By Peter Okajima
Born and raised in a household devoid of faith, it wasn’t until the age of 43 that God became manifest in my life, which He did in a totally unexpected way.
My loving parents were Japanese immigrants who courted and married in the years immediately after WWII. My father was a Buddhist; my mother Shintoist. Fearful of discrimination and desirous that their children fully assimilate into Western culture, they neither practiced nor encouraged religion. Not surprisingly then, without any exposure to faith formation and influenced only by what was taught in public school and the secular media, I grew up questioning the very existence of God.
Despite this, God placed in my heart the desire to seek him and serve people at an early age. Unfortunately, any observable behavior in this regard was met with firm parental discouragement, but seeds awaiting a fertile environment were planted.
College presented opportunities for spiritual growth and my mind became open to the possibility of something greater than the visible universe, albeit still steeped with skepticism.
After school, I entered the world of finance and worked my way up from an entry-level position to one with global management responsibilities. It was at this stage in my life that the Lord provided the required nourishment for germination.
Sense of Incompleteness
One could say I was living the American Dream. I had a sizeable house in a good neighborhood, a respectable job paying a healthy salary and prospects for continued career advancement. The problem was a sense of incompleteness; a realization that there was something important missing in my life, a hole in my heart.
In retrospect, I realize God was dropping subtle hints, but I was the type that required a two-by-four applied to the head, which He provided in His infinite mercy. One day, while pondering this sense of incompleteness, a voice spoke to me that said, “Go to Church.”
In those three simple words a multitude of meanings was imparted which is difficult to articulate. One, however, was quite clear. I was to go to a particular church in my neighborhood. After stalling a week, I marshalled my resolve and went. One of the deacons, after an eye-opening discussion, invited me to take part in the RCIA. I accepted and attended every session, and happily received the sacraments of initiation at the next Easter Vigil.
I became an active member of the parish, serving in several ministries including: catechist, RCIA (as director), prison, homebound, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, acolyte, lector, sacristan, youth, usher, finance council, construction committee, etc. I also had the blessing of assisting my pastor with funerals, visiting the sick and First Friday calls.
With every Mass, ministry event and prayer, my relationship with our Lord deepened. Over time, I came to realize that His call was not only to personal relationship, but also to the priesthood.
This greatly surprised me, not the least because of my age. However, as His gentle tug persisted, I turned it over to prayer and recognized that, heretofore, my life was overwhelmingly self-centered. Now I desire to follow His will, no longer my own.
This fall, I will enter my third year of theology at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., which specializes in later-in-life vocations. There men come from all walks of life and from all around the nation, and the world.
My fellow seminarians are former doctors, lawyers, teachers, and military, to name a few. We have all given up everything to answer God’s call to serve His Church and Her people. You are never too old to answer God’s call, but you must take the first step. Don’t be afraid. Trust in God’s great love for you.
I am indebted to my pastor for his overwhelming support and encouragement. I am also beholden to my parents, brother and family, who despite not being of the faith, are similarly disposed.
Finally, I am most grateful to His Excellency for giving me this opportunity to respond to God’s call.