By Fr. Hau Vu
For my column this month, I will be sharing my vocation story.
“For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of people in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is clothed in weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins for himself, as well as for the people” (Heb 5:1-4).
My name is Fr. Hau Vu. How I got to this point as a priest, called to be a fisher of men, is an interesting story. It began when my mother met my father and had me, their fifth and last child. Being the youngest child, my older siblings often joked around with me by saying our parents must have made a mistake when they had me. And I often laughed at it because, in my relationship with God, I knew that God never make mistakes.
God had me within his mind before I was even born. He knew that one day my parents were going to have me, and that I was destined to be His priest. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Therefore, my call to the priesthood was given to me the day I was born, but my understanding and reception of it didn’t come to maturity until I was a senior in high school. I didn’t know what a vocation to the priesthood even meant. But God, in his Divine Mystery, was already preparing me, without my even knowing.
Like most, at a very young age I had a childlike relationship with God. I trusted in God in the same way I trusted my parents. Whatever I heard from God, through scripture, I believed. I even had daily conversation with Him, just the way a child speaks to his or her parents. My mother taught me how to pray, and my father instilled within me the importance of listening to my mother.
I would never have considered myself a holy child, but I think I was smart enough to know how not to get into trouble. The two things that meant a lot to our family were going to Church on Sundays and praying the Rosary every evening. And trust me, even though I didn’t fully understand the importance of the two as a child, during my preteen years I knew that being obedient was the key to not getting punished. So you can say obedience and a little bit of fear were the first motivators of my spiritual commitments. But knowing myself, the person I am now, I needed that motivation. I think that is why God gave us parents to begin with, to help direct us children towards the greatest good, which is God.
But as time went on and I got older, I grew more and more apart from God. That childlike relationship with God slowly disappeared, and I just pushed God to the side. The worldly desires crept into my heart and filled it with illusions of grandeur. What began to fill my heart was the desire to make lots of money, buy a house, get the car I always wanted and be married one day.
Of course, these desires aren’t bad in themselves, but as I got older, I realized that some of these desires had become gods I began to idolize. They took complete control of me to the point where the one true God, Jesus Christ, wasn’t even in the picture anymore. Rather, I used Jesus as though he was my own genie, calling upon Him when I needed his help: a utilitarian type of relationship with God. And this went on for many years.
But then there came a day when my entire life was turned upside down, and I encountered the greatest cross that changed not only my life, but also the lives of my entire family, forever.
It was the day when my family and I discovered that all of my siblings had Muscular Dystrophy (MD), a disease where, over time, the muscles become weaker, to the point of decreasing mobility. Eventually my brothers and sisters had difficulty walking, eating, breathing and doing the normal everyday things many of us take for granted.
This news not only shook my family and changed our lives forever, but it shook my faith. It got to a point where I became angry at God, and I lost my faith for a time. I wanted nothing to do with anything associated with God and Catholicism. However, looking back, even though I lost my faith for a while, God never left me.
All the while, living in my anger, hurt, and pain, I was being formed as His future priest through the love of my brothers and sisters. Although they carried so heavy a burden and a cross, their faith in God was like gold refined by fire. I could never experience the pain, suffering and surrender that they all experienced, but what I saw in and through my brothers and sisters, as years went on, was true hope in the God who was present in their lives.
This realization of God’s presence within my siblings did not happen until one day, I heard in Mass the scripture passage from Matthew 25:40-45, “What you did to the least of your brothers and sisters, you did unto me.” In that moment of grace, Jesus healed my hardened heart, and opened my eyes to see His presence in the bodies of my brothers and sisters.
It was at that moment that I knew that God did not forsake my family, or me. Rather, He became one with us, to the point of even uniting us to His suffering and death. His love was greater than I had ever imagined. What I wanted, was a love without the Cross. But what Jesus wanted for me to understand, was that His Love is never without the Cross. God was forming me all along, but I just could not see it because of my hardness of heart.
Even in experiencing this renewal of my faith and relationship with God, I was still a bit hesitant to fully surrender to God. It was not until my senior year of high school that I decided to fully surrender to God, because that was when my second oldest brother had a heart attack and was near death.
When this moment happened, filled with fear and anxiety, I knelt before the crucifix in my room and prayed with all my heart, asking God to save my brother. In that moment, I felt a peace: a reassurance that was given to me by God. My brother was resuscitated and alive, but the doctors said he needed a heart transplant to live. Of course, I was happy, but I was also saddened by this fact at the same time. But that did not stop me from praying.
I once again looked to God and said to him, “If you give my brother a new heart, before I have to go to college, I will serve you for the rest of my life.” Two months before I had to decide which college to attend, whether UC Berkley or Seminary College in Iowa, the doctors gave the amazing news that my brother was going to receive a new heart.
Two weeks after the surgery, the doctors told my family that everything was going well, and that my brother was on an excellent road to recovery. At this point, my heart was filled with elation ... but then I also remembered the promise I had made to God. Being a man of my word, I went into Seminary College and through eleven years of schooling and formation I became a priest for the Diocese of San Bernardino, on May 26, 2016.
The miracles that God performed for my family and I were the ultimate signs of love that drove me to say, “Yes,” to God’s call as His priest. What I share with all of you is only a snippet of the love that God has shown to me. That is why I believe I am being called to continually share God’s glory through my life.
I believe that God loves each and every one of us so much that He continues to live within each one of us. And there is not a day that God does not perform a miracle – our life is a miracle.
And so the question we must ask ourselves: “Is God calling me to serve as his priest or religious? And if He is, will I say, ‘YES?’”
Fr. Hau Vu is Director of Vocations in the Diocese of San Bernardino.