Jesus called Peter, James and John to be fishers of souls. After instructing them, Jesus commissioned them to be the first bishops of the Church. Our Lord changed their vocation from fishermen to Apostles.
The majority of us have not had the benefit of having Jesus speak to us face to face. However, the call to every vocation is just as clear, when we are willing to listen. One of the most popular questions that I get is, “When did you decide to become a priest?” I answer, “This morning.” Three months from now, on May 5, I will celebrate 40 years of ordination to the priesthood. Everyone will be invited to celebrate with me on May 4, because a Saturday is more convenient—either at 10 am or at 5:30 pm. Both Holy Masses will be followed by a reception in Msgr. Ralph hall. Naturally my vocation started a lot earlier than 40 years ago. I was born at a very young age, in Falfurrias, TX. Since I was the first-born and the first grandchild on my father’s side, I was surrounded by a lot of attention. The best thing that my parents did for me was to send me to Sacred Heart Catholic School—staffed by the Urseline nuns. There were three of them and each taught three grades in one classroom. We did not see much of them, only their face and their hands, the rest was under the habit. As we grew, we got curious about what was under the habit—like what color their hair was. One of the nuns played ball with us; another ran to catch a pass; the principal was old—Mother Bernarda walked slowly and only she unlocked the school and rang the bell. When I was in the first grade I received my First Holy Communion. Shortly after, my mother paid an experienced altar boy to teach me the prayers in Latin so that I could begin serving Holy Mass. Apart from Dominus vobiscum, et cum spiritu tuo and Per Omnia saecula saeculorum, I didn’t know much about what I was saying. Rubrics and getting the book on the correct side of the Altar were of utmost importance. Holy Mass was at 6:30 in the morning. I rode my bicycle from our house to the church, about 6 blocks, with the cassock and surplus flying in the wind, because I wanted my own, not the ones that everybody wore.
Sometimes Mass was in the priest’s home at a small chapel with the three sisters and me. Rarely would anyone else come. Perhaps there were about 10-15 altar boys, not many more. Both the nuns and the priests were always kind. I have no bad memories. Then the older sister died and the school had to be closed when I was in the 5th grade. So I decided to quite school.
I made up my mind that I would not go to public school. My parents won that argument. 6th grade was about a lot more children. A big difference was the absence of prayer. Teachers were nice, students were nice and the coach was demanding. At 15 I got a job—working at the Alameda Theater—a Mexican movie theater, which had been closed for many years. My job was to make popcorn and sell the goodies at the concessions stand. After the movies finished I stayed to sweep, with the owners. They were relaxed Baptists, because the owner liked his beer. My job lasted for three years because a miracle happened. My father who had been working for Falfurrias Creamery began work with Borden’s Milk. The company moved us to Brownsville when I was a junior in High School. My brother and I helped my father on Saturdays to unload the milk at the local supermarkets. The best part about the move was that I was accepted at St. Joseph Academy with the Marist Brothers, who were from New York. I studied piano privately. I told my teacher that I wanted to be music major, so she prepared me. I auditioned and was accepted at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi. My senior year, in April, during Lent, God called me to the priesthood. I had decided to go to daily Mass for Lent. There was a bunch of old ladies and myself. I looked at the priest and thought, “I can do that. I can probably do it better.” All the questions from childhood echoed in my brain, “Why don’t you consider becoming a priest? Have you thought about becoming a priest?” Then I had a dream. In the dream I saw myself as a priest. I shared my dream, with one of the Brothers who confirmed that God was calling me. Within a short time the vocation director was at the school to explain the seminary studies. I was convinced that I had to abandon music. He said, “No way.” “Be good to have a priest that know music.” You will start your studies at Del Mar College and attend Corpus Christi Minor Seminary. I was 18 years old.
To be continued…