This past week, Bishop Muench ordained three men to priesthood. They were beginning seminary while I was in my last year of seminary. All three of them began their journey to priesthood from varied backgrounds. Fr. Peter Dang’s vocation story particularly touched me. Father Dang said he first felt the call to priesthood as a young child when he would see the priest in Vietnam give his food to hungry children. “That image touched me and it has followed me. I decided I wanted to do that.” He said in our Diocesan newspaper, “I was born a poor person in a poor country, so it is easy for me to adapt to any situation. I can do without,” he said. ” I just thank God for all that I have.”
Reading about Fr. Dang’s story, I think about the disciples in our Gospel today. We hear that the disciples had doubts--perhaps doubts about their own abilities, doubts about the future, and doubts about what they do not have. Yet, Jesus commissioned the disciples by saying, “"All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The disciples were sent even though they had doubts. Jesus knew that the Father created each of us and has given to each all that we need to live in love. Jesus was obedient to His Father and was born to Blessed Mother so that we can share in His divinity.
Very often, though, we distance ourselves from Jesus. We say, "What Jesus knew we cannot know, and what Jesus did we cannot do." We also look to this world for happiness and look to the things that will pass from this world for pleasure. We turn from the Father. But Jesus never puts any distance between himself and us. He says: "I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father" (John 15:15) and "In all truth I tell you, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, and will perform even greater works" (John 14:12).
Fr. Peter Dang said he did not know what gifts he could offer to people when he became a priest. But he said, “I can smile and get along with people. It comes easy for me.” In the seminary, a priest told him to keep smiling. “I hadn’t recognized that as a gift until then,” he said. In seminary, he was diagnosed with lymphoma and had to delay a year of formation for cancer treatment. Despite that he said, “A lot of things have happened to me, but God still loves me, and he wants me to be a priest.” He said he would be happy wherever he serves God. He described himself as shy and reserved. “I was nervous in front of people before, but when I was ordained (a deacon) I felt a power – that God was with me. It was totally different. The Holy Spirit worked in me.” “I didn’t always have to worry about talking. Sometimes just being present to people is enough. You connect with them through Christ.” Then he said, “Every night when I pray, I ask God for love. The more I love God, the more good I can do. Through God’s love I can love and serve his people,” Father Dang said, adding if one trusts in God, he will protect his people.
Like the disciples in the Gospel, we may have doubts about whether we have the ability or the resources to serve God. Like Fr. Dang, we must remember that the Holy Spirit dwells within us to guide and direct us to true happiness and eternal life with the Father. Jesus promised us that whoever believes in Him will perform the same works as He does. Do we really want that, or do we prefer to keep Jesus at arm’s length?