Father Tao Pham shares his breathtaking journey through the storm, in spite of his crippling disability
To fulfill my dream of becoming a priest, I had to overcome a lot of challenges and difficulties. Many times, when the pain seemed unbearable, I prayed that my sufferings would be united with Jesus in His Passion. I knew that He could do anything, so if He wanted me to become a priest, then one day I would be a priest.
I was born in the north of Vietnam, the 7th of 8 children. We grew up in a very poor village where schooling ended at Year 9, but I felt that Christ was calling me to the priesthood. This was only possible if I received tertiary education. When I was 14, my brother and I sorrowfully bid farewell to our family so we could attend high school.
At that time, the Communist government in North Vietnam had closed all the seminaries, so after high school graduation, I spent 4 years assisting our parish priest full-time, 4 years at university and 4 years teaching before I finally began seminary training in the south. My dream was finally coming true, but this was just the beginning. When I’d finished 3 years of Philosophy, I was invited to complete my study for the priesthood in Australia.
After 3 more years studying Theology and a year of pastoral placement, I finally received the happy news that the bishop had chosen the date for my ordination as a deacon. A few days before the big day, I had a little mishap when the car boot fell and squashed my fingers as I was removing my luggage. The other seminarians cleaned me up, but the fingers became so swollen and painful that after 3 days, I finally went to the hospital. To my surprise, the doctors told me that I had less than 50% of normal blood volume because I was bleeding internally. They discovered a stomach ulcer which needed an emergency operation.
When I woke up, I was astonished to find myself tied to the bed. The doctor said I had been shaking so much that they had to tie me down so that I could receive a blood transfusion. They told me that I had tetanus, but after 40 days treatment, I was well enough to go back to the seminary to begin the intensive study prior to ordination. After several weeks, the Bishop asked me to come and stay with him. It was wonderful to be attending him at Mass, but I suddenly collapsed in the Cathedral and had to be rushed back to hospital.
They put me into intensive care because I had developed a catastrophic blood infection and was not expected to live. I stopped breathing and had to be put on life support. Since the doctors were certain I would die, they sent for my family and my brother came from Vietnam. After receiving the Last Rites, life support was turned off, but I didn’t die. After a couple of hours, they turned on the machines again. A couple of weeks later, they turned the machines off again, but I still survived. I ended up being in a coma for 74 days and was operated on 18 times.
When I woke up from the coma, I was still in a lot of pain. I could not talk because there was a tube in my throat. Even after the tubes were removed, I could not speak. It took months to slowly and painfully learn to talk again. My condition was still critical so the doctors prepared me for another surgery, which my brother had already consented to, but when I read that they were planning to cut my leg off, I refused. The doctor told me that I would die if it was not amputated, but I did not want this to prevent me from being ordained as a priest. I would not give up my dream of becoming a priest even though my family and many good friends were telling me that it was hopeless, to just go home to Vietnam and get married. It was very challenging, mentally and physically, but I put my hope and trust in God.
After a month on “Nil by Mouth”, I was desperately longing to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. If I could receive even a drop of the Precious Blood, I knew that I would be healed. The next day Father Peter brought the Precious Blood to me in Holy Communion. As he trickled a few drops into my mouth, I visualized it moving into my body and touching the infection. The following day, I felt much better. Tests were done and the infection was gone.
After more than a year in hospital, we had a meeting with the staff of the hospital to discuss my future. The bishop attended on my family’s behalf. The doctor reported that I would never be able to walk again and would need high level care 24 hours a day for the rest of my life. They said that I would not be able to look after myself, shower myself or even get in or out of bed without help. It was devastating to hear this and even more devastating to hear the bishop’s decision that he would not ordain me as a deacon or priest. After all the years of study and waiting, my dream seemed to be over.
It was very difficult for me, however I kept praying. I was determined to walk again, so I worked hard at all the painful exercises I was given, offering up my suffering in union with Christ for all the people who needed my prayers. The rehabilitation took years. Often I felt like giving up, but I held onto my dream and that gave me the courage to go on.
