“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Jn 6:51
Doorbell rings. I guess I should answer.
“Good afternoon, can we speak to your parents?”, asked the one of the two young men in matching white dress shirts, with black slacks and ties.
“They’re not home.”
“Can we ask you a question?”
Why not? I already got up to answer the door. “OK.”
“Do you know what a prophet is?”
“Yeah, a profit is when you make more money than you spent.”
Doorbell Dialogs with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Brett Taira, Age 12
I was raised in a Buddhist family living in sunny Southern California. I did not know Christ, but then again I didn’t know Buddha and neither omission seemed to have constituted a loss at the time. I dedicated myself to school, to my friends, and to hobbies. My greatest occupation was passing from the present to the future, and my existential anxiety festered as it became progressively more difficult to perceive any qualitative difference between the former and the later. It had been my hope that upon entering college there would be something “new under the sun”, but novelties are, as ever, circumstantial. The world of the adolescent seemed a highway of limitless possibilities, but the adult ever threatened to substitute ideals for expedients.
Though I had my eyes on Berkeley, I surprised myself by going out-of-state to Rice University in. At college, nobody should be surprised to find a multitude of student groups looking for new members. There’s nothing novel about drawing attention with music and free pizza. I was prepared for smiles, the friendly greetings, and then ultimately the sales pitch. There was the Chinese Club (not to be confused with the Taiwanese), the Linux Club, chain mail-clad Elvish-speaking Tolkein-worshiping Club, and any other student club one could imagine. Of this menagerie the most active of the groups were the religious organizations and in particular the evangelical Christians. As a matter of principle I decided that I wasn’t going to fall for organizations that held you hostage all Sunday morning, yet in spite of my better judgment, I fell for their pitch. I was hungry. There was pizza. I told myself I was just going for the pizza. Just for the pizza…
Three months, a dozen bible studies, half a dozen Sunday worship services, a handful of praise and worship sessions, and innumerable pizzas later I found myself thoroughly immersed in an exemplary group of young Christians from all over the world, specializing in diverse fields of study, and yet united by something intangible, imperceptible, and yet undeniably attractive. Having partaken fully of the practically unlimited supply of Papa John’s Pizza and Crispy Creme donuts, I began to suspect that the marvelous unity and enthusiasm of the group had a more profound origin than just the limitless supply of food. Anyone with a basic level of personal discipline can be friendly, sociable, and patient at the beginning of the year to welcome new freshman, but to do so consistently amidst the stresses of college life for three months straight deserves some attention. Although I was present at the same activities, my friends clearly had something special that I was missing. Participation occurs not through activity, but through belief; and I was more of an observer than a believer.
On December 13, 2000, my friend John asked me if I wanted to become a Christian, and I took the question seriously, however quickly encountering serious doubts. Can I really trust God? How can I trust Him if I don’t know Him? How can I start to know Him if I don’t take the step of faith? Why do I need to take the first step? Why can’t He just show Himself to me? I was waiting for God to make the first move, but that move had already been made.
The impasse was broken by the intervention of an ever present though never welcome party. As my conversation with John continued, so did my agitation and my doubts of God, of his goodness of his trustworthiness. The prospect of faith first seemed an intriguing, but uncertain opportunity. Then suddenly it seemed to me an imprudent and foolish adventure. Finally, the prospect of Christianity loomed over me as a menace and a threat. My thoughts and attitudes toward God had in the course of only a few minutes degenerated radically from fascination to fight-or-flight. That’s when I realized that something nasty was pulling my strings and yanking hard. In this world there are good spirits and bad ones. I had the unpleasantness of making acquaintance with the latter. I was under siege by an unknown enemy who sought above all to prevent me from trusting in a God who for the most part was also largely unknown to me. The question of faith was no longer an academic game of words and ideas. If I chose not to act, it was clear that I would be handing the victory to the nasty spirit. Not deciding is itself a decision of the gravest consequences. The time for gathering information was over. All I really knew about God was that my friends believed in him, and I knew for sure that I trusted my friends. This knowledge wasn’t a scientific proof, it wasn’t philosophical demonstration, and nothing could be more subjective than my personal experience with my friends. The testimony of convinced Christians was all the data I had to work with, and this was the data that gave me the confidence to take the leap of faith.
