Fr. Tony Alex

God’s Transforming ways -My Life Story

Early Days

 

I studied at St. Josephs Boys School run by the Patrician brothers. I grew up in the shadow of my brothers and sisters who were very well-known at St. Joseph’s. Family life was full of fun and I longed for holidays which was a time not just for the family but for many friends too, who joined us to play the new games that we kept inventing – cricket (with a hockey stick and sock ball), trekking, hunting, constructing little forest huts and much more!

My father owned rubber estates in the Malabar region of Kerala about a couple of hundred kilometers away and was with us mostly only on weekends. My mother was a pious, energetic and hard working lady who knew very well how to handle us all. We were brought up with good religious practices; having family prayer every morning (before we left for study) and every night before we retired to bed. It also followed that many of us used to go for daily Mass. However, something that we all loved to go for was a Charismatic group meeting that happened every Friday evening. This group was like a bigger family; often meeting at each other’s houses, going for picnics, retreats and visiting homes around town during Christmas time singing carols.

My relationship with God was founded and nurtured in this setting. We had a parish priest named Fr. Antony and my sisters used to bully me saying that I will also become a Fr. Antony one day. However, back then, it was unimaginable for me.

Not long after I reached my teens, alike many other youth wanting to discover the world, I started going the wrong way. Drinking, hanging out with friends, relationships and seeking to break loose from the cover of my family and wanting to make a statement for myself.

It is here that I came to understand what life in its true sense of the world is – a life of unlimited and insatiable desires that keeps one empty no matter how hard one tries to fill it
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By now, I was distant to anything religious. Charismatic group meetings became a thing of the past, I would participate in family prayer without the slightest interest and my church-going was restricted to being an ‘out-standing’ Sunday Catholic! I had no interest in studies and could never have got through my board exams for Class X and XII but for some degree of crookedness. I had got into many problems at school, to the extent that the Principal called me “the black sheep of the family”. My life was rapidly heading downstream. God had to intervene.

This period of life was signaled with timidity, shyness, inferiority complex and a negative consciousness of self. I was deeply empty within, and had no goal or desire for life.

Scholarly Days

I managed to pass school and I got admission into the famous Loyola College in Chennai (then Madras). I moved to Chennai and stayed with my brother. My brother was part of a dynamic charismatic group and since I depended a lot on him in this new city, I regularly attended this group and before long, found myself automatically drawn to it. I became an active member of this group and the whole aspect of a life with God came alive again. Through the three years of my college studies, I thought I was cleverly managing two spheres of life – a so-called holy and pious life in the prayer group circle and a self-centered and crazy life with friends as a college student.

I thought I at least had an ambition – to do Masters in Business Administration and become a CEO of a multinational company. My initial attempts in this direction ended in repeated failure on account of lack of preparation. I seemed to stand at the crossroads not knowing what next to do. My mother stepped in and firmly instructed me to return to my hometown in order to undertake a serious preparation for the MBA entrance examination. It is here that I had a life-transforming experience.

A Transforming Encounter

One night as I was reflecting back on my life, I realized that I had been cheating myself and cheating God. I had my life inserted in the world and yet was very outwardly religious.

I don’t know what triggered me but I just fell on my knees and said a very sincere prayer from the bottom of my heart. “Lord, I want You in my life, I give You permission to work in my life; here am I – ready to do what You will.”

Nothing extraordinary happened. Yet, from then on, my life changed. From then on to this day, I wake up every morning with a great joy knowing that God loves me, that He has a great plan for me, and that He has something special for me this day.

The first thing that happened after that was I drew up a time schedule of how I would spend the next six months, which included daily mass, personal prayer, eight hours of study towards entry into an MBA program and a little bit of recreation. It is still a wonder but I did achieve it – eight hours of study everyday. It was just not me – it had to be God working in me.

I got admission into one of the top MBA institutes in the country and as soon as I started my studies, something very different started happening. I began to volunteer for various activities of the institute. Something I had never done before. Earlier, even if someone were to compel me, I would strongly resist. It was the beginning of witnessing what God can do in us and through us when we let Him to work in our lives.

