After two blazing years of priestly discernment, two years of prayer and healing, Jesus made it clear to me what He made me for. Let me update you on my discernment:
And here are past posts why I had entered seminary:
*updated March 22, 2017* Lent is a long season. And to help me get in the mood of reflecting deeply on my faith, and contemplating deeply about Jesus Christ’s Passion, I have five movies I can turn to (or check my list of music for an intense Lent). But be warned. These films are intense and will not slip from your memory any time soon. The struggles, challenges, drama and suspense lingers… lingers…
——First up: The Nun’s Story, starring none other than the exquisite and stunning Audrey Hepburn as Sister Luke. In this film, we see a young and beautiful woman discern the religious life, but all the while, we see something not quite right. Did she enter for love of Jesus? For love of the Church? Or was the sisterhood merely a tool for her? When I first saw this film, I could not believe what I was seeing. As an Audrey Hepburn fan, as someone who was open to discerning the priesthood, and as a fan of film, this movie was a major treat and surprise. Click here for the whole film (while the link remains active).
——Second: The Passion of Joan of Arc. This is a silent film with a haunting score, a haunted past, and a haunting recovery. The real life struggle to get this movie on screen is already harrowing enough to make one think the devil tried to keep this where the sun don’t shine, but today, it is considered one of the top ten films ever. Don’t let its age, its novelty and its daring discourage you from viewing this movie. Search for it at your library, or online. There are at least three versions now. I only recommend the one accompanied by Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light score (click link to listen!).
——Third: Noah. A movie misunderstood by many to be Christian, but it’s actually a Jewish film that stretches the story of the Great Flood in ways that kept me at the edge of my seat. I was stunned to see how riveting the story was, how terrifying such a flood must have been. And since I wrote extensively on this film already, please click here for my review and for the thoughts of others more learned than I.
——Fourth: The Flowers of War. Though the movie is about the 1937 December invasion and Rape of Nanking by the Japanese army, its portrayal of utter human suffering and redemption is perfect for Lent. The movie stars Batman: aka, Christian Bale, and is directed by Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony). In this epic, Bale finds himself having to play the role of a Catholic priest to protect 12 abandoned school girls trapped and stored in the Cathedral by the Japanese for future use. This film is so intense that I cannot recommend it for family viewing whatsoever. Be advised.
——Fifth: The Prince of Egypt. The origins of Passover are essential to grasping the weight of the Paschal Mystery. Though seen as a children’s film, this movie is definitely for adults, too. Do not miss this [musical] depiction of the Exodus story. Although there are certain creative licenses taken that deviate from the Scriptural telling, the film is a great expression of the desperation of the Hebrews and the overwhelming glory of God’s presence and power. Need more convincing? Have a watch of one of the best scenes: THE PLAGUES
——Finally: The Passion of the Christ. I save this one for Good Friday, and for good reason. And unlike many, I don’t shed a tear at all… until Mary meets her Son on the road to Calvary. I love Jesus. I believe He is God. And God can take care of Himself. But when Mary appears, her broken heart cuts me down. Gets me every time…
——BONUS: this film The Road is also very intense and not to be viewed lightly by families and children. The story is a man trying to care for his son in a post-apocalyptic world that is two-thirds the way to hell. The sacrifices, struggles and sheer terror of what this world is reminds me of what sin did to us, and what sin still does to us when we let it reign. Give this a watch if that sounds like something that will help you stop taking sin lightly, and stop taking life for granted.
——AND A DOCUMENTARY: History Channel produced this detailed and fair research on the mysterious Shroud of Turin (the most studied human artifact, ever). This cloth is believed by many, scientists and faithful alike, to be the original burial linen of Jesus Christ. It is also believed to have been physically affected by the Lord’s resurrection, affected in a way that science has been unable to explain, to date. Give The Real Face of Jesus a watch (but beware of the heretical and nonsense gnostic material inserted awkwardly (and unnecessarily) in the middle of the documentary). More documentaries researching and studying the Shroud here.
A few years ago, Lisa Ling visited the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan to help Oprah viewers get to know how Catholic religious sisters live, love and serve God.
The show was so successful that Oprah asked the sisters to visit her studio! Yep!
But that wasn’t the end of Ling’s fascination with the Church.
