Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than currently serves as a parochial vicar at Holy Spirit Parish in Bowling Green. | COURTESY OF ST. MEINRAD SEMINARY AND SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY
The pandemic didn’t stop our brotherhood; rather it helped us strengthen the bond!
BY FR. STEPHEN VAN LAL THAN, SPECIAL TO THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Editor’s note: On Jan. 14, 2021, the priests of the Diocese of Owensboro participated in a virtual Convocation experience in place of their annual week-long Convocation. A reflection about this experience is shared below by Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than, the diocese’s most recently-ordained priest.
People everywhere are struggling in these difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic. So are the priests! However, the pandemic didn’t stop our brotherhood as priests; it rather emphasized the need for us to get together. It was so important for us to be able to come together in prayer and unity in this great time of trials and difficulties, because there is something special and powerful about coming together as brothers in Christ. In fact, the pandemic, as challenging as it was, helped us strengthen our bond.
As a young priest, I was so excited and so looking forward to my first Convocation with my fellow brother priests – an occasion to pray together, to worship together, to support one another, and to strengthen our brotherhood. In a way, I was also curious to see how it was done in this country, as compared to how it was done in my native country of Myanmar.
All this feeling of excitement was met with challenges due to the global pandemic and the protocols in place. In fact, it was so challenging and painful to not have a physical gathering. Nevertheless, God allowed us to have a virtual Mini-Convocation through the sincere efforts of the leaders of the diocese, and thanks also to the God-given gift of technology. I was so grateful for this challenging, yet fruitful convocation that helped me appreciate every minute of brotherhood more and more.
I believe it was also by God’s providence that Fr. Jeremy King, OSB, gave us a presentation on the “Real Presence of Jesus in Word, Sacrament and Assembly,” because that is what we most needed in this time of global pandemic where God seemed to be so far away from us. The Convocation was a great reminder that God is not far away from the reality of the world; he is the Immanuel, the God-With-Us; he is with us even in these difficult times. As the presenter reminded us, Jesus is actually and substantially present in the Eucharist (under the appearance of bread and wine) – the source and summit of our Christian life. He is also present in the Word and in the assembly, who comes to worship and pray together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
I personally felt the presence of God and the working of the Spirit even in the very act of our gathering. It was so beautiful, so reassuring, encouraging, and so fulfilling to see the sense of community, selfless dedication and uplifting support among priests. When we come together in God and with God, there is always a special moment of His grace.
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than is a parochial vicar of Holy Spirit Parish in Bowling Green. He was ordained on May 23, 2020.
Originally printed in the February 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.