"Getting to Heaven"
Vocation? This word meant different things to me throughout my life.
I grew up on a farm in a small village in Southern Vietnam. As a farm girl, I dressed simply and not colorfully like the city girls. Every day I wore a pair of black or dark blue pants, a green or white blouse, and a simple pair of sandals.
After I received the Sacrament of First Communion, I went to Mass almost every day. Because of my simple attire, my friends, including the priest, kept teasing me and calling me “Sơ Thúy” (Sister Thúy) every time they met me. I only gave them a smile in return since I knew they were kidding and thought nothing of it.
When I was 12 years old, I met Fr. Joseph Phúc (a seminarian at the time). He was doing his pastoral year at my parish, one of the last major steps before ordination. He was telling one of my friends, “You should join religious life so you will get to heaven.” In that moment, the words “religious life” and “heaven” struck me. I told myself, “I’m going to become a sister.” Vocation, then, meant a ticket to get into heaven.
Time passed quickly. In 2006, my family moved to the United States and we left behind so many wonderful memories. In 2009, I talked to my uncle, Fr. Joseph Vinh, about becoming a religious sister. He sent me a black-and-white picture of one of his friends who belongs to the Congregation of Mary, Queen (Dòng Trinh Vương). In August 2009, I attended Marian Days in Carthage, MO; it was my first time at this popular pilgrimage. I walked to the vocations booth area and visited many sisters. I skipped all the groups with black habits because in Vietnam, there were many sisters in black habits. It was not unique to me – I wanted to be different.
So, I stopped at the vocation booth of the sisters wearing dark blue habits. Sadly, their formation was based in Vietnam. These kind sisters brought me to the Congregation of Mary, Queen. (Their habits are gray!) While I was talking with one of the sisters, I suddenly realized this was the very same congregation that my uncle, Fr. Joseph Vinh, had originally introduced me to. From that moment on, I wanted to join the sisters right away even though I did not know them well. Vocation to me meant answering God’s call to pray for others and give myself in service.
The vocation director asked me to wait for a few more years because I had only been in the U.S. for three years. The sisters wanted to make sure I understood the culture and the sacrifice I was making before making such a big decision. I patiently stayed in contact with the sisters for the next three years. It was a challenge! Worries about my family's future kept filling my mind since I am the oldest child. I asked God to take away my fear and for me to trust in His providence. In August of 2012, after Marian Days, I entered the convent. I was nervous. I was also excited and full of curiosity, wondering what will happen to me the next few years.
Then the time came, before I took my First Vows in 2016, I had a 5-day retreat where I reflected about my vocation. Although I was embarrassed by the teasing when I was a little girl, I see now how it positively affected me: thanks to those who “teased” me, they became the seeds of my vocation. They also became the ones that supported me to find my vocation!
My first thought about the treasures of heaven led to the thought of religious life. Eventually, it wasn’t just heaven that attracted me to religious life. It was the joy and the simplicity of the sisters that I talked to that spurred my decision to enter. Today, when I reflect upon my vocation, I hear these words: See, I have engraved you into the palm of my hand (Is 49:16). I feel God has engraved me on the palm of his hands. And I want to belong there.
One advice I want to share with those who read this: be attentive to those around you. God may be using them as an instrument of His Will. And all that waiting and praying may be exhausting. For me, those three years of waiting were long. But when God calls, He never stops, until we answer that call.
Many prayers for you on your own journey. Please remember to pray for me too!