6 June 2009
Note: I am reprinting this article from the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Opinion Column, Youngblood. The writer, Danniel “Butch” Sunga, is now Jesuit novice who entered Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, Quezon City, Philippines on May 30, 2009. He tells us about his vocation and discernment that led him to decide to apply to the Jesuits. It is a good read for all those contemplating to enter religious life. The link to the article is here
If you asked me a few years ago if I wanted to become a priest, my answer would have been “no.” I did not give attention to this vocation until I was about to graduate from college at the Ateneo. The idea of priesthood would come to me once in a while, but I would readily brush it off and went on with whatever I was doing. Religious life for me was simply out-of-my-world.
I don’t even exactly deserve to be a seminarian. Di po ako kagaya ni Santino na araw araw tumatambay sa monasteryo at nakikipag-usap kay “Bro” katulad ng napanood natin sa TV. (I’m not like Santino, as we know him on TV, every day finding time to be at a monastery and talking with “Bro” [Jesus]). Me, I was a mischievous kid, and my behind was no stranger to my father’s belt. I was a typical teenager of my time—always out of our house, enjoying watering holes and Friday-night-outs with friends. I fell in love a couple of times and broke hearts. I’ve disappointed family members and hurt friends’ feelings. Do you see a religious vocation in someone with this description?
Also, I lived a worry-free life. I graduated from college with ease, passed the board exams in electronics engineering while I was overseeing a few small businesses for my family. Life as a whole was comfortable and I felt fortunate, but something was still missing. I longed for more and searched for a deeper meaning to my life.
It was a Sunday, while I was waiting for Mass to start, when I came to a religious experience I wouldn’t ever forget. On that eventful afternoon, I was contemplating on what I wanted to do with my life. It was the first time I allowed the thought of becoming a priest to linger in my mind. Suddenly, I realized that this was a desire of my heart and that I could do something about this. The next thing I knew I was knocking on the door of the Jesuit Vocprom office, led there by some posters around the campus, which had earlier caught my attention.
After a few months, I had become a friend to several Jesuits. After some time, I was living with them. Arvisu House is a place where young men discern their vocation and God’s will for their lives. We were guided by Jesuits who, more or less, had the same experience as the one we were going through at that time. I found myself in the company of men who felt God’s call. It was an experience that was so mysterious yet so real for all of us.
Don’t get the impression that everything was a euphoric experience. I’ve had my own share of struggles in this vocation. My discernment took some time, longer than the usual, so I was told. I struggled against myself and my God. I was tempted to be indifferent to the call and take the easy way out. There were times I asked the question: “Lord, why me?” I felt the real challenge of giving up my dreams to embrace a life far out of my comfort zone. However, these experiences made me realize that it is God who chooses, not us. Because of His unconditional love, we are always given full freedom to respond and step up to the line.
But the most crucial part of the journey was when I found an ever-present God in my personal history. I basked in the love of this God, who accepts and loves me wholly. My eyes were opened to the reality of our world—and through this I found fulfillment in helping others. My imagination was captured by the person of Jesus—living life as His companion and the mysteries of this way of life. A life shared with others, living not solely for your own. I was drawn to this least “society of men” called the Jesuits, sinners all, but nevertheless “called.”
I felt like half of me was gone when I left family and friends on the day I joined the Jesuits as a novice. That was last May 30. The other half of me was scared to let go of the life I had before. However, I felt much trust in this faithful God with whom I am now making this journey. Deep inside, I also feel the excitement of a greater adventure, and in the promise of a life filled with meaning.
It pains me to leave my family, but sacrifices have to be made when we have to follow our heart’s deepest desires. It is only by going through such pain that we truly see the beauty of life. Perhaps the experience is similar to a mother experiencing birth pains, as she brings new life to this earth. I also believe that everyone will make their own sacrifices at a point in their lives. It’s just that this is mine and I had to offer it last May 30.
For those who feel the same, have more or less the same experience as I had, I would like to say congratulations! Isn’t it an awesome feeling? Don’t be afraid to make your move when the right time comes. Be brave and courageous. Tibayan ang loob! Marami kang pagdadaanan ngunit sulit ang laban. (Steel your heart! You will go through a lot of trials, but the struggle will be worth it.) At the same time, I invite you to pray more. It is only through prayer and through closeness to the Lord that we can truly listen and know what He wills.