Why I am a Priest


I get asked a lot about the existence of God by young people.

How do you know that God is real and not a figment of our imagination or a projection of human desire for the transcendence?

I get it! Not everyone believes, and perhaps not everyone will believe in my reasoning behind why I believe and why I am a priest.

Nevertheless, I try to answer those who really want to know why I know God exists in similar words:

I know that He’s real from the bottom of my heart! I can try to maybe explain the reason to you metaphysically or theologically, but perhaps that won’t satisfy what your empirically-wired mind is really looking for. For me, I simply know God’s real, with a personal and intimate knowledge that He exists and that He loves me.

My heart knows it…and it brings me to tears when I reflect on how much He truly loves me in spite of my unworthiness. There are perhaps no sufficient words to describe this personal and intimate love. How can one expresses the simple love that’s given and received from the heart?!?

For some unexpressable reasons, my heart just knows it! That’s the reason why I’m a priest and that’s why I’ve freely chosen to offer my life to Him and the Church. With an imperfect answer, all I can stay that I’m a priest because I love Him!

I know what I often give as an answer is not “logically satisfactory” for all. Furthermore, it is hard for many people to understand because our world is not used to seeing people who are committed to someone or something that they want to give their lives to it all.

We might have a lot of passionate people who are very vocal and dedicated to certain causes. They want to change the world and many people do respect them for it. Nevertheless, it is so hard to explain a radical, personal, and intimate love to someone in this post-modern world because it has dumbed down and made love something trendy, physical, sexual, or sensually based. It cannot believe in true love because the television, internet, and media are telling people otherwise. They cannot grasp it because they have not seen it, so when we share, talk, or try to express it, they tend to be in disbelief.

However, true love is real and I can give you many personal examples of it. Those who have freely given up the possibility of having a family and consecrating themselves for the sake of the Kingdom of God can also attest to this same truth. It might not be logically appealing or attractive, but it is a real, truthful, passionate, personal, and intimate commitment to love that only the heart can fully understand. If God is not real, our hearts would not be able to fall in love and remain in love with Him! Yet, because He is real and His love is everlasting that we are willing to let go of everything to give our all to Him.

My answer might not satisfy the quantifiable and empirical mind that only limits itself within the sensual or calculative — often duped “scientific” — understanding. As a matter of fact, we have impoverished ourselves to the (limited) physical or sensual levels of information instead of trying to understand the complete metaphysical and holistic reality. We want things to make logical and empirical sense, yet many of the most sacred and most respected matters in this world are grounded on the basis of faith and goodwill, for the empirical or calculative senses cannot comprehend their full richnesses. Honestly speaking, I went to undergraduate and graduate schools for 11 years and have many degrees as paperweights, but they themselves never really made a personal difference in how I trust in God. While I can comprehend many things logically and metaphysically, scientific, empirical, philosophical, and theological information and writings had never changed my heart or been able to tell it why it needs to love God.

Perhaps Blessed John Henry Newman‘s motto is able to shed some light on what I am talking about: “Cor ad cor loquitur.” His motto comes from a phrase that propped up at the end of the first chapter of Book VI of Saint Francis’ Treatise on the Love of God, describing mystical theology and prayer. The short expression serves as a description of the personal relationship between God and man achieved through prayer. Only through a personal, intimate relationship that is grounded in prayer can our heart truly understand what it means to love as it receives love from Love Himself. Only in a loving, reflective, and prayerful relationship with the Lord can we understand what it means when heart speaks unto heart.

We can only understand what it means to love when we personally, intimately, and holistically fall in love with the Lord instead of simply seeking information to prove that He exists and is worthy of our love. Knowing everything about a person will not make us love the person! We might develop some feelings for them, but love does not happen until we open our hearts to get to know, endear, and love the person for who he or she is. The same thing applies to God, but on a deeper level, as He knows us more than we know ourselves and loves us more than we love ourselves. Here is our Christian paradox on love: Love Himself has formed and given us life out of love, and to truly know how to love is to be loved by Him.

Honestly speaking, if God is not real and if I am not in love with Him, there is no way in this world that I would have been a priest! As an Asian person, we were taught to focus on success and achievement to bring honor to our family and loved ones. We tend to be very focused on quantifiable achievements as success is expected and demanded from young people, especially since their parents have sacrificed a lot for them. I will admit to you that I used to have those thoughts in the past as I tried my best to seek and attain a successful future, hoping to repay and give a better life to my parents, after witnessing the hard work, mistreatments, and many sacrifices they endured so we can have a better future than they do. Nevertheless, God is a relentless Lover and He never let me go. I knew I just had to give Him a chance.

I left my family with many uncertainties to pursue His will for me. Yet, through all the ups and downs of life, the many trials and hardships, I could never shake Him off. I had cried many tears of anger, had many doubts, “Why did you allow that to happen?”, and endured many hurts and betrayals, but He was always there with me. I am a human being, and I have a lot of weaknesses and had hurt a lot of people, too, but I desire and try to become a better priest and lover of God because I truly love Him. Throughout my life, with all its blessings and challenges, I had given God many reasons to not love me, yet He never let me go. If I were the Almighty, I would have done it a long time ago, but this passionate and relentless Lover has always been there for me and with me…and that is why I am still with Him and am the person I am today. Am I worthy to be a priest? The answer is no! He called and made me a priest so I can share, through my life, this relentless, faithful, and everlasting love of God.

Do I have my doubts? Yes! Am I tempted to give up or walk away? Definitely, yes. Do I miss being with my family or having to grieve with the personal choice of not having a family? TOTALLY, YES. Yet, I cannot let Him go because I know how much He loves me. I can feel it in my soul, from the bottom of my heart, and in the depth of my being. I know that He is real because I love Him. I am who I am today because He loves me!

I hope that makes sense. I am sorry if I am rambling on. I hope you can discover, taste, and fall in love with Him, too. There are many priests and religious who can say the same thing — if not, express it in a better way, too — as I do. Even though we might not always have sufficient vocabulary or words to express our love for the Lord, our hearts understand and know why we are in love with Him who is so passionately in love with us. Those who have consecrated their lives for the sake of the Kingdom can attest to this reality, just as you are able to express through your own particular vocation as well. We know that God is real, especially when we desire and choose to passionately love Him at every moment. It is truly a journey worth taking, for only from the heart can love be understood! Hence, I would like to leave you with these words from Saint Augustine:

To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances; to seek Him the greatest adventure; to find Him, the greatest human achievement.

About Fr. Khoi

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viet nam | united states of america | kansas | texas | congregation of the most holy redeemer | diocese of fort worth | archdiocese for the military services | united states air and space forces | english – español – tiếng việt | may 22, 2012 – june 29, 2013 | holy trinity seminary | st. mary’s seminary | ba – gcsf – ma – mdiv – stb | university of dallas – creighton university – university of st. thomas – st. mary’s seminary and university