July 24, 2013
|Father Khoi Tran (right) and Father James Wilcox offer a blessing to Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, metropolitan archbishop of San Antonio, a the end of the Ordination Mass June 29. Archbishop Garcia-Siller ordained both men to the priesthood.|
In the assembly that day sat parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, and one 94-year-old grandfather who had fostered and gratefully anticipated this ordination.
But Vietnamese Martyrs Parish, the largest capacity church in the Diocese of Fort Worth, and among the largest capacity Vietnamese Parishes in the United States, was completely filled. There were well-wishers, classmates, deacons, seminarians, and more than 50 brother priests.
All were gathered to celebrate the day James Wilcox and Khoi Tran had waited for, not only through years of study, but for most of their lives.
Both men were raised Catholic, with Wilcox and his siblings growing up in Dallas at St. Pius X Parish, and attending Bishop Lynch High School. Tran, the oldest of two brothers, had lived in Vietnam, alternately with his parents and grandparents, until he was 10, when the family resettled in Wichita, Kansas.
“My grandma and grandpa were the ones who shaped my faith,” Fr. Tran said. “My grandma was blind, and even though we were poor, she would save some money, and every Sunday she would hire a poor man living down in our neighborhood to take us to church in his cycle rickshaw.
“We would go to church every Sunday, and we prayed the Rosary every night as a family. My grandpa was the one who taught me how to pray; he would be the one leading the prayer.”
It was that grandfather, now 94, who had been eagerly awaiting the ordination day. “I joked with him,” Fr. Tran said. “‘Grandma passed away young,’ I told him; ‘you are living the years she couldn’t live, in order to wait for me.’”
Fr. Wilcox’s mother, JoAnn, remembers her son’s discernment process. “I wanted him to be a priest,” she said. “But after a certain age, I thought, ‘Maybe not.’” When he did discern, however, she remembered emotionally, “I was elated.”
Presiding at the June 29 Liturgy of Ordination was Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, metropolitan archbishop of San Antonio, who expressed his gratitude for the invitation to “preside at this ordination of two brothers in Christ.
“I have been following closely the developments of your diocese since Bishop Vann was asked to go to Orange County,” the archbishop said, “and I can tell you that Monsignor Steve Berg has done tremendous work to keep the unity and the proclamation of the faith through these past few months. He is a good priest of Christ. He has served you well.”
|Father James Wilcox prays over the Eucharist, concelebrating his ordination Mass June 29.|
The ordination liturgy began after the Gospel was proclaimed, when the two candidates were called forth and presented to the ordinary. “Most Reverend Father, Holy Mother Church asks you to ordain these our brothers to the responsibility of the priesthood,” Msgr. Berg pronounced, and Archbishop Garcia-Siller asked in reply, “Do you know them to be worthy?”
Msgr. Berg, answered, “After inquiry among the Christian people and upon the recommendation of those responsible, I testify that they have been found worthy.”
“Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ,” the Archbishop concluded, “we choose these men, our brothers, for the Order of the Priesthood.”
“It was a humbling moment,” Fr. Wilcox said. “I could feel the Holy Spirit influencing my heart. I knew it was beginning.
“Then we each knelt before the archbishop and placed our hands in his. The usual pledge would have been, ‘Do you promise obedience to me and my successors?’ But in our case, because we are without a bishop, the archbishop asked, ‘Do you promise obedience to the ordinary?’
“The concept goes beyond any one man and any one person,” Fr. Wilcox said, “so we were promising obedience to the ordinary, not to an individual.’”
After that, the two men lay on either side of the altar, while the Litany of the Saints was sung. “As I lay there, I was humbled and energized to know two things,” Fr. Wilcox said. “One, that all the people in the church at that time were asking God to bless us with his grace; and that the saints, those beside us and those who had gone before us, were participating in a special way, because we are all called. It is part of the eternal nature of the Church, both forward and in the past, that we are all part of the ministry.”
After the men rose from their prayer, the archbishop laid hands on their heads, silently praying for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This ancient sign of ordination is the most solemn moment of the rite, and after that took place, the laying-on of hands was ceremoniously repeated by each priest present at the liturgy.
|Father Khoi Tran prays over his family at the end of his ordination Mass June 29.|
“I was getting emotional at that time,” Fr. Tran said. “I felt unworthy of this amazing wonder and love, and that God had led me to be there. I cried at that moment. I felt God’s love for me in spite of my unworthiness.”
