The philosopher Heraclitus once said: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” Change is inevitable in life. But no matter how true that is, there are many times that change will jolt us. There are many times that change will be difficult to accept.
Leaving the Ministry
I was a member of a religious congregation whose mission was dedicated to the education and evangelization of young people, for twenty-five years. And fifteen of those twenty-five years were spent as an ordained priest. I loved my life as a priest. I was active organising and leading activities for young people. I was involved in the teaching ministry both in the formal school setting and also in technical-vocational centers. I was organising different urban poor communities in the parish that I was assigned to. I was given the chance to work in a centre that took care of street children. I was happy with the priesthood.
Five years ago, however, something happened in my life that led to a personal crisis. After two more years, I decided to leave the priestly ministry. When I decided to leave the ministry, I was plunged into a period of depression. For several months, I had trouble sleeping. I was not even eating properly. My siblings became worried about my physical and emotional state. One of my sisters even tried asking my former confreres to come and talk to me.
Every day, I woke up and saw myself as someone who failed God terribly. The once-confident me was overtaken by a person who lost self-confidence. I shied away from people. As much as possible, I avoided communicating with the friends I gained during my priestly ministry. I was fearful of meeting them, because I did not want to answer their questions regarding the reasons why I left the ministry.
The Blessing of Family
It was during these first months of life after the priesthood that I also began to appreciate the care and the concern of my family. They kept on urging me just to move ahead with life. One of my nieces from the United States even sent an e-mail to me with the assurance that she, together with my other nieces, still loved me as their uncle.
My family not only supported me emotionally, they also did their best to support me financially. Being a former member of a religious congregation, I was not allowed to keep money for myself. I had to entrust everything I had to the religious community . That was why, when I left the ministry, I had to rely once again in the kind-heartedness of my siblings to support me .
I have to admit that the very first blessing that I have to be thankful for when I decided to leave the priesthood was the support and the love that my family gave me. It has been said that the seeds of a vocation in the heart of a young person takes root in the family. My experience has also taught me that, for those who decide to take a different route after many years of living that vocation, the support of the family is indispensable. Every day, I truly thank God for giving me such a wonderful blessing in my life.
I realised that I could not forever just rely on the goodness and the support of my siblings. I knew that, if I had to move on, I had to keep myself busy again. I needed to find a job that would make me productive once more. Thus, from a period of depression, I slowly began to move out of my shell and face the world once again.
At first, I really had difficulties in looking for work. Since my strength lay in the fields of education and youth work, I kept on submitting resumes to almost all non-government organizations and foundations whose lines of work were also in those fields. Sad to say, no one noticed my applications. Again, I began to see myself as a failure. I even thought that all the years of study that I took for the priesthood were useless.
But an opportunity presented itself in 2013, when the Philippines was hit by the strongest typhoon in recorded history. The southern part of our country was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. And in the aftermath of the typhoon, groups began pouring into the affected areas in order to start the hard work of rehabilitation and rebuilding.
I submitted an application to one of these groups, and was lucky enough to be accepted. I was excited when I learned that, after months of searching, I was about to begin working. But sad to say, several days before I was scheduled to fly out of Manila and go to my assigned province of work, my religious superior called me up. He told me that I still had to undergo the juridical processes that goes with dispensation. And since I have not yet completed that, he said that I was not yet allowed to work.
The Blessing of Work
That piece of news shattered me once again. Hence, I had to call the group that hired me and told them that I was pulling out my application. When I told my spiritual director about it, he told me that it was just right that I move forward with my decision to start working. He reminded me that it was an exercise in futility to keep dwelling on my past. Now was the time to take a bold step and just allow God to lead me to a new adventure.
I took his advice to heart. As luck would have it, the management of a new chain of affordable high schools were looking for qualified people to head their schools designed for the lower income-bracket students of society. I applied for the job and was accepted. I am now moving on with life as a school head in one of those schools.
It is funny when I realize that although I have left the priestly ministry, God led me back to the reason why I entered the priesthood in the first place. As I told you, I was a member of a religious congregation whose main mission was the education and evangelisation of young people. Today, I am still doing that mission, albeit in a different manner. But still, the vocation remains — to educate and evangelise young people. This is the second blessing that I have come to realize in the change that has happened in my life. God has a strange way of doing things. He has led me out of the ministry only to find a way for me to live out my passion in life.
The Blessing of Companionship
A few months ago, one of my companions who had also left the priesthood called me up and invited me to have dinner. During dinner, we talked about where our individual journeys has taken us so far. Right after that dinner, we decided to call our other companions in the seminary who have also left the ministry. My companion and I invited them to a simple monthly fraternal dinner and sharing.
One of the difficult things during the first years of leaving the ministry is the feeling of being alone. The years of growing up in the religious community made it almost instinctual for me to always lean on the members of my community for some kind of support in my daily struggles. However, once I left the ministry, I felt that the support was suddenly taken away.
With the small group that I have started with my other former ordained companions , I have began to take consolation that I am not alone in this journey of change. Like me, they are also undergoing many adjustments and challenges in their new life. Like me, they are also learning to embrace the change happening to them. Like me, I know that they too are thanking God for the support that we are giving each other in this new vocation that God has called us to.
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Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” Change will always happen. Some changes will be hard to accept. Beyond the changes that are happening to my life right now, I have become truly thankful that the love and the blessing of God still remain. To paraphrase St. Paul, I may have been unfaithful before, but God has remained faithful (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13). He has remained faithful through the support of my family. He has remained faithful by showing to me how to live my vocation of serving young people in a different way. He has remained faithful by giving me brothers along the journey.
Change is inevitable in life. But I say, once it comes, embrace it. For beyond these changes, the blessings of God remain.