One Faith, Many Paths: Father Mike Tran

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Today, I’ll be giving you a very special interview. This time, I interviewed my parish priest, Father Mike Tran. He is the priest for the Our Lady of the Nativity in Raceland, Louisiana. 

1. Were you born in Vietnam or are you an immigrant?

I was born in Vietnam in 1974.  At the age of seven, my mom with my brother and my sisters reunited with my dad in Richmond, Virginia in 1981.  My father fought during the Vietnam War with the Americans and left with them when the fall of Saigon in 1975.  My parents and grandparents were devoted Catholics and I was brought up in the faith.  As a child, I was always involved in my faith and served as an altar server.

2.  Why did you decide to become a priest?

    The thought of serving people and a desire to be closer to God was always on my heart.  That was what made me drawn to become a priest.  Study to become a priest was not easy, because people always ask; “Why a normal person like you want to become a priest?”  The challenge of not having a family was always questioned and celibacy was a requirement to become a priest.  I have always believed that everything has a sacrifice.  You have to give up something to gain something, as Christ taught us and, I also found that to be true in my life.  Giving up family and being celibate to be a priest was as difficult.      

3. Is there anyone in your life who makes you want to be  a better person? Who influences your mission?

     There are people along my life that guided me and helped along my vocation.  I was influenced by teachers, religious and priests.  They helped me to discern what God was calling me to do in my life and to follow those callings.  I was always happy with my life and my life journey and that’s how I knew the priesthood was for me.  There were people in our time that influenced me.  Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa of Calcutta are both saints that I feel so much connected to. These are real people our my century that are actually living out their callings.  To serve people and to do it well, especially the poor and the needy. 

4. Who is your favorite Biblical figure besides Jesus?

Besides Jesus, I think St. Paul in the bible is most admiring to me.  Paul was a convert and when he received his faith.  He was not afraid but impacted and changed the people he encountered. That is what I hope to do in my life as a priest.  My favorite passage in the Bible is from Mark 10:45, “did not come to be served but to serve”.  I took this quote as a motto for my ordination and priesthood.

5. What advice would you give to anyone else who is interested in becoming a priest?

To anyone that wants to become a priest.  I say follow your heart.  How do you know that this is your calling? If it makes you happy and you find peace and joy in it but, most of all it bring you satisfaction!

 

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The Reason for the Singing

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Christmas Carols have been part of the tradition of Christmas probably as long as Christmas itself. I love this tradition. To conclude my 3-part celebration of my blog’s first Christmas, I’ve decided to pick some of my favorites. Before I begin, I will warn you–I’m not a fan of Frosty or Rudolph.
1) “Do You Hear What I Hear” Writers: Noel Regney (lyrics) and Gloria Shayne (music) in 1962. This song was actually written in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Sadly, in an interview Shayne said they could never perform the song together because they were so concerned of the threat of nuclear war.
2) “Good King Wenceslas” Writer: J.M. Neale
This is based ont he story of St. Wenceslas, the Duke of Bohemia (907-35). Neale wrote this in 1853. It is based on the legend of the king.
3. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” Writer: Rev. Charles Wesley
Wesley actualy wrote hymns for fifty years until his death in 1788. Charles had spent some time with the pioneer hymn writer, Rev. Isaac Watts (I’m getting to him later on), who inspired him to write. It should be noted that at the time this song was written, Wesley was somewhat disillusioned. Wesley was also the founder of Methodism.
4) “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”
This song dates all the way to the Middle Ages. A melody composed in the 1800’s. It is based on antiphons sung in medieval churches.
5) “O Holy Night” Writers: J.S. Dwight and Adolphe Charles Adam) This song was actually initially frowned on by Church authorities (perhaps it’s the difficulty in singing and playing the song?) Despite this, it became popular anyway.
6) “Joy to the World” Writer: Isaac Watts
Watts was a famous hymnast for his time. Another Christmas song he wrote was “Hush My Dear and Slumber”. The song was written in honor of David. It was believed in Watts’ time, that God stopped singing when David died.
7) “O Little Town of Bethlehem” Writer: Phillips Brooks
Brooks was a professor at the Boston Latin School. He entered the seminary in 1859. In 1865, he planned a trip to Bethlehem, which inspired the song. He wrote it because he was deeply saddened by the Civil War.
8) “Away in a Manger”
Although attributed to Martin Luther, the founder of Lutheranism, it was not written by him. It was actually collected by James R. Murray and was really “borrowed” from a Sunday School book. The melody came from the Scottish poem “Flow Gently, Sweet Afron”.
9) “Angels We Have Heard on High”
This song is sung to the tune “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” as arranged by Edward S. Barnes. Its origins are unknown.
10) “Silent Night” Writers: Fr. Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber
Mohr was an assistant pastor at the newly-built Church of St. Nicholas in Obendorf, Germany. The pipe organ for the church was broken, and a Christmas concert was coming. Fortunately, their organist, Gruber, was able to compose a song for guitar. This is the result. It is my favorite carol.

