Priceless priestly gifts

Archbishop Aquila

The central task of the priest is “to bring God to men and women,” Pope Benedict XVI once told the priests of Rome. Priests are tremendous gifts from Christ to his Church, and on May 13 I will have the joy of ordaining eight men to the priesthood for our archdiocese. As we prepare for this celebration, it is important to realize what a gift priests are for the whole Church.

Faithful priests are a blessing from God for his people. God could have chosen to give us his grace in an impersonal manner, but just as he chose to become a man, so too, does he call and consecrate men to be his priests and bring his grace to the world. Just as he called the apostles, he still calls today!

There is an element of mystery in the call to the priesthood. St. John Paul II noted this in his book “Gift and Mystery,” which was born out of his thoughts on 50 years of priestly ministry. “At its deepest level,” he said, “every vocation to the priesthood is a great mystery; it is a gift which infinitely transcends the individual. Every priest experiences this clearly throughout the course of his life. Faced with the greatness of the gift, we sense our own inadequacy. A vocation is a mystery of divine election: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, fruit that will last ….’”

Every Catholic was chosen by Christ at his or her baptism and given the mission of sanctifying the world. With the support of the sacraments and the clergy, you are called to be a saint whose life and charity radiate the Gospel. It bears repeating: Jesus did not intend for you to fulfill this mission on your own – he gave the Church priests as his instruments who constantly remind us that Christ is the Head, Shepherd, and Bridegroom of the Church.

At the Chrism Mass this year, Pope Francis, reminded priests that the Gospel they proclaim and serve can be described as “Good news. A single word – Gospel – that, even as it is spoken, becomes truth, brimming with joy and mercy.” The Holy Father also counseled his fellow priests, “We should never attempt to separate these three graces of the Gospel: its truth, which is non-negotiable; its mercy, which is unconditional and offered to all sinners; and its joy, which is personal and open to everyone. Truth, mercy and joy: these three go together.” In serving the faithful, priests are entrusted with bringing the “truth, mercy and joy” of Jesus Christ to them.

As we celebrate the gift of new priests, let us all renew our efforts to support all our priests, to pray ever more fervently for vocations to the priesthood, and to appreciate the gift they are to the Church.

St. John Vianney has some insightful words to offer. “The priest is not a priest for himself … he is for you. After God, the priest is everything. Leave a parish twenty years without priests; they will worship beasts. If the missionary Father and I were to go away, you would say, ‘What can we do in this church? there is no Mass; Our Lord is no longer there: we may as well pray at home.’ When people wish to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priest, because where there is no longer any priest there is no sacrifice, and where there is no longer any sacrifice there is no religion.”

The enemies of the Church would like to see the priesthood fit in with the surrounding culture as it becomes more secular, and their tactics have not changed over the centuries. If the Church is to be faithful to her mission, then the laity and priests alike must renew their commitment to holiness and to supporting one another. We must return to our first love as Pope Francis said to a gathering of priests during the Year of Mercy. “I renew my first love: the memory of that time when the Lord touched my soul and called me to follow him, the memory of the joy of having cast the nets of our life upon the sea of his word.” I urge you to pray that the hearts of all priests may be filled with the joy of the Gospel and set aflame with the love of Jesus Christ so that may be shepherds after the heart of Jesus!

COMING UP: Priestly ordination on Fatima centennial a reminder of Mary’s role in priesthood

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It’s not every year that a priestly ordination falls on the anniversary of one of the Church’s most celebrated events.

On May 13, the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, eight men will be ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Denver. We caught up with each of them ahead of their big day and asked about the significance of being ordained on such a special day.

Peter Wojda

Deacon Peter Wojda came to realize his call to the priesthood after spending time as a missionary with The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). After several years of discernment, he realized that he had discerned as much as he could outside the seminary; the next step was to enter.

For Deacon Wojda, being ordained on the 100th anniversary of Fatima is a blessing.

“God has a particular plan for me as a priest. I did not choose this date but God did. He is calling me to grow in love of Mary, the Mother of God, and be guided by her in my priesthood,” Deacon Wojda said.

“I know that she also loves me and desires me to have that same love for all of her spiritual children as I serve them as their priest. I want to have a pure and sacrificial love like Mary has.”

Father Wojda’s first Mass will be at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Longmont.

Shaun Galvin

After experiencing an encounter with God at a CU Boulder Awakening retreat, Deacon Shaun Galvin started to get involved his faith, which then led him to discern his vocation and decide to become a priest.

“It is quite an honor to have my ordination day on such a special occasion as the 100th anniversary of Fatima,” Deacon Galvin said.

“I look forward to continuing to grow in my relationship with our Lady, particularly as a priest, as priests are honored with a special identification with her son.”

Father Galvin’s first Mass will be said at St. Joseph’s Parish in Fort Collins.

Daniel Ciucci

Deacon Daniel Ciucci recounted seven years ago when he and some of his classmates dreamt ahead of their ordination and would marvel at the idea of being ordained on the 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima.

“When we found out a few years ago that that was the date of the ordination, it was very thrilling,” Deacon Ciucci said. “I have gone through difficult moments throughout seminary and at each point I have re-offered my vocation to Our Lady of Fatima saying something to the effect of, “Mama, if you want me you’re going to have to work this out.”

