I have spent most of my adult life serving and helping others. This desire started when I was a kid when I realized that 23,000 Americans died to keep South Korea free from communism. Born in Korea, I was adopted by an American family from Arizona when I was 2 years old. When I turned 18, I joined the Army and served for the next 34 years (11 reserve and 23 active), retiring last year.
My vocation journey began 10 years ago when I discovered the healing power of the sacraments in my life. When the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was killed, instead of rejoicing, I was in a confessional booth weeping to a priest over how much I hated that man, and how I didn’t know if I could ever stop. The words of absolution soothed my heart for the moment, but I still harbored hate in my heart. I followed the advice of the priest and asked God to give me the grace to forgive my enemies when I attended daily Mass. During this time, I also realized just how much anger I had in my heart from the many perceived wrongs against me that I had accumulated over the years.
A year later when I was at the Pentagon, the Boston Marathon bombing occurred. One of the perpetrators was killed and a debate erupted in the office about whether he should be buried in a local cemetery. A co-worker asked for my opinion. I responded without hesitation that he should and that we needed to pray for his soul. I realized then that the sacrament of penance had been doing its work.
When I went to confession and Mass in the following months, I asked God to give me the grace to forgive. And he did! The anger and the hate that I had built up in my heart drained away. This did not happen overnight. The true power of the sacraments is rarely experienced instantaneously. But the sacrament of reconciliation slowly converted my heart.
I also noticed that the Mass had a similar effect on me. It helped me prioritize what was important in life. I have always had a love affair with the Mass. I fell in love with the Mass the first time I experienced it in high school. In fact, I later became a Catholic precisely because of the Mass. My love for the Eucharist only deepened as time went on. I began to understand that the Mass that I witness today is the same Mass that the apostle John witnessed in the Book of Revelation.
As I began to understand covenant theology, I realized that the Mass Christ instituted at the Last Supper was God’s final covenant with us. He will always be present in the Eucharist when the priest consecrates the host. I came to understand that this is God’s sign of his faithfulness to us. As a former Baptist, I used to witness “altar calls” every Sunday night. By comparison, I started to realize that Mass was the ultimate “altar call”! God is ever present at Mass, and I must decide if I will follow him by receiving the Eucharist. No matter what happens during the week, God is there, and he will always take me back.
Once I realized that the priest (“in persona Christi”) could heal people through the sacraments, I realized that I was working for the wrong team. Don’t get me wrong – I loved being a civil affairs officer in the Army: helping refugees in Bosnia, getting the last Jews out of Iraq and supporting the rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan. However, I could not truly help my soldiers. I could not heal the emotional wounds that they suffered in these war zones. I watched the government spend millions of dollars on programs to help suffering soldiers and veterans, which rarely ever worked, but I watched priests heal them through the sacraments. Witnessing this, I prayed to God, contemplating whether he wanted me to be one of his priests.
I asked God for signs, but I also did my part by developing a prayer life, finding a spiritual adviser, contacting church officials and continuing to be involved in parish life. The first sign that I was on track was when I was on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. When I washed in the famous water in Lourdes, I had a sense that God was telling me not to worry about marriage or the priesthood. He would make me happy, and I could trust in him.
I thought of other potential issues that might arise to block my path toward priesthood. First, I am a late, late vocation! I was 52 years old when the archdiocese accepted me. Next, I had to consider whether I should be in a religious order, or should I become a diocesan priest. Having just finished my parish assignment at Church of the Nativity, and loving it, I felt my calling to be a diocesan priest being confirmed.
I was once asked why I want to be a priest in San Francisco. Well …. I still have some “Army fight” left in me, I responded. “This is where the battle is. I want to help heal and save souls in the Bay Area!”