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Turn to Jesus (Article)

To the God of Widows and Orphans
Fr John Ko, LC (South Korea)

P. John Ko, L.C.
P. John Ko, L.C.

When my mother was a teenager, she attended a high school run by the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, the first community of women religious in Korea. She became very fond of the life of the religious sisters and fostered in her heart a desire to consecrate her life to God. However, God had other plans for her. She developed an acute asthma, which became so severe that she could not enter religious life. This illness was the cross she was to bear her whole life, but also the means God used to show her his plans. Due to this experience, my mother prayed to God that there be a priest in the family; if possible, a religious priest.

My mother and father were a happy couple. They got along excellently and had no difficulties that they could not overcome together. However, when I was three years old, my father passed away. He had suffered a heart attack at home, while my mother and I were out shopping. I do not recall much, except seeing him prostrate and unconscious on the floor as we entered our home. I grew up knowing that my father was in heaven with God.

Regarding my own calling to become a priest, I do not recall anything in particular during my childhood. I always wanted to be a priest, as well as a taxi driver and a scientist, and many other things. I had always received good impressions from my parish priests and knew well a priest that was a longtime friend of the family. My mother wished that God would call me to be a priest, but she was open to other paths that I could have chosen.

God’s Plans

After my father’s passing away, our family moved to Taejon, since my mother wanted me to grow up in the simple atmosphere of the countryside, and because of her own health. When I was in fifth grade, we received an invitation to immigrate from my maternal grandmother in the United States. Given my mother’s rather poor health, we decided to move to the States in search of a possible cure.

We arrived to California in August,
P. John Ko, L.C.
1989, as I was halfway through sixth grade. Not much later, my mother met the aunt of a Legionary seminarian at a retreat. This led me to pay a visit to the Legionaries’ high-school seminary in New Hampshire (a six-hour flight), shortly after Christmas of 1990.

Like little Samuel, who received God’s calling as a youth in the temple, I received a special grace there. One evening during my visit, I ventured into the chapel. Everything was dark; there was no one; only the red sanctuary lamp spoke of Jesus’ presence. There were no visions or audible words, only a feeling of great interior peace. It is too hard to express it in words, but I knew then that it was a special grace. The following summer, I entered the high-school seminary and felt very much at home. I did not know there was a difference between religious priests and diocesan priests, but God pointed the way through my mother.

Those years in the high-school seminary went by quickly, and I entered the Legionary novitiate in 1995. There I was able to spend many hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, praying and reading the Gospels. I made my first profession in 1997. My mother flew all the way from Los Angeles and we spent memorable moments together, thanking God for this special grace. However, one month after the first profession, God had another plan for my family. My mother suffered a severe asthma attack while away from home and entered into an irreversible coma. I flew out to California and accompanied my unconscious mother in her last moments.

On that occasion, I called an elderly nun in Korea, who was my mother’s spiritual mother, to let her know of my mother’s passing away.

To my surprise, she told me, “John, do you know that your mother called me when she got back from your profession? She was so happy and grateful to God. She told me that she wouldn’t mind now even if God took away her life. It seems that God took her seriously.” Those words were a consolation to me, as if to say that my mother had completed the task God had entrusted her and now was resting in God. Her prayers, sacrifices, and example had always been a part of my vocational journey, and now she had done her part.

Here I am, Lord

Last summer, during the rehearsal for the diaconate ordination, we were kneeling to lie down on the marble floor of the sanctuary. A stunning awareness of what I was doing suddenly dawned on me. I was laying down my whole life before God so that he could do with me what he pleases, as he pleases, and when he pleases. In the 13 years that passed after my mother’s passing away, I had studied philosophy and theology in Rome, learning new languages and customs. I had returned to the United States for four years of internship, as a member of the seminary formation team. Now I was on the threshold of the priesthood. God did not have to go out of his way to do marvels or signs: he just had to be there when I needed him, so that I could find and embrace him in the common trials of life, which perhaps for me came earlier. God spoke and continues to speak through the ordinary things of every day, very gently and humbly, yet very lovingly.

Not all moments have been easy, but all moments have done their share to prepare me for this immeasurable gift of priesthood. God used my mother and her illness to show me his plans for my life. As I look back on my life of 32 years, I realize what a great mother and father God gave me, even if for a very short time. I can never thank enough Our Lord for this double gift. Although my mother and father could not be present for my ordination, because God had other plans for them and for me, I am sure they smiled down from heaven and joined me in my prayer of thanksgiving to God, who does wonders with our poor lives.

FR JOHN SEUNGBUM KO was born in Seoul, South Korea, on February 9, 1978. He entered the Legionaries’ high-school seminary in Center Harbor, New Hampshire, in 1991, where he finished his high school. After his novitiate and training in liberal arts in Cheshire, Connecticut, he completed his studies in philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome. For the last seven years, he has been a member of the formation team of the Legionary seminaries in Cheshire and Rome.

The vocation stories of the Legionaries of Christ who were ordained in 2010 have been published in the book "From the Heart of Christ."



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