This year she visited Michigan’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit (I remember her and the CNN crew walking around in the Fall) and filmed a documentary about two twin brothers who just finished formation here last spring and were ordained priests over the summer. This is the episode — Called to the Collar — for your evangelization enjoyment. Find out why Michigan was special enough to beckon Lisa Ling all the way over here!
Two months ago, I crossed the finish line of my first year as a seminarian (aka: full time discerner of my vocation). Since then, it’s been hectic gearing up for and going on summer travels. In the year since I entered seminary, so much has happened in so little a time span that I’m tempted to think nothing happened at all. But now that I’m in a bit of a slowdown in between summer travels and events, here are some positives that I have to share:
1) I lived childhood shyly. I lived adolescence even shier. But then my twenties saw an outspoken Evan, and today I am more confident than ever before. I don’t know exactly what happened in this first seminarian year, but I can stomach the butterflies in my stomach a lot easier, and that jittery heart is much calmer now. (Yes! I don’t have a heart problem, after all!)
2) The Church loves her seminarians. I never knew how much until now. I have been so spoiled with support, prayers and pick-me-ups, sincere friendships with other seminarians and with priests, chances to waste time regularly with Jesus, and plenty opportunities to get out of my comfort zone. I have to be careful not to take these for granted.
3) I got to travel to Mexico for six weeks for pilgrimage (Viva La Virgen de Guadalupe!), language and culture learning, and witnessing to others. I literally did not know I was being sent there until last December! And now, I know that Spanish is more challenging to me than Latin (or Chinese or Vietnamese)! I also know that I have friends there who I was very blessed to meet. Oh, and I even know that little bugs called jumiles taste just like mint leaves. Yum!
4) I have met more people this past year than probably in the last five! Thus one of my weaknesses has been revealed: I have a hard time remembering names and faces. I really need to have a lengthy and personal conversation with someone before it clicks in place. (Please don’t take it personally!)
5) I move from place to place pretty painlessly. When I first moved into the seminary, I was pretty sad, not just because I missed home and my family, but more so because I hated the thought of my family being lonesome after I left. But, they were okay I think. And so, when I went to Mexico, I didn’t really get homesick for the States. And when I returned to the States, it felt like I never even left. I just shrugged and got back into the swing of things. It really does not feel like I was there, and when I left the seminary for summer break, I found it hard to believe I lived there for eight months. It all still feels more like a weekend retreat… hmm…
6) I love exercising, especially to the roar of Hanz Zimmer’s Dark Knight scores when I bike or run… and to the bass of dubstep/EDM when I do weights. Yes… I didn’t know this about myself until I found myself staying in the seminary gym for almost four hours one night (the music was on repeat, and apparently I was too).
7) Got a lot left to learn about prayer and how to keep it up regularly.
8) And finally, I realized that I need to go onto year two and keep discerning the priesthood and growing in the Christian life.
Duh, right? Charles Xavier is a telepathic mutant, of course he can do superhuman things: read minds, erase memories, create dreams and illusions. But I bet you missed one in the film X-Men: First Class. I almost missed it too! Until I watched more carefully, more thoughtfully.
In the movie, Charles meets and becomes friends with a CIA agent, Moira MacTaggert. Throughout the story, the two grow closer and their alliance matures into friendship, and in the end, their friendship blossoms into a sweeter love. If you haven’t watched the film yet, sorry — deal with the spoiler!
So in one of the last scenes, Moira leans down to kiss the paralyzed Charles. And there it is! That’s when it happens! That’s when Professor-X rises to the challenge.
Professor-X chooses the discipline of celibacy.
Not because he doesn’t love Moira, not because he wants to be lonesome, not because he’s afraid of marriage and sacrifice and fidelity.
Nope. Professor-X chooses celibacy because he cares so much about Moira, because he’s responsible for way too many others to just marry and live a simple life with her, because he can’t live a simple life — period! — and because he wants to live a life of extreme sacrifice and fidelity for others (mutant or not).
Professor-X chooses what all solid Catholic priests choose. A priest, in a sense, is a man who cannot love just one, but desires to love many and to lay his life down for their lives. He wants to offer his maleness, his masculinity in a way that serves others, and not merely himself. He becomes a brother to all, a son to all, a father to all.
