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: 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.