|October 27, 2014 • VOL. 52, NO. 18 • Oakland, CA|
|National Vocations Awareness Week
Three who are called to serve
The bishop of Oakland has called three men to orders. They are Huong V. Le, Peter Tu Nguyen and Michael Nufable. The Catholic Voice asked each of these men to tell their vocation story.
Huong V. Le
My spiritual director once asked me, "Huong, what is your image of God?" This question gave me a pause. I did not prepare to answer this kind of question! As a theology student, I am accustomed to learning what philosophers, theologians, saints and the Church throughout the ages had talked about and of God based on what had been revealed in the salvation history. Nonetheless, the question prompted me to reexamine my relationship with God.
An answer did not come until two weeks later. This answer was a result of an intense period of reflection on the question, "Who is God to me personally?" It was like a process of rediscovering the footprints of God and how I had responded to his call in my life. This rediscovery was also a rediscovery of my vocation, if one understands vocation as a divine calling initiated by God and man's responsibility is to diligently discover and wholeheartedly embrace this divine calling with God's help.
Thanks to this period of reflection, I came to see God as my loving Father who lovingly keeps watch over me without ceasing and as this image gradually emerged, my vocation to the ministerial priesthood of Christ was also confirmed beyond the shadows of doubt.
My vocation was nurtured and grew at home. I was born June 8, 1985, in Hai Phong, Vietnam, to a Catholic family of four children (three girls and one boy). When I was born, my father, Hoi Van Le, thought that it was appropriate to name me Huong (meaning to enjoy, to have, or to last long) because at this time my family enjoyed a comfortable living. Life in a fishing village (Xam Bo) was beautiful for me until death claimed my mother's life on Oct. 14, 1994. A year after my mother's death, my dad married a woman who has truly become a mother to us all. She has cared and loved us as if we were her own children. I believe that my first encounter with the tenderness of God, thus his initial invitation to the priesthood, was somehow facilitated by this wonderful stepmother's love and care.
Having a new mother in the family, my life became somewhat normal again. Like any other youngster at my age, I grew up with many dreams and plans for the future. However, in the summer of 2005, God surprised me with an unexpected invitation from my pastor to a dinner.
At the end of that dinner, the pastor asked me to be a catechist, in charge of more than 300 kids. I did not expect this at all. I doubted my ability and worried very much about the request, but I later accepted it. I started teaching right away. As time went on, I noticed that the more I got involved in teaching, the more I learned to love and care for the kids.
As a result, my life was shifted significantly. I no longer went to the church because of my parents' imposition, but rather out of my love for God and the Catholic faith.
Daily Mass and Eucharistic adoration gradually became a significant part of my day, because there, in the church, with the presence of the Lord, I found myself at peace. In many ways, He has captivated me mysteriously.
During this time, my life took another turn when the idea of being a priest of Christ grabbed my attention for the first time. I knew this was not my idea, but rather something I experienced deep within. It was like a call from within, appealing and attractive, and yet very adventurous.
This idea of becoming a priest, however, was confronted by my personal dreams and desires. As a consequence of this clash, confusion became a state of my mind for at least six months. If it was not for God's loving presence in his words and deeds written in the Gospels, that confusion would have lingered longer than it did.
The Lord Jesus' words to his disciples had set me free from this confusion of mind: "… Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt 20: 25-28).
As I pondered these words, my conviction grew strong. It appeared to me then to be a priest is to be another Christ for others in love and service. This was what I realized and what I decided to give up my life for. I did not see this giving up just as a sacrifice, but a way of living life to the fullest.
I informed my dad about my decision and asked him for permission to leave home and join the program for candidates. This meant I would leave my family and move in to live in the parish's rectory. However, my dad seemed disappointed. My dad did not like the idea, not because he was against priesthood as such, but rather he understood how important and wonderful priesthood was. More importantly, he knew his prodigal son too well! He was afraid I was prematurely acting out of impulse, and priesthood was not for me. Despite this fear, he later approved my leaving.
In 2010, I asked him for the reason behind this change of mind. He told me that when I was 3 years old, I contracted pneumonia. After three surgeries, doctors did not think I would live. They told him to bring me home. They expected me to die soon.
A small coffin had been made; our house was rearranged and gotten ready for a funeral. In the midst of all this preparation, my father had a mysterious encounter with a man, who he believed to be St. Joseph. He believed in the dream, St. Joseph had told him that: "You will be losing your properties, but not your son."
Whether or not these were actual words of St. Joseph to him in the dream or just a hallucination, the fact remained that I miraculously recovered from the illness and grew up strong. As he recalled this incident, he changed his mind because, according to his words, "if God has called you and you responded, I cannot keep you."
Like my father, I have no doubt my life was God's work of grace. God, like a good Father, has led me along this path of discernment. Two years after my joining the Diocese of Hai Phong, Vietnam, on Aug. 7, 2007, I was sent to the Diocese of Oakland. From 2007 to 2010, I was sent to study English and philosophy at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. Three years of preparation on the hilltop paved the way for me to St. Patrick's Seminary and University in Menlo Park, where I have been studying for the last five years.
Being at St. Patrick's Seminary is truly a privilege, because I am closer to my new home — I mean the Diocese of Oakland. I call her new home because here, I learn to love others of different skin colors; here, I learn to appreciate the multicultural community with its diversity and unity; here, I learn to serve God's people other than those of my own race; here, I learn to give and receive from many people of good will, love and care; here, I learn to say "yes" to God's call to the priesthood in imitation of Christ, whose priesthood I pray to be part of.
To conclude, I would like to borrow the words of the psalmist:
…Know that the LORD is God,
he made us, we belong to him,
we are his people, the flock he shepherds.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name;
His mercy endures forever,
his faithfulness lasts through every generation (Ps 100:3-5).
Peter Tu Nguyen
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