What does TNTT mean to me?

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If you were to ask me what I love, I would say just one thing: McDonald’s.

Just kidding! God, obviously. But through God, I have found something else. I rave about this group a lot and I feel like they deserve a formal post, so here it is. This allows me to be promoted too, so that’s always a plus! Anyway, what does TNTT mean to me?

I think I should first answer: “What is TNTT?”

TNTT is short for Thiếu Nhi Thấnh Thể, or in English, the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement. It is an organization filled with members with ages ranging from 7 years old to 70 years young, all coming together to grow closer to God. There is a specific curriculum for each age group; I would say it is like a mix of boy/girl scouts and Catechism classes, and I love it!

I joined four years ago and the reasons why I am in TNTT have completely evolved over the years, but they always lead back to Christ. When I first joined, I just wanted to join everything that was happening at church. I was that guy who was running around school screaming: “I love Jesus! Yes, I do! I love Jesus! How about you?!” Thank goodness I have calmed myself down over the years, but when I first joined, I just wanted to learn more about God, how I could serve Him, and about the will He has for me.

Being that I joined various groups at my church and also at school, I applied for a leadership position within my church’s Retreat Team. We had a retreat for those who were preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and during that event, I experienced my conversion moment from wanting to leave the church to wanting to EMBRACE the Church. I wanted to come back the following year and bring that same moment to others as well.

Unfortunately, for two years I was not chosen to be a leader for the small groups, and it ultimately brought down my morale and confidence I had in my ability to lead others. Being that I had other leadership positions, I was able to continue on and lead in those groups but as a result of those few months of breakdowns and breakthroughs, I realized that I was not as good as I thought I was. I was not as bad as I thought I was, either. It was a humbling few months to say the least. I knew that I needed to grow as a leader and that is where TNTT became a bigger part in my life.

I think what made TNTT appealing to me when I first joined was the sense of community. Going to Sunday school since Kindergarten to when I was a sophomore, I was a quiet kid. I sat in the corner and kept to myself. When I finally joined TNTT, I felt like I finally “fit in”, and that meant the world to me at the time.

In TNTT, when you become 18, you start assisting in the weekly activities for the kids. So when I became 18, I went through the process of being a Youth Leader (Huynh Trưởng). I attended a training camp, assisted in weekly activities over the course of an academic year, gained leadership and teaching skills, and by March of 2015, I became a certified leader for TNTT. I received the red scarf you see in the header image above, and at the time, proved to myself that I was “good enough”.

In 2015, I attended a Vietnamese youth conference. There was a youth speaker, Hoan Do, that said a line I will never forget: “The biggest breakdowns in life can lead to your biggest breakthroughs.” After reflecting through my four short years in TNTT, becoming a Youth Leader became less about proving to myself that I was a good leader, but more of realizing my faults and weaknesses and wanting to improve as much as I could to better myself and others.

As the years passed, the more and more I… well…fell in love with TNTT. I found joy! TNTT is devoted to the Eucharist at its core, so my own devotion to the Eucharist grew as well. As my faith grew, so did my passion to be in TNTT, and that became the main reason why I stayed in TNTT. The kids are amazing and the leaders are too. TNTT is an international organization, so being able to connect with youth leaders from far and wide has been a part of the many great reasons why I continue to be in TNTT, but it is not the core reason.

What really led me to the seminary and to stay in it so far has been TNTT. I had just finished my second year at seminary when I had a conversation with my formation director. He was trying to figure out why I was so attached to TNTT. “So is there a particular girl in there…?” I would laugh and would say no. As the conversation continued, my director made a comment that I described TNTT as if it were my girlfriend. In all seriousness, I agreed, at least in the aspect of love! As a seminarian, you dedicate your time to discern the priesthood. A lot of people have an impression that because I am a seminarian, which also means considering priesthood instead of marriage, that I am to bury my desires of love. That is not the case. I am human just like everyone else here on this planet. We, in our human nature, desire to love and to be loved. The way I showed love, however, changed.

Knowing that I am not exploring the vocation of marriage, I needed to, in a sense, relearn how to love. As we are all called to love and be loved, priests do not have wives so there is something that is naturally missing. Through my two years in seminary, I have come to understand that love is willing the good of the other. TNTT has definitely willed the good out of me and I hope that through my time as a leader so far that I have willed the good out of at least one person in it.

