I was around four years old when I fell in love with the liturgy of the Mass. As a small boy, I watched my Father assist in the procession at the beginning of Mass as the Cross- bearer. As Mass unfolded that day my heart was pulled into the actions of the rite, and I fell captive to the charm of the Mass. The romance of the liturgy has stayed with me since then, and the beauty of the Mass has increasingly saturated my heart. The seeds of my vocation were planted by loving the liturgy. Through the Holy Mass I began to love Mother Mary, sacred music, and Holy Mother Church. These sequences have eventually led me to deeper discernment.
To understand my present journey, however, I will start from the beginning. I was born in the United States in San Diego, but my family moved to Japan a month later. The quaint church where I fell in love with the Mass at the age of four was on a US Naval Base on the island of Okinawa. We traveled from the southern island of Okinawa to the mainland where we explored the beautiful treasures and cultures of Japan. Our time was filled with wonderment and awe at the beauty of the lush forests, the majesty of the snow-capped mountains, and the reverent humility of the people. Not only was my love for the liturgy kindled by the peace and silence of Japan, but my encounter with our Lady of Akita sparked a devotion for the Blessed Mother. Learning of her love for us, I only wanted to return that love with my whole self. I began to collect images and statues of her and I attempted to sketch drawings of Our Lady of Akita. Japan was thus a fertile environment to nourish my love for God and the Mass.
Eventually, after eleven years in Japan, my family moved back to America. We experienced the change from being enclosed on a Military Base to living in the suburbs. Living on the base meant following certain laws such as curfews and protocols, but the culture of life on the base was not that different than what we found in our new home in America. The difference was that our sense of security felt diminished because we were not within proximity to the military. Not to mention, most of the news about America we received in Japan was negative. Eventually, we adapted to our new home.
We soon discovered St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church and we instantly felt we were home. Our new parish family helped us feel secure again. By that time, I had been practicing the piano for about four years, so I joined the choir as an accompanist. Little did I know that this gift would both impact my faith and the faith of others. The growth of my faith was intertwined with my growth as a musician. I began to be more intentional with my prayers especially when we prayed the family rosary. Talking to God, though only in spurts, gradually entered my prayer life. I talked to God when I played the piano by offering each piece to Him. I felt that God was my audience.
Upon entering college, I offered all my secular performances to God. By Divine providence, however, God introduced me to the sacred polyphonic works of the Church. This propelled me to struggle between my love of secular and sacred music. When I first heard sacred choral music, I did not put much thought to its significance. Yet soon I started to wonder about the lingering feeling that it imprinted in my heart. What struck me was the transcendental character that filled the entire space of the music hall. The five second reverb of the hall created a resonance for the voices that seemed to have ripped the roof off to reveal the eternal ceiling of heaven. I later learned about the beauty of chant and polyphony in the context of the Mass and I knew I was on to something. I promptly joined the college choir the following school year. My love for sacred music swelled with fervor and I ached with a thirst to hear at least one of these gems sung in the Mass.
Unfortunately, there weren’t any parishes within my area that provided such treasures. Instead, I learned as much as I could to understand the pieces and to teach choirs whenever the opportunity presented itself. Listening to these canticles and chants further nurtured my spiritual life as well as my hunger for beauty. Even so, I could not have guessed that God was integrating this desire with the seed of my vocation.
That seed began to sprout on a cool Friday morning in the main hall of the Anaheim Convention Center during the Catholic Religious Education Congress. Everyone had finished their workshops and we were leaving for lunch. As I headed down to the lobby on the escalator I looked out and saw a sea of people walking past each other like ants in a colony. It truly was a magnificent site to behold. This was not any ordinary crowd – these were Catholics going about their ministry. What I saw was Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ. It was love at first site. All I wanted to do was to serve Her, but I did not know what the best way would be to do so. Then the thought of the priesthood came to my mind. Why not join the ranks of faithful soldiers that defended the Church and provided the sacraments? I was convinced, and, from then on, I desired to become a priest.
That moment at the Religious Education Congress had a double impact on me. Not only was it an influence for the priesthood, but it also gave to me a sense of Who the Church really is. I had an enclosed mentality of the Church because I only focused on my home parish. Before Congress, I never cared or thought much about the other surrounding parishes. Not only did I feel the breadth of the Church’s size, I also sensed Her maternity. Furthermore, having a community on-campus was a concrete manifestation of the Church where I helped my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to be saints. With them, I was able to grow in this journey.
Everything that I did, whether a menial task or a professional one like playing the piano, seemed to be directed to the edification of my soul, the souls of others, and the glorification of God. I began to desire – what I did not understand at the time – the salvation of souls. My heart was being led to a sacrificial love for my neighbor. The only direction that seemed to be able to fulfill my desire was the priesthood, so I decided to enter the seminary after I graduated from college.
After entering, I discovered three factors that were integral to my calling to the priesthood: my dad, the liturgy, and my love for the Church. Firstly, my father radiated a deep spirituality. The very environment and atmosphere of our home breathed of a love for God with a reverence and fear of the Lord. Furthermore, the way he held himself in all moments of the day imprinted a foundational identity for me that the natural trajectory for my life was serving others. Secondly, experiencing the Holy Mass as a child and discovering sacred music in the context of the Mass greatly impacted my relationship with God and my perspective of reality. I learned that our world is not just material but is permeated with a love so great that if one were to actually see this love that upholds all creation in existence he would die out of joy. Lastly, I learned that being a child of God meant having siblings in Christ; Iwasnottobealonebuttobewitha community of believers worshipping the same One and only God. The Church, as the Body of Christ, was a concrete manifestation of this. With these three points in mind, the only trajectory I saw was the priesthood.
But what was the deciding factor to enter the religious life? I desired to strive for an environment that just focused on living a holy life where the very air seemed to be saturated with this purpose. Furthermore, I deeply wanted to share in this same goal with brothers. The only conclusion, other than the diocesan priesthood, would be to enter the religious life. Yet, which of the Orders should I choose? Perhaps one big sign came to me when I traveled to Salzburg, Austria as a study-abroad trip for music. For the last thirty-three days, I decided to consecrate myself to the Immaculate Conception on December 8. I asked our Lady how Salzburg was supposed to be a part of my discernment, even though purportedly I came to study music. On that very day, She provided a Franciscan monk who gave me a tour of their monastery. But I was not interested in entering the Franciscans despite my desire for the religious life, as I was already planning to study to be a diocesan priest.
After two years, however, I left the seminary to discern religious life. A friend introduced me to the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception and, suddenly, I remembered that fateful day of my consecration. I was to discern with our Lady’s order. Since my consecration, Mother Mary has been preparing me for this life. Through my time in the diocesan seminary, I received an abundance of formation and friendships that have been especially edifying for my spiritual life, for which I am grateful to the Diocese of San Bernardino and their formation. Yet, God was planning from the beginning to have me transition into the religious life.
Living the life of a Canon Regular for a year confirmed me in my desire to become a religious, yet the congregation I was with lacked some seriousness about the life. Thus, a number of us decided to try to found a new Order of Canons Regular that would live a truer version of the Canonical Life. I believe this is the beginning of a great adventure. As St. Augustine says, “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.”