Hello and welcome,
Before I begin this week, I want to share with you the statement I issued earlier today regarding the tragic events in Dallas:
The assassination of five members of the Dallas Police Department last night was a heinous crime that is rightly condemned across our country. Young and old, black and white, religious and secular voices have combined to denounce these killings. We join in the national mourning of this tragedy and offer prayers for the families and loved ones of the deceased officers.
These killings stood in stark contradiction to the spirit of the event, which brought hundreds of citizens to an assembly of peaceful protest in Dallas, similar to other such events around the country. The Dallas Police Department was there to provide protection for those who were peacefully exercising their constitutional right.
The purpose of the protest was to raise awareness of and call attention to a problem which cuts across the country. We are now in the second consecutive summer of turmoil linked to the deaths of African-American men in circumstances which often cast a pall over some methods of law enforcement. Each case must be evaluated on its merits and generalized statements often risk being mistaken. But to deny the existence of a problem is to miss an opportunity to address it.
There is a problem; addressing it will take the kind of cooperation which the Dallas community and its police officers demonstrated before a twisted mind desecrated an event that had a valid and necessary purpose. The means and methods of addressing the problem will require the best of our civil servants and the best of our citizens.
It will require respect for the law and respectful enforcement by police and legal authorities. Most of all, it will require all Americans to respect each other.
These killings in Dallas remind many of us of another assassination in that city more than fifty years ago. Only months before his death, President Kennedy had said of the struggle for civil rights that it was as ancient as the Scriptures and as clear as the Constitution. The struggle continues: we mourn with the City of Dallas and with families across the land who have lost loved ones to this struggle. It is again time to face our problems of racial justice and civic peace. May God be with us.
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As I always like to do at this time of year, I have asked two of our newly ordained priests to share their experiences with you. This week, I have asked Father Chris Bae to share his story with you and next week we will hear from Father Thomas Sullivan.
I hope you find their vocation stories as enriching and inspiring as I do.
– Cardinal Seán
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It is a great honor and privilege to share in this blog how God has changed my life and has led me to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Because I am a priest, you might think that I must have been born into a devout Catholic family or that I must have been an altar boy since I was little. No! That is not true. Actually, it is quite the opposite. I was a Protestant when I was living in South Korea for the first 15 years of my life.
My younger brother, Jason, and I in Seoul, Korea
After my family immigrated to the United States and settled in Orange County, California 17 years ago, I soon converted to Catholicism following my parents, who themselves converted to the Catholic faith a year before our immigration.
However, my faith was not strong because I did not have time for the Church. I was too busy following AP classes, raising my SAT scores, playing sports, and doing extracurricular activities.
Family Trip to Grand Canyon, Arizona when I was in high school
From the early years of my life, I had been taught that studying should be the most important thing in my life because it would get me into a prestigious school, find me a lucrative job, and ultimately make me happy . Even though I attained an engineering Masters Degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was earning a good income working as a consultant in Boston, I was not happy, especially whenever I compared myself with others who were more successful.
One day, on my way home from work, I was thinking about a master plan of my life: “I will probably get married within three years, and then I will have children. Once all my children have completed their college education, I will be around 65 years old. This means that I will have 20 more years to live, and then I will die.”
“Am I going to die?!”
Once I realized that I had to include death at the end of my life, I had the feeling of complete emptiness in this life. Even though I could spend all my life to become a billionaire, what would it mean if I cannot spend the money I will have earned by then, and if I cannot take the money with me when I die? At that moment, I realized that living for money, fame, success or prestige would not ultimately satisfy me.
When I was struggling to find the meaning of life, I had a chance to go on a mission trip to Haiti in 2010 to help the poor and the sick. Before the trip, I never thought that people could be happy without money. I thought that the surplus of money was a precondition for happiness. Even though the people at the orphanage and the nursing home did not have much and were abandoned by their families, I was amazed to find smiles on their faces. At that moment, I realized that the source of true happiness and joy was not rooted in material goods.
Children in the orphanage
Caring for the sick at a senior center
When I was taking care of orphans with physical disabilities on the mission trip, I was thinking to myself, “What is the point of their lives? From a materialistic perspective, there is no hope for success for them; these children are not going to make money, and practically speaking, they will die soon anyway from their illnesses. Why should I keep taking care of them?”
Soon, this thought struck me: Oh, I see! I could have been born in Haiti just like them. I could have been born with severe physical disabilities. I could have been abandoned by my parents. I happened to be born in Korea, and I happened to be born with good health. I thought I deserved all the credit for myself, but I was wrong. Everything I have is a pure gift from God!
Then I sincerely wanted to share what I had with others. Since I freely received everything from God, I should freely return, at least, a part of it to others. I wanted to live a Christian life — to love God and to love my neighbors.
Haiti Mission Team with the Missionaries of the Poor
After I came back to the States, I was looking for ways to help others. My first thought was to have a more lucrative career, so I could make large donations for the disadvantaged. However, there were many feasible options before me: I could be a lawyer, an engineer, a businessman, or a banker. In the midst of this uncertainty in my life, I needed guidance. So, I met with Fr. Dominic Jung, a parish priest at the Korean Catholic Community in Newton, to see if he could give me some insights. After hearing my conversion story in Haiti, he asked me a question, “Chris, have you thought of becoming a priest?” I replied, “No, Fr. Dominic. I always wanted to get married!”
However, Fr. Dominic planted a seed of priestly vocation in my heart with that conversation because I began to ask myself the same question over and over from then on: “What if God really calls me to the priesthood? How can I be so sure that I am NOT called? Out of all these men, why me? Why?!”
