I could think of no better way to speak about the Sacrament of Holy Orders than to share my own journey. Since the priesthood is the road less traveled, we often seem different—not really human. My intention was to show that priests are just has human as everyone else.
I was ordained to the priesthood for service in the Diocese of Brownsville in 1979 at St. Anthony’s Church in Harlingen, where I had completed 6 months of internship and Clinical Pastoral Education at Valley Baptist Hospital. Bishop John Fitzpatrick called me to the priesthood. Although the Seminaries I attended helped to educate and form me, a Bishop is the one who calls a man to the Sacrament. I had heard Bishop Fitzpatrick speak at different functions and was always impressed with his clarity, his stance of social justice, his vision for the Church. After my ordination I was assigned as Parochial Vicar to St. Anthony’s Church, which didn’t surprise me. A few months later in January I received a call from Bishop asking me to come see him on a Friday. I said, “Bishop, Friday is my day off.” He said, “In light of Friday being your day off, at what time can you come?” I was nervous and convinced that someone had complained about me. No doubt that he heard that I hugged people, kissed babies, and visited families in their homes. So I had my arguments prepared. When I sat in his office Bishop said, “There are changes in the wind. I would like for you to be my Chancellor and the Director of Seminarians.” I was speechless. I said, “I don’t know anything about being a chancellor.” He said, “Good, no bad habits to break. I’ll teach you. You will come to live with me at La Hacienda apartments. You will be in charge of the house account and coordinate the Chancery staff and other departments. And remember, you just promised me obedience. You have one week to announce the move to the parishioners.”
With just a few months of experience I was placed into demanding circumstances. However, living with Bishop was the redeeming light. He taught me more than all eight years of seminary. We lived together for 27 years until his death in 2006. I remained Director of Seminarians for 12 years. While maintaining all the Diocesan commitments, Bishop named me pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Brownsville, in 1989 where I remained for 18 years, mostly because Bishop Fitzpatrick retired at the same parish.
Some of my relatives were worried that my life was going to be lonely. I look for precious moments to be alone, but I am never lonely. I have never regretted answering the call to the priesthood. “Find something that you like to do and you’ll never have to work.” Young people need to ask themselves if God is calling them to give their life in full-time service to the Church. Parents should be open to the possibility of their son or daughter dedicating their life to God. Folks have complained that they cannot understand the priest or religious because they have a foreign accent. Truth is that many of our priests are from Mexico, Africa or India. We need to pray and encourage local vocations, beginning in our own family. Doesn’t take much effort to ask our children to consider listening to God; to pray the Rosary together for vocations; to pray one Hail Mary at every meal for vocations. Since the Blessed Mother is the mother of the First Seminarian, we ask Her intercession. Never forget our Altar servers. Express gratitude to them. Won’t be long before they are running the show. Our future is in their hands. The majority of priests and religious were once Altar servers. Tap a youth on the shoulder and pose the question, “Perhaps God is calling you, be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit.” Once upon a time people asked me the question and the seed was planted.
O God, Who wills not the death of a sinner, but rather that he be converted and live, grant we beseech You through the intercession of the Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, Saint Joseph, her spouse, Saint Junipero Serra, and all the saints, an increase of laborers for your Church, fellow laborers with Christ to spend and consume themselves for souls, through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen.