How we answered Christ’s knock in 2016

Archbishop Aquila

“The Word who found a dwelling in Mary’s womb comes to knock on the heart of every person” at Christmas, Pope St. John Paul II said. Jesus is the Father’s merciful response to humanity, and he continues to knock on every human heart. As we celebrate Christmas and the beginning of 2017, it is the perfect time to lift our hearts in gratitude to the Father for his help in responding to that knock in 2016 and ponder in our hearts how we will do so next year.

As I look back at 2016, I am deeply grateful for the many, many people who have generously responded to Jesus’ call for them. The people of the archdiocese are a real gift to me, and so I would like to give praise to God by recalling some of this past year’s major works of mercy that occurred in the Year of Mercy.

The unborn are close to my heart, so the first area I would like to highlight involves the efforts to protect and support those whose lives are in danger. The Church faithfully stood up in defense of life at its most vulnerable stages by gathering for the March for Life at the Capitol last January. In March, we built on that momentum by gathering close to 2,000 people to process with the Blessed Sacrament around Planned Parenthood in Stapleton. This public witness and our prayers for the unborn are a crucial component of the effort to build a culture of life and reject the throwaway culture in which we live.

Another important aspect of mercy which creates a culture that embraces life is providing material support for mothers in crisis pregnancies. Through Catholic Charities and its launch of the Marisol Health clinics in Lafayette and Denver, we are now able to provide full OB/GYN care for expectant mothers, family care after birth, and in the near future, a place to stay for homeless mothers and their newborns.

Even though the coalition against Proposition 106 was not ultimately successful in convincing our fellow citizens to vote against the measure that legalized doctor-assisted suicide, the Church was faithful in standing up against the culture of death. We can all benefit from seeing this with the outlook of St. Mother Teresa, who said, “God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.” It was truly edifying to see all the yard signs, hear from pastors about their efforts to educate the faithful and the number of people who were positively impacted by the campaign. Going forward, the archdiocese will work to continue to educate people on end-of-life decisions and the care that is available in those trying circumstances.

Pope Francis, through his declaration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, focused the entire Church on becoming more aware of our need to receive and give mercy. He did this by emphasizing the importance of encountering Jesus, urging priests to make Christ’s mercy through Confession more available, granting indulgences, and encouraging everyone to carry out works of mercy. Many of the priests shared with me that people were returning to Confession after years away from the sacrament. There is truth in the teaching of Jesus, that there is more joy over one repentant sinner than the ninety-nine righteous (Lk. 15:7). As archbishop I tasted that joy, as did the priests hearing confessions.

I was also encouraged to see how people throughout the archdiocese gladly embraced the Jubilee Year, with thousands of people passing through the five holy doors, hundreds going on pilgrimage and countless works of mercy being performed.

In a particular way, our archdiocese focused on the Servant of God Julia Greeley as our model for imitating the mercy of Christ. On December 18, I had the blessing of officially opened Julia’s cause for beatification and canonization. This was a historic event, since it is the first time the archdiocese has begun the process of investigating a person who lived in our midst. Julia’s witness of mercy and selfless charity were evident in her committed service to the poor, bringing them food, clothes, medicine and her loving presence, despite being mistreated and poor herself.

Julia’s life and her dedication to the Sacred Heart, her love for the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin, remind me of another knock on the door that the archdiocese experienced in 2016. This past August, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Jorge Rodriguez to serve as an auxiliary bishop for our archdiocese. The events surrounding the bishop’s ordination in November made apparent the generosity of the people of northern Colorado. So many of you expressed your love for Bishop Rodriguez and gratitude for the Holy Father’s appointment.

For his episcopal motto, Bishop Rodriguez chose, “His mercy is from generation to generation.” His motto is a reminder to each of us that it is God’s mercy that sustains us and gives us the strength to respond when he calls us to follow him. In the coming year, I ask each of you to pray and reflect on how you will respond to God when he knocks on the door of your heart. Continue my dearest brothers and sisters to grow in the merciful love of the Father! Like the Virgin Mary, may you allow him to enter and give you the grace to follow his call for you.

May God bless you in this Christmas season and fill you with his joy!

COMING UP: Father Jan Mucha remembered for his ‘joy and simplicity’

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When Father Marek Ciesla was 11 years old, he encountered a priest in his hometown in northern Poland who was visiting his parish on mission.

“I was impressed,” said Father Ciesla. “A couple of my friends and I were talking about how energetic, how wonderful this priest was. I think in this way he inspired us a little bit to follow the call to the priesthood.”

The priest was Father Jan Mucha, and little did Father Ciesla know that decades later and an ocean away, he would reunite with the man that inspired him and his friend to pursue the priesthood.

In 2010 when Father Mucha was retiring from his role as pastor of St. Joseph Polish Catholic Church in Denver, Father Ciesla was sent from Poland to the Archdiocese of Denver to take his place.

The priests spent two days together, and Father Ciesla was struck by the familiarity of Father Mucha.

“For some reason, the way he was talking and the words he was using, something rang a bell,” he said. “I asked him if he remembers visiting my parish. And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I had it on my list. I remember.’”

Father Ciesla was amazed that the man he was there to replace was the same one who had impacted his life all those years ago.

“God works in mysterious ways,” said Father Ciesla. “I never thought I would meet him again.”

Father Mucha passed away March 21 after serving the archdiocese for 40 years. He was 88 years old.

Father Mucha was born March 16, 1930 in Gron, Poland to parents Kazimierz and Aniela Mucha. He was one of five children. Father Mucha attended high school in Kraków and went on to study philosophy and theology at a seminary in Tarnów.

Father Mucha was ordained December 19, 1954 in Tarnów by Auxiliary Bishop Karol Pękala. He served at St. Theresa Parish in Lublin, Sacred Heart Parish in Florynka and as a Latin teacher at Sacred Heart Novice House in Mszana Dolna.

He was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Denver on April 20, 1978. Before he was granted retirement status in August of 2010, he served at St. Joseph Polish for nearly 40 years.

“Father Mucha was dedicated to his people and there was a joy about him,” said Msgr. Bernard Schmitz, who had known Father Mucha since his own ordination in 1974 and more recently within his former role as Vicar for Clergy.

“I admired his joy and simplicity,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He seemed to have no guile and what you saw is what you got. He was very proud of his Polish heritage and was unafraid to be Polish.”

Father Mucha’s move to the United States came about after he visited St. Joseph Polish while on vacation. The pastor at the time was sick, and parishioners asked Father Mucha to stay.

After receiving approval from his superiors in Poland and the archbishop in Denver, Father Mucha did stay, and ended up serving the parish for nearly four decades.

“He was happy to serve here,” said Father Ciesla. “All the time, he was a man of faith. He kept his eye on Jesus.”

Msgr. Schmitz believes Father Mucha’s faithfulness and tenacity as a priest will leave a lasting impression on those he served.

“He was dedicated to the priesthood and didn’t want to retire until he was sure his people would be well taken care of,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He could come across as tough, but really he was a compassionate person [with] a heart open to the Lord’s work.”