PHOTO GALLERY: Priests urged to configure heart to Christ

Five new priests begin ministry at local parishes

Nissa LaPoint

Before five of Denver’s new priests lay prostrate before the altar of Christ, Archbishop Samuel Aquila reminded them the priesthood is a gift.

“It is not something you merit, it is not something that you work for, but rather it is a gift that is bestowed upon you,” Archbishop Aquila told the five seminarians during their priestly ordination Mass May 16. “It is precisely in the total gift of self that you are called to lay down your life as Christ has laid down his life.”

Family, friends and clergy packed the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception as five seminarians who served as deacons were ordained by the archbishop. Deacons Gregory Lesher, Joseph McLagan, Erik Vigil Reyes of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary; Deacon Franklin Anastacio Sequeira Treminio of Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary; and Deacon Tomasz Strzebonski of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Michigan, entered the priesthood.

All five new priests began work at local parishes.

Onlookers watched as the men were ordained in a solemn rite and celebrated with joyful song by the Cathedral Basilica’s choir and music from the Redemptoris Mater seminary choir.

 

Archbishop Aquila encouraged the men during his homily to invite others to encounter Christ and minister to souls, but not to do it alone.

“It is in and with Christ that you are going to make a total gift of self,” he told the five men. “You can never do that on your own. If you do it, it will only be by white knuckles. And the Lord does not want white knuckles. What the Lord wants is your heart. And he wants your heart to be configured to his heart.”

He encouraged them to fall in love with Christ so that they could fulfill their priestly promises.

“But is only through your love of Jesus, and falling in love with Jesus, and staying in love with Jesus that you will live the promises you are making,” he said. “And that you will be continually configured to Christ, the head shepherd and spouse of the Church. And know, my dearest brothers and sons, should you fall, always pick-up and begin anew.”

Below are profiles of the five men ordinated for the Archdiocese of Denver.

 

Father Gregory Louis Lesher
Age: 30
Born and reared: Born in Chicago and raised in Bolingbrook, Ill.
Seminary: St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver
Most inspirational saint: St Thérèse of Lisieux

Father Gregory Lesher wanted to become a priest since the age of 10, but forgot about it by the time he entered high school. “It was when I was in college (at the University of Denver) that I had a very different idea of what I was going to do with my life. I was studying international development—I saw myself working abroad somewhere—but I knew that I wanted to be a servant.” Then a priest had asked him to pray for vocations and he felt a call. “And from that moment on, it started this two-month cycle where every day I found myself just daydreaming about being a priest, but I was very resistant.” He fought with the idea but gradually discerned a vocation by talking with family and priests. After his first year of graduate school, he left to enter the seminary. Father Lesher said he is most looking forward to the sacrament of confession. “I think it’s a really precious moment in which you can share and help people.”

 

Father Joseph Marc McLagan
Age: 29
Born and reared: Born in Kansas City, Mo.; reared in Grandview, Mo., and Littleton
Seminary: St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver
Most inspirational saint: St. Stephen

Father Joseph McLagan’s discernment to the priesthood occurred incrementally during his college years. When studying philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, he said he began to learn more about his faith and the importance of God. He joined Bible studies and taught Totus Tuus in the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo. Others suggested he had a vocation to the priesthood. “There was definitely an immediate feeling of fear,” he said, “but more and more as I trusted in this call, joy came about with that.” He asked his pastor, Father Rocco Porter, for insight and guidance. “I continued to pursue the thought that God might be calling me to be a priest. So after graduating from college in the fall of 2008, I applied to the seminary in the spring and entered spirituality year in August 2009.” Father McLagan said he most looks forward to confession.

 

Father Erik Vigil Reyes
Age: 26
Born and reared: Calvillo, Aguascalientes, Mexico
Seminary: St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver
Most inspirational saint: St. Paul and St. Augustine

When Father Erik Reyes was young, his father would tell him stories about the Cristero movement in 1920s Mexico. Thousands of Catholics started the movement in response to a government ban on public expressions of faith and a closure of churches. “So my father used to take me to 6 a.m. Mass every morning and tell me stories about the Cristeros,” Father Reyes said. “So I got involved with the Cristeros and the movement. I wanted to become a priest, because I had a good relationship with the priests who were at my parish.” He forgot about his interest in the priesthood until he returned to Mexico after high school. He entered minor seminary and then came to the United States to continue his studies. Father Reyes said he most looks forward to absolving in the sacrament of reconciliation.

