Shepherd's Guild Advent celebration offers seminarians prayer, encouragement, and fellowship
FORT WORTH — For seminarian Linh Nguyen, the call to priesthood began during his youth thanks to examples from his priest at Fort Worth's Christ the King Parish and later, the sisters at Lovers of the Holy Cross Church in California.
“It wasn't because he was pastor of a parish,” Nguyen said. “It wasn't that he was there to rule with an iron fist or that he was on a pedestal and we thought, 'Oh, he's Father. Let's obey what he says.'
“But it was that he ruled with love and compassion and cared for everyone like they were his own children and that's what he instilled in me.”
Likewise the sisters of Lovers of Holy Cross.
“They showed us what it truly means to be in love with Christ, what it truly means to dedicate our lives to Jesus Christ,” Nguyen said. “It wasn't in a way where you have to do this or you have to do that. But it was through simple acts of love, and those demonstrations of love helped bring me even that much closer to Christ.”
Nguyen, surrounded by fellow seminarians and guests, shared his vocation story at the Dec. 15 Advent Celebration hosted by the St. John Paul II Shepherd's Guild in Fort Worth.
Guild members through prayer, outreach, and financial donations address both the need for new priests for the diocese and the daunting expense of the trek from seminary to priesthood.
That Nguyen cited the influence of religious in his discernment process is fitting perhaps. The event's keynote speaker, Father Ralph O'Donnell, noted that, according to annual surveys, 70 percent of men who enter the seminary credit the influence of their parish priest.
Fr. O'Donnell, who serves as director secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, stressed the importance of the Shepherd's Guild and the duty of all Catholics.
“Each of us has a responsibility to encourage vocations,” Fr. O'Donnell said. “The vocation is the result of a call from Christ and we believe in faith that Christ continues to call as He ever has to those with generous hearts to come and follow him. That call is out over the generations and centuries. Just as at the Sea of Galilee, so it is today right here in Fort Worth, Texas.”
The value of the Shepherd's Guild is several fold in addition to financial support, attendees said, from the respite of a Christmas break gathering before the seminarians return to studies as well as prayer and encouragement to help them navigate the rigors of preparing for priesthood.
JoAnn McCracken, mother of Isaac McCracken, a seminarian at Saint Joseph Seminary College in Covington, Louisiana, called the Guild a godsend from a practical standpoint in regards to assisting with the high cost of seminary tuition. Isaac's father, Gary McCracken, marveled that, through the Guild, many including those who don't personally know his son, are praying for Isaac and his family.
Flower Mound resident Michael Marincel, also a seminarian at Saint Joseph, said he much appreciates the Guild's support.
“Knowing these people are here supporting us not only monetarily but also praying for us really hard,” Marincel said. “That's been encouraging throughout the semester when it gets tough, to know people are praying for me and, through their intercession, God will give me what I need to finish the work I need to do.”
Along those lines, Bishop Michael Olson offered further encouragement by reminding them to “Be not afraid.”
“A spiritual director told me many years ago that discouragement is never from God,” Bishop Olson said. “So when you hear a voice, if you will, telling you to give up — that's never from Christ. Christ is always encouraging us especially during difficult and challenging times.”
Bishop Olson, during a Mass beforehand at St. Patrick Cathedral, spoke of the relationship between priesthood and the Eucharist.
“They are inherently united,” Bishop Olson said. “If you remove one, you remove both. If we remove both we lose our true identity of communion with each other and the capacity to love God as He loves and worship God as He desires to be worshiped.