Five Minutes with Father Binh Ta

February 8, 2011

HOUSTON — Father Binh Ta says his vocation as a priest began with a meal.

"God surely has a good sense of humor, in that God initially pulled me to the Redemptorists through a dinner," Father Ta told the Texas Catholic Herald.

Invited to dinner by a local chapter of the Redemptorists, Father Ta discovered during "that warm visit" that he longed to be part of the religious community. He said he found the community to be a down-to-earth, culturally diverse group inspired by their founder, St. Alphonsus Ligouri, to serve Jesus Christ among "the most abandoned poor."

Originally from Vietnam and ordained on Sept. 4, 1993 by then-Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza at Holy Ghost Church in Houston, Father Ta served in Baton Rouge, La., Chicago, New Orleans, Tuscon, Ariz., and Berkely, Calif. before returning to Houston to serve in campus ministry at Rice University and schools of the Texas Medical Center.

Father Ta shared a few insights about his vocation with the Herald.

Texas Catholic Herald: When and how did you first realize you were called to life as a religious priest?

Father Binh Ta: Like some early apostles who were awakened by the Resurrected Jesus after years of following Him, my first true ‘wake-up' call to religious priesthood ironically came several years after I had joined the Redemptorist community. To be exact, it came during my pastoral immersion in a refugee camp in the Philippines. There I, as a ministry intern, witnessed innocent people being displaced, much like what happened to the Holy Family. [Each] refugee was literally and figuratively homeless — emotionally disjointed from family, socially handicapped in a foreign land and spiritually lost. By God's providence, I suddenly discovered [through] walking with marginalized people the real presence of the incarnated and redeeming Christ ...

TCH: Who most influenced your call? Who inspires you?

Father Ta: My dad, from my earliest memory, has always been a spiritual anchor for all of us in the family. He has instilled in me a passion for ‘beyond the here and now,' for serving God above all else, for dedicating my life to make my neighborhood and the world a better place than when I first came into it. Father John Phelps and Father Thomas Picton have consistently supported me to exercise God-given talents to serve, first and foremost, the marginalized poor. Sister Maria Nguyen, O.S.B., has exemplified for me a vowed person of simplicity and forgiving and unprejudiced services, through which I can attain genuine joy and peace-filled harmony. 

TCH: What led you to Rice University? What is enriching about your work there?

Father Ta: Rice University and the schools of Texas Medical Center, where I minister, is undoubtedly filled with many gifted people. At first sight they seem to have it all, and their future is nothing but bright and set. At a closer look, however, they too are spiritual seekers, even ‘marginalized,' albeit hidden. They are the contemporary [versions of] Nicodemus (John 3) and Joseph of Arimathea (Mt. 27:57) who, if properly supported and inspired, can become Christ-like leaders of tomorrow for the society and the Church. Thus my ministry at Rice and TMC is an attempt to plant fervent seeds, with prayerful hope that God's love for the abandoned poor … will also be carried out, furthered, and multiplied by these gifted leaders. 

TCH: What do you enjoy most about your work with college students?

Father Ta: They keep me young — spiritually and intellectually. While their chitchat about Facebook or space technology reminds me of how archaic I am, their excited energy and mental curiosity beautifully rubs off on my own desire for further learning. Moreover, their thirst for spiritual depth and genuine, meaningful relationships (Mark 10:17-31) testifies that Christ is not just relevant yesterday, but also today and ever tomorrow!

TCH: What do you like to do for fun?

Father Ta: Fishing; reading spiritual books over tea or coffee; hiking; camping; playing tennis; skiing; hanging out with friends to watch sports. 

TCH: Are there favorite mantras or sayings that you like to say?

Father Ta: ‘I am a redeemed sinner' (St. Ignatius Loyola) and ‘Each of us will either be a mystic or a non-believer' (Karl Rahner).

TCH: What advice do you have for those considering a vocation to religious life? 

Father Ta: Religious life nowadays is challenging; it's certainly not for the fainthearted. But it is pregnant with so many delightful surprises than anyone can ever imagine. For the followers of Jesus, especially those in religious life, His promise to them of being blessed ‘a hundred times more now in this present age' (Luke 18:18-30) is true … If I [had to start] another life, I would say a resounding ‘yes' to God's gift of religious priesthood again. †

— Jenny Faber