Last month I had the privilege to travel to Vietnam along with several priests and laity from Louisville. The main purpose of our visit was not tourism, but to celebrate with the home parishes of Fathers Kien Nguyen and Minh Vu, who were ordained on May 25th as priests for the Archdiocese of Louisville. I saw many beautiful sights and ate lots of delicious food, but two moments, in particular, have stuck with me.
The first was after an outdoor Mass attended by tens of thousands of people on the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua. After the Mass, the American priests and I were quickly surrounded by people holding out rosaries, or water bottles, or babies, asking for blessings. Standing in the midst of those people, I saw their simple faith and their humble trust in God’s providence. Through them I realized the great privilege priests and deacons have in being able to invoke God’s blessing on his children.
The other was processing into the church for each of the two Masses of Thanksgiving celebrated by Fr. Nguyen and Fr. Vu in their home parishes. At each Mass, not just the priests and servers, but the entire parish processed into the church wearing their best. The same care and effort was put into the music and decorations as if it were Easter Sunday. Outside the church, men and boys beat on a set of traditional drums in perfect unison.
Walking beside the new priests at the end of those long processions, with the sound of those drums filling the air, into a beautiful church packed with people — It sent a powerful message that something of the utmost importance, something world-changing, was about to happen here.
These moments taught me two things about the Catholics we met in Vietnam. One is that their parishes truly live out St. Paul’s description of the Body of Christ: “If one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). For us who live in a culture which prizes individualism and competition, we must be intentional in making our parishes true communities where we come together to celebrate each other’s joys and to grieve each other’s sorrows.
The other is that they have a deep love for the priesthood: not just the individual priests, but for the priesthood itself. All the sacrifices of time, money, and effort they put into these celebrations were primarily about giving thanks to God, not to any man.
Every priest is a sinner in need of God’s mercy just like the rest of us, yet by the gift of Holy Orders he becomes a sacramental sign of Christ the Head, the Teacher, the Bridegroom.
As I enter my final year of seminary formation, I was overwhelmed by the love for the priesthood that I encountered in Vietnam. They love the priesthood because they love the Eucharist, and they love the Eucharist because they love Giesu Kito (Jesus Christ) and know that they are loved by him. And that is something that is always worth celebrating.
Deacon Steven Reeves