by Francis Miguel Panday
In a time of pandemic, locked down in their homes, being lawfully enforced to quarantine themselves from substantially everything, one might not easily buy someone’s vocation story. But as unoccupied as anybody else, I wrote this hoping I could start off with my life as I cross another year in the process, with a chance of inspiration.
My name is Francis, 26, and a seminarian. In between binging Netflix series and my attempts to be as productive as I should, this came out. Just me, being me: restless.
Retrospectives are, by nature, inherently selective. Not many knew how I ended up in the seminary, despite my seemingly transparent life on social media. So, on a very few but special occasions like this, I get to spill fragments of the story I am now slowly getting a grasp of.
After almost a year in formation, I must say, it has left me hanging; not to mention the sudden necessity to go home due to the lockdown before it was concluded, but more so because I did not think it could be this exciting.
Prior to my entry, I have been religiously discerning on which path God wants me to take: innumerable search-ins, counseling, retreats, formal and informal talks. Talking helps, but you have got to get a lot of them, with the right amount of will, courage, and curiosity.
Eventually I found myself thanking God to have had this grace – to be able to finally realize the call, and act on it accordingly. But the scenes before all of this are pretty much the bang in this big a theory, that is discernment.
I savored every minute of my pre-entry, because I knew, I would, eventually. I had a fairly paid job, I traveled the world, but I was also drowned with work, with studies, parties, friends, fun. Living the life, they would say, which I constantly denied.
But then, I felt that there was a developing restlessness in me. I felt the desire to desire more; and this more did not seem to be present in everything I was doing; I was looking for something else. Not sure if it was superficial of me to think about getting into that more, but all I could think of was it’s something bigger than the world I thought I had. Something of greater joy; something that actually lasts.
Essentially, this is how I see it: I was looking for a concrete response to my own restlessness as I discern, and sometimes, to be with God alone is more than enough. I started to desire order in my life, which I actually was not aware of; I desired for what I did know not.
In one of the retreats we had, this was all affirmed by our facilitator, Marida Paez. She repeatedly told us that we should pay attention to the desires that surface. In my case, to satisfy this restlessness, which I found in the seminary. It is equally important that we articulate our desires – which become our prayers – and to be true to ourselves, because our feelings are our capital, our raw materials for discernment. Only then will our vocation gradually unfold.
Ate Marida must have been so inspired that she was able to translate these into what I would later articulate in my “fragments”. Indeed, discernment is a journey to the true self, to your fullest. Because, to be honest, it was during our sessions with her that I was able to get a sense of certitude that I found the dot in my long-running sentence full of commas.
Even so, every day is a struggle to fit in. My age did not go well with some of my batch-mates, so were my decisions, my preferences, which contributed to my waning interest of continuing my formation there. However, as I went deeper into the process, the magnanimity of God speaks of what I have reached from my sleepless nights and sobering moments of prayer: to stay. Apparently, He is telling me: “My child, you have still many things to learn.”
It was His answer to all my pleas to grant me the wisdom and strength to decide whether I shall continue my formation here or in a different seminary. But He revealed to me that my eagerness to do more is nothing but mere vanity, that by staying, I will be “doing His work”, rather than “working for Him”, as Fr. Thomas Green, SJ would tell his readers. Then I realized, this is relatively a call to “come up higher”, for in humility, we please God, all the more.
I was called to free my own ideas away of what it meant to love Him; to personally discover that His ways are not my ways, nor His thoughts, mine. This is the moment when I began to learn the difference.
Now I’m more like floating, as in the water, capturing me for this sensitivity, for this dynamic receptivity. There must be something about Fr. Green’s insights that my fandom kept me writing. In a different book which he also authored, he said, a floater is not at all passive. Anyone who tries to float knows that he is active, responding to every movement of the wind and the tide, otherwise, he will sink.
Unlike a swimmer who relies solely on his own skills, the floater lets the water and the wind do the work for him, entrusting his body to the forces beyond himself; active, yet not in control. Perhaps, this is the language of my current state: the language of complete and total surrender, of floating.
As I continue to venture this path, little by little, I get to see a clearer reception of what this more could be: to always choose the more humble pick; the more loving option.
Nonetheless, this writing opportunity is a perfect example of the fragments I longed to gather, and share, someday. Whenever I think of something significant to my spirituality or to my formation, in general, I would write them down to a piece of paper, even if I had my planner and a separate diary for them. I don’t know if I am being obsessed with order that I don’t want them filled uncurated, or I am just being lazy. Still and all, I managed to pick them piece by piece.
After deciding what to write, I told myself the same thing Jesus did in that plain, “gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted,”(Cf. Jn 6:12). Just as anyone in that crowd, I wouldn’t want to waste a single piece, either. While our resources might seem lacking, Jesus can orchestrate our insufficiencies into powerful outcomes, because it was all His, to begin with. We are only called to surrender all that we have, even if they don’t seem enough.
 Thomas À Kempis. The Imitation of Christ. Translate by Robert Jeffrey (London, England, Penguin Classics, 2013), pp. 140
 Thomas Green, SJ. Darkness in the Marketplace: The Christian at Prayer in the World. (Makati Philippines, St. Pauls, 1981), pp. 39
 Thomas Green, SJ. When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings, Revised Edition. (Makati Philippines, St. Pauls, 2000), pp. 143-148
Francis is an incoming second year Philosophy seminarian from the Diocese of Antipolo.