What is a vocation?

Did you meet your loved one before you actually met them? A lot of times, we have passed by someone before we actually met them. I have heard couples, married for many years, recalling that they first met each other at work or at a gathering, realizing that they must have passed by each other before at other events, or at their elementary or high schools without knowing it. Vocation has similar contexts. Looking back, we could see that God’s calling or invitation for us has always been there, and was actually there when we were formed in our mother’s womb. Our youth asks, “What is a vocation?” and “How do we know?”

Vocation is God’s calling or invitation to a life that is peaceful, joyful and fulfilled. We come to know our own vocations through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but also through our listening and being open to that guidance. In the right setting of time and place, we will come to realize God’s calling. For couples, it might be their love at first sight or it could be when they truly see and know they love each other that, as one bride shared with me, they cannot imagine living without each other. Once we like a particular person, we make all efforts to know this person and to build a relationship with this person. For single people, it might be a service or ministry that drew their attention. They find meaning and purpose in what they do as they dedicate themselves to God through this service. For a priest or religious person, it might be a Sacrament of the Church or a charism of the Order that attracts them and eventually, he or she finds a deeper connection to what he or she is called to be for God’s people.

Looking back, I saw my vocation started with me going to daily Mass – being there early and staying late simply because I could avoid doing chores at home. However, God somehow nudged me then, as I knelt there one day promising to God that I would be a priest growing up. I saw how cool my parish priest was on the altar celebrating Mass. Shortly after that, my Dad passed away right before we left Vietnam, when I was 13. To honor him, I focused on my studies because he wanted his six children to have a better education, opportunity, and future. This all changed when I went to the World Youth Day in Toronto, in 2022, witnessing how St. Pope John Paul II was there for our young people and how our young Church was on fire and hopeful. Then, coming back with that fire, I went to a life changing confession with a Franciscan priest. After receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I felt a strong sense of peace and joy with burdens lifted from my heart and soul. This experience of God and of grace attracted me to the priesthood because I would like people to experience the same as I did.

I had made confessions before my encounter with Jesus in that life changing confession. But that particular confession, at that particular point in my life, opened my heart to God’s calling for me to the priesthood. His calling has always been there, many times before and probably back to when I was making my promise to grow up to be a priest, or even back to my first confession. I came to see my calling more clearly through that particular Sacrament and at that particular time in my life. From that time forward, I see the Sacraments and God in a more personal and profound way.

My vocation to priesthood has continued to be affirmed and nourished as I saw signs and support both from God and from others whom God continues to send into my life. My twelve years of ministry so far has brought me ever closer to a personal relationship with our real God, in the real Presence of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and in his presence in the other Sacraments. He continues to be there for His people as he promised, “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). I see this to be very true especially when we, as priests, have been blessed to be God’s presence to the dying countless of times – accompanying and comforting them and their loved ones. It is a grace for me – unmerited and underserved. Indeed, I have met God before actually meeting Him.

A reflection by Fr Andrew C. Nguyen, Director of Vocations for the Diocese of San Jose