(The beginning of my religious vocation)

Sister Agnes Dinh

I am the third child in a family of six siblings. Although I was born in the same difficult period as other thousands of families after the Vietnam War, I had always received much affection, care and support from my parents as well as from my brothers and sisters.
As a child, I had witnessed by chance, the harrowing death of my neighbour as she was about to give birth. Since then, I had always wished to one day become a medical doctor.
After completing year 12, I devoted all my energy and efforts into preparation for the medical school examination. In those days, all five friends of mine (3 males and 2 females) had wanted for quite some time, to offer their lives to God.
Later, the three boys joined a major seminary, while the two girls tried to test their vocations with the Sisters of Saint Paul de Chartres. I was the only one to stay home and prepare for university examinations.
One particular Sunday after the parish Mass for children, we, the catechists gathered together with the Parish Priest at his presbytery. Before we left, he called me, smiling, and said:
“Two of your friends had stayed with the Sisters… one lasted for one week, and the other for a month, But for you, I have a deal! My bet is that you will not last more than three days in the convent. If however, you do survive for more than three days, I will give you anything you wish!”
I answered him without thinking: “Are you very sure Father? You will give me…anything?”
“Yes”, he said…”anything I have”.
I responded straightaway; …”Even your motorbike, yeah?” (I had been hoping to get one to ride to school every day). My Parish Priest agreed without hesitation.
After a tough time convincing my parents to let me stay for three days with the Sisters, they finally agreed. (I had never revealed to anyone about the “bet” between the Parish Priest and myself)
That night I knocked on the doors of the convent. (My house is not far from the convent, only a short walking distance). Everything went smoothly… All the Sisters welcomed me warmly, and agreed for me to come to stay for three days. Next morning I returned to the convent and commenced my ‘three day trial’.
There was an elderly Sister called Marie. She accompanied me throughout my three days at the convent. Sister Marie worked as a tailor, and would mend or alter all old clothes for her Sisters in the community. That whole day I followed her around. Sometimes I sat with her to help undo the old clothes. She sewed and told me stories at the same time. At prayer time, I followed her to the chapel. I was following like a robot as my mind was preoccupied with lessons and studies which I was trying to memorise for my coming exams.
That night, I felt joy was coming to me as the winner (of the bet). There were only two more days to go. If it was like this for the next two days, I would certainly win the bet! With that exciting thought in mind, I fell quickly into dreamland.
The convent bell rang and woke me up at 4:a.m. It was not difficult for me to get up at that time, as my parents would often rise early to pray, and then go to Mass. At home however, I would be woken by the noise, and went straight back to sleep. Here at the convent, I had to get out of my comfortable bed!
When I opened the door, Sister Marie was already standing there, waiting to accompany me to the chapel. During our time of meditation I was given a bible by Sister Marie, which had been marked with the reading of the day. When I opened it, a scriptural passage jumped out at me; “vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” Interestingly, this was the phrase which was always on my father’s lips. Suddenly, I missed my family so much, although I had only been away for a day.
That scriptural sentence continued to echo in my ears: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity! It is pointless to win the whole world, while losing your soul!” My heart really sank! All day I just wished to be left alone. Something happened within me, but I was not sure what it was. I continued to repeat my father’s favourite scriptural quotation in my mind. Then I asked Sister Marie if I could keep that Bible.
When I was in my room that night, I was not happy at all. Reaching for the bible, I trembled when I read the passage from St John 15:16. “You did not choose me; no, I chose you, and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last. And so the Father will give you anything you ask in my name”. For me, this was like a command, a challenge full of promise. The whole night I was not able to close my eyes; I was tossing and turning and thinking…
Now the Parish Priest was not the one with whom I placed my ‘bet’, but God … the PERSON who commissioned me to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.
After months of soul-searching, discerning, prayer and careful consultation, I readily accepted the challenge. From that time on, I threw myself into an exciting new “bet” (In this new bet, I look to win human soul, not a motorbike!). Here we go!... It’s me!... I was back again, knocking on the doors of the Sisters of St. Paul’s convent. But this time I would not ask to stay for only three days…
To sum up my life, after 20 years I have been playing and pursuing the new bet, with much joy, happiness and peace. Through the grace of God, I pray that I may be granted the courage and strength to attain the spiritual goals of my bet. these are also the goals for the journey of my religious vocation.

“You did not choose me; I chose you and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so you can ask anything from my Father in my name.” (Jn. 15:16)





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