I also started getting involved with the youth in the city of Chennai in an active way. Along with a few members at college, we started ‘Footsteps’, a college prayer group that met every Monday. In the second year of the course, I became the leader of the class. I cannot imagine how I said ‘yes’. It couldn’t be me. Again, it had to be God working in me. One of the highlights was that I spearheaded a management fest organized by the college involving many other MBA institutions and corporate. It was a tremendous success and by now I knew fully well that it was God working in me. A Scripture verse that became the principle by which I led my life was Mt 6:33 – “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”

Professional Life

Before the end of the course, I had three job offers whereas many of my classmates had none. It surely was Gods marvelous way of working in my life. Within a short while of beginning my career, I was chosen to be a member of the coordinating team for charismatic activities in the city of Chennai and a member of the national coordinating team for the youth. Within months of becoming part of the national team, I was asked to take up the leadership of the youth team for the whole country. It was an immense responsibility but I knew fully well that I had nothing to worry because I knew the simplest thing that I had to do was to turn to God everyday, surrender myself to Him, and let Him use me as His instrument in the way He wanted.

By this time I had built a discipline of prayer, every night before I went to bed, I would turn to God to thank Him for the day, even for the little things that happened, I would chat with Him like I would chat with a close friend; at times even question Him about the things that did not seem to have gone too well.

Very often He would so gently make me understand that it was I who was wrong and it would strike me hard. In the end, I would surrender the coming day to Him and ask Him what I must do.

At times He would specifically direct me to particular things that I must do, and this is one reason why when I get up each morning I have a great joy – in anticipation to see the things that God directed me to do, being fulfilled. Every time I acted on His direction, things went well but the times I doubted or ignored His direction, it would invariably be a ‘bad day’. With these experiences, I profoundly knew that God is so alive and active and that I must let Him work in my life all the more, because He has the best plan for me.

In my professional career too I was doing very well. From the software company that I first worked for, I moved to an American life insurance company and from there I moved to an amazing job that suited me so well – the one with the British Council in Chennai as Manager -School Projects for South India. I had the time to balance both professional work and the work for the Kingdom of God with the youth. My days used to be filled with travel either on work or for youth meetings or gatherings. Looking back I can truly testify of the marvelous things that God worked amongst the youth during that period. An unforgettable moment for many was Kairos 2004 in Chennai, a national youth gathering of a few thousands of youth from the various parts of India who came together to celebrate Jesus. Many still testify of the transforming experience they had during this event.

Another moving event was a western region youth gathering in the city of Kolkata (Calcutta). I was supposed to give the inaugural address. I witnessed a large group of nuns of the Missionaries of Charity at the inaugural session. I had always admired these nuns so much for the way they respond to God’s call each day and for the work they do. And I felt so small in comparison to them. I thought to myself that it should be one of them up there on stage and her very presence would speak much more than all the words I could express. However, as usual, I made a prayer to the Holy Spirit to lead me and I knew fully well that I was going up on stage just as His instrument. The only thing I recall was that I was up there charged up like never before, speaking with great passion. Shortly after, during the break I met many of these nuns and they thanked me so much for the things I said because it stirred them to recommit their lives fully and wholeheartedly to the Lord. I was dumbstruck and all the more I realized how powerfully God can use me when I just surrender things to Him. There were many more such moving testimonies that I came across in my work with youth.

Vocation

I realized deeply that the simplest thing to do is to just turn to God, talk to Him, consult Him and listen to Him. There was one big decision before me – that of my vocation. I knew fully well that I could not take it for granted that I must get married and start praying for the girl in my life (like most of us would ideally do), but that I first needed to discern my vocation itself. So I started the process of discernment, the only people knowing this was my spiritual director, two close friends and a group of cloistered nuns whom I knew will be backing me with prayer in this exercise. After a period of almost two years I went for an Ignatian discernment retreat to make a final decision.

By the end of it, I was so sure that God’s call for me was to become a Priest. When I said YES, I was just so overwhelmed with JOY – something that I can never express in words.

In the following few months, I went through the normal life that I was leading, fully knowing that I was doing many things for the last time. Each time there was a very reassuring peace and joy. In the period that followed, I went about informing family, members of the Charismatic Renewal and friends of my decision. Many were shocked, some thought that I had gone out of my senses and that I should think again, some tried to talk me down about the pleasures of the world that I would be missing. However, nothing mattered to me, for deep within I knew that it was God – the creator of Heaven and Earth that I am responding to and it is in Him that all our lives depend.

I quit my job with the British Council, handed over the Leadership of the Charismatic Youth in India and started my formation for priesthood.

I joined a Missionary Community called the Institute for World Evangelization – ICPE Mission, I would officially be a priest for the Archdiocese of Cape Coast in Ghana (West Africa) and be working along with this missionary community to serve the Lord in whatever capacity and place the Lord calls me to.

It has been a few years now since I started my formation and it has been an awesome experience. I know God has a great plan for me and that I just have to continue to say ‘yes’ to Him each day.

Do not hesitate to turn to God at any time. He knows what is best. Therefore, if you try to do things yourself, you might just mess up or miss the best!

 

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