“How do pick a church?”
“Easy. Here’s what look for:
Bible-based, fellowship, evangelization, and good music.”
–Dialogs on the Four Marks of a church, 2001
In the summer of 2001, I was on vacation in New York City. Our hotel was just a few blocks from St. Patrick’s Cathedral so out of curiosity I went to the early Mass to leave time for sightseeing the rest of the day. As I entered the massive Neo-Gothic structure I was taken aback by the silence. The stark contrast between the bustling activity of Manhattan commuters and the sepulchral stillness of church gave first gave me pause, and then later alarm. Mass was about to start and the church was still mostly empty. There were no greeters at the entrance. A desperate glance also confirmed my suspicions that there was no choir, no organist, and no praise and worship band. Not wanting to feel out place I imitated the locals by sitting alone in an empty pew roughly equidistant from the handful faithful attending Mass.
After twenty-four tedious minutes passed, Mass ended as underwhelmingly as it had begun. Having been utterly unimpressed by the whole experience I swiftly descending the front steps facing Rockefeller Center, now directing my full attention toward breakfast. Before I even reached the foot of the stairs, I was overcome by the consoling peace of the Holy Spirit. This made no sense at all to me. Despite a thoroughly disappointing liturgical experience, God was responding with grace and consolation. There was something that had gone very, very right and I had no clue what it was.
A week later my travels took me visit Washington D.C. where I arranged to visit my friends from college at their Presbyterian service. As soon as I entered, I was welcomed by three greeters at the front door who promptly led me to the youth room which was buzzing with joyful chatter. I was relieved when I spotted the praise and worship band tuning their guitars and getting ready to play. My friends introduced me to an enthusiastic youth minister in his mid-twenties who preached with passion and conviction. After the service I said goodbye to my friends and felt extremely content with having been able to visit such a vibrant community of young Christians. Yet in the depth of my heart, I knew something was off. Something was missing something, but I couldn’t identify what it was. Yet how could I find that something, when I didn’t know what I was looking for?
The much needed insight came after returning to California, when my mom took me aside and told me that she had something she wanted to give me. She opened up her jewelry box and withdrew a gold crucifix. I assumed that she must have purchased it during our vacation, but she told me that she had received it as a gift from my grandmother who purchased it on sale because it came with another item that she wanted. My grandmother gave the crucifix to my mother so that she could melt down the gold and make something new. My mom never had time to reforge it, so the crucifix was never melted, and spent years waiting at the bottom of her jewelry box. Every Catholic church I had visited display a crucifix prominently within the sanctuary. All of the Protestant churches I visited were adorned with a bare cross without the corpus, or body of Christ. Not being totally obtuse, I could see that the Holy Spirit was pointing me toward the Catholic Church, so I got in touch with some Catholic friends and related my experience to them. When they told me that the Eucharist was truly the Body and Blood of Christ, then I finally understood what God was trying to tell me. I understood, I believed, and I knew I needed the Eucharist. I needed to join the Catholic Church.
“If anyone is seriously thinking about the priesthood or consecrated life,
please come down to the center so we can pray for you.”
He said “seriously” thinking about it. I’m just thinking about it casually.
“If you feel that God is calling you, don’t be afraid.”
I’m not afraid. It’s just that I’m not seriously thinking about it.
“It’s OK. Come down here so we can pray for you.”
Good. I’m happy to pray for those other people who are serious about it.
Why am I the only one worried about this? Maybe I am serious…
–Interior Monologues, Steubenville West 2002.
After several months of RCIA classes I received the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion on the Easter Vigil of 2002, marking my official reception into the Catholic Church. After the exuberance of those days subsided I realized that I missed those RCIA classes, not so much for the content as for having a clear goal towards which I was striving and a structured itinerary for arriving there. Now that I was a fully incorporated member of the Church, the only sure goal left was heaven, and plan for getting there was not quite as well scheduled as RCIA classes had been. Lacking a specific goal but eager to continue advancing in my faith, I volunteered with youth ministry at St. Joachim’s parish in Costa Mesa, CA during the summer after my sophomore year of college.
