I first thought about being a priest when I was in 5th grade and had just begun altar serving. As high school approached, however, the idea of being a priest was pushed out of my mind as other interests took its place. I was very interested in history and politics and decided I wanted to be a politician and fix the country. I was also a lot more interested in girls, and a life of celibacy just didn’t seem to fit into the picture.
When I entered college at the George Washington University, I quickly realized politics was not for me and I began to get involved in the Newman Catholic Center on Campus. I began attending daily Mass, going to the weekly hour of Eucharistic Adoration, and more and more of my friends told me that I should think about being a priest. Still, priesthood was not what I wanted; I rejected it every time someone suggested the possibility to me. At the same time, I felt like I had to have my life planned out, so this question of discernment had to be settled as well: should I be a priest or should I get married? I began to put a lot of pressure on myself; I had to figure this out! Finally, after being so full of anxiety, I turned to the Vocation Director. He told me to stop discerning, and just get to know the Lord. It was a bombshell for me! Stop discerning? But I took his advice and focused purely on praying and getting to know the Lord. I didn’t think about what my future would be like, I didn’t make plans for after college; I just left myself open.
In this environment the Lord began to work in me. One day I was praying at Mass and I looked toward the altar during the Eucharistic prayer and I thought, “Maybe I could do this.” Immediately, God gave me tremendous grace and joy. I was so happy and I didn’t know why! The only way I can describe it is the way the disciples described their feelings after meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us on the way?” I knew God was speaking to me! All I wanted to do was to be with Him and do what He wanted. And all of a sudden I knew I had to start thinking about discerning again. I met again with Msgr. Panke and this time he suggested not only that I might be called to enter seminary, but that perhaps I should think about entering right after graduation. I had never in a million years thought about seminary right after graduation! But the more I thought and prayed about it, the more it just made sense. So I applied, not quite sure what I was doing, but trusting that the Lord would take care of me. When I was accepted, I was so happy and I ran to the Newman Center chapel to thank God. I prayed evening prayer and the antiphon for the day was “Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us on the way?” What consolation and confirmation! Since entering the seminary, the Lord has blessed me with so many great joys and I have never been happier!
When people ask me to share my vocation story, I usually tell them that the thought of becoming a priest entered my mind when I was a kid. However, aside from becoming a priest, I have also dreamt of becoming a doctor, a teacher and an astronomer. Probably, the first time I thought seriously about the idea of becoming a priest happened when I was a junior in high school during Mass when a Capuchin brother gave a talk about vocation. He ended his reflection by inviting young men to talk to him after Mass. I can still remember what I felt that moment. I was really happy and excited. During Mass, I prayed to God and asked him if it was possible for me to become a priest? After the Mass, I talked to Brother Jonald and he invited me to join other young men discerning to become priests.
A lot has happened after that night. I became an aspirant and eventually became a postulant in the Capuchin Order when I turned 17. However, my journey to religious life was interrupted when an opportunity for our family to migrate here to America occurred. Among Filipinos, getting an immigrant visa to America is like winning the lottery. Nobody just ignores this opportunity. Although my family did not ask me to leave the seminary to join them, I decided to put my journey to the priesthood on hold and move here. Back then, I thought that leaving the seminary was easier than getting an immigrant visa.
The rest of my story proved otherwise. During the next few years after leaving the seminary I had some of the most difficult moments in my life. Yet, when I look back, I know that each part of my life completed me as a whole person. I lived in Guam, returned to the Philippines and earned my Bachelor’s degree in Education, moved to California, taught in a small Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, earned my graduate Degree in Curriculum and Educational Technology, volunteered at the parish as a CCD teacher, and had several part-time jobs. I kept myself really busy. I still kept thinking and praying about my dream of becoming a priest but I was asking the wrong question to God.
My whole perspective in life changed when I came to visit Washington, DC in December 2007. In DC, while praying at the Franciscan Monastery, I asked God how to become an adult Catholic in America. This question led me to ask God what He really wanted me to do. Does he want me to continue the journey of becoming a priest? While walking from the Franciscan Monastery to the Basilica, I felt so much hope. I felt that the grace was overflowing and I had another insight. Grace is abundant and available to everybody. Some people are just not taking advantage of it. If God wills it, I want to be an instrument of His grace. I want to be a bridge linking God and other people. I want to be a ladder that would lead and help other people to reach God.
When I went back to California, I had a new vision of life. I felt I had to continue my journey of faith. Even though I had a stable job in California and I did not know anybody in DC, I knew that the Lord would provide. I just knew that He would lead me closer to finding my pearl of great price.
