I am all of 24. That deadline of 25 I set for myself looms over me like my day of crucifixion. Most of the folks in my kindergarten class have landed their deeply coveted jobs and started fending for themselves. Some of my friends in grade school have been navigating the globe. My high school drinking buddies have found their niches in the corporate world. My former seminary fellas, who have chosen another path, are rebuilding their lives. And just a couple of months ago, my childhood sweetheart gave birth to her first son (Jeez, I am not the father). This one plunged a sword of Valyrian steel into my sensitive heart!
I can still remember them as snot-nosed kids, and now they have become greater than themselves. I mean, with all the silliness and immaturity they displayed during our juvenile heyday, I never imagined they would jockey on their own stations and while away time (well, not really) waiting for their paychecks. They have proven their true mettle—that they can survive even in a place so strange to them. And by the mug shots they post on Facebook, I can tell they are happy as hell. They are dead certain that they have found the life they want to live.
Well, that’s not the case for me. It seems I’ve been living my life in utter confusion. To arrive at a certainty, to get hold of a complete sense of clarity, to see the world I can call my own, like my search for the Holy Grail, is elusive at best. Yes, there was some point in my life that I knew this was the thing I really wanted. But now, with every step I take, my vision gets so fogged up, if not totally f-cked up.
The irony is that as I inch my weary way to the homestretch that is my ordination, the voice within me echoes louder, telling me that being a man of the cloth is not meant for me. After eight years of living in a cloistered place, my heart is drawn to the life beyond the walls. I am contemplating leaving this abode I call home. Revelations of cinematic fashion from God—both externally and internally—tell me that my ass doesn’t belong to this brotherhood of apologists, doctors of the church, virgins, martyrs, and eunuchs (?). Every day seems to be an arduous journey to the Mount of Calvary as I insist to myself that this is my vocation. (But what if it really is?) The collision of my mind and heart has left me crippled, unable to take an audacious step. I’m a fearless jock before my rivals and a valiant knight for a damsel in distress (or distressing damsel), but when it comes to making this daunting decision that will change the rest of my life, I am one piece of chicken sh-t.
A million times I have wanted to leave this place and a million times I have stopped myself. Why? Practical, spiritual and emotional reasons come in a deluge. Staying in a religious congregation is quite a pragmatic thing in most respects. I don’t need to sweat it all for me to have a bucket meal. I don’t have to worry about mortgages, bills, mountains of laundry, a daily allowance, and, needless to say, my funeral. There’s no colicky baby to jar me from sleep after an exhausting day. There’s no nagging wife to spoil my morning rumination with a cup of coffee. But wait, here’s the biggest incentive as proclaimed by our founder himself: “If you die a Pauline, you are assured of heaven.” Man, who would turn down such a no-nonsense offer?
Another thing that prevents me from tendering my resignation is my batch mates. We’re a ragtag team of badgers who have learned to accept each other’s twist and turns. Ours is a Parokya-ni-Edgar brotherhood toughened by the spirit of ascetic community life and spiced up by our sardonic sense of humor. They say friends come and go, but this crew simply sticks together for some cosmic reason.
I also opted to tarry because I’ve invested so much in this kind of life. This 8-year period has never been a cakewalk. It has been an arduous struggle of living up to my vows, of requiting God’s fidelity to me, and of my daily brawl against the devil inside me. I owe the person that I am now to the rigorous integral formation that the seminary has offered me. With the seminary training, not only have I learned to shun the pitfalls that lead to the seventh hell, but I have also honed my artistic flair, specifically in graphic designing and feature writing. I never imagined that the country bumpkin I was would be adept at maneuvering the latest gizmos. The seminary, needless to say, has forged me into a man with endless possibilities.
Conversely, the same seminary hampers my artistic expression. The little gods in the upper echelon deem some of my oeuvres avant-garde, too fanciful for their conservative taste (or lack thereof) and, thus, deserve to be tossed into the recycle bin. My fellow artists, who hunger for unfettered expression of oneself, will certainly agree that toeing the line to please conventional sensibilities is good up to a certain point, but not all the time. There’s a clamor inside me to go search for avenues that have no qualms about me being trend-setting.
I know. With an ample amount of nerve, temerity, talent and luck, I can find a job and earn more than enough. I believe it’s never too late to pull my grandiose dreams off. I also have a saintly patience to deal with a colicky baby and the knack for chasing after the woman of my dreams (I ain’t got moves like Jagger, but I got my arsenal of pickup lines). I know my seminary chaps will still be there even if I decide to leave the troupe halfway. I know God will understand me and help me rebuild my future. I know He’ll remain a loving God even if I tread another path. But here’s the catch: I should gird my loins to answer the quintessential question “Why?” for the nth time from gossip-mongers who never get satisfied with straightforward answers.
Sigh. There are just too many things to weigh before diving headlong into the secular world. All this mental wiggling of letting go and holding up is a painful process; it’s tearing me apart, really. This may take a while for I don’t want to spend my future life tending my tender regrets.
Meanwhile, I spend my free time dilly-dallying. No, not really dilly-dallying, but reflecting and really listening to the voice of God inside me. I want to know His ultimate mission for me with certainty. I hope that before I hit 25, I would have the juice to stand up for what I really want and say, “What the hell!”
Anthony Capirayan is a seminarian of the Society of St. Paul—a congregation of priests and brothers who work in the apostolate of media—where he also works as a graphic designer. He is a first year graduate student working on his MA in theological studies at Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University.