On Saturday 25 November, three deacons—Rev Thomas Christie, Rev Peter Nguyen and Rev Tien Tran—will receive the sacrament of Holy Orders at St Patrick’s Cathedral. Jean-Sébastien Géry will also be ordained to the transitional diaconate, the final step before priesthood.
They share with us some of what they are feeling as they prepare to take these momentous steps on their journey with God, some of people and experiences that have helped them along the way, and their advice for others who might be contemplating their vocation.
Looking ahead to the ordination, Deacon Thomas says there is a ‘spring’ in his step, having thought about this day for a long time.
‘My family, friends and parishioners are sharing in this excitement, which reminds me of the far-reaching impact the priesthood has in the community,’ he says. ‘The sacrament of Holy Orders is much bigger than just myself. The priesthood can be an instrument of grace that provides consolation, healing and hope for many people.
‘It will be a real privilege and responsibility to help individuals in this way. It will also keep me humble at the same time.’
Deacon Thomas was in his early twenties when he first considered the possibility of a priestly vocation. Although among his peers matters of faith seemed to be a bit ‘taboo’, he describes a deep admiration for the priests he knew in Melbourne.
‘I had a noble and respected parish priest growing up. He was a witness to the joys contained within the priest,’ he explains. ‘Everyone in the parish could sense that he found fulfilment in his life and ministry. He loved what he was doing.’
The sacrament of Holy Orders is much bigger than just myself. The priesthood can be an instrument of grace that provides consolation, healing and hope for many people.
His parents were also deeply influential in the development of his faith. Faith was an important part of their family life, and when he announced his decision to explore the priesthood, they were very supportive. ‘Ultimately [they] wanted me to flourish and find purpose in life. They have provided me with a grounded perspective through the many years of priestly formation.’
It's when he began taking ‘personal ownership’ of his faith that he reflected on some important questions about how he could contribute to the life of the Church with the passions and talents he already had. He describes the thought of priesthood as one that ‘didn’t seem to go away!’
Deacon Thomas encourages those thinking about exploring the priesthood not to let their personal apprehensions get in the way of where God is leading them. ‘Be courageous!’
‘If you sense your interests and talents are directed towards the life of the Church, it’s in your personal interests to at least pursue this movement in your heart. Finding your true vocation ultimately leads to personal happiness and a growth in virtue.’
In the lead-up to his ordination to the priesthood, Deacon Peter Nguyen underwent a spiritual retreat with other deacons. He describes this retreat as being ‘a contemplative interlude’ and preparation for the big day.
‘This retreat was fostering profound conversations, attentive listening, heartfelt prayers, and deep reflection on the priestly ministry that awaits us,’ he says.
‘Some might wonder: what kind of formation is needed for a priest? For me, it is an ongoing odyssey—a gradual process of responding to Christ’s call to serve the Church and her people.’
This ‘odyssey’ is one that incorporates many aspects, including ‘practical experiences, theological education, and continuous learning and listening to people.’
Some might wonder: what kind of formation is needed for a priest? For me, it is an ongoing odyssey—a gradual process of responding to Christ’s call to serve the Church and her people.
Since his ordination as a deacon, he says he has been blessed to be surrounded by so many good people, especially those who are part of the parishes and communities he has ministered to. ‘Through this multifaceted ministry, I anticipate encountering the intricate dance of life—its challenges and joys—nurturing within me empathy, humility and a profound connection with the people I am destined to serve.’
‘Please pray for us as we are preparing for the upcoming ordinations,’ he says.
As his ordination to the priesthood fast approaches, Deacon Tien is feeling ‘excited but also a bit nervous’.
‘It really is a wonderful time in my vocational journey, but it’s also a busy time,’ he says, adding that the prayers and support of his family, friends and parishioners ‘are what is holding me together these days’.
He says he is looking forward to sharing the ‘great gift’ of the priesthood with those he’s called to serve. He is also looking forward to celebrating the Mass of Thanksgiving. ‘Above all, I’m feeling grateful and humble for what God has done in my life,’ he says.
For much of his life, he ‘never thought of the priesthood or wanted to become one’. Arriving in Australia from Vietnam at 18 to study international trade, he found that by 22 he was beginning to sense a call to give something back, ‘because I felt I had received so much’. Then he heard a call in his heart from God to ‘follow me’.
At about this time, he met ‘a fine priest who helped me to see that priesthood is a wonderful vocation in which one can give, above all, the gift of oneself. He also helped me to see that priesthood is really about the people that you serve, and that’s what makes this vocation a fulfilling one.’
For Deacon Tien, celibacy was the ‘last obstacle’ to finally saying ‘yes’ to his call to the priesthood. ‘It was difficult for me to give up the idea of having a family,’ he says, ‘but I found that priesthood is no less life-giving. So it took me a while to work out all that, but I got there in the end!’
The priest who helped him discern his vocation has remained a ‘wonderful friend’ to Deacon Tien—‘he was really the inspiration behind it all.’ He says he has also been inspired and supported in his journey by the friends he has made in seminary. ‘God gives you people along the way to assist you. You never travel alone in this vocation really.’
To those who might already be considering a religious or priestly life, he says not to be afraid to ‘give it a go’.
‘God never judges us,’ he says. ‘He calls, but he also gives us the freedom to discern and to make decisions. Whatever vocation we end up with in the end, God will be there to walk with us, and that’s what I try to remember. The grace I receive in following this vocation is the heartfelt knowledge of God’s love for me, and that is wonderful!’
God never judges us. He calls, but he also gives us the freedom to discern and to make decisions.
As he prepares for ordination to the transitional diaconate, Jean-Sébastien says he feels ‘animated’ while remaining very aware of the significance of the step he is about to take. When he recently declared the oaths of fidelity and freedom before the congregation—a canonical requirement before ordination—he says ‘the weight of the upcoming diaconate ministry was accentuated for me.’
These oaths, he says, were ‘heavy with meaning’, and at the end of the liturgy, as he was being congratulated by family and friends, some people made comments like ‘This is it Jean. You can’t go back now.’
‘My reaction to them was, “Instead, I feel like going further!”
‘Being called to a life of self-giving is a heavy duty,’ he says, ‘but it is also a privilege and joy to serve the people of God. Saying yes to God’s will gives me even more grace to go further in what I am called to be. And this gives me life.’
He says there are many factors that have contributed to his vocation, such as witnessing his parents’ love for each other and for their children, observing his grandparents’ ’devotion to the sacred’ and participating in his catechesis class at school. ‘Listening to the vocation story of a seminarian on Good Shepherd Sunday caused me to contemplate my own vocation more deeply.’
Saying yes to God’s will gives me even more grace to go further in what I am called to be. And this gives me life.
Jean-Sébastien believes that having a spiritual director has been a crucial factor in the discernment of his vocation. ‘I found that the “yes” is not only the fruit of the discernment but is part of the process itself.’
Asked what advice he might give to those considering a life of priestly or religious ministry, he says, ‘Pray to God to lead you to a spiritual director who knows how to really listen to your story. And do not be afraid to say “yes” to God.’
The Ordination Mass will take place on Saturday 25 November from at 10am and is open to all. The Mass will also be livestreamed on our Archdiocesan YouTube Channel.
Banner image: (from left) Jean-Sebastian Gery, Deacon Peter Nguyen, Deacon Tien Tran and Deacon Thomas Christie.
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