On August 7th, 2010, I professed First Vows and became a member of the Society of the Divine Word. That special day was such an anticipated event for me. Since I first began my study with the SVDs in Epworth, Iowa, six long years have passed. Six years of anticipating that special day when I would profess vows before God, my conferers, and my family. And that day came and passed. It was a joyous celebration! My family from all over the U.S. came and showed their love and support. I felt unique, I was the center of attention that day, and I felt like a star! Now that all the commotion and congratulatory remarks are behind me, I finally have some time to reflect on what that day really meant. At first, it may seem as if that day was all about me. But in actuality, it wasn’t. It was all about God and his love and involvement in our lives
I look back at my discernment and vocational journey, and it’s hard for me to pin-point exactly how and why I am where I am today. But all story and journey must have a beginning, and mine began nine years ago when I was in high school. In most U.S. high schools, students are required to perform some hours of community service in order to graduate. My school required 20 hours! And so I volunteered at a hospital, right across my family home. I helped with paper work, delivering food, visiting old patients; all very “boring” work for me. But then I was asked to help in the pediatric center. My job was to visit children who were hospitalized for a long period of time. Since most of their parents work, there were few visitations, but plenty of sad faces. So I visited them, played games with them, talked with them, and brought a little smile back to their faces. I began to really enjoy my work and felt rewarded when a child smiled. And so 20 hours passed, but I continued to volunteer at the hospital for the next three years until graduation. During those three years, I also volunteered in other areas. I tutored students, taught swim lessons, and built houses for the homeless. I ended up volunteering over 1500 hours without realizing it. And it was through all those hours of being with people in need that I began to hear God’s whispering, calling me to become his reaching-hands to those in need.
Then out of the blue I saw a calendar in my parents’ bedroom, featuring Divine Word Missionaries, Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters, and Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters. I was moved by the work they do, and somehow was compelled to contact the vocation office. One thing led to another, and I ended up at Divine Word Seminary-College in Iowa, studied abroad in Japan, studied communication at University of Dubuque as a brother candidate, and finally went to novitiate in Chicago. And suddenly there I was, standing before God and his people, professing vows to live Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience as a Divine Word Missionary Brother. How did it happen?
I can only conclude that I was blessed with grace upon grace. The grace to hear God’s calling, the grace of discernment, and the grace of courage. I believe that God continuously whispers in the ears of many people, but few have received the grace to hear that calling. He never ceases to tugs people in their lives, but few have received the grace to discern those pulling. And so often, He has moved the minds and hearts of many people, but few have received the grace of courage to answer and follow. And I believe am assured that for to those many who have answered the call, God has and will continue to give them grace of faithfulness to follow him all the way, to bear his cross, and love as He has loved us!
As I look back on my journey up until now, it has truly a blessing to have heard, discerned, and have the courage to answer. I now pray for the grace of faithfulness, that I may follow Him ever more closely and faithfully, to serve him in serving my brothers and sisters, and to be his sign of love to the world.
The celebration of First Vows was never about me! It wasn’t a celebration of anything I have done, but rather a celebration of God working in our lives. A celebration of the living God who never ceases to call us into relationship with him, inviting us to follow him, asking us to cooperate with him, to be his hands and feet, to mend our broken world. Trusting in this fact, I pray for myself and for you. I pray fervently that our ears will be open to hear his voice, that our mind will be impartial to discern his calls, and that our hearts will be bold and courageous to answer he who calls. And have faith that once we answer, God will grace us with faithfulness to follow him...even to the ends of the earth.
Posted: 9/27/2010 2:25:36 AM
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With lots of anticipation, I’ve been eagerly waiting for the day when I will profess my vows to God, to live and follow Jesus in the Evangelical Counsels. Now that the “big day” is right around the corner, I don’t feel so anxious. I don’t have that Oh-My-God-It’s-Coming-To-An-End feeling anymore. I suppose it is because I no longer see the novitiate as a disconnected program operating alongside from the regular formation program. The novitiate is unique on its own indeed, but it is an indispensable part of the formation program as a whole.
And now that this segment of the never-ending formation program is coming to a close, I realize that the path my companions and I have been traveling on together is now coming to a diverging point. Our Journey together will now come to a point where we go our separate divergent paths, yet heading together toward that same destination.
Two of my novitiate companions will continue their study to the priesthood. Another is already ordained and will likely take the ministerial path immediately. I will be off on my own path as a young Brother, studying and preparing for future ministry. So our journey continues. It doesn’t end here. As much as I would like to dwell behind on this novitiate path, I realize I must move on so that others behind me can walk this path. This path has been full of surprises, laughter, memories. But if I do not move on, how can others experience these surprises, laughter, and memories. And I expect that upon turning onto my own divergent path, I will find new surprises around the corner, fill my heart with laughter, and create new gleaming memories.