So when people ask me: What does TNTT mean to me?

I say very often that it is the love of my life. TNTT was the breakthrough from the breakdown. TNTT has been one of the gateways in which I am able to preserve my Vietnamese culture, to connect to others across the world, and to find comfort, faith and growth in God.

I talk about vocations a lot, where a vocation is something God calls us towards whether religious, single, married, etc., but if there has to be one thing I know for certain that God has called me towards, it has been the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement.

So what does TNTT mean to me? Everything.

Thiếu Nhi! Hy Sinh!

Lạy Chúa Giêsu Huynh Trưởng tối cao, xin dạy con biết hy sinh cao thượng, Phụng sự Chúa và giúp ích mọi người.

Xin dạy con biết hy sinh không cần báo đáp, luôn xông pha không ngại bão táp. Đẹp ý Cha trên trời trong tình thương yêu hết mọi người.

“Go to seminary! But don’t come back…”

One year down, eight years to go, and then the rest of my life! Well…maybe. I am currently in my second year of studies at the seminary and I am dumbfounded every day as to how and why I am still here. The level of gratitude when I ask myself those questions certainly varies day by day, but I will always be thankful for this opportunity to learn more about myself and what God wants from me. Seminary is not easy, but through the grace of God, I have found guidance and support. Part of that support has been from His people; from fellow brother seminarians to close family and friends to the Vietnamese communities in the surrounding areas.  They are always telling me how happy they are for me and that they are always praying for me. The Vietnamese communities, especially, spoil me through prayers (and through food) and I could not be more grateful for their support while I discern whether or not God has chosen me to be His priest.

Honestly, I am unsure whether or not God is truly calling me to be a priest, but that is why I am here at the seminary, to discern whether or not God has really chosen me to be part of the holy priesthood. Over the past few months, I have asked myself one question everyday: “Is God really calling me to the priesthood?” And to be frank, I have thought to myself more often than not this year, “Why am I still here?”, leaving me in total and utter confusion.

Trying to resolve this confusion, I was able to seek out advice from those close to me, including those within the Vietnamese communities. I thought that if they are the ones supporting me the most, I should be able to come them for advice. As I was receiving advice from others, a central theme of their advice was prayer. It seemed very obvious, but I think I needed to hear it repetitively. Although my goal this year at the seminary is to work on my spiritual life, to “fall in love with Jesus”, I do not think I am doing the best job I can. My spiritual life has definitely improved from last year, but I know that I can do better. Maybe the advice to pray more is a constant reminder of my goal for this year and how I need to step things up.

In their advice, however, most of them went into full detail on how they found clarity and peace through prayer and not only was I encouraged, but motivated to be more closer to Jesus, as a friend. The majority of people I came to told me that I would have their continuous support regardless of whether or not I continued life in seminary. Not only was I relieved, but I was hopeful for the future.

Although most of the community helped me greatly, there were some members who were not as supportive and was more critical than helpful. I knew that the community was judgmental, unfortunately, but I never really encountered this until one of my friends, who is also discerning the priesthood, had a conversation with his dad about people who enter and leave seminary. It was discouraging to hear his dad say that it was better for people to not enter seminary at all than to join and leave. He continued on to say that if someone were to enter and then leave the seminary, they would bring dishonor to their family, they would be disobeying God’s call for them, and they would be sinning. Those statements did not really shock me, but it left me in disappointment. It seemed as if the issue was not about discernment, but more about a public image as if the dad cared more about the image of how everyone perceived him and his family rather than what God has truly called each person to.

That brings me to the realization that not a lot of people truly understand what discernment is and what the seminary is for. Seminary does not guarantee priests, but it guarantees the time and the environment so that one can more fully discern whether or not God chose them to be His priests. But the only way one can truly find out whether or not he/she is chosen for a particular vocation (marriage, single, religious, etc.) is by discerning it and trying it out. Dating allows someone to figure out if they are called to marriage or single life, a religious house/convent allows someone to figure out if they are called for religious life, and the seminary allows someone to figure out if they are called to become a priest. It really is all the same.

