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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!

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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