this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on December 27, 2001.

Just seven months ago, I was walking down the street when I happened to see an announcement saying: “Are you a man of great desires? Join the Jesuit Vocation Seminar.”

The question of whether or not I was meant to become a priest had been occupying my mind for months. My soul was in turmoil as I often felt that my life had no meaning and direction unless I knew clearly the kind of life I was meant to live. But I finally opened myself to the possibility of entering the priestly life during the Holy Week retreat-seminar at the Jesuit Novitiate in Novaliches, Quezon City earlier this year.

It was there that I met the novices. Oftentimes I would find myself gazing at them in amazement because of how they seemed to give life so much meaning and embrace it with enthusiasm, joy and passion. They were young men from different family backgrounds and different areas of the country. Some came from rich and prominent families. Most of them studied in the finest schools and some had graduated with distinction and honors.

What fascinated me most was that despite their brilliance and amid all the advances in technology, the pleasures of life and the attraction of material wealth, they chose to live a life of simplicity and celibacy. They chose to dedicate their lives to following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ: helping the needy, being with the poor, spending many hours in prayer, and guiding people toward God. They gave themselves to others without any thought of recompense. And from the way they looked, they were very contented and happy.

How I admired the kind of life the Jesuits were living. Simple as they seemed, they were certainly men of great desires. And I wanted that kind of life. I wanted to be a Jesuit.

In my continuous search for meaning and confirmation of my vocation, I went through a simple process of discernment. During our vocation seminar, one of the handouts given to us discussed discernment. It suggested a process of recalling past experiences especially during one’s childhood and formative years.

I spent many moments of solitude, asking for the grace of God. I recalled those times when I was growing up: my happiest moments, my likes and dislikes, my frustrations and triumphs, my sorrows and joys. I tried to examine at great length what it was that I really desired most. Did I really want to become a priest? Was God calling me to the religious life? Was I really what that advertisement said, “a man of great desires”?

Back in high school, I was picked by my classmates as the person most likely to become a priest because of my so-called “saintly” ways. I was silent, sensible, calm and had an aura of holiness, they said.

In college I soon became a student leader active in a religious organization on campus. A lot of my extracurricular activities revolved around this religious group of young men and women dedicated to helping with the liturgical services in our university chapel. The chapel became my second home. On important feast days, I often found myself acting as the head server and overall coordinator. Many times I felt I was good at it.

The years passed and I found myself still doing basically the same things. As a professional, I spend more time giving retreats and recollections to students. Occasionally, I write letters of inspiration, facilitate prayer meetings with close friends and organize formation seminars for students.

This pattern of my life made me think that I was meant to become a priest, and that I would make a good priest. But at the time when things seemed so clear to me, I realized God had other plans for me.

Having gone through the whole discernment process, I discovered two wonderful truths:

First, I love serving God as a lay person. Many times I touch someone’s life because of the very human and typical lay-life experiences I share and how I find God in those seemingly monotonous events in my life. Surprisingly, they can relate with me well. Many times I meet a lot of interesting persons and my life has grown tremendously because of them. Hearing from people whose lives I touched even just a little has always given me great joy and fulfillment. I have come to realize that I am happy serving God as a lay person, and I could not ask for more.

Second, in the recesses of my heart I still feel the void left after the loss of my father and the warmth only a father could give. As a child I was wounded. My parents separated and I grew up without my father. Since then I have not seen him.

I believe that people’s search for meaning is based on the desire to gratify childhood needs. Such needs may include the desire to help others and not letting them experience the bad things that happened to you. This is the reason I want to become a loving and doting father to my children someday. With a heart that longs for a female companion and an intact, happy family, I think that my deepest desire is to be married and to have children.

I feel very much at peace with these two discoveries, these truths in me.

I still see that old recruitment advertisement down the street and around the corner. It still poses the same question. But this time I have a clearer answer. I may have decided not to become a priest, but my life has been based on the continuous desire to serve God and others, to touch people’s lives, and hopefully become a good dad.

Am I a man of great desires? Certainly, I still am.

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