Saint of the Month: St. Nicholas of Myra

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Born: c. 270 AD

Died: December 6, 343

Feast Day: December 6

Patron: Children, repentant thieves, sailors

Info: Nicholas was a Greek, and lived in Turkey. He was born of a wealthy family. When a plague killed his parents, he was raised by his uncle.

In 325, he was appointed Bishop and appeared at the Council of Nicea, where he signed the Nicene Creed (which we Catholics recite every Sunday. It’s similar to the Apostles’ Creed). Nicholas despised Arius, a council member who believed Jesus was simply a created being and not part of the triune God.  He actually slapped Arius for not believing in the true Jesus.

Nicholas became the patron saint of children due to a legend in which a butcher slaughtered three children and hid their remains in a barrel. He learned of this and prayed over the remains. According to the legend, the children were resurrected.

Another famous legend concerns a poor man whose three children but could not afford a dowry.  Nicolas intervened and went to his house and three three purses either through an open window or down a chimney (sound familiar?) There is also a story that says he hid money in their shoes or stockings (I have memories in elementary school of children putting out their shoes in front of the door to classes for him to fill on his feast day. But then, this was back when Christianity was more permitted than it is today, sadly.)

Reflection: To me, the story of the real St. Nick is far more compelling than  the created version of St. Nicholas. While I really have no issue with the concept of Santa Claus because there is some fact to it, I do take issue with the fact that at Christmastime the media seems to revere him more than the true reason for the season–the birth of Christ. I think the absolute worst example is the Nostalgia Critic’s character, Santa Christ. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Now, I must apologize to anyone who actually likes this character, but I am extremely offended by this sketch (and I’m actually a fan of Doug Walker).  I find it appalling and blasphemous.  I came very close to sending him a nasty response about it, but I’ve seen how troll-filled his comment section was, so I decided against it.  And then he had the audacity to bring him back THREE MORE TIMES!

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I see the real St. Nicholas a reminder of how vulnerable children and how we must protect them from evil. I see his defiance of Arius as a model for us all. Now, I don’t mean we should slap all non-believers, but I do feel we should courageously defend Christianity. There is no harm in celebrating Christmas, provided we, as the bumper sticker says “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Revering Santa over Jesus is pure blasphemy.

My Top 10 Favorite Christmas Movies and Specials

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It’s that time of year. The time TV decides to churn out Christmas stuff. Although a lot of the new specials seem more centered around the secular aspects of Christmas, I’ve found some movies and specials that I always enjoy. Here are ten.

10) Tokyo Godfathers (2003) Based on the American movie Three Godfathers, this is an excellent film by the man I consider the Stanley Kubrick of anime, Satoshi Kon.  He did a great job with this story. It’s about three homeless men who find an abandoned baby and decide to give him a family, by taking care of him themselves.  I really like the feel of this movie, and for a culture that certainly is not Christian, it actually does Christmas justice.  I should warn you, it’s not child-friendly–one of the men is a drag queen.

