“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

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