Lessons from ordinations in a nearly empty cathedral

A few months ago, the idea of a virtual graduation or a size-limited public Mass would have been foreign to high schoolers and parishioners alike. Similarly, the archdiocese has never in its history held a priestly ordination Mass with restrictions on the number of attendees. But these challenges can deepen our faith and strengthen our hope if we look in the right direction.

If one reads the various directives and guidance issued about the coronavirus, it is easy to get confused by the deluge of information, some of it even contradictory. What we know about this virus seems to change by the day, further adding to the confusion.

For believers in Christ, though, we have received the gift of the Word of Life, Jesus Christ. And it is him we should look to as the waves of confusion swirl around us.

Just after foretelling Peter’s betrayal — the one who Jesus called the rock on which he would build the Church — Jesus tells the disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me” (Jn 14:1). Yes, Jesus is the sure foundation upon whom we can rely, even while fear and confusion holds sway over so many.

I have seen this Christian confidence in the five young men who were ordained this past weekend and in many others. When Father Chris Considine was asked what he thought about being ordained in a nearly empty cathedral, he replied, “As I see it, I’m going to be a priest forever. … Everything else is just icing on the cake and it doesn’t really bother me that much.”

Father Juan Manuel Madrid, whose family in Chile could not be present at his ordination because of coronavirus travel restrictions, also expressed his trust in God while reflecting on his 11 years of formation. “My journey towards priesthood has been an experience of discovering the tremendous love, mercy, and patience of God. There have been many moments of doubt, confusion, and weakness, but during all those moments, God has manifested himself very faithful and powerful. I couldn’t have done this alone.”

As Catholics in the archdiocese, throughout the U.S. and around the world struggle with the slow return to a regular liturgical life, we need to adopt this same perspective. We need to surrender our impatience, fears and confusion to the Lord. We need to put our faith in him who is God, who is faithful to his promises.

I am reminded of St. Padre Pio’s words of spiritual wisdom to a concerned soul: “Jesus is with you even when you don’t feel His presence. He is never so close to you as He is during your spiritual battles. He is always there, close to you, encouraging you to fight your battle courageously. He is there to ward off the enemy’s blows so that you may not be hurt.” Too often we see ourselves as alone, and do not see Jesus present. Peter, when he walked on water, began to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus. So too, in our fears and anxieties we can take our eyes off Jesus. Like Peter, we must focus our eyes on Jesus, and cry out, “Lord, save me.”

The faith and confidence of our new priests remind us that in the midst of all that we are experiencing, Jesus is still calling young men to serve him as priests, to proclaim the Gospel and to offer the Eucharist for the faithful. My heart was filled with joy and gratitude to the Father for these young men and their witness to faith and trust in Jesus and their desire to serve the faithful.

When we were able to open our churches on May 9, even though the number of participants was very limited, I heard from numerous people how grateful they were. As people received the Eucharist for the first time in several weeks, they wept for joy knowing that Jesus is with them in the Eucharist. We can never take the priesthood and the Eucharist for granted, rather they are gifts the Lord desires for us and gives to us. I encourage you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for these men and to pray to the harvest master to grant us vocations to the priesthood. That the Lord will plant the seeds of a vocation to the priesthood in the hearts of young men to follow the Good Shepherd and lay down their lives for Jesus and for the Church.

And above all, let us pray that after this fast from the Eucharist, our love and faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament will deepen and fill our hearts with joy and gratitude for the Lord’s eternal love for us!

COMING UP: In a nearly empty cathedral, five men answer the call to priesthood 

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It was an ordination Mass unlike any the Archdiocese of Denver has ever seen. 

Empty pews could be seen throughout the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, with a few family members and clergy sprinkled throughout to maintain social distancing protocols as mandated by the Colorado governor. For the five men who were ordained to the priesthood, it wasn’t how they envisioned this day they’d awaited for so long. 

But for Fathers Christian James Mast, Chris Marbury, Chris Considine, Juan Adrian Hernandez Dominguez and Juan Manuel Madrid, it didn’t matter. The immense joy of being ordained priests of God could be seen on the smiles of gratitude their faces held throughout the Mass.

Click here to learn more about the newly ordained priests.

From front right, going clockwise: Father Adrian Hernandez, Father Chris Considine, Father Juan Manuel Madrid, Father Chris Marbury, Father Christian James Mast. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

As Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila ordained these five men as the archdiocese’s newest priests, he offered powerful words of encouragement and challenging comments about what it truly means to be a priest. 

“You, my dearest sons, are called to share in the same ministry of Jesus Christ. To the laying on of my hands and the gift of the Holy Spirit, this Holy Spirit will be upon you and anoint you for that mission. It is always important to keep in mind that the mission you share, it is the mission of Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Aquila told the men. “The mission is never about you. And remember, in those moments of temptation, when you will want to be the center of attention, in those moments of temptation where you are looking for affirmation, in those moments of temptation towards laziness, remember the glorious mantle that is being poured out on you today. You are not to have a listless spirit. You are to go forth in joy, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.” 

As priests, the men are called to be conformed to the icon of Christ, the shepherd and bridegroom of the Church, the archbishop said. In their priesthood, they will have a responsibility to conduct themselves in such a way that bears witness to Christ and his Church. 

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila implored the newly ordained men to be mindful of their mission as priests, which is always to be aligned with that of Christ. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“Never forget who you become and who you are,” the archbishop told them. “Especially with the fact, my dearest sons, that you are public persons from here on out. And as public persons who belong to Christ and the church, you can give great witness by your love for Christ and the church by the lives that you live in being that icon.” 

Citing the book of Jeremiah, Archbishop Aquila continued to implore the men of this call to never forget who they are, both as children of God and as priests. 

“Just as we hear in the book of Jeremiah, ‘I knew you before you were born. I knit you together in your mother’s. womb.’ That is true for every human being, and most especially for you,” Archbishop Aquila said. “We see that truth in being faithful to the word. Jesus goes on as he prays. ‘I gave them your word. And the world hated them because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. 

“And those are strong words by Jesus, and the world today will hate you. The world today will ridicule you because of what you believe,” the archbishop continued. “The World today continues to hate Jesus Christ. And hate put Jesus Christ on the cross. We can never forget that. And it is important to understand who you belong to. You belong to Christ. You do not belong to the world any more than he belonged to the world.” 

Especially as society deals with the reality of living in a global pandemic, priests have a special obligation to continue to care for the souls of their flock, even those on the verge of the death. Touching on this, the archbishop once again urged the men to remember who they are when faced with these situations. 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the cathedral was virtually empty during the ordination, with a few family members and clergy sprinkled throughout. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“You will be called into situations you never, ever dreamt you would be called,” Archbishop Aquila said. “And whether it’s anointing the sick and the dying, or whether it is an emergency Baptism, in those moments, your heart will be moved with compassion. You may even shed tears. But with that, what is there is the compassion of Christ. “ 

To conclude, Archbishop Aquila cited the gospel reading of the Mass from the book of John and charged the men with being witnesses to Christ in the world. 

“People are hungry today. And you, my beloved sons, are great witnesses to the call of Christ and what can be accomplished today,” the archbishop concluded. “Remember the prayer of Jesus in today’s gospel and carry it with you throughout your priesthood. He is consecrating you today for himself and for the truth. He is consecrating you so that you may give witness to him and to the world. And remember, he is sending you into the world.”