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: Historical clarity and today’s Catholic contentions

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One of the curiosities of the 21st-century Catholic debate is that many Catholic traditionalists (especially integralists) and a high percentage of Catholic progressives make the same mistake in analyzing the cause of today’s contentions within the Church — or to vary the old fallacy taught in Logic 101, they think in terms of post Concilium ergo propter Concilium [everything that’s happened after the Council has happened because of the Council]. And inside that fallacy is a common misreading of modern Catholic history. The traditionalists insist that everything was fine before the Council (which many of them therefore regard as a terrible mistake); the progressives agree that the pre-Vatican II Church was a stable institution but deplore that stability as rigidity and desiccation.

But that’s not the way things were pre-Vatican II, as I explain at some length and with some engaging stories in my new book, The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform (Basic Books). And no one knew the truth about pre-Vatican II Catholicism better than the man who was elected pope during the Council and guided Vatican II through its last three sessions, St. Paul VI.

On January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII, thought to be an elderly placeholder, stunned both the Church and the world by announcing his intention to summon the 21st ecumenical council. That night, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini (who would be known as Paul VI four and a half years later), called an old friend. An experienced churchman who had long served Pius XII as chief of staff, Montini saw storm clouds on the horizon: “This holy old boy,” he said of John XXIII, “doesn’t know what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up.”

That shrewd observation turned out to be spot on –– and not simply because of the Council, but because of the bees and hornets that had been buzzing around the ecclesiastical nest for well over 100 years.

Contrary to both traditionalist and progressive misconceptions, Catholicism was not a placid institution, free of controversy and contention, prior to Vatican II. As I show in The Irony of Modern Catholic History, there was considerable intellectual ferment in the Church during the mid-19th century, involving great figures like the recently-canonized John Henry Newman, the German bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (grandfather of modern Catholic social thought), and the Italian polymath Antonio Rosmini (praised by John Paul II in the 1999 encyclical, Faith and Reason, and beatified under Benedict XVI). That ferment accelerated during the 25 year pontificate of Leo XIII, who launched what I dub the “Leonine Revolution,” challenging the Church to engage the modern world with distinctively Catholic tools in order to convert the modern world and lay a firmer foundation for its aspirations.

American Catholicism, heavily focused on institution-building, was largely unaware of the sharp-edged controversies (and ecclesiastical elbow-throwing) that followed Leo XIII’s death in 1903. Those controversies, plus the civilization-shattering experience of two world wars in Europe, plus a rapid secularization process in Old Europe that began in the 19th century, set the stage for John XXIII’s epic opening address to Vatican II. There, the Pope explained what he envisioned Vatican II doing: gathering up the energies let loose by the Leonine Revolution and focusing them through the prism of an ecumenical council, which he hoped would be a Pentecostal experience energizing the Church with new evangelical zeal.

John XXIII understood that the Gospel proposal could only be made by speaking to the modern world in a vocabulary the modern world could hear. Finding the appropriate grammar and vocabulary for contemporary evangelization didn’t mean emptying Catholicism of its content or challenge, however. As the Pope insisted, the perennial truths of the faith were to be expressed with the “same meaning” and the “same judgment.” Vatican II, in other words, was to foster the development of doctrine, not the deconstruction of doctrine. And the point of that doctrinal development was to equip the Church for mission and evangelization, for the modern world would be converted by truth, not ambiguity or confusion.

Over the past six and a half years, it’s become abundantly clear that more than a few Catholics, some quite prominently placed, still don’t get this history. Nor do the more vociferous elements in the Catholic blogosphere. Which is why I hope The Irony of Modern Catholic History helps facilitate a more thoughtful debate on the Catholic present and future, through a better understanding of the Catholic past.