My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the Peace of the Risen Christ be with you!
Every year as May 9th approaches, I find myself reflecting on my priestly ordination and the call that God the Father has given to me to follow His Son as an ordained priest.
Forty-eight years ago today I was making the final plans for my priestly ordination. I remember that I only had a few days to get everything ready since I had planned to be on retreat for three days before the ordination. I was so excited. Bishop Thomas Drury had agreed to ordain me on the Saturday before Mother’s Day so that I could celebrate my first Mass in Aransas Pass on Mother’s Day as a special gift to my mother. Boy was she proud! Not everyone in my family could appreciate the excitement since my father’s side of the family was non-Catholic. However, they later learned to appreciate the significance and the importance of that May weekend in 1970.
I had, in the secret of my heart, dedicated my priesthood to Our Lady of Guadalupe and had placed her image on the holy cards that I had printed for the occasion. These past forty-eight years have seen my love affair with her deepen. Her love for me has helped me through some difficult moments. In today’s world, it is not hard to lose sight of what you are about and why one became a priest in the first place. Our Lady’s motherly care has carried me through some very rough times. My three years (1978-81) in Arteaga, Mexico, was a special time and helped me realize what truly happened when Jesus looked down from the cross and said “Behold your Mother.” Then, eight years ago, she worked a miracle in my life and made it possible for me to get out of the wheel chair and to walk. She gave me a “new” start in life! She was even busy looking after me during and after my last surgery some two months ago. She kept me free of pain.
Our Lady is always there for me. She has helped me to accept each of the assignments in which I have been called to serve the Church. It seems as if one always built on the other. I don’t know why I should be surprised since the way we live our life is part of God’s plan — that is if we don’t get in His way. That’s what free will is all about.
Shortly after my ordination I was assigned as the Assistant Pastor to the Corpus Christi Cathedral under the guidance of the pastor, Msgr. Albert Schmidt. A newly ordained priest’s first pastor is so important. I was so blessed to have such a saintly, fatherly man to guide me in those first years. I will carry him in my heart to my grave. While serving the people of the Cathedral, I was also given the job of being the Associate Editor of the South Texas Catholic and to serve Bishop Drury as his master of ceremonies. Bishop Drury soon became another fatherly figure to me.
It was at the end of the first year after my ordination or at the beginning of the second year that my spiritual director from the seminary invited me to accompany him to Mexico City to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I was privileged to celebrate Mass on the main altar of the old basilica. What a moving experience. I have since been allowed to be the main celebrant on the main altar of the new basilica on several different occasions. In fact, I am scheduled to be the celebrant at the main altar of the basilica in a few months, June 29th. I am told that the Mass and homily will be in Spanish. Pray for me!
After a few years at the Cathedral, I was appointed the Administrator of Corpus Christi Minor Seminary (now St. John Paul II High School), the same seminary where I began my journey to the priesthood 57 years ago. A year later I was given the responsibility of also being the Vocation Director for the diocese. It was such a joy to help guide young men towards the priesthood. In fact, it still is. Seven years after my ordination, while still remaining the Vocation Director, I was transferred to St. Patrick’s Church where I served for one year. It was while being at St. Patrick’s that I felt the Lord calling me to work in our diocesan mission in Arteaga, Coahuila, Mexico. The three years in Mexico was the turning point in my priesthood. God’s plan was beginning to develop. It was from the poor people in the parish of San Isidro Labrador and the 45 missions located in the surrounding mountains that I felt so much love and joy. Those years were not easy and almost cost me my life, but they are years that I would not trade for all the gold in the world. I am the priest I am today mostly because of what happened to me spiritually while living in Mexico. It was during this time that my love for Our Lady of Guadalupe grew even deeper.
When I left Mexico, I moved into the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe here in Corpus Christi where I served for ten years. I was so grateful for those three years in Mexico! Living and serving the people of OLG parish was like living and serving in a small town within a bigger town. While there I just continued building on the foundation that was laid for me in Mexico. The people there were wonderful and so full of love.
Twenty-seven years ago I arrived here at SS. Cyril and Methodius not knowing what to expect. The strong devotion of the people of this parish to Our Lady of Guadalupe has been a great source of strength to me. We have had some very tough times together, but I have always found people who were willing to give of themselves to help build up the community that I have grown to love deeply.
Yes, as I look back, I can definitely see God’s finger pointing out the direction that He wanted me to take. How foolish I was to ever think that I was in control! I have come to believe that we are definitely on God’s time and that He is truly the One who is in control. I have learned to step out of the way. I pray that the young people the Lord is calling to serve Him as ordained priests or in consecrated life will take to heart the lessons that I have learned – He is in control, not me.
I want to thank you for taking me into your family and for allowing me to serve you as your pastor these past 27 years. On May 9th, I will celebrate my 48th anniversary of my ordination. Please pray for me. May He allow me many more years to serve Him.
In his message for the 51st World Day of Prayer for Vocation, Pope Francis wrote: “It is Christ, therefore, who continually summons us by his word to place our trust in him, loving him “with all the heart, with all the understanding, and with all the strength” (Mk 12:33). Therefore, every vocation, even within the variety of paths, always requires an exodus from oneself in order to center one’s life on Christ and on his Gospel. Both in married life and in the forms of religious consecration, as well as in priestly life, we must surmount the ways of thinking and acting that do not conform to the will of God. It is an “exodus that leads us on a journey of adoration of the Lord and of service to him in our brothers and sisters” (Address to the International Union of Superiors General, 8 May 2013). Therefore, we are all called to adore Christ in our hearts (1 Pet 3:15) in order to allow ourselves to be touched by the impulse of grace contained in the seed of the word, which must grow in us and be transformed into concrete service to our neighbor. We need not be afraid: God follows the work of his hands with passion and skill in every phase of life. He never abandons us! He has the fulfillment of his plan for us at heart, and yet he wishes to achieve it with our consent and cooperation.
Pope Francis goes to offer a word of encouragement to those who think that God may be calling them to be a priest or a religious sister: “I invite you to listen to and follow Jesus, and to allow yourselves to be transformed interiorly by his words, which “are spirit and life” (Jn 6:62). Mary, the Mother of Jesus and ours, also says to us: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). It will help you to participate in a communal journey that is able to release the best energies in you and around you. A vocation is a fruit that ripens in a well cultivated field of mutual love that becomes mutual service, in the context of an authentic ecclesial life. No vocation is born of itself or lives for itself. A vocation flows from the heart of God and blossoms in the good soil of faithful people, in the experience of fraternal love. Did not Jesus say: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35)?
As I prepare to celebrate 48 years of priestly service, I invite you to join me in prayer for all priests, especially for those priests in Mexico who have recently had their lives come to a violent end, and for those that He is calling to priesthood or religious life, especially those from this parish.
Please pray for me!
I love you,