New deacons invited to die to themselves to bear fruit 

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Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila told the newly-ordained deacons: “You will be configured to Christ, the servant, to serve as he serves, to be those who are called to proclaim the Gospel in the world, to serve at the altar in the preparations of the gifts and to perform works of charity in those you serve”.

Four transitional deacons were ordained on the cool morning of Saturday, March 2 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, marking the next step in their journey to the priesthood. The men are: Christopher James Considine, Juan Adrián Hernández, Juan Manuel Madrid and Christian James Mast.

The archbishop recounted the calling of deacons to proclaim the Word of God, serve at the altar and carry out works of charity, focusing his homily on the Gospel reading according to St. John, which was read both in English and Spanish: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12: 24).

He also highlighted the example of Monsignor Michael Glenn, who served as rector of St. John Vianney Seminary and passed away March 1 after battling a long illness: “He trusted completely in the Lord and gave his life. We are called to the same. That’s what it means to die and produce fruit, to surrender to the Father. He was a shining example of what priesthood ministry and diaconate ministry is to be about.”

Regarding the diaconal ministry of proclaiming the Word, Archbishop Aquila gave the deacons a key to help them prepare for their future homilies: “You can read all sorts of helpful materials … but if you do not know the love of Jesus Christ, if you are not in intimate relation with him, if you are not listening to the spirit, your words will be divided because you will be more focused on yourselves than Jesus Christ and proclaiming his word.”

And he emphasized the meaning of doing God’s will the way Jesus did it.

“Bear fruit to do the will of the Father. Not seeking his own will, but the will of the Father,” he said. “In our ministry, no matter where we serve, we are constantly called to serve Christ and to be with him, to be those who give our lives in obedience to Christ and to the Church, in obedience to the Father, and living in that relationship with him.”

DENVER, CO – MARCH 2: Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila prays over the new deacons Christian James Mast, Juan Manuel Madrid, Juan Adrian Hernandez and Christopher James Considine during the transitional deacon ordination at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on March 2, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/for Denver Catholic)

Archbishop Aquila also spoke to them about the hard times the Church is currently facing: “It is not the first time in history that there has been hostility towards the Gospel, that there has been rejection of God.  In every period of history somewhere, some place has been challenged, and in other times, it has been much greater, but we are called to be in the world and not out of the world.”

He called the promise of celibacy “a sign of contradiction in today’s world,” and, yet, also a promise that brings “joy and peace,” even if that does not mean that “your life will be without temptations.”

“[Nonetheless], the more you choose the good, the more you will depend on Jesus Christ, and his grace in the spirit that lives in you will strengthen you in the virtue of chastity,” he told the deacons.

At the end of the Mass, Archbishop Aquila thanked the deacons’ parents in English and Spanish, saying, “Without you, they would not be here.” And referred to the newly-ordained deacons, telling them, “I pray that the Lord will continue to bless you [and give you] all the virtues to be disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Deacon Christopher James Considine

DENVER, CO – MARCH 2: Christopher James Considine approaches the sanctuary during the transitional deacon ordination at Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on March 2, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/for Denver Catholic)

Deacon Chris Considine describes his vocation to the priesthood simply.

“God called me to be a priest, and I know there’s nothing else that would make me happier,” he said.

Deacon Considine was born in Seattle and grew up in Texas with his parents and older sister, Shannon. The family attended Mass on Sundays, and Deacon Considine remembers being a good kid.

Although he had considered the priesthood as early as high school, he felt he wasn’t mature enough to discern it wholeheartedly. It wasn’t until he started his freshman year at CU Boulder and was rejected from the fraternity he rushed for that Deacon Considine had the chance to attend a retreat at the local parish.

From that point on, the transitional deacon felt “a clear, undeniable call from the Lord, and then a resounding peace and happiness within my heart knowing that this life would bring me joy,” and he said “yes” to God’s call.

He now looks forward to celebrating the sacraments as a priest and committing his life fully to God.

“Heaven is absolutely real,” said Deacon Considine. “And that’s what it’s about — getting everybody there.”