I moved to Hyattsville, MD in July 2008. I was fortunate to find a teaching job at Elizabeth Seton High School. Moreover, I was also accepted at the Library Science program at Catholic University. Teaching high school math, working as a part-time library assistant and pursuing a Master’s Degree were quite challenging but I just loved all of it and didn't want to let go of any of it. After a year of adjustment in DC and going on a retreat at the Shrine of Elizabeth Seton in Emmittsburg, I approached my pastor at St. Jerome's, Fr. Stack, and told him about my journey of faith. He became my spiritual director and he walked with me when I began my application process to the Archdiocese of Washington.
In 2010, I was accepted by the Archdiocese of Washington to begin priestly formation. I left my teaching job to begin Pre-Theology at Theological College, the seminary of Catholic University. I had barely finished my Library Science degree and I was back again at the same university to study. God willing, next year, I will be ordained into priesthood. I know that the road will not be smooth and there will be bumps along the path. I will have doubts and fears, but I will always remember what Christ tells his disciples: “Take Courage. It is I, do not be afraid.”
Mother Theresa used to say that “God draws straight with crooked lines”. As a “second career” vocation I couldn’t agree with her more and thankfully so! I first heard the call while in college. After meeting with my pastor he suggested I continuing discerning while in school and then working for a while. Who knew that discernment would span 25 years! During that time I moved to Washington DC (1987) where I was blessed to work in the fields of neurophysiology, information technology, and business development working in the private sector and the federal government. Wonderful and lasting friendships were formed and I had a real sense of gratitude for the opportunities I was given. However, following the journey of Blessed John Paul II during the last years of his life occasionally would bring to mind some of those earlier desires that were in my heart when I was younger.
Then my mother and our Blessed Mother took over. One Christmas my mom gave me the gift of my grandfather’s Rosary. I started praying the Rosary before daily Mass every day, and the Blessed Mother has wrapped her arms around me every since leading me closer to her Son. I became more active in the parish as an altar server and lector, and as an RCIA sponsor. Then in the fall of 2007 I was blessed to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Praying at the tomb of our Lord in the Holy Sepulcher I offered my life to serve our Lord if that is was what He desired for me. This was confirmed for me the following year when, on a pilgrimage to Assisi, I encountered an inscription on the wall outside of the Basilica which said in part “on October 4, 1962, the Feast of St. Francis, Pope John XXIII celebrated Mass here”. That is the exact day, month, and year I was born, and I knew the seminary I would more than likely attend was Blessed John XXIII Seminary. So for me this was like an email confirmation from heaven.
Afterwards, I was on a business trip in Austin, TX sitting in a hotel room when I received the phone call I had been accepted. I wanted to shout out the window to share with the world the great joy that was in my heart. That joy grows every day. These journeys don’t happen alone, it is only with the support and prayers of so many people known and unknown to us that it possible. I offer my formation as a gift of thanksgiving to Almighty God and to all the countless people who make it possible.
Each man who feels the urge, the call, the desire for priesthood must take it seriously. However, he must realize that the decision is not made the first day. The Church in her wisdom gives you years of formation so that when the Archbishop calls your name you can step forward with a free and certain heart. You don’t propose on a first date and the Church does not ordain you unless you and those responsible feel that you are certainly called by Christ.
We all have questions to answer so that we can freely answer yes to Jesus’ call to Holy Orders or move on to follow Him in another vocation. I learned how to embrace celibacy as a life-giving path to holiness. I learned to pray. I learned the power of obediently following my bishop and so finding true freedom in letting God’s "will be done."
I describe my parents as "professional Catholics" – daily Mass, First Friday. They are professional in that they take their faith very seriously, but they do so with a great deal of humor and joy. It is and was the perfect seed-bed for a vocation. Having a priest in such a family would bring them much joy, an answer to a Catholic mom-of-eight’s prayers. Therein lay the problem. Although I had taught school for three years after graduating from Holy Cross and I had brought an apartment with my brother, I still had to make sure that my decision to be a priest was a mature one, a holy choice. I had to make sure that I was not just saying yes because I knew it would make my parents happy. I had many areas where I needed to grow, but this was a definite area where I needed clarity. Eventually, through many hours in front of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, theology classes and seminary formation, I really began to hear the Lord and know it was His voice calling me to serve Him as a priest. The fact that my mom and dad were happy was an added bonus. My vocation was mine, a gift from Christ that I needed to cherish and guard as the precious gift it is.
People often ask me when I decided to be a priest, and I respond, "my third year of seminary." They look surprised as if I should have known the day I entered. It takes years of seminary to certify the initial desire to be a priest. That’s why seminaries exist.