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On Priesthood Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, dozens of seminarians of the Archdiocese of Boston went out two-by-two to share vocation stories at parishes and campus ministries throughout the archdiocese. In collaboration with the Office for Vocations, The Pilot is reprinting the text of a number of their talks.
The following is the summation of a talk delivered by seminarian Christopher Woongjin Bae at both MIT and St. Clement's.
Because I am a seminarian, you might think that I must have been born into a devout Catholic family or that I must have been an altar boy since I was little. No! That is not true. Actually, it is quite opposite. I was a Protestant when I was living in South Korea for the first fifteen years of my life. After my family immigrated to the United States (California) fifteen years ago, I converted to Catholicism. Because I was not serious with my faith at that time, the conversion was easy. From the early years of my life, I had been taught that studying should be the most important thing in my life because it would get me into a prestigious school, find me a lucrative job, and make me happy ultimately. Even though I attained an engineering Master's degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was making lots of money working as a consultant in Boston, I was not too happy, especially whenever I compared myself with others who were making more money and successful.
One day on my way home from work, I was thinking about a master plan of my life: "I will probably get married within five years, and then I will have children. Once all my children go off to colleges, I will be around sixty years old. This means that I will have twenty more years to live, and then I will die. Am I going to die?!" Once I realized that I had to include death at the end of my life, I had the feeling of complete emptiness in this life. Even though I could spend all my life to become a billionaire, what would it mean if I cannot spend the money I will have earned by then and cannot take the money with me when I die? At that moment, I realized that living for money, fame, success or prestige would not ultimately satisfy me.
When I was struggling to find the meaning of life, I had a chance to go to a mission trip to Haiti in 2010 to help the poor and the sick. Before the trip, I never thought that people could be happy without money. I thought that the surplus of money was a precondition for happiness. Even though people at the orphanage and the nursing home did not have much and were abandoned by their families, I was amazed to find smiles on their faces. At that moment, I realized that the source of true happiness and joy was not rooted in material goods.
When I was taking care of orphans with physical disabilities on the mission trip, I was thinking to myself, "What is the point of their lives? From a materialistic perspective, they are worthless people; these children are not going to make money, and practically speaking they will die soon anyway from their illnesses. Why should I keep taking care of them?" Soon, this thought struck me:
Oh, I see! I could have been born in Haiti just like them. I could have been born with severe physical disability. I could have been abandoned from my parents. I happened to be born in Korea and I happened to be born with good health. I thought I deserved all the credit for myself, but I was wrong. Everything I have is a pure gift from God!
Then I sincerely wanted to share what I had with others. Since I freely received everything from God, I should freely return, at least, a part of them to others. I wanted to live a Christian life -- to love God and to love my neighbors.
After I came back to the States, I was looking for ways to help others. My first thought was to have a more lucrative career, so I could make large donations for the disadvantaged. However, there were many feasible options before me: I could be a lawyer, an engineer, a businessman, or a banker. In the midst of this uncertainty in my life, I needed a spiritual direction. So, I met with Father Dominic Jung, the pastor at the Korean Catholic Community in
Boston, to see if he could give me some insight. After hearing my conversion story in Haiti, he asked me a question, "Chris, have you thought of becoming a priest?" I replied, "No, Father Dominic. I always wanted to get married!"
However, Father Dominic planted a seed of priestly vocation in my heart because I was asking myself the same question over and over after that conversation: "What if God really calls me to the priesthood? How can I be so sure that I am not called? Out of all these men, why me? Why?!" Then, I felt distressed with all negative thoughts: "If I become a priest, I would not be able to get married. Nor would I be able to have children. In addition, I would have to give up my dream car, Lamborghini!"
As time went by, I realized that marriage would be as challenging as the priesthood; as a priest sacrifices his life for the Church, a married man sacrifices his for his wife and children. I did not think one is any easier than the other. I wanted to discern which vocation was God's plan for me. If I did not fully discern between these two choices and blindly decided to get married, I would always live with doubt that marriage is not my original vocation whenever my future marriage encounters difficulties. After going to a couple of retreats to discern and talking to several priests and religious sisters, I, through the grace of God, had the courage to say, "Lord, I will give it a try."
It has been almost four years since I entered the seminary. Even though I do not make money anymore and live in a much smaller space now, I learn about the Triune God, pray to Him, receive His love and share His love with others. I find myself filled with the love of God each day. Now, I believe that I have a vocation to priesthood because not only am I truly happy but also I found the meaning for my life. I think that God is trying to tell me this: "Chris, do not enjoy that happiness and joy by yourself. Share it with others and bring all those lost sheep to me." I want to share this Good News with others until my last day on earth. There are alternative "careers" I could have chosen. But, to me, nothing is comparable to saving a human person, both body and soul. God willing, if I get ordained to the priesthood in two years, I will be able to make Jesus Christ physically present in the Eucharist and to absolve sins. I know that I am sinful and weak, but when Jesus asks me, "come and follow me" (Mark 1:17), how can I not follow Him? Whenever I imagine the eyes of Jesus calling me to His priesthood, it brings me to tears. This is my vocation story, and this is how God has touched my life.