In seminary, men are exposed to an education, a program for priestly formation, and an environment that allows them to see if priesthood is truly for them. In a sense, they are “dating” the Church and vice versa. And in the same way relationships may or may not work out, the same goes for discernment for the priesthood, it may or may not work out. Reiterating the point, the only way someone can find out whether or not they are called is if they try it out. This is something a lot of people do not understand in my opinion. Do not get me wrong, patience and persistence is key. Just because someone may feel down in seminary at a certain point in time does not mean they do not have a call towards the priesthood. It could just be a rough patch they are going through and could be rectified through patience, perseverance, and prayer.

For those who are thinking about any way of life, but especially the priesthood, I have been told “be not afraid” and that is the message I want to relay back to you. Be not afraid of the pressures and expectations you will face, be not afraid to fall down and get back up, be not afraid to enter and possibly leave because the hope of being in seminary is to figure out whether or not you have been chosen by God to be His priest, and to also form you to be the best person you can be for Christ wherever that may lead you. So far in my year-and-a-half of experience at the seminary, I have grown in my faith, knowledge, and maturity. Who I am now is a result of taking a chance of trying to figure out what God is calling me towards and I can say that seminary is something definitely worth considering. Be not afraid. Society tells us marriage is part of the “normal” way of life that will lead to happiness and that pursuing any other vocation is “out of the norm”. That is just not the case. Sometimes going against the grain will bring us the greatest joys in life.

Being in a relationship is not easy. Discerning for the priesthood is not easy. Yes, the grace of God will surely help along the way, but here is the catch: There are many paths to holiness such as marriage life, single life, religious life, the priesthood, etc. God, however, chooses ONE path of life for each of us that will bring out the most joy in us and others. It is up to us to find out which path that is. There will be turmoil, there will graces, but the result of full discernment is clarity, peace of mind, and the joy of the heart when we pursue the life God chose for us.

Thy will be done.


“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

I want to fall in love.

So here I am… a second year at Mount Angel Abbey & Seminary continuing discernment and education so that I may find out if one day, God willing, I can serve Him as a holy priest.

Coming into this year is obvious excitement; gathering once again with my fellow brother seminarians to see if God has truly called us to become holy priests, serving Him for the rest of our lives. However, as much as I am excited for this upcoming year, I definitely feel “odd” coming in. Over this past summer, I got to participate in numerous events at my parish and with my youth group and the biggest desire that has been at my heart throughout this past summer has been intimacy, being close with another person. For me, this does not mean sex, but rather just being in the company of someone. I discussed this with a close friend of mine and she showed me this quote that has been in my mind ever since:

“Do you ever crave someone’s presence? Like you would literally be happy just sitting next to them. It could be completely silent and it would be magical to be there with them.” 

Being able to bond with another person through love and intimacy are natural human desires, but I feel as if these desires grow immensely stronger as a seminarian where you are “restricted” in your discernment. Maybe this could be a way the devil is tempting me out of a path God has truly meant for me, but I suppose the only way I can know for sure is through discernment. Of course, you can only discern one vocation at a time and being at seminary is a time for discernment for the holy priesthood, but no matter where you go, the desire still remains. Regardless, I still plan on fully participating and discerning this school year being devoted to academics, servitude, and spiritual growth and seeing where that leads me.

This leads me to my goal this year as a second year seminarian who, just like others who have gone before me, is still unsure of his future. I want to fall in love. I want to fall in love with Jesus Christ. I want to surrender myself to what he has in store for me whether that means giving a full and total love to Jesus through the holy priesthood or extending His love by loving another person fully. During a late night McDonald’s trip with some seminarian brothers, one of them asked me a question he was asked when he was struggling with his discernment: Have you fallen in love with Christ?

Damn. That hit me deep.

For the next few days, that question stayed on my mind and I can truthfully say that I have NOT fallen in love with Christ. Prayer is one of the most fundamental ways to build a relationship with Jesus and for my first year at seminary, I neglected it badly. This NEEDS to change because at the heart of the holy priesthood is a well maintained relationship with Jesus Christ through prayer and the Eucharist. Paraphrasing from a homily by Bishop Peter Smith, a priest who leaves the priesthood more often than not has stopped praying at some point in time. Whether I become a priest, a religious member, single or married, I do not want to lose something the holds a relationship together and the change starts HERE…the change starts NOW. Easier said than done, of course, but at this point in time, there is no more contemplating and proclaiming about what I am going to do and how I am going to do it, I just need to do it.

