The rain was heavy that afternoon. Streets were flooded. Roads were congested. Ever and anon, I flinched at the rumbling thunder. My Grab car waded willy-nilly through the traffic, until finally, at half past 2, I found myself at Our Lady of Annunciation Parish.
A moment later, I shook hands with Bro. Razi. He led me to a homey office drenched in dim yellow light. The sound of rain pelting the roof made it even cozier. Without further ado, I settled myself on a chair adjacent to a wooden settee where Bro. Razi sat. Voice recorder running. A pen and a notebook in hand. We began.
“My name is Bro. Razi Dionanao, a first year Theology student in San Carlos Seminary. I’m under the Diocese of Novaliches. Currently, I’m doing an apostolate with street kids in Our Lady of Annunciation Parish. I’ve been in the seminary for seven years.”
“How is your everyday life in the seminary?”
“In the seminary, to be honest, we are ruled by a schedule. I view that as a calling since in the outside world, we can basically control our time. We can do what we want. In the seminary, we vow to follow the schedule. And I view that particular structure, those pre-set activities, as moments where God calls me to do something. For example, this is the time to study. You should study. No more, no less. We struggle, too, especially now that we’re on Theology; we can now use our cellphone. We have so many distractions. It is our usual struggle.”
“What is your schedule from morning to the end of your day?”
“We usually wake up at 5:30 a.m. At 5:45, we do our morning praise or morning prayer. This is followed by a 6:30 a.m. Holy Mass. After that, we eat breakfast. Then start of classes, then lunch, and from that time on, the activities will depend on whether we will or will not have classes. If we have classes, we take the classes. Otherwise, we rest or use the time for studying. At about 4 p.m., we can play basketball. At 6 p.m., we pray again. Afterwards, recreational time. Then study period. Then sleep.”
“You mentioned that you struggle. Is it because you don’t have freedom?”
“It’s not that we don’t have freedom – well, perhaps, we can say that there is that sense of lack of freedom – but we already know what we should do since it’s already written. We are aware that it is what we should do. It only becomes a struggle when there are many causes of distraction which hinder us from doing what we should. What else? Sometimes we get burned out doing the same things every day. But I think it’s a normal tendency for any human being, either seminarian or lay.”
“Why did you enter the seminary?”
“I really didn’t want to enter the seminary. My two friends wanted to, so for the sake of our friendship, I accorded to the idea. One day, we were talking to our parish priest, when out of nowhere, they mentioned about their desire to enter the seminary. Of course, I wanted to impress my parish priest, so I said I liked to join them. I was surprised when our parish priest said that we will take the exam tomorrow. I wanted to take my word back, but I couldn’t. So I took the exam, thinking that it was just an exam and it would be OK if we won’t pass it. But we passed it. And I was surprised, I was shaking. Why on earth did I pass? What is this? How am I going to tell our parish priest that I don’t want this? So once and for all, I decided to tell our parish priest that it was not my intention to enter the seminary, but by the time I was ready to talk to him, he already broadcast it to the whole parish. Everyone congratulated us, and I felt trapped.
So the three of us entered the seminary. We were sent to Tagbilao, Quezon. That’s where I took my Philosophy. I was homesick, and I wasn’t used to doing so much physical tasks but I had to. It was also lonely. I then remembered my parish priest saying that once we find ourselves wanting to leave, we must first go to the chapel. So that’s what happened to me. I was in the chapel every day. But after spending 30 minutes to an hour inside the chapel, I would feel strong again. I would remember the people I left outside.
So that became a routine for me, and that made me stay for years. My two friends? They left. I was actually the only one who graduated in that batch and continued Theology. Now, my two friends are living their own lives.”
Bro. Razi mentioned that he was nearly agnostic before entering the seminary. His parents, who weren’t devout Catholics, raised them without deliberately nourishing their faith.
“I wasn’t even aware that there are four Gospels. I didn’t have much of a concept of God. But I remember vividly how, when I was little, I always wanted to become an achiever in school. I wanted to be recognized. And I was very happy whenever I was recognized. After being happy for achieving something, I’d feel sad again. And I always thought, When will I be truly happy?
I believe that it’s the question of many people now. I think they’re all looking for their purpose. And while they don’t know what their purpose is, they go on thinking that everything they do is mechanical.
When I entered the seminary, I learned that there are four Gospels. I learned what Jesus said, and what He may mean. Then I grew thirsty for Jesus. I began desiring to do what He did, to take part in His ministry. And that question when I was young? I found its answer there. Whatever is happening to me now, I am happy. With or without money, I am happy.”
“How do you know that this is your lasting happiness?”
“I see myself whole here. This is where I am whole. I believe that serving God as a seminarian or an ordained minister will make me whole. Holiness is wholeness. But of course being an ordained minister shouldn’t only be my will. It should also be God’s will. It’s why I do not say that this is the end, that I’ll become a priest. This is a continuous friendship and discernment for me. I believe that God doesn’t include in His plans anything that isn’t for my best. So if He wants me to become a priest, then it’s the best for me. If He doesn’t want me to become a priest, then that’s the best for me too.”
“For you, what does living well mean?”
“Living well, for me, means two things. First, you should learn how to be grateful. It’s one of the causes of sadness, of not living well. If you’re not grateful for the things that you have, then you’ll only see the things that you don’t have. But you know what? You have those things, it’s just that you’re not looking at them. The second one is acceptance. Acceptance of yourself and being true to yourself. This is one of the things I learned in the seminary – being truthful. It’s hard to live a life that is not yours. It’s as if you’re just pretending all the time.”
My voice recorder continued running. Its line fluctuated along with Bro. Razi’s voice. Outside, the sky still rumbled and poured rain. I looked at the page my notebook was on, and I realized I had not been writing. I was immersed in his story, listening and reflecting at the same time.
I, then, asked another question.