I realize that whenever our life journey brings us to a divergent point, we will feel sad leaving our straight green lushes path behind us, and making a daring decision to take a new path at the forked road. We will feel some anxiety, even fear, for we don’t know what awaits us on our new path. Yet, if we remain trusting and optimistic, I believe we will be able to overcome whatever challenges we find on our path. Trust and Optimism will allow us to overcome difficulties, and will open our eyes to the beauty our new path has to offer. Amidst the tall cedars on our path, we’ll discover new friends and companions for our journey. Together we’ll race down the path toward new and exciting adventures, be it the great plains of Africa, or the mesmerizing rise of Mt. Fuji in Japan. And together, we’ll take our time and dive into the diversity of cultures and people, be they of the indigenous people of Peru, or the coffee lovers in the cafes of Manhattan New York. Whatever and whoever they may be, we’ll experience them all.
And it is with this joy and optimism that I am coming out of the novitiate experience. I cannot wait to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell all that life has to offer me on this path I’m about to take. Like the endless singing of birds on my forested path, I am confident, that God will be with me always, whispering like the wind, guiding me every step of the way.
My dear readers, let us pray for one another then. That we may take courage on our path, confident that God is with us on the very path we walk, ever present in our traveling companions and in the breeze brushing on our skin. Pray that we maybe not falter and lose sight of our journey. And we pray for that optimism and trust; they will bring us to experience God wherever we go, in all that we meet, and all that we do. May God bless us all, on this-our journey to Him.
Posted: 6/30/2010 12:24:57 AM
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I apologize to my readers for my disappearance act. A lot has happened since I last wrote. My fellow Novices and I were accepted for profession of First Vows this coming August. Before being accepted for Vows, we went through a rigorous process of evaluations (never a fun thing to do). But through the whole ordeal, I was able to experience grace, and learned a lot about myself.
I don’t think it is ever easy to be critiqued, no matter how constructive & gentle it maybe. It is tiring having to sit there and have my friends and peers point out my weaknesses, areas needing improvement, and but of course, some of my strengths as well. I also had to write a self evaluation, a deep and honest examination of myself. These evaluations weren’t easy. But I was honest and could sense that my friends and peers were genuine in critiquing me. With a few years of experience doing these evaluations, plus with some help from above, I was able to go through the evaluation process learning valuable things about myself. I took away from it challenges to improve upon, and confirmations of my gifts and talents.
I think it is very important that we take time out of our busy lives and evaluate ourselves. We all need a little reflection, or as other would say, a little soul searching. Soul searching is not simply looking for meanings in our lives. WikiAnswer defines soul searching as “the act of facing one's inmost self with courage, determined to bring every ulterior thought, emotion, and motive to light.” It is in this facing of our innermost selves that we discover who we are, and who God means for us to be. And I don’t think we have to do our soul searching by ourselves either. We have friends and dear ones who are honest and will help us face our inner selves. The only criterion is that we are honest. If we cannot be honest with ourselves, then how can we be honest with others?
I am glad my evaluation this year went well, and has helped me better understand myself and my calling to religious life. I feel ever more compelled to continue this path, to follow after Jesus, and to transform my life in ways that reflect God’s love for the world.
With that, I am now coming to the end of my novitiate year. In this past year in the Novitiate at Techny, many good memories have been made, smiles and laughter have been exchanged, and grace upon grace has been received. And I cannot thank God and all who support me enough for the guidance, support, and love that have made this year’s journey possible.
This moment in time has all the sad qualities of preparing for a departure. I feel like something good is coming to an end. And something new and unexpected is about to begin. It’s like high school graduation all over again: a small and minor event of our lives in retrospect, but a huge and important rite of passage at the time. I feel like I should be thanking people, saying goodbyes, and wishing each other bright futures. But at the same time, is this really the end of a journey? Or am I over dramatizing this experience. Is this just another diverging point of my journey on the “Jesus’ Trail?” Maybe so…
Posted: 6/23/2010 12:24:00 AM
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Recently a friend of mine lost her mother. Since I was not experienced at comforting people with their lost, I didn’t quite know what else to say to her but “I’m sorry for your lost…”. In my struggle to say something right, she began to tell me about her mother. She has this incredible ability to articulate how she struggled to accept the fact that her mother is gone! Talking to her, I found more inspiration from her, than I could do anything to inspire her.
With sincere opening up of herself, I felt safe and was pulled to open myself up to her, and talked to her about my own mother. How my mom has suffered from cancer, and has recently endured a rigorous six months of chemotherapy, and is now finally on her way to recovery. Even though she is recovering, we (our family and doctors) don’t know for sure how long she has to live. But we’re hopeful, faithful, and are trying to live everyday to our fullest, as not to waste a single moment left together.
Automatically, my friend, jumped in and like a mother, instructed me to value the people around me, and show special care to the ones I love most. She said – it doesn’t matter how much time our love ones have left, if we love them, we must show that we love them. She pushed harder, saying - write her often, call her often, send her pictures of yourself in your daily activities, and let her know how you felt about her while growing up. She emphasized that I must make the effort to show love and affection to the ones I love in such away, that when they’re gone, I will have no regret. So that I will not be telling myself, “I wish I had….”