I accompanied our teens to the Steubenville West Conference in Arizona. During Eucharistic adoration I received a clear call to the priesthood. For me the call was not the certainty that I would in fact become a priest, but rather it was the perception that Christ was opening a new doorway in my life – an initiative not an ultimatum. There was nothing wrong with the path I had been, and I experienced no pressure to abandon my original plans. Yet Christ’s invitation to the priesthood was intriguing, radically different from anything I had imagined, and it resonated within my soul long after emotions had passed. The vocation is inherently attractive and does not require promotion so much as presentation.
Although I had encountered priests from religious orders, I really didn’t know much of the difference between religious and diocesan priests. Encouraged by a friend, I made a visit to the St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado Canyon to meet the Norbertines. When I joined their community to pray the Sixth Hour, I received an inspiration from the Holy Spirit and I realized that God was calling me to religious life. From that point forward my journey of discernment led me to visit various other religious congregations. The Legionaries of Christ, being a relatively new and small order with only a small presence in Southern California, were nowhere on my radar screen.
During my discernment process I was also interested in becoming more active in evangelization. I was involved in the pro-life movement in Houston, and often spent my weekends praying outside of Planned Parenthood clinics. The idea of giving public testimony to the faith strongly resonated with me and I felt that Christians should not be afraid to take to the streets to communicate the truth to others. I was Googling for Catholics who did street missions and I came across Mission Youth, an organization sponsored by the Regnum Christi Movement which is dedicated to missions both in the US and abroad. At the time they didn’t offer missions in Houston, but I found out that there were Regnum Christi retreats locally so I attended, eager to meet a group dedicated to the new evangelization. I was immediately impressed by the Legionary priest who preached the retreat, and I quickly became involved with Regnum Christi’s youth work. I joined Regnum Christi in the summer of 2003, and after visiting the novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ in Cheshire, CT I began making plans to join the candidacy after finishing my degree in electrical engineering.
“The sincere zeal of the majority of Legionaries, which was evident in the visits to the Congregation’s houses and to many of their works – which met with great appreciation in some quarters – led many people in the past to believe that the increasingly insistent and widespread accusations could not be other than calumnies. Therefore the discovery and the knowledge of the truth concerning the founder gave rise among the members of the Legion to surprise, dismay and profound grief, which was clearly brought out by the Visitators.”
–Communique of the Holy See Regarding the Apostolic Visitation of the Legionaries, May 1st, 2010.
I received my cassock and officially joined the novitiate September 15th, 2004. Life in the seminary was tough, but I enjoyed the time of prayer, study, and service. I was enjoying my studies in Rome when news of the scandal of Fr. Maciel, the founder of our order, came to light in February 2009. As story of the figure who had been the point of reference for all things Legionary took a tragic turn, I couldn’t help but wonder about my future. There was speculation that the congregation would be suppressed by the Vatican. As other priests and seminarians began to leave the Legion, I wondered whether it was time to abandon. Fortunately, Pope Benedict quickly ordered an apostolic visitation and later appointed Card. Velasio DePaolis to oversee the revision of our constitutions. The Pope clearly wanted us to continue not to shut down.
It is not a coincidence that this crisis occurred during the pontificate which emphasized a “hermeneutic of continuity.” The prevailing culture and its “hermeneutic of rupture” wanted to resolve our situation by completely liquidating us, and then starting a new congregation from scratch. Pope Benedict’s approach however reflects truth that the same Spirit which inspired us during our foundation, continues to inspire us even after our crisis. God remains faithful even we had failed. The challenge of these years of renewal was not a question of separating the past and future into two hermetically isolated incommensurables, but rather to be attentive to the good the Holy Spirit has been working in us from the beginning and to remove obstacles that have cropped up along the way so that He can continue his work in generations to come. In the end I came to see this whole renewal process as part of my vocation to the Legion. The crisis has not changed my vocation, but rather my way of responding to the call. The mission to build the Kingdom of Christ has not changed, but rather the awareness of the need to build in communion. The challenges going forward are not inconsequential, but today I feel more accompanied by my Regnum Christi family than ever.