II Theology

Joseph Minh Phong Nguyen, St. Patrick, North Little Rock

Attends Saint Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad, Indiana

A vocation is a divine calling to God’s service. My call to serve God began when I was asked by my family and the priests about my intentions and desires to lead a consecrated life. My parents always taught me to be a man and have faith in God. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “The core of priestly ministry is a life fully immersed in God.”

I pursue this noble vocation because I want to be a priest who mediates between God and man and meets the spiritual needs of the people he places in my path.

When I was young, I wanted to be a priest because I wanted to stay in a big house and take a car instead of living in a small house and riding a motorbike. Then, in seventh grade, our parish offered a vocation class to help us recognize our purpose in life. What do we live for? What is our purpose? Who do we live for? How do we live our lives?

More and more, my desire and devotion to God grew, and I realized I was already consecrated to God. I realized what a true priestly vocation is. But after three years, I stopped going to the vocation class because of academic challenges. This academic pressure pulled me away from God, and I began to think I did not have the aptitude for religious life, as I once thought.

One day, during the end of my senior year of high school, as I was riding my motorcycle, I began to fall asleep and almost crashed into a huge traffic sign. At that moment, I felt as if a hand pulled me out and back to the road on that motorcycle that was now covered with plants.

I knew God was always by my side and was constantly protecting me. His love for me was unconditional, yet in return I loved him so little. I realized that even though I had abandoned God, he still loves me dearly. Quickly after this incident, I returned to the vocation class and was determined to fully dedicate myself to God.

Today, as our society grows, people start to lose faith in themselves, in others and in God. By observing my life and that of others, I have come to realize that true happiness is only found in God, and that nothing will ever give us everlasting joy and happiness like Jesus Christ. With faith, I began the path toward priesthood.

October 6, 2013 was the first time I went on a retreat with the Redemptorist Missionaries, whose aim was to imitate the word of God for the poor. My wish was to offer my whole life in service to God. After spending time with the brothers at the retreat, I was able to find balance and harmony in my life.

On Sept. 16, 2014, a day before my 19th birthday, I became a member of the Redemptorist Mission in Vietnam. I was jealous of my twin brother because he was able to spend our birthday with family, while I was away and by myself. Was it fair? I soon found my answer. I was not by myself. I had God by my side, and even though my family was far away, they always thought of me and supported me. I stayed with the Redemptorist Missionaries in Vietnam for three and a half years, while attending college.

My religious path changed in April 2017 when my family migrated to the United States. Despite this move, I was determined to still devote my life to God. Through Father Jack Vu and Father Tuyen Do, God brought me to the Diocese of Little Rock. I was able to meet Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, Msgr. Scott Friend and other priests, all men of great faith and compassion.

God brought me here to become a seminarian and follow the Lord's call to the priesthood. The life of a seminarian is one of giving and learning to become a priest. As Pope Benedict XVI also said, “Many qualities are required of future priests: human maturity, spiritual qualities, apostolic zeal, intellectual rigor ...”

Honestly, before I came here I thought, “How could a yellow-skin, black-haired man from a different culture, live with people here?” But when I stepped into the House of Formation, all those thoughts vanished. We do not consider the House of Formation an inn or a dormitory, but a “house,” a “family” of God, in which I must live in a spirit of love, study and hard work.

I could see myself becoming part of this diocese; start my consecrated life, and be with brothers and priests who are welcoming and full of love. After two years of living there, everybody in the House of Formation loved and supported me a lot in the vocation. The other seminarians helped me to fulfill the mission given and to grow in the love of God and everyone. I am Vietnamese and I found it very easy to adapt to life in the House of Formation. I felt comfortable in the House of Formation. I had a sense of joy and deep peace in my life.

Every person in this life has a purpose, and I do too. God created me, through my parents. He gave me a name. Phong means wind. I will be the wind that carries the love of God to everyone around me, and that is my purpose. I am always proud of that. Thanks to God, I will always try my hardest for a life as his servant. I am not very talented, but I will use everything God has given me as tools to contribute to life to bring joy and happiness to others, especially everyone in the Diocese of Little Rock.

This vocation is a gift from God and not merely a human decision. I understand that my job is to be happy with those who are happy; to cry with those who are crying, a mission that God wants his disciples to perform. Therefore, I must be ready to speak up for the truth, to the little ones and to serve others in a non-selfish way.

The success in my life is that people find true happiness in God, that is my work. I always understood that we were never alone because there was Jesus. My wish is for Jesus to become a force for my apostolic life and work, from which I can introduce Christ to all people. I need God in my life and happy to be his servant so that I am able to bring joy and happiness to others.

Looking back on my vocation journey, I see that God loves me very much, and he has used many ways to train and help me grow in my religious life. Thanks to the grace of God and the caring interest of everybody, I have become more and more convinced of my vocation.

Last year, I had difficulty moving from the House of Formation to study theology at Saint Meinrad Seminary; from a small community to a large one. Instead of letting these difficulties discourage me, I accepted them as opportunities for personal growth and a means to deepen my understanding of God's immeasurable love for me.

It showed me that challenges are not obstacles but stepping stones toward personal and spiritual growth. Every difficulty I overcome reminds me of God's constant presence and boundless love for me. With time, effort, an open heart, the help of those around me and especially the companionship of God, I adapted to my new environment. Now, in my second year, I look forward to continued intellectual and spiritual growth.