans are made for community, and it’s in Communion that we will hopefully spend eternity in Heaven. Pope St John Paul II famously said: “There is no place for selfishness-and no place for fear! Do not be afraid, then, when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice.”
Therefore, with ample generosity and love in our hearts, let us find others to pursue God with, so that we may build up His Kingdom together as the Body of Christ.