Truth be told — I did not enter the seminary on account of some personage appearing in my dream telling me I was called to be a shepherd of God’s flock, or anything to that effect. I entered the seminary in the hope of redeeming the approval of my parents, relatives, neighbors and, basically, anybody who had looked at me with those sad disappointed eyes.
Well, back in the day, I was so hot an achiever that the minutest of blunders I would commit, ranging from trying to sneak out a cigarette to stealing some buko from a neighbor’s farm, could overshadow Nixon’s Watergate — at least, in that little village that I came from. I had been at the top of the class since grade school to high school, and it seemed like everybody was hoping that I would be the next, I don’t know, Britney Spears — for God’s sake, I am not even gay. And, yes, I blew it. In college, I got a full scholarship in one of the reputable universities in Cebu taking up — you guessed it — Electrical Engineering. Wait, I couldn’t even perfect a single wire splice and there I was trying to draft complicated lighting and wiring plans for buildings. Now, let us talk about fire hazards, shall we? The choice wasn’t really mine. It was required that all scholars were blocked in one section because apparently we were on our road to being top-notchers — and, yes, “we did it again”. And, you know how it is: beggars can’t be choosers — or, at least, we couldn’t be back then. So, I dropped out to the disappointment of my parents.
Well, that was how my vocation to the priesthood started. It wasn’t that awe-inspiring really, I’m sorry to disappoint — no drama, no fanfare, no metaphysical apparition whatsoever. But, from the first moment the metal gates of the seminary closed behind me, locking me from the noisy, dusty road of Juan Luna Avenue in Mabolo, somehow, I felt like I was born for this — or, so I thought.
Somehow, I survived the first few months perfunctorily hopping from one schedule to another and living life to the tolling of the bell. I did not hate it. I simply did not like it.
There were forty-five of us sharing that same house, same food and same life. We could already tell who among us were there for the long haul. We could also tell those who were there just to see how it would go. Academically, I did great. Spiritually, however, I struggled. Meditation was particularly disastrous. I tried guided, unguided, focused attention, open monitoring, effortless presence — you name it. I tried it all but nothing worked. Well, “pretending to meditate” worked for a while but even that got too difficult to sustain in the long run. I did master sleeping while sitting up, however. The key was to stifle the snore lest Father Rector’s wrath would come down at me like a woman scorn. Well, the only consolation I had was knowing I was not alone in my predicament. Stealing a peek from half-opened eyes, I could see at least one seminarian or two trying so hard to fight the pull of sleep by bobbing their heads up and down gently as if agreeing to whoever was appearing in their dreams.
In the brief three years I had in the seminary, I learned a great deal about myself, about the people around and about life in general. Those years were far from perfect, for heaven’s sake. But, I would like to accord the seminary the credit that is due for molding the person that I am now. Though, I did not push through with my priestly vocation, these years in the seminary pushed me to a path where I could be the best version of myself. Well, it was not apparent at that time — I admit. When I was told that I would need to spend a year outside of the seminary walls to expose me to the hard-knock life of a laity, I was devastated. I was hurt. I was angry. I did not go back since. Looking back, however, I say that it was the best thing that have ever happened to me. It surely did not look like it was at that time, but that is how things work. You can only connect the dots looking backward.
Out of the forty-five aspirants that started, there are at least eight who remain true to the vocation; the rest of us choose a different path. Well, there is no vocation higher than the other; there are only different means to achieving a full life. Choosing which to follow is our prerogative and responsibility.
There are those who, halfway through the seminary formation, decided to put things on hold, spent some years outside the seminary, tried living the “life”, partied hard, lived paycheck to paycheck, skipped meals and fell in love (not necessarily in that order). There are those who came back after several years outside, realizing priesthood is the only way for them. There are also those who raised a family, lived a life of sleepless nights, diapers and formula milk and PTA meetings hoping someday a son will soon take up the cross he gave up and finish what he started.
It was more than eight years ago yet the clanging of the bells, the burning scent of incense, the laughter and tears seemed so fresh. Yes, I know they were nothing but distant memories neatly folded between the years that passed by but, boy, how I reminisce those days with joy and gratitude. The seminary forged a special bond among post-pubescent men whose hot heads and lofty ideals spelled disaster from the very first day we met. And, I am glad to still see how much of the same people we are in every rare chance we get to reunite. You know how it is, we are never complete without Idol talking smack against whoever or whatever that earned his ire at the moment (may it be the government, the church or that effin’ educational system) while Chix looks on with the perfect blend of “half-asleep and half-bored” smug look on his face. Tingsi is so busy making sure everybody or everything is attended to (beer, food and some comic relief) like the good old Finance Minister that he was, hoping we forget how his balls showed their wrinkly selves at one time. Caloy is browsing through the glossy pages of the song book looking for that one perfect song to celebrate the night. Paul is trying to get over the fact that the wedding started while we’re at least five minutes away from church because Fr. Nilo still believes that three o’clock is three o’clock — as it always has been. Diet is nursing a glass of beer at the corner watching how we’ve grown for the past years — or, have we? Liebert nonchalantly gulps down beer like it is nothing but one cold glass of water on a very hot day while Asing sits on a high chair like the diva that he has always been. Tolits belts out Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline giving away his age in the ordeal. Adel drops it with his who-cares-about-being-old silly antics. And of course, as it has always been, PAF completes the night with his resounding laugh reverberating about, waking up even those resting down the bowels of the earth.
Yes, we grow older, meet new people and new communities but being surrounded by those we shared the same delusion, er, that one dream of becoming priests in the order of Melchizedek with at one point in our dreary lives is always distinct, always different, always worth a thought or two. Whenever we gather and walk down memory lane, growing up is always optional.