Despite all these challenges and obstacles, I still felt Christ calling me to become a priest to serve His people, even in my weakness. So, one day I sent a letter to the Archbishop of Melbourne asking him to accept me for ordination. To my surprise, he arranged to see me straight away and discuss what he needed me to do. He agreed to ordain me, even if I had to lie in a bed or sit in a wheelchair, but he told me that I would get better and better, and I would be walking. At that stage I was still in a wheelchair, but I continued to work at my exercises while I finished my study, so when ordination day came I was able to join the others walking in procession. The Cathedral was filled with the jubilant faces of friends. Many of them had met me when I needed their care in hospital so they knew how astonishing it was that I had lived to see this day. Tears of joy filled my eyes and I could see their eyes glistening too. I could not believe that this day had finally come, 30 years after I set out from my village in pursuit of my dream.
Now, I work with 2 other priests in a busy community with 4 churches, several schools and 6 nursing homes. Every day when I walk in to say Mass is like a fresh miracle. I do not think that I will ever tire of it. Then, strengthened by the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, I go out to visit the children in the schools and the elderly in the nursing homes. I feel blessed to bring His presence to them. The long wait to share in Christ’s priesthood is over and I can share with them the fruits of my suffering in union with Him.
Persisting through all my difficulties has enabled me to understand and help people in their adversities. I have learned that thinking about the needs of others and putting on a smiling face for them diverts me from my own afflictions and transforms my suffering into joy. When people come to me for assistance, I can draw on the strength I gained from my ailments to encourage them to persevere through their trials. Because they can see that I suffer a disability, it is easier for them to relate to me in times of trouble so that they can receive the Church’s support to maintain hope in the darkest times.
Father Tao Pham is a priest in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, assisting in the Greensborough North, Greensborough and Diamond Creek parishes. This article is based on his testimony and the Shalom World program “Triumph”. To watch the episode visit: www.shalomworld.org/show/triumph
For years I struggled with gluttony not realizing the root cause behind my overeating Yesterday, as I was getting ready for Mass, I was thinking about my continuing battle with overeating. Though I may not appear visibly overweight to the average person, I know that I eat more than I should. I eat even when I am not hungry, just because the food is there and I am tempted by it. Since I had finished dressing for Mass before my husband was ready, I decided to open a Saint Jude prayer book that I use every night for prayer to see if it also had a Morning Prayer. As I flipped through the pages, I came across a prayer for addictions which I had never noticed before. As I said the prayer, I especially asked God to heal me of my food addiction. Although I had tried to overcome the desire to overeat for years, my efforts had failed. Driving Away At Mass, the Gospel Reading was Mark 1:21–28. I said to myself, “In the same way that Jesus can drive the evil spirit out of this man, He can drive this spirit of gluttony out of me because this is how the evil one still has a hold on my life.” I felt that God was reassuring me that He could and would drive out this spirit of gluttony from me. My feelings were strengthened by the priest’s homily. In his homily, he listed many types of evil spirits we need deliverance from, such as anger, depression, drugs, and alcohol. The one he struggled with the most was food addiction. He explained how he lost forty pounds, only to gain back thirty. He added that no matter how much he has tried to stop himself, he always gives in to the temptation to overeat, thus committing the sin of gluttony. Everything he described related directly to me. He reassured us that Jesus came and died to set us free, so we cannot give up hope no matter how hopeless we feel, because hope is always there. Jesus gives us hope because He overcame death and rose again. We can thus claim victory because He has defeated the power of sin in our lives. We simply need to trust that Jesus will come to our rescue, in His own time. When we are slow to realize that we cannot do anything without His help, God sometimes allows us to be in positions where we feel helpless. This morning, during my morning prayer, I opened my book of daily reflections to a reading focused on finding peace. To find peace we must be in accord with God’s will. When we are in accord with God’s will, we can more effectively help others and lead them to the Lord. How can I help someone else if I am perfect? Can I understand someone else’s struggles if I have not struggled? When I am striving against a sin, like gluttony, my battle is not in vain. It is for a reason. God allows us to experience difficulties so that we can empathize with and help others and to realize that we are no better than anyone else. We all need each other, and we all need God. Strange Connection Saint Paul demonstrates this when he asserts “a thorn in the flesh” was given to him to keep him from becoming “too elated” and Christ told him that “power is made perfect in weakness”. So, he would “boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” (Corinthians 12:7–9) This Scripture teaches me that struggling with my addiction to food is meant to keep me humble. I cannot feel superior to anyone because I also struggle to overcome temptation, like everyone else, whether they believe in God or not. However, when we do believe in God, the struggles become easier because we see a purpose in continuing the battle. Many people struggle with addictions and other problems for various reasons, one of which could be due to the consequence of sin. However, when a person is a believer of God and a true follower, he or she recognizes that his or her problems are meant for the good and not as a punishment. Romans 8:28 teaches us that “all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” Most importantly, this is the reality for all who are called to God’s purpose. Knowing this truth makes the difference between seeing problems, addictions, and sufferings as punishments, or as blessings that will work for our good in the long run. When a person is called by God according to His purpose, that person is fully aware of this call, so he or she accepts the good and bad in his or her life as God’s will. As I pondered, I tried to recall when my eating addiction had started. I became shamefully aware that my own addiction to food started when I confronted and condemned one of my own relatives regarding his addiction to drugs and alcohol. I can now recognize that at the same time I was angrily condemning my relative, I was slowly becoming addicted to food myself. Ultimately, condemnation and lack of forgiveness were the sources of my addiction. The Lord had to humble me by revealing, through my own addiction, that we are all weak. We all face addictions and temptations, and struggle with them in many forms. In my pride, I thought I was strong enough to overcome temptations on my own, but in falling prey to my gluttony, I discovered that I was not. Eight years later, I am still struggling to overcome my food addiction and this sin of gluttony. God cannot use us if we feel superior to others in any way. We have to be humble enough to come down to the level of those who need us, so we can help them where they are. To avoid judging others for their weaknesses, we should pray for them, extend help and offer up our own struggles for them. Isn’t this the reason why God puts sinners and those who are hurting in our path? Every time we encounter someone else, we have the opportunity to show them the face of God, so we should leave them in a better state for having come across our path, not more hurt or broken. In Luke 6:37, Jesus warns, “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
God answers prayers and sometimes He goes so far beyond anything we ever believed could happen... There’s a popular television commercial that aired for many years portraying an injured person desperately calling out, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Although they’re just actors selling a medical alert system that summons help in case of an emergency, each time I’ve seen that commercial I’ve wondered what it would be like to be in such a desperate vulnerable position. Being alone and incapable of getting back up after falling must feel stressful and frightening. Fortunately there are companies and gadgets we can rely on to put safety measures in place for us or our endangered loved ones. Recurring Dilemma That commercial came to mind one day when I was examining my conscience in preparation to receive the Sacrament of Penance (also known as Reconciliation or Confession). After reflecting on the things that were offensive to God that took me further from His presence, it was frustrating to fall off the path to holiness again and again. It occurred that there were things that I needed to confess that I’d previously confessed often. Saint Paul talks about his struggles with the same dilemma. In the book of Romans (7:15-19) he said, “I cannot understand my own behavior. I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and find myself doing the very things I hate...instead of doing the good things I want to do, I carry out the sinful things I do not want.” This is a struggle we all experience. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines this unwanted inclination to sin as “concupiscence”. It was easy to relate to the actor in the commercial because spiritually I’d fallen, and it felt like I couldn’t get back up. Drawing away from God placed me in a desperate, vulnerable position deprived of many of the graces He offers us. My relationship with God was damaged, and the thought of staying in that fallen state was stressful and frightening. However, Jesus loves me. He’s merciful and has put safety measures in place for all of us who still suffer with the unwanted inclination to sin. Unceasing Prayer The church my family attended offered the Sacrament of Penance an hour before the Saturday evening Vigil Mass. It was important for me to go to Confession on Saturday because I valued my relationship with God and wanted to restore it. I asked my husband if he would join me when confessions finished, so that we could attend Mass together. To my delight, he agreed. He was raised Methodist and for over 25 years it had been my unceasing prayer that God would place the desire on his heart to come into the fullness of his faith, by becoming a member of the Catholic Church. For now, I was waiting on God’s timing and was just happy that we’d be together. The church wasn’t crowded, so before long I was kneeling before the priest to confess my