Family members and special priest mentors vested the new priests with stole and chasuble, after which the archbishop anointed their hands with holy chrism.
“A special embroidered linen cloth, the maniturgium was used to wipe the excess chrism from our hands,” Fr. Tran said, explaining the tradition of presenting that precious cloth to their mothers, at their first Masses. Similarly they would present their fathers with the stoles worn when celebrating their first confessions.
“I was very proud,” JoAnn Wilcox said, of her son’s presentation at his first Mass. “The two cloths were together in a beautiful box. It was very emotional.”
“The tradition is that when the parents go to heaven they can give those things to God,” Fr. Tran said with humor. “My son is a priest! Let me into Heaven!
“God providentially gave me a second maniturgium set,” Fr. Tran said, more seriously. “It had been made by the Carmelite sisters in Houston, so I was able to give the first set to my parents, and the second to my grandpa.
“When I went to Wichita after my ordination, I had the honor of blessing a new place for my grandmother’s ashes — my grandpa wanted to move them to Wichita from where they were, in Houston. I blessed the new resting place and saw one thing my grandpa had put into the niche was the maniturgium I had given him.”
“I think I can put all of my feelings from ordination in one sentence of St. Thérèse of Liseux, The Little Flower. ‘All is Grace.’ Everything is grace. Everything that happened in my life — 11 years of formation, ups and downs.”
“At the sign of peace, I was just excited,” Fr. Wilcox said, detailing the huge bear hugs he gave out generously to all his friends and colleagues. “The Holy Spirit was with me — and so many of these priests had played a huge part in my journey.
|Newly ordained priests Fathers James Wilcox (left) and Khoi Tran process out of Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Arlington at the end of their ordination Mass June 29.|
“Once Mass started, that was when it hit me,” Fr. Tran said. “I thanked God for sending this archbishop. He was outstanding, his homily took me right at the heart.”
Archbishop Garcia-Siller had said, “My brothers, this is a joyous occasion. A momentous occasion. It is also very profound. You are being entrusted with the priesthood of Jesus Christ. What does this mean today?
“Pope Francis has constantly pointed out the danger of the Church becoming closed in on itself, of being self-referential. This is a kind of theological narcissism. This narcissism does not reach out to heal wounds. Narcissism prevents us from being truly missionary…. There is no room in leadership in the Church for narcissistic priests.”
“It was what I needed to hear,” Fr. Tran said. “The Church does not need narcissistic priests, but priests who will lay down their own lives.”
“The Holy Father has also pointed out that washing feet is not purely symbolic,” the archbishop said. “A man accepting a liturgical ritual, confined to the sanctuary, and clearly defined by rubrics, is not acceptable in the Catholic Church. Rituals are important. But worship is the operation, the awesome experience of the community.
“That is, when liturgical celebrations are accompanied by ministers who are ready to wash the feet of sinners — In other words, it is a very messy job, just as real shepherds spend long hours in the hot sun tending their sheep; protecting them from robbers, nourishing them with food and water — that is a good shepherd in the Church, according to the heart of Jesus.”
At the end of the ordination Mass, in the enormous, fully packed Vietnamese Martyrs Church, Archbishop Garcia-Siller knelt humbly on the altar stairs to receive the first blessings from Father James Wilcox and Father Khoi Tran.
Deacon James Wilcox did not find his 40th birthday at all upsetting. For a lot of people, 40 is a “freak-out,” he said, “using a popular term.” But April 4, 2013 didn’t bother him at all. “When I looked at the dates, I knew this was the year I would be ordained a priest!
“My personality type is I am a very organized person. I like to organize. I like to plan things.” And yet, for most of Deacon Khoi Tran’s life, he has been encountering and enduring events that were unorganized, and usually not the result of a plan. On June 29, Dcn. Tran will be ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Fort Worth at Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Arlington.
In the assembly that day sat parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, and one 94-year-old grandfather who had fostered and gratefully anticipated this ordination. But Vietnamese Martyrs Parish, the largest capacity church in the Diocese of Fort Worth, and among the largest capacity Vietnamese Parishes in the United States, was completely filled. There were well-wishers, classmates, deacons, seminarians, and more than 50 brother priests. All were gathered to celebrate the day James Wilcox and Khoi Tran had waited for, not only through years of study, but for most of their lives.