In 2008, Deacon Ciucci was studying in Spain and made a pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, which he said was very impactful, and especially reinvigorating for his devotion to the rosary.

“Our Lady is a powerful intercessor and is tenderhearted; she always leads us to Jesus,” he said.

Father Ciucci’s first Mass will be at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Boulder.

Nicholas Larkin

Deacon Nicholas Larkin was inspired to become a priest by St. John Paul II. After watching the broadcast of the saint’s visit to Denver in 1993, he decided that he wanted to become Pope — but family members pointed out that being a priest first was necessary. Now, his ordination to the priesthood takes place on the anniversary of one of St. John Paul’s greatest devotions: Our Lady of Fatima.

“I cannot but help but see the hand of Providence in being ordained on the 100th anniversary of Fatima. I entered seminary 9 years ago, right out of high school. And without a doubt I know that it has been Our Lady who has gotten me to this moment,” Deacon Larkin said. “Our Lady has played a vital role in forming my priestly heart and identity. She, more than anyone else, has taught me to ponder the mysteries of salvation prayerfully in my heart.”

“And Her purity has strengthened me in living out my celibacy joyfully,” he continued. “To be ordained on the 100th anniversary of Fatima is to be absolutely assured that She has me under Her mantle, and …that she will be watching over me in my own journey towards holiness. My priesthood will be consecrated to Her Immaculate Heart.”

Father Larkin’s first Mass will be said at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

John Mrozek

Seminary has been a long and difficult road for Deacon John Mrozek. Though he felt at times he wasn’t going to make it through, it was the constant guidance of Mary who he says gave him the strength and discipline to persevere.

“I do not think I would have made it past the first day without Mary,” Deacon Mrozek said. “It was by her that I received my foundational call to be ordained. My Mother and Queen was most important to my vocation.”

Deacon Mrozek said he tends to lean toward a Marian spirituality, and to that end, being ordained on the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima is the greatest ordination gift God could have given him, he said.

“I see this ordination date as a gift from my King and Queen, as reminder to be humble, and as [my] life’s mission ‘to do whatever He tells you.’”

Father Mrozek’s first Mass will be said at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Littleton.

Daniel Eusterman

As a parishioner at Our Lady of Loreto, Deacon Daniel Eusterman had several great examples of the fruitfulness of the priesthood that plant the seed for his vocation. When he attended the ordination of one of those mentors, Father Matt Hartley, Deacon Eusterman felt the tug on his heart more than ever before.

“To witness his laying down of his life for the Church as a priest as someone who is happy, who is young and relatable, and who I thought was cool and still think is cool — his example especially not just made me interested or open to the idea of considering it, but it actually started making it pretty desirable,” he said.

Now, on the eve of his own ordination to the priesthood, fittingly on the 100th anniversary of Fatima, Deacon Eusterman is especially reminded of the role Mary has played in his own vocation.

“Having our ordinations on her feast frames and gives new meaning to the whole vocational project that seminary has been leading up to,” he said. “[Mary] has shown me who and what the Church, my bride, is, what it means to be attentive to the actions and desires of God, and what it means to be willing to walk with Christ in his mission in for the salvation of people.”

Father Eusterman’s first Mass will be at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield.

Francesco Basso

Born and raised in Italy, Deacon Francesco Basso’s vocation to the priesthood was born and fostered upon joining the Neocatechumenal Way. His father was killed in the Bologna Massacre of 1980, and the suffering which his widowed mother and sisters was a source of pain for him.

However, his heart was softened as he grew in faith, and at the age of 35, he came to Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary in Denver to study to become a priest.

Deacon Basso’s May 23 ordination has significance to him not only because it is the 100th anniversary of Fatima, but also because it is his mother’s birthday.

“The Virgin has helped me through this journey of my vocation,” he said. “Being ordained on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima is also proof that my vocation is a miracle — like the dancing sun. My friends who knew me when I was young cannot believe that I will be ordained a priest.

Father Basso’s first Mass will be at St. James Parish in Denver.

Boguslaw Rebacz

Deacon Boguslaw Rebacz was ordained to the diaconate last year in the Italian chapel of the Divine Mercy Shrine, dedicated to St. Faustina. Originally from Poland, Deacon Rebacz studied for the priesthood at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Lake Orchard, Mich., which also has a location in Krakow. The seminary specializes in training young Polish seminarians who wish to become priests in the U.S.

After visiting four dioceses, Deacon Rebacz felt most called to serve in the Archdiocese of Denver. As he enters the priesthood on the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions, Deacon Rebacz said he is reminded of Mary’s message calling all mankind to prayer, penance and conversion, as well as her example of steadfast trust in the Father.

“This is the way to obtain God’s mercy,” he said. “As a priest I will accompany people on this journey of their encounter with Christ especially through the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. In Fatima, Mary pointed to the destroying power of evil; she also pointed to the means to overcome it.

“Mary is for me the perfect example of trust in God and fulfilling the will of God. She brought up Christ, the High Priest and she also has a special care for those who are called to Christ’s priesthood,” he said.

Father Rebacz’s first Mass will be said at Holy Name Parish in Steamboat Springs.