Suddenly, I felt like I have two mothers. One at home hundreds of miles away, and one sitting right in front of me. And it strikes me how often God has brought strangers into my life, and made them like family members to me. I have one family and one family only! And people around me, no matter how close, are never a “replacement” for a mother, father, brother, or sister figure. And I don’t look for that. Yet, the friends I come in contact with, at various moments in times, become a new form of family for me.
I’m sure we all have someone like these in our lives. They’re friends who care so much about us, who open themselves up to us, and make us feel safe enough to open ourselves up to them. They respect us, for who we are, who we were, and who we will become. They respect our dreams and visions, our space and time, and they never want to make us less of who we are. It is with such love, that we sometimes automatically see a family member in them.
I am no psychologist, nor do I have theories to explain such phenomena of life. I can simply say that friends are a gift of God. They make us into better people, without taking anything away from us. Eventually, they will become like family to us. They respond to our lives similarly to how our family respond to us: instantaneously without reservation or selfishness; only full of love and sacrifice.
I am sure we can all think of people in our lives who have been there for us, in all our circumstances of life. Let us value the beautiful gifts friendship and family. And let us treasure the people in our lives by showing and telling them at all times, how much they mean to us. We have family, and we have friends. Neither can replace the other, but some friends will become for us a special gift from God, to challenge us, to guide us, and to accompany us on our life journey. And we give thanks always for their presence in our lives.
Posted: 3/22/2010 5:12:55 PM
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A lot has happened since my last post. I celebrated Christmas, New Year, did my Thirty Day retreat, celebrated Lunar New Year (many times over), and now am resettling back to my normal life at the Novitiate once again. But I wonder for how long until another exciting passage in my life will take place, and I’ll be knocked out of the normal rhythm of things. So much has happened, I don’t really know where to begin. Many would likely want to know about my Thirty Day retreat, but that would be too long of a story to tell, so I’ll save that for another day! Rather, I will tell you about how I spent the last few holidays and celebrations away from home!
This year is the second time in my life to spend Christmas away from my family. The first time, I spent Christmas and the whole New Year package in Japan. I don’t remember missing home too much, nor did I feel dreadful reminiscing all the past Christmas memories. Rather, I simply accepted the fact that I was thousands of miles away from my family, and that they were thinking of me, and that was enough. And I learned to enjoy Christmas and New Year in a whole new culture, with different customs and traditions.
However, the feelings I experienced this year around Christmas and New Year, were very different. Being in the novitiate, I am canonically obligated to stay for the whole year. Even though the experience of being away from home for the holidays should not be new to me anymore, I still felt emptiness and missed home quite a bit. Unlike Japan, I am about nine hours drive away from home, two hours by flight; both are relatively closer compared to Japan. So the idea of being so close, yet so far, was tough to digest for me.
But it passed by, not as painfully as I had thought! I realized that by not being with my family, I was opened up to many opportunities to celebrate with others. I didn’t see it was being ministerial at all, but it turned out so. I ended up sharing my Christmas and New Year celebrations with many groups of people: in my own novitiate community, in the larger SVD community at Techny, with the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters’ community, with Vietnamese families and friends, and as I traveled to Bay St. Louis, again with other small SVD communities. In all these celebrations, I shared myself, and received from others, and we joined together to celebrate Christ, and Christian fellowship with one another. All this would not have happened if I was home with my family.
I realized that God works in our lives in mysterious ways, ways which seems at first difficult and hard to comprehend. Yet if we open ourselves and allow ourselves to move with the flow of God, we can end up experiencing a whole new dimension to life which we may be accustomed to, yet it is so beautiful at the same time. I cannot fathom the warmth and generosity shown to me during the last few months as I joined others in their celebrations. I was a mere stranger in many of these celebrations, yet I always felt warmly welcomed and treated no less than family member! What a great gift God has bestowed on me, even when I didn’t ask for it, or realized it at the moment, and I grumbled at the experience.
But now that a few months have passed, and I look back on my experience, I can’t believe how wonderful it has all been. God has been loving and generous to me, especially in times where I felt homesick. God has reached out his hands through others, to warmly hug me, greeted me, and created a home for me wherever I go. I now further trust that God will continue to care for me in all my endeavors.
I hope you too, in whatever difficulties you’re in, especially in times when you feel you have no control over the situations, that you come to realize that God is always there for you. God is reaching out to you in many ways, through the touch of others, through the smiling faces of people walking by, through a simple yet sincere greeting! God is always there for you, as I have seen him being there for me. Just when you begin to think you’re all alone in this dark dark world, you should turn around, look closely at all the ways God is reaching out to you, and realize, you’re are NEVER alone!
- Nathaniel Nguyen-
Posted: 2/24/2010 1:10:54 PM
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