Deacon Juan Adrián Hernández Domínguez

DENVER, CO – MARCH 2: Juan Adrian Hernandez approaches the sanctuary during the transitional deacon ordination at Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on March 2, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/for Denver Catholic)

Originally from Texcoco, Mex., Deacon Juan Adrian never imagined himself living so far from home. But reflecting on his life, he can see how God planted a seed in him when he was a child. One of his most memorable moments was the time when an elderly devout woman asked him if he had ever thought about the priesthood. That question prompted a curiosity that would re-flourish in his high school years. After a brief period of “ignorance and teenage rebellion against God,” the devout life of his girlfriend at the time helped him recover his faith. When considering the possibility of marriage, he was taken back by the attraction to the priesthood that resurfaced. He told his girlfriend he wanted to enter seminary and his girlfriend in turn disclosed to him her desire to become a Carmelite.

Juan Adrián entered the seminary in Texcoco but later realized that it was during mission trips that he felt most alive. This reality led him to St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver. He looks forward to serving the Spanish-speaking community in Colorado joyfully, and asks for the prayers of the faithful so that he may be a saintly priest.

Deacon Juan Manuel Madrid

DENVER, CO – MARCH 2: Juan Manuel Madrid approaches the sanctuary during the transitional deacon ordination at Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on March 2, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/for Denver Catholic)

Born and raised in Santiago de Chile, Deacon Juan Manuel experienced the beauty of the Catholic faith from an early age. This environment of faith instilled in him a desire to be a priest when he was nearly 5 years old. Nonetheless, such desire “froze” when he went through a “time of rebellion” during his teenage years, in which he rejected his family, the Church and God. After realizing that all the world offered for happiness only left him empty, depressed and almost suicidal, he begged God to show himself to him. A couple days later, he heard a reading at Mass that would change his life forever: “The love of Christ urges us at the thought that if one man has died for all, then all men have died, and he died for all so that those who live may live no longer for themselves but for him who died and was raised to life for them” (2 Cor 5:14-15).

He entered Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Chile and was sent to Denver as a missionary. After almost 10 years in formation, in which he has learned to value community deeply, he is very joyful to take this important step.

Deacon Christian James Mast

DENVER, CO – MARCH 2: Christian James Mast approaches the sanctuary during the transitional deacon ordination at Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on March 2, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/for Denver Catholic)

Deacon CJ Mast felt Jesus call him to the priesthood on a mountain in the midst of a dangerous storm.

“As we were trying to get down, a large rock that was around four feet tall was dislodged,” said Deacon Mast. “It jumped over my back, landed on my leg, crushed it then continued to roll down the mountain.”

Father John Nepil approached Deacon Mast, asking him, “Do you trust me?”

After Deacon Mast replied that yes, he did trust him, Father Nepil asked him again more fervently, “No, do you really trust me?”

“It was in that moment that for the first time in my life, I told the Lord, ‘If you’re calling me to the priesthood, I’m all in.’”

Father Nepil carried Deacon Mast for hours down the mountain, and the then-Colorado State University student began discerning the priesthood.

A Loveland Native and cradle Catholic who grew up with his parents, two older brothers and one younger sister, Deacon Mast now looks forward to entering the fraternity of the priesthood and bringing more souls to Christ.

COMING UP: A holy Church begins with you

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A holy Church begins with you

Bishop Rodriguez challenges Catholics to realize their call to holiness

Roxanne King

Even as the Catholic Church deals with the disgrace and shame of the clergy sexual abuse scandal and moves forward with repentance and renewal, it is challenging as faithful not to be disheartened and discouraged.

The answer to this situation is to follow the Scriptural mandate to holiness all Catholic Christians have been given, Denver auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez told attendees of the May 17-19 Aspen Catholic conference titled, “The Encounter: New Life in Jesus Christ.”

As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, ‘be holy, because I [am] holy,’” the bishop said, quoting I Peter 1:15-16.

“Holiness,” the bishop asserted, “…is the only thing that will get our Church through this crisis. It’s a transformation that we all need.”