Then, I felt distressed with all negative thoughts: “If I become a priest, I would not be able to get married. Nor would I be able to have children. In addition, I would have to give up my dream car — a Lamborghini!”
As time went by, I realized that marriage would be as challenging as priesthood; as a priest sacrifices his life for the Church, so a married man sacrifices his life for his wife and children. I did not think that one is any easier than the other. I wanted to discern which vocation was God’s plan for me. If I did not fully discern between these two choices and blindly decided to get married, I would always live with a doubt that marriage was not my original vocation whenever my future marriage encountered difficulties. After going on a couple of retreats and talking to several priests and religious sisters, through the grace of God, I had the courage to say, “Lord, I will give it a try.”
Friends’ visit at St. John’s Seminary
Even though I did not make money anymore and lived in a much smaller room than I used to, I was much happier than ever because, at St. John’s Seminary, I learned about the Triune God, prayed to Him, received His love and shared His love with others. About one year into the seminary, one priest taught me what it means to administer the sacraments to the dying. Through hearing the Confession, administering the anointing of the sick, and giving the Apostolic Absolution, I realized that by the mercy of God, a priest literally prepares a dying person to enter into heaven. After that conversation, I told Jesus before the Blessed Sacrament that I really wanted to be a priest.
By the grace of God, on May 21, 2016, I was ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ along with 8 other classmates. God blessed me with overflowing graces at the ordination because it was a day when 3 significant events converged: 1) my priestly ordination 2) my 33rd birthday and 3) the feast of St. Christopher Magellanes and Companions. How can it be more obvious that I am called to the priesthood? God had truly planned everything when I was conceived in the womb of my mother!
Concelebrating at the Ordination Mass, I began to realize what had happened to me; I was acting in the person of Christ the head, turning bread into the Body of Christ and wine into the Blood of Christ. After the Ordination Mass was over, I was humbled by the people kneeling before me asking for the blessing. They were seeking the blessing of Jesus who willed to work through this newly ordained priest. When my father knelt before me for the blessing, I could not speak a word for a long time. How could this be possible? A father is kneeling before his son! With thanksgiving for all the graces God had bestowed on my family, I blessed him with tears of joy.
Tears of Joy: Blessing my father who knelt before his son.
The First Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated at my home parish, St. Antoine Daveluy Parish in Corpus Christi Church in Newton. A homilist was Msgr. Philip Reilly from the diocese of Brooklyn, NY, whom I have admired for his love for the priesthood and for his zeal to protect the unborn. God blessed me at this Mass by bringing my family and friends from all over the States and from Korea. It was God who united all these people and gathered them at this Mass. Looking out from the altar, I knew these people did not come just for me but most of all for Jesus.
First Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving in Newton (5/22/2016)
With Cardinal Sean at a luncheon for the newly ordained priests
A week after my Presbyteral Ordination was the wedding of my younger brother, Jason. Since neither my brother nor his fiancee was Catholic, I could not receive their vows at the wedding. But, God has blessed their natural marriage, especially by sending clouds in the form of heart.
Jason (my brother) and Eileen’s wedding. Clouds are in form of heart.
The day after my brother’s wedding, I had a chance to celebrate another Mass of Thanksgiving at Christ the King Parish, which was one of three parishes (the others were St. Edith Stein and Our Lady of Lourdes parishes) in Brockton where I had a pastoral assignment for the last two years of seminary formation. I was privileged to serve this Tri-Parish in Brockton as a seminarian and later as a deacon.
Mass of Thanksgiving in Brockton (5/29/2016)
On the following Saturday, I celebrated Mass of Thanksgiving in Korea. I am truly grateful to His Eminence for giving me an opportunity to visit my home country to share this joy with my family and friends there. In addition, I deeply thank Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P., for joining me on this trip as a representative of the St. John’s Seminary faculty members. Also, I thank Seminarian Joseph Kim who served at the Mass as an master of ceremonies before he began a Korean language course over the summer in Korea.
Fr. Cessario and I stayed at the Sacred Heart Seminary in Seoul where Fr. Cessario gave a special guest lecture to the seminarians on the sacraments.
Mass of Thanksgiving in Korea (6/4/2016)
A week after the Mass of Thanksgiving in Korea, Jason and his wife came to Korea and did their second wedding ceremony in a traditional Korean way. Thus, over the course of one month since the Ordination, my family has experienced a significant lifetime event each week (Presbyteral Ordination, Jason’s wedding in America, Mass of Thanksgiving in Korea, Jason’s second wedding ceremony in Korea). God has truly blessed my family!
Jason (my brother) and Eileen’s wedding in Korea
On June 16, I began my first assignment as a priest at St. Mary Parish in Franklin where I am blessed to minister to the people of God with pastor Fr. Brian Manning and parochial vicar Fr. John Sullivan. I was happy to see the parishioners, and they were happy to see me!
Greeting St. Mary’s parishioners after Mass
Looking back on my seminary formation and my recent ordination memories, I think that God is trying to tell me this: “Chris, do not enjoy that happiness and joy by yourself. Share it with others and bring them to me.”
I want to share the Good News with others until my last day on earth. There are alternative “careers” I could have chosen but, to me, nothing is comparable to saving a human person through the administration of the sacraments. I know that I am sinful and weak, but when Jesus asks me, “come and see,” how can I not follow Him? This is my story, and this is how God has touched my life and has led me to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
My Ordination Holy Card.
(The front artwork is done by my father. It is a duplicate of Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity icon.)