sins. Confessing sin requires humility, but the joy of absolution left me feeling new and restored. After completing the penance from the priest, my heart no longer felt heavily weighed down by sin. Everything around me and in me was quiet, as a sense of peace encompassed my spirit once again. Repeatedly, I thanked God for His mercy. At one point, I sighed with contentment, “Lord, I don’t want to spoil this moment by asking you for anything. I just want to thank You over and over again. I want to be like the one leper who came back to thank You after You healed him.” I knelt there engulfed in His holy presence and understood what being in a state of grace really felt like. Jesus had restored our relationship and we were one again. However, being still and quiet is a virtue that is a regular struggle for me. It wasn’t long before a strong impulse to ask God for just one thing popped into my head. “Lord, just one thing and it isn’t for myself. Please give my husband the desire to become Catholic. I want him to know what this feels like.” Time in quiet prayer passed quickly and it wasn’t long before my husband sat beside me. I’ve heard it said that when you pray in the state of grace, your prayers are clearly heard by God. You’re so close to Him that He can hear the whispers of your heart. I’m not sure if that’s solid Catholic doctrine, but it makes a point of how important it is to remain close to God. When Mass began that evening, the priest welcomed everyone and he asked us to take a quiet moment to offer our Mass up for any personal intentions we might have that evening. His prompting was wonderful but not the way he usually opened the Mass. Not wanting to waste the moment, I immediately repeated the prayer for my husband to come into the Catholic faith. I’d never heard that priest begin the Mass like that before or since that evening. In hindsight, it was a good indication that God’s answer to my prayer was imminent. The intention remained in my heart for the rest of Mass, and I felt very connected to both God and my husband. Startling News On our way home, my husband unexpectedly said he had something to tell me. It was a very good thing that he was driving, because the following words might have startled me into swerving off the road. “I have decided that I want to enroll in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program at our church and see if I want to become a Catholic.” Stunned, I said nothing. Thoughts and emotions swirled through my mind and body. I recall asking God: “What was happening here? Had the Sacrament of Reconciliation cleared up the connection for you to hear my prayer? Had my personal Mass intention been heard? Were You really answering my prayers after all these years?” After regaining my composure, my husband and I talked about his decision. We had been attending Mass together for our entire marriage and it was important to him that our family went to one church. Through the years, he had had many questions, but had grown to love and trust the Catholic Church as his family. The Holy Spirit guided him to understand that was the right time to fully commit to becoming a part of that family and be able to partake in all the sacraments and their graces. The following Easter Vigil, after he’d completed the RCIA program, my husband was finally confirmed as a member of the Catholic Church, filling us both with great joy. My heart continues to dance with joy, unceasingly thanking God for this long-awaited answer to my prayer. More Surprises in Store! But wait, there’s more! God knew I’d asked Him if he’d really heard and answered my prayers. He wanted to make sure I knew for certainty that He had, because more surprises were in store. Two of our sons were in solid relationships. Both were wonderful young women who had grown up walking with the Lord in their Protestant faith. They too had been regularly included in my prayers for conversion to the Catholic faith, although I had not specifically prayed for them that evening. Within a week of that special Mass, independent of each other, both young women shared with me that they intended to become Catholics. I know with certainty that my husband's decision to become a Catholic was not a mere coincidence and as an added bonus: those wonderful young women are now my daughters- in-law. Praise God! I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, nor how the 3 of them, independent of each other, decided to become Catholics. It’s a miracle to me and I am happy to leave it at that. Okay, not exactly...one more thing. I believe that when we do something that hurts our relationship with God, we need to go to Him in Confession and say we are sorry. I believe that when we truly want to get our relationship right with God, He wants to bless us. I believe that prayer really does work and He wants to answer us. I believe that God loves me and blessed me not once, not twice, but three times that Saturday, but He wanted me to also know that He hears ALL my prayers at ALL times no matter what state I am in. I knew that I had fallen and, because of concupiscence, I am likely to fall again. Alleluia, there is good news! Even when I cannot understand my own behavior; even when I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and find myself doing the very things I hate...even when I don’t do the good things I want to do, and carry out the sinful things I do not want; with God’s grace and through His forgiveness, I know I am not alone, I don’t have to be stressed, frightened or stay fallen. I CAN get back up. Saint Paul, pray for us. Amen.