 

Father Tomasz Strzebonski
Age: 30
Born and reared:
 near Krakow, Poland
Seminary: SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich.
Most inspirational saint: St. John Paul II and St. John the Apostle

The first time Father Tomasz Strzebonski thought about being a priest, he was 12. “It was mostly because of the good example of the priests I had in my home parish,” he said. But he didn’t pursue the thought of a vocation until he was studying physics in a college in Poland. Some of his professors were anti-clerical and asserted that physics was the answer to everything. “I was just burning inside to tell them they’re wrong. I just wanted to react to it,” he shared. Father Strzebonski said he also felt a growing need for spiritual formation and the need to spread the faith. “I wanted to be like the disciples, bringing the faith to all the nations,” he said. He entered a seminary in the Archdiocese of Krakow but left after two years feeling that he was called to serve elsewhere. He came to the United States in 2012 and continued his studies at the Polish American seminary in Michigan. After a visit to Denver, he knew he wanted to serve in Colorado. He said he is most looking forward to working with youth.

 

Father Franklin Anastacio Sequeira Treminio
Age: 34
Born and reared:  Born in Matagalpa, Nicaragua; reared in Ciudad Dario, Nicaragua
Seminary: Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary
Most inspirational saint: St. Francis of Assisi

As a young altar boy, Father Treminio admired the priests he assisted during Mass. But he said he was unsure about becoming a priest. Even when he felt a call, he hesitated. “I tried to forget about it. I wanted to get married, have a family, children,” he said. At the age of 15, he heard the call to the priesthood during a gathering of youth in the Neocatechumenal Way in Nicaragua. “I remember when someone said, ‘If there is anyone who feels called to the priesthood, please stand up,’ I felt someone speaking to my heart and telling me to stand up. I remember being very emotional, something which I could not even describe. It was an experience of the love of God, of the presence of God which filled my whole being with joy and happiness—something which I had never experienced before.” Then he stood up. At that point he was awakened to the call of the priesthood, he said.

 

Interviews by St. John Vianney seminarian Zachary Boazman, who contributed to this report.

 

COMING UP: Healing hatred and anger after Charlottesville

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nationwide reaction to it are clear signs of the tensions simmering just below the surface of our society. But we know as people of faith that these wounds can be healed if we follow Christ’s example, rather than the path of revenge.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the Aug. 12 clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville that resulted in the injury of around 34 people and the death of Heather Heyer. It was an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” melee.

These events remind me of Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, in which he pointed out that “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:21).”

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outward expression of hundreds of hearts, and as a shepherd of souls, I cannot stand by silently while people allow hatred toward others rule their hearts. Particularly reprehensible were the derogatory words the neo-Nazis and their white supremacist allies shouted toward African Americans, Jews and Latinos. This is not how God sees his children!

Every human being is bestowed from the moment of conception with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, and we are all loved by him, even amid our sin and brokenness. Satan seeks every opportunity to twist these fundamental truths in the hearts of human beings and we can see the devastation it brings throughout history.

It can be tempting to respond to these attacks on our fellow man with violence, just as the members of the Anti-fascist movement (known as “Antifa”) did in Charlottesville. But this is not what Christ taught, since it allows hatred to gain a foothold through a different avenue. It is worth repeating: the human heart is the true battlefield.

Jesus’ response to violence and persecution stands in contrast with the way of hatred and anger. Instead, he taught his disciples to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Christ’s radical answer is only possible because God unconditionally loves every person and is ready to forgive us when we repent. God’s love is the only thing that can cut through the hatred that is bringing people to blows, heal the human heart and form it after his own. As people of faith, we are called to bring the truth of love to these festering wounds so that hearts may be healed by Christ.

Joseph Pearce, the Catholic convert and former white supremacist, is a perfect example of this. In a recent article for the National Catholic Register, he recalls how it was his encounter with the objective truths of the faith that demolished his race-centered identity and seeing his enemies love him when he confronted them with hatred that changed his heart. We must pray for the grace to love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves.

“The way out of this deadly spiral,” Pearce says, “is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred; it is good for our enemies also.”

May all of us follow the great example of Mark Heyer, the father of the woman who was killed after the white supremacist rally. His daughter’s death, Heyer told USA Today, made him think “about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’”

Jesus desires that every person have a heart that is whole and free from hatred, anger and pride. He desires to form our hearts, and that only comes about when we are receptive to his unconditional love, for only in receiving his unconditional love will we be able to give it to others. I pray that all the faithful will be instruments of healing for our country by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to their neighbors and their enemies.