From my beachfront condo
My parents weren’t supposed to have children. Then I came along to prove the doctors wrong. Obstinacy appears to be a trait I started out with from the beginning.
My brother followed along 14 months later. My family was, and still is, very tight-knit. We were a typical Filipino American family, bridging two cultures at the same time. We did the typical family things together with subtle variations: enjoyed picnics in which we ate both hamburgers and lumpia (egg rolls), cared for our dog who understood and ignored commands in two languages, and traveled far and wide. My father was in the navy, so we frequently moved: from Florida, to southern California desert and coast, to Washington state, to the Philippines. Mom and Dad weren’t overly pious, but they ensured we went to church on Sundays and received the sacraments.
Our catechism was iffy, though. In fourth grade I tried to get our pet hamster baptized! Turmoil erupted once I became a teenager. It took greater effort and arguments to get me into church. I absolutely resisted. I doubted the existence of God. And besides, I argued, since when does an institution tell me what to believe. Later in college I would occasionally heckle the poor chumps (my opinion at the time) speaking to crowds on behalf of the Campus Crusade for Christ. I used to think that “conversion experience” was a fluffy, way‑ out‑there term. Until it happened to me. I had acquired my doctor of veterinary medicine degree in the Philippines and was completing a year of clinical rotations at Purdue University in Indiana. It was the eighth anniversary of Dad’s death. I was away from my family at the time, so I thought, what the hell, I’ll go to Mass for Dad. I hadn’t been in a church in 15 years.
Something happened. It was as if my eyes were opened for the first time. I knew that God existed, it was right to be in church, there was such a thing as heaven, and Dad was there. At first I thought this might have been a momentary stress‑and‑fatigue‑ induced lapse. But it was the weirdest experience. Just like with an infatuation—thinking about someone first thing in the morning, throughout the day, and last thing at night—I thought about God. I felt a peace about life, and, strangest of strange, I started caring about people more.
Simultaneously, all these weird “accidents” started happening. The group of friends I fell into was active at the parish. I met and was befriended by a priest, Father Tony. I started attending Mass and RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults)—I had to get that hamster baptism business straight. Throughout this time I felt a growing restlessness, wanting more, and not knowing what. Father Tony asked if I ever considered being a religious. At first I thought it was strange he should use an adjective as a noun. Then he used the “n” word. Nun. Me? Poor fellow was bonkers, I thought. I dismissed the idea right away. I envisioned Julie Andrews and the “hills are alive” scene from The Sound of Music. I can’t sing—I’m safe! I was curious, though. I sent in a postcard, courtesy of Father Tony, to a vocation-information clearinghouse. Tons of information about religious orders began arriving in the mail. I couldn’t make sense of it all. For some reason a response from a sister with a Benedictine community in Ferdinand, Indiana stood out. She invited me to a “Come and See” weekend. Starving student, free food, free weekend—cha‑ching! God works in mysterious ways. I visited in the winter of 1995. It was scary. I was so clueless. I remember sitting in a conference with the vocation director and twiddling my thumbs. I didn’t even know enough to ask questions. I wasn’t sure about this religious stuff. The food was good, though.
My year of clinical rotations completed, I returned home to California and lived a normal life. I was succeeding in my career as a veterinarian, enjoyed dating, and lived independently in a beachfront condo. Life was good. But I had a nagging feeling it could be better. There was more in life. I remember watching sunsets from the shore and wondering about God and . . . Ferdinand, Indiana! It took two years before I had the courage to call the vocation director again. I visited Ferdinand as well as other communities. “I’ll fly out,” I’d say to myself, “for the last time and get it out of my system.” God was crooking a finger, beckoning me. Argh! But life was so good as it was, why throw it away?
My relationship with God was growing, though I was pretty demanding with God. I’d qualify as a “high maintenance chick” since I was strong willed, driven, and freely expressed to God how I thought things should be. But God is a persistent suitor. I eventually rethought my position against religious life. After about eight trips to Ferdinand in two years, it was about time I got off the fence and did something.
Things just seemed to roll into place after I decided to join the formation program. I entered the Ferdinand community in August of 1999. It’s been wonderful. The sisters here are both holy and human, and the older sisters are especially great examples. I strive to be like them someday—finding God within myself, in others, and in every circumstance. When it comes to seeking God, monastic life is like the carpool lane—we’re focused on our destination, aiming to get there together. I’m learning how monastics provide fuel for the journey. I’m learning to cultivate my relationship with God through private and communal prayer first and foremost. I’m also meeting God daily in and with the sisters with whom I work, play, study, and live. I used to label myself “vocationally challenged.”
I didn’t want to leave my career, home, family, and friends. But I had to ask myself, when the end of my life came, what would be the one thing I regretted not trying? So here I am, still a veterinarian, living in the “castle on the hill” with about 230 sisters, and basking in an incredibly passionate relationship with God. I enjoyed my life before I entered religious life, but my life now is so much richer and more fulfilling than anything I could have imagined. God’s quite the “imagineer.” I’m glad I gave God and myself a chance. It’s a fabulous journey!
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- About Vocation Network and VISION Guide