So… THAT is my goal for this year.  I want to fall in love with Jesus Christ because the more we get to know Him, the more we know about ourselves and the plan He has in store for us whether that is the holy priesthood, marriage, or  any other possible vocation. I want to fall in love with Jesus because if I do end up becoming a priest, by being in love with Christ, I am then able to share His love to others. And if being in love with Christ leads me out of seminary, by being in love with Him, I am then able to love someone in the same way, fully and everlasting “until death do us part.” 🙂

Fall in Love by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

 

What are you waiting for?

It is without a doubt that God has already planned a vocation for us. Whether it is the married life, the single life, or the religious life, God has called each and every one of us to something. For some, we find out about our vocation rather easy and for others, it will be a little harder. But in my experience, I have found that God tells us what he has in store for us, such as our vocation, through signs throughout our lives.

One sign that God gave me nudging me towards discerning the priesthood was the old ladies at my parish. After altar serving for Mass, I would come out of the back room and there they were, three old ladies in the middle of the aisle having smalltalk. I would make my way outside but not before bumping into them. They would pull me to the side, pinch my cheeks, and tell me to pursue the priesthood and that they would pray for my vocation. For a good part of two years, I would dismiss them by awkwardly laughing following with a “we’ll see”.

Another sign that led me to the priesthood was the consecration of the Eucharist. It was during Mass where the encounter with God, through the priest, happened. As the priest was consecrating the Eucharist, there was something in the back of my mind that told me, “You can do this”. To this day, that thought has not left me and from then on, I would always be fascinated by the consecration of the Eucharist and I would always recite the doxology with the priest.
“Through Him, with Him, and in Him…”
But being stubborn for the better part of my life, that interest in the priesthood would never be discerned for also, the better part of two to three years.

Lastly, a sign or in this case, a person, that led me to discern the priesthood at the seminary was a seminarian named Randy Hoang (Look who got a shoutout). Randy, while I was trying to determine whether to enter the seminary or not, helped me make my decision easier while making life harder for him (:p). He helped me get into discernment retreats, come-and-see’s at the seminary, and encounters with fellow priests and seminarians that collectively made me enter the seminary, but as usual, all these people and events were people and things I dismissed for a period of time.

Now sitting at home in early July struggling whether I should enter the seminary or not and not realizing those signs at the time, I wanted God to help me out. I was watching the West Wing (a TV show based off the life of a presidency) and there was a scene that made me “jump off a cliff” (a lame anaology for describing my decision to enter the seminary…sorry, not sorry). It was in the episode where Jed Bartlet (The president) seeked guidance from a priest on his decision for capital punishment. To give context, Jed was seeking a sign from God (Jed was Roman Catholic) that would be able to give him justification to reverse the supreme court’s ruling to end the person’s life. Throughout the episode, it is seen that Jed and his staff were given reasons as to why the decision should be reversed, but ultimately, Jed did not change the decision, the person was executed, and Jed was angry at God for not giving him a “sign”. The priest then told Jed a story about the man who lived by the river:

There was a storm, the water level rose, and an announcement came over the radio urging locals to leave their houses before their homes were flooded. “Oh, no,” said the man confidently to himself, “I’m a religious man, I pray, God loves me, God will save me.”

Later on, the water level rose higher, and a man in a boat came along and called for the man to get into the boat. The man, however, denied the offer and stated: “I’m a religious man, I pray, God loves me, God will save me.”

Finally, the house was nearly flooded and a helicopter flew over the house and someone through the microphone said, “You down there! The town is flooding! Get in the helicopter and we’ll fly you to safety”. Again he refused, saying, “I’m a religious man, I pray, God loves me, God will save me.”

The man drowned…

…and standing at the gates of St. Peter he demanded an audience with God. “Lord,” he said, “I’m a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?’

God in reply said, “I sent a radio announcement, a rowboat, and a helicopter. What the hell are you doing here?”

In our own lives, God sends us signs through the people or things around us. For me, it was those old ladies, the consecration of the Eucharist and a seminarian named Randy Hoang, that led to my decision to enter seminary to discern the priesthood. But it was not until early July (which is LATE to apply ANYWHERE) where I made my decision to enter and looking back, I should have asked myself: What the hell was I waiting for?

So my question(s) to you is: What is God calling you towards? Have you recognized the signs around you through the people and actions of those around you? If not, look at your past. If so, are you pursuing it? If not, what the hell are you waiting for?

 

 

If anyone is curious about the scene from the West Wing, here is the link to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06dQaOZIcH0