August 9 Bulletin: My Dear Parishioners,
This past week marked the 40th anniversary of my arrival in this country from a refugee camp in Malaysia. I still remember vividly my car trip from PDX to the foster home where I would be living for the next 7 years. I still remember the extremely gigantic figure of Fr. Morton Park, who was head of Catholic Charities and who was the official sponsor of my case (the case of an unaccompanied minor in a UNHCR refugee camp). We fostered kids in this one home located at NE 33rd and Hancock Streets and we were very scared of him. He was not at all mean or unkind. It was just that he was so tall and he towered over us and he spoke mumbo-jumbo to us kids! We used to say among ourselves that we shall never speak Vietnamese in front of him, not particularly out of respect for him, but because we suspected he might know Vietnamese and would be on to us and our squirrely mischievous endeavors! Fr. Park became Msgr. Park and died several years ago. He was a great priest!
Forty years on and here I am! When I arrived forty years ago, I was a scared and penniless refugee who did not speak a word of English, all alone in the world. But God in His great kindness saw to it that I did not only receive help to survive physically, but that I found a home in this land of migrants. And not only an earthly home, but a spiritual home: the Catholic Church. Forty years on, I am now an old man reflecting on the amazing goodness of God and how He has always been with me all these years! In my reflections, I cannot fail to recognize that God has truly shed His grace on this new homeland of mine, America! Only in America could a frightened homeless teenager who arrived from foreign shore with just a shirt on his back still manage to make something of his life for himself, for his family, and for God! For one thing, it’s because of the great American people, whose generosity made possible success story after success story for countless waves of refugees who were brought here and offered freedom and opportunities. The Vietnamese people in this country are forever grateful to their host for the kind welcome from the beginning and for all manners of sacrifices they had made to help us start a new life here! From time to time people would ask me why I have not gone to visit this place or that, and I always give one answer: Why bother to go anywhere when I am already living in the greatest country on God’s green earth? Thank God for America!
August 2, Bulletin: My Dear Parishioners,
This morning I bade farewell to a young man who was getting ready to drive across the country in pursuit of a new life for himself and his family. This evening while cleaning up after dinner, I suddenly began to have a feeling of deep sadness over the loss of this wonderful family. I have learned to accept things like that over the years. I have resigned to the reality of changes, of separation, of losses – for they are part and parcel of life. And yet, in these times of quarantine and lockdown, the heart is bit more sensitive to everything any more - especially farewells and goodbyes! For long while now I have recognized that everyone whom I have met on the road of life came to me as a gift from God. It is God Who places people next to me, Who facilitates encounters that generate affections and produce lasting friendships for me, Who fills “the abyss of my life” with people whose faces help me to remember our common destiny and our shared humanity, so that in front of moments like these I may not lose heart and allow the nothingness of my origin crush me like a bug!
In these days of continued shutdown and lockdown and physical distancing, people are struggling mightily. And since priests are people too, they also struggle! We priests struggle to understand God’s will for us. We struggle to find ways to continue the task of evangelizing and administering the Holy Mysteries under so many restrictions and in a climate of paralyzing fear. We struggle to stay connected to our parishioners while remaining sensitive to their desire to feel safe and be healthy. We struggle to provide for members of our flocks who voluntarily deprive themselves of the Sacraments for fear of catching the virus. We struggle to find ways to help people, devout people, to realize that no amount of watching televised and YouTube Masses and Rosaries and spiritual talks can be adequate to the pervasive nihilism that is taking over the whole world. We priests are struggling mightily because we fear that our people have begun to lose confidence in the power of God and because the beauty of God’s house can no longer attract hearts and souls. We are witnessing today a vast desolate landscape stretching further and further toward the horizon – landscape on which stand empty churches, silent bell towers, and unvisited monasteries.
When all is said and done, the priest is only a mere man, and God is still God! When all is said and done, the only thing that brings hope and comfort is this knowledge articulated by St. Paul: “Everything will work towards the good of those who love God!” Amen!
July 26 Bulletin: My Dear Parishioners,
This month of July is special to me, because it marks a milestone in the life of a diocesan priest like me. It’s the month that I began my work at St. Agatha’s two years ago. I am now in my third year at this parish! The reason I am bringing this up is not to brag about anything (and especially not about my survival here!). I simply want to say how much I am grateful to the parishioners of this parish! You have been a part of my life now for two years, and you have shown me so much grace and kindness and hospitality! And the fact that the church is still operating now under these severe circumstances and conditions goes to show me that you care a great deal about this place.
And because you care a great deal about this place, you have extended that care and that affection to the priest, to me (!), even at the cost of your comfort and ease! More than anything else, I am grateful that you have accepted me as your priest. You are no longer trying to get used to me – you have embraced me! The only thing I fear now is that this separation between priest and people because of the pandemic might undo to some extent the closeness we have had with each other! That is why I pray for you all every day. And when I say Mass for your intentions, I have in front of me your faces as I try to bring to the Lord your concerns, your challenges, your headaches and your heartaches in the way you would have Him hear them from your own hearts! God’s Providence has your lives and mine intertwined in this way from all eternity. Why? I don’t know! But what I do know is that my salvation depends solely on how I serve you as your priest! Please pray for me! And please tell me if I could do better, with God’s help!
July 19 Bulletin: My Dear Parishioners,
I have been adding prayers to our daily Masses and the 8:30 Sunday Mass. We recite the Angelus as the bell is rung. Then we say the prayer to St. Joseph by Pope Leo XIII. After Holy Communion we pray the Anima Christi (“Soul of Christ”) while I clean the sacred vessels. When Mass is over we pray the 3 Hail Mary’s, plus the Hail Holy Queen, plus a prayer for liberty of the Church, and the St. Michael Prayer. We conclude everything with 3 invocations to the Sacred Heart.
We pray these extra prayers daily and without fail for the last two months for one purpose: to beg heaven for the survival of our parish and our school. That is why I am asking the daily Mass goers to pray these extra prayers with me. Blessedly, they agreed! Some people have been bothered by the extra prayers – they seem like so much noisy chattering. But for me, there is something beautiful and sweet and comforting and powerful about praying these devotions together – we are bonded and we are united in our common goal: the future of our patrimony, the future of this little church St. Agatha’s in this little corner of the city we call Sellwood. The lay people take the lead in these devotions, and I just follow along with the responses! And the more we pray together, the more I become “bullish” on our future!
These weeks and months of lockdown and shutdown and quarantine and shelter-in-place have been cruel on the human spirit, since we have been forced to live against our own nature. But the daily Mass and daily devotions have proved to be lifesavers. As long as we pray, there is hope to be had! Every day I look at the faces of the people at Mass and I am reminded of how good God is to me, how I have been blessed with such a great parish and such a great people – a people whose destiny and mine have been intertwined from all eternity! Come what may tomorrow, as long as we are still together, as long as we are united in our common faith and our common prayers, we shall be unbreakable!