Archbishop Aquila ordains five men to the priesthood

“I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves”

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Recalling the phrase Jesus told his disciples: “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Mt 10:16), Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila urged the new priests to shine amid a society where darkness and hostility against God abounds.

The prelate presided the priestly ordination at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver May 25. The new priests are Julio Cesar Amezcua, from Spain; Adam Bradshaw, born in Texas; Witold Kaczmarzyk and Mateusz Ratajczak, from Poland; and Thomas Scherer from Colorado.

The new priests were accompanied by their families, who came from Spain, Poland and around the United States. Dozens of people from the parishes where they served as deacons throughout the year were also present. The environment of the sunny spring morning was a joyful, prayerful one. The Mass readings were read in English, Spanish and Polish, honoring the diversity of nationalities of the new priests.

Called to bring the light

A young priest can only bring the light of Christ to a confused society through faith and hope in Jesus: “Open your heart to him, for it is he, and he alone, who gives life,” Archbishop Aquila said during his homily. “You are going into a world that has abandoned God and wants nothing to do with God.”

He then reminded them that this is not the first time the Church has experienced turbulent times. He recalled how the People of Israel adored false gods, even to the point of offering their children in sacrifice to them. He mentioned the dark times of the Middle Ages and the two World Wars of the 20th century and spoke of the challenges they will have to face in their ministry: “The world that loves false gods and believes in relativism, that lies about the dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God, made male and female…”

Five men were ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver May 25.

He encouraged them to always proclaim the truth in charity: “Do not yell at people, do not scream, [due to] the lack of stability that we see so often today (…) Always proclaim the truth with charity and never let fear prevent you from proclaiming the truth.”

Thereafter, he invited all of those present to pray for the five new priests: “That they may be faithful, virtuous, holy men, whose hearts are formed by Christ.”

The archbishop asked parents to “be willing to offer your sons to Christ if He calls them. Never ever discourage a young man from the priesthood.” He also insisted: “Pray that the Lord may plant in the heart of young men the seed of the vocation of the priesthood, and he will provide them the grace and the fortitude to say ‘yes’ to that vocation no matter the cost.”

Intimacy with Jesus

Archbishop Aquila also gave them some recommendations to help them grow in fidelity to their priestly vocation. He assured them that the most important point is an “intimacy with Jesus,” which would make them “men of virtue and holiness.”

He also invited them to be “men of prayer,” which does not mean that “you hide away in the chapel for hours a day or you spend your life in prayer,” since that is a different calling, and added: “[In your ministry] you will see as a priority to serve others for the love of Christ,” always trusting in the power and grace of God, “because it is God’s power working for you, and you must open your hearts and souls to receive that grace from God and to radically depend on him and not on yourselves.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila gave the newly ordained priests tips on how to grow in fidelity to their vocation.

The archbishop reminded them of their mission “to bring people to encounter Jesus Christ” — and he highlighted Pope Francis’ constant invitation “to go out into the peripheries, go out to the lost sheep.”

“These men… have heard the call to the priesthood of Jesus Christ and opened their hearts to the call,” Archbishop Aquila said. “They have received that call from the Lord. Even in these times in which we live, the Lord continues to call men to the priesthood, he continues to call them to follow in his footsteps.”

Father Witold Kaczmarzyk

It was at the University of Technology in Poland as a student of the faculty of physics that Witold Kaczmarzyk would discover his vocation to the priesthood.

“While a student, I started reading the Bible, praying and attending meetings where I could talk with other students about my faith,” he said. “Due to them, my vocation ‘came to the surface,’ and I made a decision to study theology and develop my faith seriously.”

He informed his parents that he wanted to drop out of the university and study theology, and while surprised, they were supportive. In 2010, he began to study theology and, using his aptitude for science, taught math, English, physics and chemistry as a private tutor for a time.

After two years, he entered a seminary in his home diocese of Kalisz, Poland, and was transferred to Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich., which specializes in training Polish seminarians for the priesthood in the United States.

