My vocation was first ignited by my mother, a very devoted Catholic. She taught me my first prayers and told me about the wondrous stories of Eucharistic miracles. Little did I know that the little sparks of my mom’s devotion would start a raging fire of love for God in my heart.
At only nine years old, I joined the altar service and the thought of becoming a priest was always on my mind. That is, until I reached middle school, where the vanities and temptations of the world drowned out God’s voice. The thoughts of the priesthood quickly faded away even more when I stepped into high school.
The burning zeal in my heart had cooled off and I simply wanted to start a career in the medical field. From the time I began high school, I told myself that I would do whatever it takes to become rich, famous, and have the most beautiful wife, all within the next twelve years. So began the arduous journey of taking multiple AP courses as well as volunteering for hours a week at a hospital to gain experience.
I was indeed blessed to attend La Salle Catholic College Preparatory, which is one of the best private high schools in Oregon. My education gave me the opportunity to pursue whatever career I wanted for myself. However, little did I know that God had something else planned for me.
During my junior year of high school, my altar service group was invited to attend a Come and See event held by the Vietnamese Redemptorist, so I told myself, “Sure why not, it’s an opportunity to explore Texas as well.” However, when I came to the Come and See in Texas, I felt this force that touched my heart during adoration, and it was a feeling that I cannot even describe up to this day.
I felt a great peace within my heart, and I told myself that I would give up everything to obtain that peace. So right after high school, I joined the Extra Patrium Vietnamese Redemptorists in Dallas, Texas. While with Extra Patrium Vietnamese Redemptorists, I tried my hardest to adapt to the Vietnamese culture even though I was raised in a very American fashion.
After living a few months with the Vietnamese Redemptorist, things just became a nightmare for me because it was as if I had to learn everything from scratch. I started to doubt my vocation. So after much prayer and conversations with various priests, I decided to leave the Vietnamese Redemptorist at the end of that year. I remember telling myself, “what if I am being called to married life?”
When I left the Vietnamese Redemptorist, I would say that this was the lowest moment in my life because I was lost, confused, and many people whom I thought were close to me left my life because I was now viewed as a failure. Nevertheless, God was there for me to comfort me because “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
During that summer I prayed that God’s will be done. I had contacted the American Redemptorists and applied there since I still had the desire to join the Redemptorists to serve God and minister to the poor. If God willed it, then I would be accepted. But if not, then I prayed for his guidance because I did not know what I should do with my life.
When I returned home, I immediately got a job and was willing to have a little taste of the secular world. During the application process to the American Redemptorist, I decided to live the typical dorm life of any college student. I wanted to become independent and have the full experience, so I flew from Oregon to the University of Dallas and stayed there to continue my studies with no family around.
Amid all the crazy things going on in my life at the time, I could feel God watching all my actions as if peeking over my shoulder. And in some mysterious way, God preserved me, or else my life and future would have taken a very different turn.
Therefore, I continued my application with the American Redemptorist, and I was accepted into their formation program. However, before I put my foot into the formation house, I told myself that I no longer want to pursue wealth, fame, or fall in love with anyone, except God. Like St. Augustine, my experiences have helped me come to know that “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
John Nguyen, is from Portland, Oregon. He is a Redemptorist seminarian in his 3rd year of philosophy, at St. John’s University in New York. He is currently serving his summer ministry, with the Redemptorist Community, here at St. Alphonsus “Rock” Church, in St. Louis.