By Fr. Hau Vu
When I was younger, I always found Genesis 19 kind of confusing and funny. Genesis 19 tells the story of how God destroyed the city of Sodom and Gomorrah because they had denied hospitality to God.
However, before He destroyed the city, He saved Lot and his wife and led them to Zoar. The plan was going well until Lot’s wife looked back, as the city was being destroyed, and she became a pillar of salt. Why did she turn into a pillar of salt? I always thought that was a funny image because, more often than not, as I’m thinking of this passage, there in front of me is the table salt. Giggles… And I never understood why she became salt in the first place. All she did was turn her head back, right? Well, so I thought.
Recently, I was journeying with a young man and helping him discern the priesthood. He was really excited to start discerning with me and had all the intent of joining the seminary this upcoming fall. He finished the seminary application and even went as far as getting all his recommendations and telling his parish that he was going to enter the seminary soon. Everyone was excited for him, especially his family.
However, one day he surprised me with a text that he wasn’t interested in the priesthood any longer. With eyes wide open, as I was reading the text, I was shocked and confused. So, I called this young man and asked to meet with him. He ghosted me for a while; didn’t return my phone call. But like the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18, I didn’t give up. I kept calling, texting, and calling again, until I finally got a response to meet up.
When we met at a café, I could immediately tell that something was wrong with this young man. He didn’t look as bright and happy as before. His hair wasn’t as neatly combed. And his shirt was on inside out. I didn’t question his appearance; instead, I asked him how he was doing. The conversation started off with the basic day to day story but then, as he kept talking, he started to get emotional. I could hear feelings of sadness and resentment as he spoke.
And, eventually, he said that he had to stop discerning the priesthood because he longed for the life he had in the past, so much so that he started to revert to his sinful ways of drinking, partying and going out late at night and returning early mornings. He said that he wasn’t fit to continue discerning the priesthood because he had fell in love with his old ways and couldn’t move forward with the discernment.
Just like Lot’s wife, the young man didn’t just look back, but he longed for his past, with all his heart, so much that he became salt. Salt has many meaning in the bible, and one of the meanings, which pertains to our story, is that salt is a metaphor for no man’s land, a land where nothing grows: desolate (Cf. Psalms 107:34; Job 39:6; Jeremiah 17:6). Like Lot’s wife, this young man had become desolate because he had placed his heart in his past life of sin and dissipation.
However, by God’s grace, this young man was able to transform himself from the tasteless salt that he had become into becoming the flavorful salt of the earth. Through the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, and with the help of spiritual direction, this young man was able to move forward and detach himself from his past.
Now this young man continues to discern his vocation to the priesthood but with more focus on living the present moment. He is now cultivating an intimate life with God and becoming more and more aware of how God is inviting him to a deeper relationship with God in every moment of his life. Although he hasn’t reapplied, he is now working on living a holy life.
This young man’s story isn’t uncommon. “Looking back” is tempting for many of us when we have chosen to walk forward with God. God asks of us to embrace the newness of life He has given us. We are given the freedom to love and to serve through Jesus Christ, but there is always a temptation for us to not only look back at our past life but to do so with a deep longing for it and for the comforts of the world.
But we are all called to keep walking forward with our gaze towards God because we can’t walk forward if we keep looking back. That is why God warned Lot and his wife to not look back because that is not where God is. God is in the present moment. He is in the here and now.
So, as we are discerning our vocation in life, know that God is calling us to walk forward, to not be afraid, and to not look back. The table salt is in front of us; let’s keep it that way.
Fr. Hau Vu is Director of Vocations in the Diocese of San Bernardino.