Archbishop Aquila ordains five men to the priesthood

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

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: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.