By RAMONITO CELESTIAL
On the first day of December of 1981, I was born to a typical Catholic Filipino family in a small community in the province of Iloilo. Iloilo is a province in the mid-southern part of the Philippines. The locals of Iloilo province are called ‘ilonggos’ or ‘ilonggo’ for it singular form. Ilonggos are known to be warm and affectionate people.
I could see these traits in my family on how we treat our guests. People who visit us more often and spend more time with us are treated not as guests but they become family members.
My father’s name was Vicente C. Celestial. My mother’s name is Lourdes L. Cerbo. Both of them are locals from the town of Calinog. I am the third among four siblings. My father worked at a sugar refinery in our town. He died when I was second year in college seminary. My mother is a homemaker. She manages the house and took care of us when we were still kids.
-When did you first think about becoming a priest? In terms of my spiritual growth and development in my vocation, since I was raised in a good Catholic family, I was able to discern my vocation with the help of my family’s support. I think it helps a lot to be raised in this kind of family because there are a lot of families wherein all the parents care about is the success of their children in terms of making more money to live a good live in a very worldly standard.
To become a priest is my childhood dream. It remains the same now. Among our relatives, my father’s younger sister is a Dominican nun. Her name is Sister Ma. Raphaelie Celestial, O.P. I consider her to be the one to inspire me to consider a vocation to the priesthood.
-Did you have a priest you looked up to in your youth? Aside from my aunt, another person who inspired me to pursue priesthood is a priest. His name is Rev. Diosdado Parenas. He was once our associate pastor in my home parish in the Philippines. He has a big heart for young people. Every time we attend Mass, if he is the celebrant, I make sure that I approach and greet him after the mass is over. I always do the Filipino gesture of reverence for a priest by placing his right hand on my forehead.
-What do you envision your priesthood to be? As a future priest, I see it as a life of service for the people of God. In order to do it, I have to learn how to say yes to God’s will and renew that yes every day. Priesthood is a noble calling, yet not easy. It takes a lot of prayers to live one’s priesthood faithfully. Based on what I have learned from the priests, a priest has always a lot to do. By human effort alone, it is impossible to do the duties of a priest. It is therefore necessary that one should allow God’s grace to move him to do what God asks of him.
-What is your greatest joy as you contemplate the priesthood? I think the joy that I will have as a priest is the sense of fulfillment by doing my duties as a future priest. I believe that the impact of what I do for the people will be beyond my understanding. It inspires me to think about the lives of many people that I will be able to touch in one way or another. Here at Mundelein Seminary we have a few old priests. They are old yet I could see smiles in their faces. I don’t really have much knowledge about them, but their smiles seems to show that sense of fulfillment and joy for being good and faithful priests all their lives. They always inspire me and make me smile because in a certain way the way they live their lives shows to the seminarian the example on how to live as good priests.
I always find inspiration in old priests because they are living symbol of faithfulness to the vocation they chose to respond to. Their presence seem to tell us that faithfulness to one’s vocation is possible in the midst of a world where people almost totally lost the sense of commitment to one’s vocation, whether it may be married or priestly life. They seem to tell us that vocation is indeed a noble vocation in spite of the world’s temptation to value nothing but money and temporal goods.
-What do you tell someone who is considering the priesthood? I always tell people considering vocation to the priesthood to honestly and openly discern God’s call. When they realize that God is really calling them at one point, they should have courage, do not be afraid and come forward to embrace that call no matter what. A lot of people feel that they are not worthy for this kind of vocation. I say, “No one is worthy! Nobody will ever be worthy.” Yet God is so good that in spite of our unworthiness we are called to do something that is noble. This should even make us feel more grateful for our call.
God’s call is not something against our humanity. It is an invitation to be more human. This means that we know well our weaknesses, and without God’s grace we can do nothing; we recognize our dependence on God and therefore it is important that we trust him.
-Do you have a favorite devotion? My favorite devotion is the devotion to the Holy Eucharist and the Rosary. Life in the seminary is very challenging. Challenges in life as a seminarian and as a priest someday is a part of the call that we respond to. It is necessary therefore to always ask God, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother to supply the necessary graces that we need along the way. Prayer is indispensable.
When studies get tough in the seminary and it seems that things are almost impossible for me to accomplish, I would tell myself: “Ok, it’s time for me to close my eyes, hold on to the hand of God, and he will get me through.” In times that I could not see a clear direction of where I am going to, I let God lead the way for me.
-How do you relax? Do you have a favorite vacation and/or retreat spot? My relaxation is to hang out with my fellow seminarians. It gives me the chance to encourage them and be encouraged by them. I don’t have a favorite vacation or retreat spot. As long as I am able to spend some time alone with the Lord, it should work for me. Here in the seminary, I do it by the lake within our seminary grounds if not in the closest chapel to my room.
-Describe a good day at the seminary. For me, a good seminary day is a day that I am able to accomplish what I need and wish to do. I’m happy with my day if it is a balanced day. That is, if I am able to do my assignments like reading and written assignments; when I am able to pray alone outside the schedule of the seminary for prayer and Mass; when I am able to do a bit of exercise.
-Finish this sentence: “It would surprise people to know… that I like photography a lot. A good picture for me is a picture that would make you reflect on the message that it tries to convey. For example if the picture is a picture of nature, it should make the viewer realize the beauty of God’s creation, reflecting the beauty of the one who created it. Photography could be an efficient means of catechism and education for the people.”
Ramonito Celestial is a second-year Theology student at Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Ill.