Get to know the greatest power in the universe that is capable of transforming you...and the face of the world In 2019 our Parish completed a church renovation that added a gathering space, pews, elevators, and bathrooms that made our church more accessible and welcoming. But three years after the renovation, it seems that few parishioners know about the most transformative addition of all: The Perpetual Adoration Chapel located in our church basement. The Best Time on Earth Tucked between our new Teen/Senior room and a busy staircase is a beautiful, intimate, sanctuary set aside for Eucharistic Adoration. Catholics believe Jesus is truly present—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—in the Holy Eucharist. Eucharistic Adoration is our worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week anyone can enter this intimate space to spend time in adoration of the Eucharistic Lord displayed in a beautiful monstrance on the altar. Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said, “The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time that you will spend on earth. Each moment that you spend with Jesus will deepen your union with Him and make your soul everlastingly more glorious and beautiful in heaven, and will help bring about an everlasting peace on earth.” Bring about everlasting peace on earth? Who wouldn’t want to do that?! And yet, most days I am just trying to be a better mom. A Strong Companionship Over the past year, Eucharistic Adoration has become an essential part of my relationship with Jesus and of my effort to parent with greater love. For “if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1). The Adoration Chapel is where I go when I feel far from Jesus. It is where I deal with the daily struggle of accompanying my family on the path to sainthood. I once saw a sign outside a church that said, “Come as you are; you can change inside.” That’s how I feel heading into Adoration—no need to dress up or make special preparation. Even if it’s been a while, I enter the chapel and pick up where I left off. My adoration time is a lot like the one-on-one time I spend with the people I love most. Just like “date night” with our spouse or having that long talk with a good friend anchors those relationships, Adoration builds trust with God and develops the kind of companionship that is comfortable with silence and presence. What does one do in Adoration? My routine varies. Sometimes I pray the Rosary, other times I meditate on a scripture passage or spend time journaling. We tend to try so hard to find God that we don’t allow Him time to find us. So, most often, I simply put myself in the Lord’s presence and say, “Lord, here I am. Please guide me.” I then lift up situations or “knots” I need help with and pray for anyone for whom I promised prayer that week. I usually leave the chapel feeling strengthened, at peace, or nudged in a new direction. Spending one-on-one time with our Lord makes our relationship more intimate. When you hear a family member coming down the stairs, you know who it is from the sound of their footsteps. That familiarity results from the amount of time we spend with family members and gives us a deep sense of knowing and appreciating each of them. Adoration fosters that kind of familiarity with God. Consider spending time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament by visiting an Adoration Chapel. Whatever your situation—if you haven’t been attending Mass regularly, if you need to lay struggles at the Lord’s feet, if you want to become a more loving parent, or if you just need to step away from the chaos of your day and step into the sacred silence of Adoration— no matter the need, you are always welcome into the Lord’s presence. Regular time in adoration will shape us as Christian disciples and as parents. As Mother Teresa tells us, it may even “bring about everlasting peace on earth”.
