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: Punishing the poor and needy

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Every afternoon in downtown Denver, homeless men, women and children are given shelter, food and a place to wash themselves. Not far away, hundreds of people are receiving high quality medical care at one of our Catholic hospitals or Marisol Health. Some local parishes also distribute food, clothing, or help with rent. Whether you are on the Eastern Plains, the Western Slope or along the Front Range, people of faith are contributing their skills and resources to your community and making it a better place to live, and especially for the less fortunate.

Since we celebrated our nation’s independence about a week ago, the ability of people of faith to make a positive contribution to our society has been on my mind. People of faith make our society a better place as they seek the good and the true, and the right to live our faith in the public square is guaranteed by the Constitution. Unfortunately, there are forces at work trying to change that, and if they succeed it will be the vulnerable who are hurt the most.

Many people are familiar with Jack Phillips’ case because he recently received a favorable verdict from the U.S. Supreme Court. In brief, Jack was sued by a gay couple for refusing to make them a wedding cake, since doing so would contradict his belief that God created marriage to be between a man and a woman. His case – and others around the country – clearly show that there are people who want to silence Christian people and use the force of law to make them act against their faith or be punished.

Tim Gill, the multimillionaire who is funding and directing many of these efforts, plainly stated his intentions in a June 2017 Rolling Stone interview. “We’re going into the hardest states in the country,” he said. “We’re going to punish the wicked.” According to Gill, people of faith are “wicked” when their views do not agree with his. In this worldview, there is no room for differences on matters of prudence or conscience.

What you won’t hear from activists like Tim Gill is that the people who will suffer the most from his campaign against faith and the freedom of conscience are the homeless, children waiting to be adopted, or those needing hospital care. In short, the people who will be hurt are those who rely on the charitable activity of people of faith.

Take, for example, the Catholic Charities adoption programs in Boston, Illinois, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. that have been forced to shut down because they believe it’s not in children’s best interest to be placed with a same-sex couple. In Illinois, Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Springfield estimates that about 3,000 children were impacted by their closure. As was predicted, the state is now experiencing a shortage of quality foster families. Surely, this does not benefit society.

It is unexpected, but homeless men and women are also being impacted by changes to regulations. In Sept. 2016 the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development finalized rules that require homeless shelters to accommodate transgender people by placing them according to whatever gender they present themselves as, rather than their biological sex. Most often, it is men identifying themselves as women who approach the shelters, and this frightens the women, especially since many of them have been victimized by men on the streets.

Religious freedom can seem like an abstract concept, but when you look at the fruits of this basic liberty, its importance becomes clear. Moved by their faith, Catholics and others in the Archdiocese of Denver spent 2017 providing over 212,000 nights of shelter, emergency assistance to 28,000 households, 714 job placements, and almost 73,000 volunteer hours through Catholic Charities.

Further, hundreds of immigrants are assisted with English as a Second Language classes, business training, and faith formation through Centro San Juan Diego. In the name of Jesus, tens of thousands of sick people receive medical care at Catholic hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. This list doesn’t include other Christian, Jewish, or Muslim charitable endeavors, nor does it include individuals whose faith guides the way they run their small business or their work for their employer.

It is a convenient and worn-out argument to accuse people of discrimination to pressure them into giving up their beliefs, but this tactic ignores the people who suffer the most from the intolerance of those insisting people of faith give up their beliefs. Our country has long recognized and benefited from the gifts of faithful people, and restricting this spirit of generosity will make our society poorer.

I am grateful that the Supreme Court recognized that Jack Phillips’ right to religious freedom was infringed, but his case will certainly not be the last. As Christians, we must respond to this pressure with the joy that is born from faith, with loving, persistent resistance and forgiveness. Let us respond to Pope Francis’ appeal that he made as he spoke in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. “Let us preserve freedom. Let us cherish freedom. Freedom of conscience, religious freedom, the freedom of each person, each family, each people, which is what gives rise to rights.”