St. Sebastian has been important to Father Kaczmarsyk in his vocation, and as a new priest, he is most looking forward to celebrating the Eucharist and hearing confessions.

Father Mateusz Ratajczak

Mateusz Ratajczak grew up in a forgiving, Catholic family, and, surrounded by the examples of many holy priests, entertained the thought of being a priest as a boy growing up in Poland.

However, as a teenager, Ratajczak rebelled and stopped seeing the Church as a place for him. It was through the Neocatechumenal Way that God called him back and “showed me strongly his mercy for me.

“I discovered the Church as a hospital for the weak, where [I experienced] the continuous discovery of the love of God in the context of the postbaptismal community,” Ratajczak said.

He entered Redemptoris Mater Seminary in October 2009. His time there has been “the best time of my life,” he said, especially the three years of missionary training he spent in different islands of the Pacific.

Upon his ordination, Father Ratajczak is grateful to God, Archbishop Aquila and the faithful of the Archdiocese of Denver for making it possible for him to be a priest.

“In becoming a priest, I am really hoping for being ever more conformed to Christ the Good Shepherd,” Father Ratajcazak said, “who lays down his life for the sheep, and who came to serve and not to be served.”

Father Tom Scherer

When Tom Scherer surrendered control of his life and learned to trust in God, the seed for the priesthood was planted in his heart.

It was at the 2011 priestly ordination in Denver where that seed was cultivated and blossomed into a vocation.

“God spoke to my heart, saying ‘This is what I want from you.’  I was quite alarmed, because I thought I had already discerned that priesthood was not for me, but the more I prayed about it, the more peace I had.

“The conviction of God’s call has grown steadily over the course of the past 7 years.”

Scherer studied at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, the most beautiful part of which was being “near the saints, to pray at their tombs and to be formed by their witness of faith and charity.” He’s also been able to experience firsthand the universality of Church, with classmates from all over the world.

Now, as a priest, Father Scherer continues to be open to the surprises God has in store for him.

“God has surprised me so much over this journey that I don’t even want to try to anticipate anything,” he said. “My one expectation is that God will continue to give his grace so that I may live this life well.”

Father Adam Bradshaw

Throughout his journey to the priesthood, Adam Bradshaw has been inspired by the words and witness of John the Baptist.

“He has been a constant companion, a guide and a model for how I should live my life as a priest,” he said.

Bradshaw was born in Austin, Texas but grew up in Houston. He entered the Church in 2009, and “knew I wanted to give my life to God in some way,” he said.

Although Bradshaw had always wanted to get married, he was drawn toward priestly ministry and “felt a lot of peace and certainty that this was what God wanted me to do.”

Now a soon-to-be priest, Bradshaw is most excited to celebrate Mass and hear confessions.

“These have been the hinges of my life all these years, and I am so excited that now I will be able to help in celebrating the sacraments and bringing the presence of Jesus to people,” he said.

Julio Cesar Amezcua

Julio Cesar Amezcua is originally from Madrid, Spain. He attended Catholic school and grew up playing soccer and riding horses.

At the age of 21, he moved to Denver to study psychology at Metropolitan State University of Denver. It was there he met Father Angel Perez-Lopez, who helped him grow in his faith and eventually led him to join a community of the Neocatechumenal Way in 2009.

After a discernment period of a few months, Amezcua felt the Lord was calling him to enter Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary. The missionary calling of his eventual priesthood is very appealing to him.

“This is what excites me the most,” he said. “It means that the Lord can take me anywhere in the world at any moment.”

Amezcua served in Boston during his mandatory year of mission outside of the seminary, and saw firsthand the challenges the Church in Boston is facing: intensifying secularization.

“This event opened my eyes to the difficulties that we can face in Denver if we don’t evangelize,” he said.

