I never dreamed of becoming anything other than a priest. As far as I can remember, our family always hosted the priests and his sacristans for breakfast after Mass on Sundays. My mother and my grandmother would serve my favorite homemade cakes, “marcasotes.” Breakfast was always served under a lush green orange tree in our yard, just like a garden breakfast. The priest would always take one slice of the cake and the rest would be eaten by the sacristans. Watching them from inside of our house, I hoped that at least one slice would be left for me. It was always a frustration. I told myself that I would be a priest someday so that I will also be served the cake every Sunday!
Since that time, I started to dream of becoming a priest, and I told my parents that I wanted to enter the minor seminary. They told me to wait until after high school. After high school I again asked to be sent to the seminary, but I was told that I should take electrical engineering because a geothermal plant was being built on a piece of land owned by the family of my father. The builders promised that they would employ family members of the landowners in the power plant. One day, out of nowhere, my younger brother, now Fr. Dan, came home and told my parents that he would like to enter the seminary. He was given permission right away. Frustrated, I told my parents that I would obey and study what they wanted but I demanded to study in Manila and they sent me right away. I resented my parents’ decision and also God because I thought He did not want me to become a priest.
Although I resented God, in Manila I would attend the novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. After a year arriving in Manila, I stopped going to the Church altogether and enjoyed what the big city had to offer. I didn’t care about my studies, telling myself that I did not want it after all. It was my parents’ dream, so they should be contented with the grades I was making. I was “lost” in Manila for six years until I started to feel empty within. I had money (because I was already working) and friends, but they seemed to make me empty. On February 12, 1986, I had a conversion on a train ride going to work. Instead of getting off at the station to go to work, my mind was so empty that I ended up at the end of the train line, which happened to be the Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. I became aware that I missed my station and told myself to go inside the church since I was already there. That was the first time in five years that I entered a church. Inside the church, even though there were thousands of people with me, I felt I was alone with God. I spent the next two hours there. Coming out of the church I had the resolve to pursue my vocation to the priesthood. The following day I cut off all my contacts and resigned from my job. Reflecting on my journey to the priesthood and religious life, I think that God allowed me to go through everything so as to make me realize that no matter how miserable my life was or how great a sinner I was, He is the God of mercy and love.
Fr. Roger Abalon, SOLT