I tried watching something on TV. It did little to ease my anxiety, so I decided to walk out of the house. There was a meditation chapel next to the friary on the grounds of the Franciscan Renewal Center. I was starting to walk over there when I noticed a cozy, peaceful-looking ramada. The sky was softly lit up by the early light of dawn. Beautiful desert vegetation surrounded the ramada. The birds were chirping. The early fall air felt cool on my skin. I had always prayed better when i was out in nature. I made a turn and started walking toward the ramada.
I sat there in quiet for awhile, taking in all the beauty around me. Then I started saying my prayer. I could only mutter one sentence, over and over again: “I’m scared, Lord.” Plus the sobbing. For the last few days I had been so busy preparing for the ordination. I also had to introduce myself to the community, which meant lots of smiling and shaking hands. Little did I know that I had been suppressing all the nervousness, anxiety, and other unpleasant emotion. It was only then that I could open the flood gate and let all the raw emotion come out.
After I got dressed, I went out go get coffee. A friend of mine sent me a Starbucks gift card with a generous amount of credits. I decided to finally give Pumpkin Spice Latte, that great American fall tradition, a try. I splurged and ordered a grande. Then I sat there for awhile and did more reflection. I looked back at my past life, of all the things that had been helpful to my vocation, and some that had served more as a distraction. When I checked my watch, it was time to get back.
Around 9 AM, I walked into the church. The choir was practicing and the sacristans were preparing the space. A couple of guests who had come early greeted me. I still had a little anxiety and didn’t feel like greeting a lot of people. So I went into hiding in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. It also always felt cooler there than in the church. I knew I was going to sweat a lot. I naturally do anyway, but this time it was further exacerbated by my nervousness. I thought sitting there would calm and cool me down.
That sense of calm and cool didn’t last very long. I had to go back to the seemingly warm church. The bishop was already there, so my anxiety went up. Then it was time to line up for the entrance procession. In my nervousness I neglected to say hi to my brother friars who had come to support me and were lining up in front of me. I only remembered making a special request if one of them, who had been a good friend to me, could sit next to me during mass. Maybe he could catch me if I fainted.
Somebody gave us the sign to start the procession. I forced my legs to move. As I stepped into the worship space, the choir was still singing the prelude. It was Chris Muglia’s “You Are Welcome Here.”
Come all you wounded and weary
Come all you heavy of heart
Come with your fear and your burden
Come with your pain and your scars
You are welcome here, come as you are
You are welcome here with open arms
Bring your burdens, bring your pain
Bring your sorrow and shame
You are welcome here, come as you are.
I choked back my tears. I looked away from the assembly in an attempt to hide them. I cried because at that moment I really felt embraced lovingly by God. It was as if the words of that song were directed specifically to me. I was the one with the heavy heart. I was the one filled with fear, sorrow and shame. How could a man like me be a deacon of Christ? Yet God was saying to me, through the community in their song: “Come as you are!”
I wiped my tears and turned my head back toward the assembly. My heart, my steps felt lighter. I found it easier to crack a smile. The rest of the mass seemed like a breeze, despite problems with the AC and trying to keep my stole in place. As I laid prostrate during the Litany of Saints, I tried to imagine all the saints mentioned surrounding me, especially Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI who had just been canonized a week earlier. But somehow it also came to my mind all the migrants that had died on our southern border. I vividly remembered a photo of one of them, a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador named Josseline. I also remembered Richard Purcell, a friar who helped me a lot during formation and died not long after I finished novitiate. Again, I felt a little strengthened knowing that all these people, on earth and in heaven, were supporting me.
Some of my old friends from my years with the Indonesian Catholic young adult group in Los Angeles traveled the long distance to be with me. Their presence reminded me of what prompted me to walk this path into priesthood for the first time. It was the time I had spent with them, praying, singing, sharing our faith, feasting, serving, and laughing that inspired me to want to dedicate all my life to the Church. We can barely call ourselves young adults now. Some of them even have already had kids.
A couple of days later I finally had time to open all the congratulatory cards. One of them had a piece of paper attached. On it was something scribbled by one of my friends' kids. My friend told me that on that long road trip from California, his kid had been busy flipping through the pages of his Bible, trying to find something to write for me. My tears began to flow as I was reading it. It was the perfect prayer for what I experienced that morning of my ordination. Through a 7-year-old, I was reminded that God had been with me throughout that very special day, and all my journey that got me this far.
Office of Vocations
1500 34th Ave.
Oakland, CA 94601
Phone: (408) 903-3422