Celibacy allows a man to live simply, to have the ease of going off on a mission at a moment’s notice. He doesn’t have to worry about who to care for first, whose attention he should tend to first. The question: “My family, or everyone else?” doesn’t happen to him. Because in celibacy, “everyone else” IS HIS FAMILY.
And that’s what Professor-X realized. He needed to overcome his natural, good and human want to marry a woman and start a family with her. He and celibate priests choose to go beyond the call of nature and love more, and more, and more.
This goes for religious sisters and nuns also! They choose to be a sister to all, a daughter to all, a mother to all. It’s for the same superhuman reasons, and since it’s superhuman, not all persons desire it, and even less achieve it: the level of love involved and demanded is intense.
That leads us to this common misconception: “If priests aren’t allowed to marry, then they will act out their desires in horrible ways, like abusing children and others!”
But think about this: If a man marries so that his desires won’t come out in horrible and abusive ways… then I feel scared for his wife and kids! Marriage and love is not some sort of release valve for a lustful and abusive person! If that’s how the man is, then for the sake of humanity, keep him away until he grows up into a real man: someone who follows that love is sacrifice for the good of others, not for gaining selfish pleasures!
Any man who sees marriage as some release valve for his desires should never marry, and should never ever be a priest. He must master his lust first: he must let God’s grace transform his restless lust into restless and selfless service. He must rise to the superhuman challenge. Because women deserve better, don’t they? Because the Church deserves better, doesn’t she? Because all of us children deserve better, didn’t you know?
P.s. Even Professor-X’s name gives it away! “Charles FRANCIS XAVIER”? Come on… like what Catholic hasn’t at least heard of Saint Francis Xavier?!
P.p.s. The discipline of priestly celibacy goes even deeper than these practical reasons, but that conversation is for another time.
I came to the major realization a few months back. It was during Lent 2013, some Sunday in February or March. I was finishing up teaching catechism classes at church. At dismissal, I came into the hall and saw the students pour out of their classrooms. So many of them, and so many of them lost, confused, and living lives of quiet desperation. Sure, they have food, clothes, houses… but how many have a home? A loving and faithful family? Supportive friends and positive influences? So many… who will care for them?
And I said, “I want to. I want to care for them.” And then I realized, “If I have my own family one day… wife and children, I would be too in love with my own family to care for these and others. How can I take care of so many if my attention is divided? My family would come first, of course…”
So I had to rethink my hopes and dreams.
Later in Lent, I started teaching English essay classes to middle schoolers in the Chinese American community (Shout out to Lily, Charlie, Jennifer, Claire, Jessica, Austin, Andrew, Kelley, and Richard!). Though I loved teaching and guiding the students, I didn’t like focusing on teaching English. Instead, I wanted to give these kids the wisdom to make good moral choices, to understand their Christian faith, and to be smart — not superstitious! I loved teaching Christian morality, theology, philosophy.
So I had to rethink what I’d do with my English degree.
Then I saw my book, the proof copy of Little Miss Lucifer, sitting on my desk. After eleven years of work, research, plotting, planning, writing, scrapping, waiting, rewriting, revising, praying, editing, etc, she was almost ready for the world. But I just looked at it and repeated Saint Thomas Aquinas’ words: “All Straw!” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote shelves of beautiful work on philosophy and theology, and he called it straw. Compared to Heaven, compared to Christ, all was straw.
So I had to rethink whether publishing would make me happy.
Even if the book were to become wildly successful, even if I wrote ten more best sellers… would I be content?
And one night I struggled to fall asleep. I began daydreaming in the night. I imagined myself in bed ten years from now, beside my beautiful wife and our beautiful children. I imagined asking myself at that moment, “What if I did go to seminary? What if I did give my discernment more effort? Would I have heard a call to priesthood? What if…?”
I realized right then, that to be fair to my possible future wife and children, that I must find out. I must answer this question in my heart. I must address the question mark in my mind. I must answer “What if?” It was best for them, for me, and for others.
Besides, not every man who enters seminary is ordained. Seventy to ninety percent of the men who enter do not become ordained, but they leave seminary more resolved to be stronger and more courageous dads and husbands. They learn to be prayerful, humble, and caring. They learn how to serve others, how to respect, and how to keep their faith. They have nothing to lose — and so much to gain.
So I decided to apply. And now here I go!