CHANDLER — God continues to call all types of laborers to serve in His vineyard.
That’s something Catholics know in their heart from the examples of St. Paul, St. Dismas — the “Good Thief” from the cross — St. Joseph and others. Several hundred faithful witnessed it in real life at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish June 16 when Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted ordained three young men to the priesthood.
There was one who lost his mother at age 3, but continued to see the faith modeled in his father and siblings. Another lost his father part way through seminary and battled severe illnesses himself throughout formation. The third didn’t even grow up Catholic.
The trio — Fr. Frankie Cicero, Fr. John Nahrgang and Fr. Vinhson Ngueyn — can now take the place of Christ the high priest forever more as they serve the growing and diverse vineyard that is the Diocese of Phoenix. It was among eight ordinations of local men for various roles in the Church since May.
In a lengthy and highly emotional, not to mention jam-packed, liturgy, the Phoenix men promised fidelity to their current and future bishops, laid prostrate while the crowd invoked a whole litany of saints to pray for themselves and spent a great deal of time kneeling at the foot of the altar for a laying on of hands.
The Ordination also brought genuine tears of joy, widespread reverence and even a few chuckles. It started with the bishop’s reminder that by God’s providence, the men would celebrate their first Mass on Father’s Day.
“You will be exercising a sacramentally fortified fatherhood,” the bishop said. He cautioned them “as a loving father,” to always retain the joy of the Gospel.
“What the sons and daughters of God need are fathers of mercy — true icons of God, joyful bearers of the good news of Christ,” the bishop said.
Fr. Nahrgang and Fr. Nguyen looked forward to being able to offer the sacrament of Reconciliation. That sacrament was helpful for Fr. Nguyen throughout his discernment journey and Fr. Nahrgang wants to gain experience in offering spiritual direction within and outside the confessional.
“The vocation and all that, it’s a great mystery. It’s important to be open to it. You never know how God might act,” Fr. Nahrgang told dozens of young men and boys during a vocations luncheon after Mass. The one-time Our Lady of Perpetual Help parishioner who also discerned with a religious order, is proof. A Missionary of Charity said he had the face of a priest before he was even Catholic.
Both Fr. Nahrgang and Fr. Cicero cited the laying on of hands as key moments for them during the more than 180-minute Mass.
“I felt their fatherhood, their companionship, their camaraderie, their welcoming — all of these emotions as I was feeling their hands on my head and the graces of all of that, the tears kept flowing,” Fr. Nahrgang said.
Tears flowed on the other side of the altar steps too. Fr. Cicero was visibly moved during the laying on of hands. It was an answer to prayers.
“I asked the Lord for one gift today. I asked to be overwhelmed,” Fr. Cicero said. Each time it was the turn of a particular set of priests who fathered him when his earthly father passed away a few years ago, the new priest’s prayer was clearly answered.
“I felt the power of the Holy Spirit flow through them. It was more powerful because of the fatherhood they played in my life,” Fr. Cicero explained.
A key moment in Mass for Fr. Nguyen came shortly thereafter. Priests who were influential in their vocations helped their new brothers vest for the first time.
“Right after I put on my priest stole and chasuble, it was one of the first times I looked up. All the priests and bishops were smiling at me. Dcn. [Billy] Chavira,” as master of ceremonies, “said, ‘Father, this way,’” Fr. Nguyen recalled. That’s when it hit him the brotherhood he relished as a seminarian was now transferred to an exponentially larger brotherhood of priests.
Bishop Olmsted expressed gratitude to an array of family members, parishes and prayer warriors for nurturing these latest holy vocations. That included those who were sick and offered up their sufferings.
Fr. Cicero piggybacked on that thought.
“Do not, do not lose the opportunity in the midst of suffering to take advantage of the Lord’s graces,” he told young men and boys after Mass. “If you stay focused on the Lord, you will experience a strength and perseverance greater than you can ever imagine.”