Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 02 May 2023 Reflections on the occasion of my 25th year in the Priesthood
I first entered the seminary as a second year high school in 1979. When we were about to graduate in 1982, I was told to leave the seminary after failing admission to San Carlos Seminary due to the unfavorable results of my psychological exam. It was a very painful experience for me. It is only now on my 25th year of priesthood that I am coming to terms with that dark episode in my life. In fact, it is only now that I can admit it unashamed.
Making it doubly hard for me was when San Carlos Seminary Prefect of Discipline Msgr. Sunga refused to tell me the findings in my psychological exam except I would find it out as I moved on in life. And I think, I have found the reason. “It is the Lord!”
From that experience, I have realized that Christ comes to us even in the darkest moments of our lives. It is often when we have nothing, when we are empty that we are abundant in Christ. It is a mystery that continues to unfold until now! Difficult to explain fully. What was a setback and a dark spot for me before, that failure in my psychological exam has become more of a blessing later to me.
From the seminary, I went to the University of Sto. Tomas to pursue my first love, journalism. Everything happened so fast from UST where I had the chance to join the staff of the Varsitarian, covering the sports beat.
For my internship program, I trained at GMA-7 News to explore broadcast news. Immediately, I was amazed with the speed and timeliness of broadcast news with the constant clacking and ringing or sometimes whining of the UPI and PNA telex machines either from breaking news or when they ran out of newsprint reels. Luckily after graduation in 1986, I was hired by Ms. Tina Monzon-Palma as radio news writer for DZBB-AM and DWLS-FM.
From a news writer in 1986, I became a reporter in 1988 covering the police beat on the night shift until 1990 when Ms. Jessica Soho recommended me to replace her in the the military/defense she used to cover after she was promoted to having a regular morning show, “Kape at Balita”.
I refused the position because I was so afraid of failing to measure up to Jessica’s stature but most of all, I felt not qualified of not having the voice for broadcast news. Yes, I have never wanted to be an “on-cam” reporter because I do not have the broadcast voice. Got no problem with that. That is why my application at GMA-7 was for a news writer. Again, it was the Lord I moved to become a police reporter at that time.
It is funny how I have always refused tasks that put me at the forefront since my GMA-7 days as a result of that “psych exam” in high school. Since college, I have found myself working best behind the scenes and behind the camera, working in hiddenness.
And yes, most of all, for lack of self-confidence. That is why I could not also believe when I felt God calling me to the priesthood again! And when I have become a priest, I have always wanted to be sent into the far-flung areas unnoticed but God would always bring me to major assignments like first, our diocesan school beside the Malolos Cathedral and now as chaplain of Our Lady of Fatima University with six campuses and two Medical Centers!
Going back to my vocation story… Every time I moved up in GMA-7 News, I would feel a reawakening or a resurging of my vocation. In the midst of the perks of the job plus the “celebrity” status, that was when I felt empty and unfulfilled! Something was missing in my life at the beginning I could not figure out. Tried to find fulfillment in everything including relationships but, I still felt empty. In fact, my vocation to the priesthood “pestered” me most when I was into relationships, feeling so praning with a voice within asking me “paano pagpapari mo?” As a result, I tried going back to prayers, then to Sunday Masses that slowly gave me some sense of fulfillment and peace within.
But after covering the December coup attempt of 1989 I felt something so strange deep within me: the more I felt empty within. Despite the adrenalin rush of covering the bloodiest coup attempt in our history, the thoughts of the priesthood would always cross my mind even without my thinking. It happened again the following year during coverage of the July 1990 earthquake. I was not feeling contented with my life. All I felt was a deeper longing for God and spiritual things like serving the people not just as a reporter. I felt God calling me to something more than covering the news but proclaiming the good news of Christ.
On my first day off after the July 1990 earthquake, I went to see my former minor seminary rector, Fr. Memeng Salonga for spiritual direction. He told me what I was feeling could be a vocation to the priesthood. My plan at that time was to wait for about five years before deciding for the priesthood. What if I were wrong again like what happened when I applied to San Carlos Seminary? Most of all, I had no more plans of becoming a priest. And I thought of running away from God like the Prophet Jonah, without realizing I ended up exactly like him!
It happened in January 1991 when it was my turn to join then Armed Forces chief Gen. Lisandro Abadia in his inspection of troops in northern Luzon. On our last stop at Laoag airport, one of the tires of our plane exploded upon landing!
It happened at the right side of the plane where I was seated near the window. Instinctively on seeing and hearing the explosion, I ducked my head down and braced myself for impact while deep inside me, I was frantically praying in silence to God, telling him, “magpapari na po ako, magpapari na po ako!”
That is why Jonah is my favorite character in the Old Testament as I felt like him inside the belly of PAF’s Fokker plane in 1991 trying to escape God’s call to the priesthood.
When we got back to Manila late that afternoon, everybody was congratulating me, saying I could be the next Jessica Soho as I figured out in a near-fatal accident with the Chief-of-Staff. Behind my smiles was a firm resolve inside to finally follow Jesus. Weeks after Mt. Pinatubo spewed smokes in March, I gave my letter of resignation to Ms. Palma and simply told her, I was going back to the seminary to give my vocation a second chance. Mt. Pinatubo would finally erupt on June 12, 1991 when I was already inside the seminary.
Life was not easy in the seminary. Temptations to leave the seminary and go back to work were most tempting during my first three years as I knew already where to go, what to do in life. Maybe about three times I have tried leaving the seminary while I was constantly warned of being sent out too!
The Portuguese have a saying that “God writes straight crooked lines.” True. Nine years after leaving the seminary in high school, I went back to the seminary in 1991 eventually being ordained in 1998. Now 25 years as a priest, I thank God for this most precious gift of priesthood. It is very difficult but most fulfilling.
As a priest and an individual, I have realized that if there are 8-billion people in the world, there are also 8-billion kinds of love God has specifically for each one of us. God loves us in the most personal manner. It is the greatest mystery in life we would never be able to solve because it is insolvable. We just have to live on it, be wrapped in his mystery that once in a while, like the beloved disciple amid the darkness of dawn, we would have glimpses of him, making us shout “It is the Lord!” Thank my dear friends for showing me always the Lord. Hope and pray you too have seen the Lord in me! God bless!