9. The Small One (1978) This Disney cartoon is the last one that Don Bluth did before he made his own studio and started making cartoons like The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail. It’s a story about a boy who has to sell his family’s donkey because it’s too old. Since it’s set in Bethlehem before Jesus is born, I’m sure you can guess who gets the donkey.  It’s very beautiful and the ending is heartwarming. You can find this on the Classic Holiday Favorites DVD from Disney.

8) Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) This musical stars Judy Garland as Esther, the eldest daughter of a wealthy middle-class family.  She is dismayed to learn that her family has to move to New York and that she will miss the 1904 World’s Fair.  The best, of course has to be the scene where Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, which has become a staple of Christmas music ever since. Garland’s voice is still as beautiful as always.

7. The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (1985) Based on L. Frank Baum’s classic book.  This is the story of a boy cared for by a Wood Nymph named Necile. (The boy is named Claus. Get it? Necile’s Claus?)  According to Baum, this is the boy who would become Santa Claus.  Okay, it says nothing about St. Nicholaus but I still enjoy this story. It presents the Christmas spirit in a unique way and the stop-motion animation is spell-binding (this is from Rankin-Bass, the same studio that made the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town cartoons that still play every year. I looked on Amazon and there’s lots of DVD collections of their specials, including this one.

6) A Christmas Carol Which one, you ask? Yes, there’s been lots of movies done on this classic Dickens story, from Disney to even the Flintstones (which to me makes no sense when you really think about it).  I think the best ones are: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), the one with Patrick Stewart (made in 1999 for TNT), and the one starring George C. Scott in the 80’s. There’s even a modernized version called Scrooged starring Bill Murray (it’s a bit darker than it should be, but I thought it was a nice twist).

5) The Polar Express (2004) This is just beautiful. Robert Zemeckis is a brilliant filmmaker, whether he’s doing cartoons or live-action (or maybe I’m just biased because I still think the Back to the Future movies are excellent).  It’s a story about children who are taken to the North Pole by train before they become too disillusioned to believe in Santa.  I love the way the movie addresses the issue of faith.  Whether in 2-D or 3-D, this is a joy to watch.

4) How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) It’s just not Christmas without Boris Karloff as the Grinch.  This is such a fun story and I just can’t stop watching it every year.  And no, I will not watch that awful Ron Howard version.

3) Miracle on 34th Street (original: 1947, remakes in 1955, 1959, and 1994) This is a classic story about Santa Claus that I feel it’s just not Christmas without.  I actually like the 1994 version better, but the original is good too. I’ve heard people complain about Mara Wilson’s performance, but I’ve seen worse child actors. And besides, she’s adorable.  Richard Attenborough is excellent as Kris Kringle. My favorite bits are when he does sign language for a deaf girl and the end, where the court scene is ended by someone bringing in a dollar bill. The idea is if we put “In God We Trust” on our currency (which I sincerely hope we never stop doing) to indicate a belief in God, then why can’t we believe that Santa exists.

TIE: 2) A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) I LOVE this cartoon! I  still watch this every year, unlike Rudolph (which I’ve outgrown) and Frosty the Snowman (which I now despise). I find it so disappointing that this is the only secular special that actually quotes the Bible.  (although I hear they tried to cut that part out originally, and Schulz insisted that it remain) Like every Charlie Brown cartoon or comic, it has a sense of honesty and innocence that I just love. And how can you not identify with Charlie Brown.

2) The Nativity Story (2006) It’s not a big budget movie but its heart is certainly in the right place.  Everything about this movie is well-done. I love the attention given to Joseph’s dilemma, the performance of Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary, and the comic relief provided by the three Wise Men.  I really can’t recommend this movie enough. It really deserves more attention than it initially received.

1) It’s A Wonderful Life (1945) Frank Capra directed this excellent movie. George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, is a loveable hero who discovers how much his hometown Bedford Falls would suck if he wasn’t around to keep the heartless Mr. Potter in check.  I’ve not found one person who disagrees with me how great this movie is.