by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When you received your vocation, with whom did you first discuss it and what was their advice?
Father Thomas: My mother came from a very traditional Javanese Catholic family, while my father came from a strong Muslim family. From my mother’s side, I have some relatives who were priests and nuns. Most of them, however, have passed. At the moment there is only one, my mother’s cousin, who is a priest. My mother’s two brothers were even once at the seminary, but after a short time they left and got married. So, I was growing up with many stories about seminary and religious vocations. Toward the end of my junior high school, there was an announcement of enrolment to a high school seminary, and my mother asked me whether I was interested to try. I said, “Why not?” Just like that. For me, I guess, after hearing many stories about seminary life, that was just the “normal” response. Besides, it also sounded like a new adventure. My father was at first disagreed, but eventually he gave me his blessing. It was only after an experience of my first deep conversion through a youth Charismatic Renewal retreat that in my second year at the high school seminary I began to think seriously about becoming a priest. There, of course, I had many priests to talk to.
Gordon: Where did you attend seminary and what was your favorite course?
Father Thomas: I was fifteen when I left home to enter a high school seminary, the Saint Peter Canisius Minor Seminary in Mertoyudan, Magelang, Central Java. During those four years, my favourite course was Latin. Then I joined the Jesuits. During my four years of studying philosophy, my favourite courses were psychology, philosophy of man, philosophy of language (my final Thesis was on John Langshaw Austin’s How to Do Things with Words; well, to be honest, I have always been passionate with the use of direct speech in any language), and, of course, Scriptures. Toward the end of my philosophy study, I offered myself for special studies, either in linguistics, or psychology, or Scriptures. I ended up being sent to Rome right after this to learn biblical languages at the Biblical Institute.
Gordon: Why did you decide to be a Jesuit?
Father Thomas: I went to a Jesuit all-boy junior high school, the so-called Canisius College (CC) or Kolese Kanisius in Jakarta (note: it has been a long tradition with the Jesuits in Indonesia to call our schools as “kolese”). Then, I entered the high school seminary that was staffed mostly by Jesuits. It means, for at least six years I was exposed to many Jesuits. Honestly, during my junior high school, I did not really like the Jesuits. At the high school seminary, however, I had a great spiritual director who was a Jesuit, and that, I guess, left a lasting impact on my young soul. It was, however, not an easy discernment between becoming a Diocesan or a Jesuit. At the end, I knew that I needed a longer formation, and I was curious about what the Jesuits do in their long formation. Looking back, now I can say, that I joined the Jesuits because I wanted a tough and challenging formation. (Well, it was really tough. I almost left during my first year at the novitiate!). I am grateful that I have joined the Jesuits, and that I have been given the privileges of living this universal dimension of my vocation as a Jesuit by studying and working in different places on the globe. I have “brothers” all over the world wherever I go.
Gordon: What courses have you taught and what is your area of interest?
I have given courses mostly on the Old Testament (Pentateuch, Wisdom Literature, and, of course, the Psalms). My passion, however, has always been the Psalms (perhaps because it was the focus of my dissertation). In recent years, I have also more and more inclined to biblical spirituality.
Gordon: Where are you currently serving?
Father Thomas: I have been here in Nairobi, Kenya, only for a little bit more than two months. My assignment right now is learning Swahili. Until recently, I had never thought of working as a “missionary,” but this is how people see me. In fact, it is some sort of a “title” for me now. I will have something more to say, once I begin working in the parish and in interreligious dialogue initiatives some months from now.
Gordon: Please list the books that you have written with an overview of each book.
My first six books are in Indonesian (by Kanisius):
(2007), Menguak Injil-Injil Rahasia (Unveiling the Secret Gospels) is an introduction to some of the “other gospels” that are not included in the canon.
(2008), Mungkinkah Karismatik Sungguh Katolik? Sebuah Pencarian (Can Charismatic Be Truly Catholic? A Search) is a historical introduction to Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement, covering various stages that led to Topeka and Azusa Street, then the Duquesne Weekend, and eventually its arrival and growth in Indonesia, with some related theological and pastoral issues.
(2009), Lihatlah Tubuhku: Membebaskan Seks Bersama Yohanes Paulus II (Look at My Body: Setting Sex Free with John Paul II) is an introduction to Theology of the Body as taught by John Paul II.
(2010), Adam Harus Bicara: Sebuah Buku Lelaki (Adam Must Speak: A Man’s Book) is an elaboration of biblical masculine spirituality.
(2016), Namaku Lazarus: Merangkul Bisikan Kerahiman (My Name Is Lazarus: Embracing the Whisper of Mercy) is a narrative from Lazarus’s own point of view about his experience of being dead and brought back to life, based on John 11. An English translation of this book is ready for eventual publication.
(2017), Pendosa Jadi Pendoa: Gejolak Pertobatan Tujuh Pemazmur (A Sinner Becomes a Pray-er: Conversion Turmoil of Seven Psalmists) is a narrative of seven psalmists about their inner struggles during their conversion journey, based on the so-called “seven penitential psalms” (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143).
Then, four books in English (by Partridge; available on Amazon):
(2019), Sewing God: Inner Paths in the Fashion World is a spiritual memoir of having a mother who loves sewing and of growing up in a fashion industry. It leads the reader through 30 “steps”, from buying the material, up to the fashion show, and beyond, with every step linked to spirituality and biblical insights.
(2019), The Talking Puzzles: Conversations with Images is a soul-searching journey by listening to the stories of eight images on eight jigsaw puzzles (Golden Gate Bridge, Dubrovnik, Riomaggiore, Sydney Opera House, Big Ben Clock Tower, Castle of Chambord, Mount Rushmore, Portland Head Lighthouse). It is a blend of Ignatian contemplation and mythic imagination.
(2020), God’s Seduction Plan: A Homecoming Journey with Hosea is a spiritual monograph on Hosea 2:4-25 and 3:1-5, through eight metaphors in conversion journey (prostituting, stripping, caging, unveiling, seducing, purging, owning, sitting).
(2020), Schooled by Rumours: Therapeutic Insights from Biblical Stories is a spiritual journey through seven passages in the Old Testament and seven passages in the New Testament that contain some elements of rumour. It draws some “therapeutic insights” from the Bible in dealing with the devastating impacts of rumours in today’s world.
Gordon: What social media resources do you use?
Father Thomas: Compared to some thirty years ago when I began biblical studies, things are so different today. For my research on the biblical texts, I have been heavily relying on biblehub.com. I do not need to carry the thick lexicons and other books. With just some clicks, I can find what I am looking for. In addition, I can also find free e-books. As I mentioned earlier, my interest in psychology has never disappeared. During these past five years, I have been into the Enneagram. For this, there are abundant resources on the internet. My favourite is Ian Morgan Cron (I guess, it is simply because he is Type 4 Wing 3, just like me). So far, Enneagram has been the most helpful, both for me and for the people I serve. I also watch regularly on YouTube videos of Bishop Robert Barron and Andy Stanley. They have been so far my most inspiring “spiritual gurus” in the area of preaching. I have never been into my own social media platform. I have never really used Facebook. I have tried to write regularly on Twitter, but it did not last. I tried to blog, but it did not last either. Now, every now and then, I post something on my Instagram @tomramasj, but not much. Perhaps, I am that kind of person who would soon feel depleted after a long social exposure.
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.