MY VOCATION STORY
My first idea of priesthood came to me when I was just a child. My first attraction was the priest’s vestment; I wanted to wear the kind of dress he wore. I could still remember those times when I would gather my friends and have a mass-with me acting as a priest. There were times when I would sneak out packs of biscuits from our store and use it as a host for our mass. To serve as my vestment, I would steal my father’s big-loose dress, cut the sides of it to make it look like a flowing robe. We also have a perfect setting, an abandoned old house that had collapsed in time. It feels like I’m a real priest celebrating the Eucharist, perhaps it would look ridiculous, but I’m just a child back then. The celebration of the Holy Mass was more of a spectacle for me, I tried to learn the prayers and the responses and in time I made my own “liturgy.”
There were times also that I performed “services of need.” Whenever our cat gives birth, I would baptize the kittens and give them names. And whenever any of them dies, I would not hesitate to give them a requiem mass and bury them in a cemetery I made especially for the purpose. Funerals in church have made a considerable impression on me; they were often served in our parish. It was there that I began to ponder questions about life and death. My attraction to the priesthood started as a childish play- a childhood attraction I didn’t expect could go on and on.
This elementary attraction was nourished further by my family, especially my father and my involvements in church. My father has an overwhelming interest in Catholic apologetics. He was a big fan of Bro. Soc Fernandez and Atty. Marcelo Bacalso, local Catholic Faith Defenders of the best kind. I remember the times when my father would use to record on tape the radio debate sprees of these defenders and in the evening would let me listen to it. These recorded tapes are extant even today. I was just twelve years old back then, too childish to listen to such things were it not for my desire to please my father. However, later in time, I realized the goodness it brought me. When I entered high school, Catholic apologetics had become my interest. I rummaged the books in our school library especially those that concern with religion. I was hooked, sometimes at the expense of my other subjects.
When I was twelve years old, I joined the CFC-Youth for Christ. Joining this organization really had a profound influence in me. It awakened and sustained my longtime desire and inkling to religious life. We’re the pioneering batch of the YFC in our parish and I became the pioneering chapter head, then cluster head, then sector head. I was able to give talks during youth camps and gatherings and I was given the opportunity to share, inspire and learn with people of my age.
My tenure as a chapter head was not without hardships. As a leader, I was supposed to encourage my brethren to be zealous for the Lord, in words and in deeds. But youth as we are, the world sometimes weighs heavier than heaven. At first, they were excited to attend prayer meetings and bible studies. Time came; it was left for those few individuals who still have the willingness to spend their time with the Lord. As a leader, I did my best to encourage them to go on serving. Sometimes, we would visit the homes of those who have hibernated out of season, only to hear their yes at the moment and no later on. There are also times when I would fetch them in their homes only to hear that they would follow soon and end up alone in the church. I could have become a nuisance those times but my brethren were too precious to ignore. To serve is to have the willingness to share our precious time even with those people who didn’t value it at all; to serve is to give, as in the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta-to give until it hurts. But to serve is to love also and to believe that efforts have been fruitful even if it bears no fruit at the moment. The Lord Jesus Christ experienced more than this, He didn’t just give until it hurts, He gave until it bled. He was even rejected and killed- I could never compare. It just gave me the reason to go on and I was hooked to Jesus! It cultivated my desire for service and my desire to serve the Lord by becoming a priest someday.
However, there was also a time when I myself had hibernated. It’s one year of lost spirituality. That’s during my first year in college. Being free and away from parents, I tried to enjoy the world. I stopped going to church, and felt tired of it. I spent my times with my barkadas. There were times I doubted about God. I didn’t feel anything when I pray. I gripped so much of earth that I forgot to cling to heaven.
But there was a turning point in my life. I got tired of my school, tired of seeing its premises day by day, tired of going to the same building, and tired of studying. I wanted to find a new place. That’s when I decided to transfer to the Mindanao State University in Marawi City, against the will of my parents. They’re afraid of my safety in the place but I insisted, to which they consented later on.
And I never expect I would find God again in that place, for even though Marawi City is 99% Muslim, Christian life in MSU is very much vibrant. Every afternoon I would see different groups of Born-Again Christians doing praise and worship publicly in the golf course. There were also Seventh Day Adventists doing their sundown worship at the basketball court every afternoon, and Catholics also have a mass every afternoon at a chapel beside the mosque. The scene would even reach its peak every Sunday, the school gymnasium would be filled up by Catholic Christians in the morning and by Born-Again Christians in the afternoon, and what’s amazing is that 90% of those who attended are youth. It’s such a nice place to be. There, I experienced becoming a minority for the first time. In Marawi, Christians comprise only one percent of the population. With this, I learned how to assert my identity and how to trust God once again. Together with the lots of youths who never lost a sense of GOD, my Christian faith was revived and resuscitated. Until before I graduated from MSU, we were able to organize a prayer group in our boarding house. I was able to lead a group of youth once again, I was able to teach, inspire and learn from them. I wanted to serve God, to serve Him in many ways according to His calling, to reach out to souls and most importantly to learn from them. I could only answer Yes!