Saying ‘No’ would mean plunging her family into a dark hole of financial stress, yet she took that firm step… I am a 31-year-old Ex-Assistant Professor from India. ‘Ex’ because it has been months since I gave up that title. After graduating from college in 2011, I spent the next four years preparing for the Chartered Accountancy course, the equivalent of CPA preparation. I soon realized that pursuing CA was not my calling and dropped out. A Dream Come True Giving up what many would consider a lucrative career might seem foolish, but my decision led me to recognize and acknowledge my real passion, which is teaching, something I had dreamed about since childhood. After I shifted my focus to a teaching career, God blessed me with a teaching job in the Primary Section of a well-acclaimed school. Though I taught in that school for four years, I wasn’t content because my childhood dream was to be a college Professor. By the grace of God, after nearly four years of teaching, I received the certification I needed to apply for an open position as Assistant Professor at a local college. When I was offered the job, I joyfully lived my dream and served the needs of my students for two years as an Assistant Professor. Difficult Choice In the middle of my third year, our college began the accreditation process that confers a ‘Quality Status’ to institutions of higher education. Though it was a lengthy, painstaking process with too heavy a workload, things went ahead smoothly in the beginning. But eventually, we were pressured to take part in unethical behavior that bothered me greatly. The administration required us to create fake records and to document academic activities that never took place. My reaction was disgust—so strong that I wanted to leave my job. However, things were not fine at home. We are a family of four. My parents were not working, and my brother had lost his job. Being the sole earner in the family, it would be difficult to give up the job. Due to the pandemic, it would also be difficult to find another job. Despite all this, I somehow mustered the courage and submitted my resignation. But my supervisors refused to accept it, promising that I would no longer need to create false documents and that I could even work from home. Reluctantly, I accepted the terms. Within months, however, I was again asked to document an academic seminar which never took place. Each time I indulged in such malpractice, I felt like I was betraying the Lord. I shared this dilemma with my spiritual mentors who encouraged me to give up this job that did not glorify God. Tryst with Destiny Finally, I mustered the courage and I said ‘no’ to my supervisors. And it was a BIG no. Instead of submitting the assigned task, I submitted my resignation. I left the job immediately and refused my salary for the previous month since I was leaving without giving notice. Financially, I had jumped into utter darkness. My family relied on my income. My mother’s recent surgery had drained the family’s savings. I barely had enough to cover the next month’s expenses. I didn't know what to do. I didn't tell my father and brother about quitting my job because they would never have approved. I did the only thing I could do—I held firm to the Lord and relied on His strength. I sought the intercession of Mamma Mary by praying the Holy Rosary constantly. Days and weeks passed, and I received no calls for interviews. Fear started gripping my soul. By the end of September, I still had no interviews scheduled by any of the recruiters whom I had approached. I was desperate. An Incredible Surprise On September 30, I finally received a phone call from an International School located near my home inviting me to interview for a position to teach the same genre of subjects I had taught at the college. This was an incredible surprise. This School, based on Cambridge University IGCSE curriculum, requires a level of subject knowledge equivalent to that expected of undergraduate faculty at an Indian University. I was offered the position and finalized my employment in early October 2021. And God also blessed me with a higher salary than I earned at the college. Praise be to God! Today, when people ask why I left college to teach in a high school, I share how awesome my God has been to me. Even if my new position had been a humbler job with less salary, I would still have accepted it joyfully for the sake of my Lord Jesus. As I look back, I realize that worldly titles don’t matter. What does matter is that we win the eternal crown. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “Let us…persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfector of our faith” (12:1b-2). I share my story with joy, not to malign my previous employer nor to brag that God blessed me because of how prayerful I have been. My purpose is to share my conviction that when we take one step for the Lord, He will take hundred steps for us. If you ever find yourself being asked to compromise on God’s commandments but fear that saying no will bring negative financial consequences upon you and your family, I will dare to recommend, my dear brother or sister, that you risk jumping into financial darkness for the sake of the Lord…and trust in His mercy. The experience of the Saints, and my own humble experience, assures me that our God never abandons us.
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