COMING UP: AM[D]G           

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Last November 11, on the centenary of its relocation to a 93-acre campus in suburban Washington, D.C., Georgetown Preparatory School announced a $60 million capital campaign. In his message for the opening of the campaign, Georgetown Prep’s president, Father James Van Dyke, SJ, said that, in addition to improving the school’s residential facilities, the campaign intended to boost Prep’s endowment to meet increasing demands for financial aid. Like other high-end Catholic secondary schools, Georgetown Prep is rightly concerned about pricing itself out of reach of most families. So Prep’s determination to make itself more affordable through an enhanced endowment capable of funding scholarships and other forms of financial aid for less-than-wealthy students is all to the good.

What I find disturbing about the campaign is its “branding” slogan. I first became aware of it when, driving past the campus a few months ago, I noticed a billboard at the corner of Rockville Pike and Tuckerman Lane. In large, bold letters, it proclaimed, “FOR THE GREATER GLORY.” And I wondered, “…of what?” Then one day, when traffic allowed, I slowed down and espied the much smaller inscription in the bottom right corner: “Georgetown Prep’s Legacy Campaign.”

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam [For the greater glory of God], often reduced to the abbreviation, AMDG, was the Latin motto of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. Georgetown Prep is a Jesuit school. So what happened to the D-word? What happened to God? Why did AMDG become AM[D]G while being translated into fundraising English?

I made inquiries of Jesuit friends and learned that amputating the “D” in AMDG is not unique to Georgetown Prep; it’s a tactic used by other Jesuit institutions engaged in the heavy-lift fundraising of capital campaigns. That was not good news. Nor was I reassured by pondering Father Van Dyke’s campaign-opening message, in which the words “Jesus Christ” did not appear. Neither did Pope Francis’s call for the Church’s institutions to prepare missionary disciples as part of what the Pope has called a “Church permanently in mission.” And neither did the word “God,” save for a closing “Thanks, and God bless.”

Father Van Dyke did mention that “Ignatian values” were one of the “pillars” of Georgetown prep’s “reputation for excellence.” And he did conclude his message with a call for “men who will make a difference in a world that badly needs people who care, people who, in the words Ignatius wrote his best friend Francis Xavier as he sent him on the Society of Jesus’s first mission, will ‘set the world on fire’.” Fine. But ignition to what end?

Ignatius sent Francis Xavier to the Indies and on to East Asia to set the world on fire with love of the Lord Jesus Christ, by evangelizing those then known as “heathens” with the warmth of the Gospel and the enlivening flame of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith. St. Ignatius was a New Evangelization man half a millennium before Pope St. John Paul II used the term. St. Ignatius’s chief “Ignatian value” was gloria Dei, the glory of God.

Forming young men into spiritually incandescent, intellectually formidable and courageous Christian disciples, radically conformed to Jesus Christ and just as deeply committed to converting the world, was the originating purpose of Jesuit schools in post-Reformation Europe. Those schools were not content to prepare generic “men for others;” they were passionately devoted to forming Catholic men for converting others, the “others” being those who had abandoned Catholicism for Protestantism or secular rationalism. That was why the Jesuits were hated and feared by powerful leaders with other agendas, be they Protestant monarchs like Elizabeth I of England or rationalist politicians like Portugal’s 18th-century prime minister, the Marquis of Pombal.

Religious education in U.S. Catholic elementary schools has been improved in recent decades. And we live in something of a golden age of Catholic campus ministry at American colleges and universities. It’s Catholic secondary education in the U.S. that remains to be thoroughly reformed so that Catholic high schools prepare future leaders of the New Evangelization: leaders who will bring others to Christ, heal a deeply wounded culture, and become agents of a sane politics. Jesuit secondary education, beginning with prominent and academically excellent schools like Georgetown Prep, could and should be at the forefront of that reform.

Jesuit secondary education is unlikely to provide that leadership, however, if its self-presentation brackets God and announces itself as committed to “the greater glory” of…whatever.