Bishop-elect Rodriguez through his family’s eyes

When Bishop-elect Jorge Rodriguez was six years old his parents took a trip to Mexico City, and when they asked their son Jorge what he wanted as a gift, he asked them to bring him a crucifix.

“That was the first sign of his embracing Christ,” his older sister Ligia Rodriguez told El Pueblo Católico.

The bishop-elect is the fifth of six children: Jose Ramon, Nery Beatriz (Betty), Pilar, Ligia, Jorge and Maria del Carmen (Carmina). El Pueblo Católico was able to speak with his family, who all reside in their hometown of Merida, located on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.

Ligia recalls that, as many children who feel called by God at a young age, “Jorgito” played Mass, and in particular he liked to celebrate the sacrament of matrimony. She also noted that all the children were taken to catechism class, “but he was the only one who finished the course!”

Jose Ramon spoke about Jorge’s solidarity with the poor: “My parents gave to the poor, but [Jorge] did what he could to make sure the help arrived to the poorest of the poor. If given the opportunity, he would give away his new shoes. I had the opportunity to accompany him and I met some of the families he helped. He was very quiet and did not keep track of what he did. Many times we didn’t even know until much later.”

Despite being a pious young child, Jorge surprised his family with the news that he was going to study to be a priest. “We thought that he had already forgotten,” Beatriz recalled.

“When he told us that he wanted to be a priest, it gave me such joy because out of all of us he was the one who was choosing the best path,” Ligia recalls. Nonetheless, his sister, who is three years older, said she missed him a lot because “he was the one who accompanied me to parties and dances.”

In 1987, Jorge was ordained to the priesthood in Rome as a priest of a religious congregation (the Legionaries of Christ). Four of his siblings traveled to Rome for the ordination. Carmina note that during the Mass she, and another sister, felt the presence of their father, who had died five years earlier. “We are confident that this was the presence of my father, who accompanied us from heaven.”

Carmina will be the only sibling to not attend the episcopal ordination in November, as she will stay to care for their Neri, who for health reasons and age (97 years), is not able to travel. “But we will be there in our hearts,” Carmina said.

When asked for a little insight into the person of Jorge Rodriguez, Ligia said that she is someone she admires, because he is “very strict and very firm in his convictions, yet is very cheerful and likes to joke.”

Jose Ramon admires “the affection that surrounds my brother”: “It must be very difficult detach oneself from one’s family, but he has a much bigger one now,” referring to the faithful that Jorge attends to daily in his priestly ministry.

His five siblings agree that the bishop-elect knows very well how to combine his affable and joking nature with firmness in his convictions and character.

Pilar told the Denver Catholic how they all went to the beach once as a family, and they had brought her 12-year-old grandson with some of his friends: “My grandson wanted to confess to him, and soon all of his friends were making a line. All of this because [my grandson] told them [Father Jorge] was ‘cool’ to confess to! To this day, those boys continue to ask for Father Jorge, and they are now 20 and 21 years old!”

Bety related that her brother is a “a man of integrity”: “He does not like things done half-way, and he is very charitable. He is very dedicated and happy in his vocation,” and she added that when she learned that he had been appointed auxiliary bishop of Denver, “I started jumping up and down with excitement!”

After speaking by phone with all the siblings of the future bishop, El Pueblo Católico received a voice mail from Father Jorge’s mother, Nery Novelo: “I congratulate Jorge very much on his appointment. May God help him very much. Here I wait for him.”

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.