‘He has chosen you at this time in history,’ Archbishop Aquila tells eight new transitional deacons

As a cold snap worked its way across Colorado last Saturday morning, a divine warmth emanated from the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception as Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila ordained eight men to the transitional diaconate.

The men – Deacons Micah Flores, Luis Da Silva, Felipe Colombo, Michael Tran, Sam Munson, Miguel Mendoza, Trevor Lontine and Joe Bui – collectively represent a number of different countries and cultures, yet all are now one step closer to serving the universal Church as priests.

The second reading of the Mass, taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, was one in a series of readings the men chose for their ordination to mark this special moment in each of their lives, as well as their call as deacons.

“As we hear in the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we are to preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord,” Archbishop Aquila told the men. “And in the readings that you have chosen for today, the readings reflect first that our God has chosen each one of you in this time in history. He has called you.

Archbishop Aquila reminded the men that they’ve done nothing to earn the vocation the Lord has called them to, their diaconate and priesthood should reflect this.

Your vocation is given to you by God. It is a call. And Jesus reiterates that in the Gospel reading, in which he reminds his disciples it was not you who chose me, but I who chose you,” the archbishop explained. “And in that is rooted the virtue of humility that is absolutely essential for every disciple, but most especially for deacons, priests and bishops, all that we have in our vocation and in the sacrament of holy orders is a gift from God. We do not merit. We do not earn it. It is pure gift.

From left to right: Deacons Joe Bui, Felipe Colombo, Micah Flores, Trevor Lontine, Miguel Mendoza, Sam Munson, Luis Guilherme da Silva Mendes and Michael Tran were ordained transitional deacons at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on February 13, 2021, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

The archbishop warned the men not to fall into the trap of becoming disgruntled in their ministry to the people of God, but rather to maintain a disposition of joy and humility in all they do. The strength of their intimacy with the Lord can be measured in how well they emit joy, even during hard times, he told them.

“One way that you can tell if a priest is or a deacon is truly attached to Jesus Christ is if he is joyful, even in the midst of trial,” the archbishop said “There is nothing worse than a grouchy, angry, bitter deacon or priest and one who complains constantly. That is not of the Holy Spirit. It is not of Jesus Christ. It is the work of the evil one.”

Speaking of the mens’ vow to be celibate in their vocation, Archbishop Aquila offered words of encouragement. In today’s oversexualized society, where the truth about human sexuality is skewed, to be a celibate doesn’t make sense to those immersed in the ways of the world. And yet, it is precisely there where the new deacons are called to be counter-witnesses and be rooted in the truth, the archbishop said.

“You, too, today will make a promise of celibacy. And that, too, is a gift that is bestowed. It is a gift that you must desire in your heart of hearts. It is the gift of your total self to Christ and to the Church and to serve him and his bride,” Archbishop Aquila told the men. “And to be those who, in giving your life, stand as a counter witness to the world, especially in today’s world and the gift, the dignity, the beauty and the truth of human sexuality and complementarity of male and female, it is important for you to be deeply rooted in that truth: that God has created us in his image and likeness and that he will give to us even in the midst of temptation, even in the midst at times of loneliness. He will be there for us, for he has promised it to us.

“He is truly with us, and celibacy points to the truth that our time here is just a pilgrimage to our true homeland, the new Jerusalem, to our true homeland: eternal life with the father and Jesus Christ and the spirit,” he continued. “Do not white knuckle celibacy, because it will only get you into trouble. That means you’re depending on yourself and not on the Lord. Always depend on the Lord and beg him in your prayer for the grace that you need to be faithful.”

The archbishop commissioned the men to live their vocations with the love and joy that only Jesus Christ can offer.

“In his words, he has chosen you at this time in history to be his deacon, and he invites you to remain in his love and to love as he loves,” Archbishop Aquila concluded. “He tells you all of this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. May you taste the joy of Jesus Christ today and live it for the rest of your lives.”

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”