The annual conference, an initiative of Father John Hilton, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Aspen where the event was held, drew people from the Archdiocese of Denver and from outside the state to strengthen their relationship with Jesus Christ, deepen their understanding of the Catholic faith, renew their spirit in the beauty of Colorado’s high country, and return home equipped to better share their faith.

Despite the current crisis, which is evidence the Church is comprised of sinners, every Sunday when professing the Creed, Catholics say, “I believe in the holy Catholic Church.”

“We say publicly that we believe the Catholic Church is holy. Do we mean it?” Bishop Rodriguez mused before affirming: “The Catholic Church, like it or not, will always be holy for three reasons.”

First: “Jesus Christ is the author of holiness and he is the head of the Church. … Jesus is the Church with all of us. The holiness of Jesus fills the whole Church.”

Second: “The Church is the only institution in the world that possesses all the means of sanctification left by Christ for his Church to sanctify its members and to make them holy.”

Third: “There are many, many holy people in the Church, both in heaven and here on earth.”

Holiness…is the only thing that will get our Church through this crisis. It’s a transformation that we all need.”

Slain STEM School shooting hero Kendrick Castillo is an example of a holy, young Catholic, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“He gave his life for his classmates. If this is not holiness, what is?” the bishop said about the 18-year-old who was killed May 7 when he tackled a teen shooter.

Servant of God Julia Greeley, a former slave known for her acts of charity and generosity from her own meager means to others in early Denver, and St. John Paul II, who in emphasizing the universal call to holiness of all Christians beatified and canonized more people than the combined total of his predecessors in the five centuries before him, were among others Bishop Rodriguez mentioned who comprise “the great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) of those believers who have preceded us into God’s kingdom. Additionally, there are countless “next-door saints,” he said, using a term coined by Pope Francis to describe those unknowns of heroic virtue among our family, friends and neighbors.

Rodriguez said, because the Scriptures say, Christ so loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy (Eph 5:25-26).

“‘The Church is holy because it proceeds from God, who is holy,’” the bishop said, quoting Pope Francis’ Oct. 2, 2013, general audience address. “’It is not holy by our merits; we are not able to make her holy. It is God, the Holy Spirit, who in his love makes the Church holy.’

“The Catholic Church is and will be holy, even though some of her members still need repentance and conversion,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Great sinners don’t make our Church unholy, but make the Church a factory of saints, where sinners are made holy by the power of God.”

Holiness is our deepest longing because we were created to be holy, the bishop said. But the only way to realize that call is to submit to God and allow him to transform us, he said, using the scriptural analogy of clay taking shape in a potter’s hands.

“We cannot deserve, produce, gain, create, or make holiness,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Only God in his gratuitousness and infinite love can make a saint of you. … Holiness is pure gift, is grace.”

Catholics believe holiness is real — that grace received through the sacraments, prayer and reading Scripture, infuses and transforms the believer into a new creation, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“Salvation is real,” the bishop said. “Pope Francis [warns] about a heresy that has been in the Church since apostolic times under different appearances — Gnosticism. It is a doctrine of salvation by knowledge, reducing Christianity to doctrine [or] text, to something intellectual.”

In doing so, Gnosticism loses the flesh of the incarnation and reduces Jesus to his message, Bishop Rodriguez said. Likewise, Protestant theologian Rudolf Bultmann, a major figure of 20th-century biblical studies and liberal Christianity, promoted “demythologizing” the Gospel to attract modern adherents.

As a result, “people lost faith that these things really happened,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “[Bultmann] did tremendous damage to Christianity.”

The Apostles, however, insisted on the truth of Jesus’ incarnational reality, the bishop said, noting the First Letter of St. John proclaims: What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands, concerns the Word of life — for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you.

Great sinners don’t make our Church unholy, but make the Church a factory of saints, where sinners are made holy by the power of God.”

“Our Christian faith is not a body of doctrines, not a code of conduct, not an ethical idea, not an elaborated ritual,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “It is not even a community. It is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. It is an event. It is a person. It is an event that happens. In the Gospel everything begins with an encounter with Jesus. Have we encountered Jesus?”

Jesus may be encountered through prayer, Scripture and the sacraments, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“These are three gifts God has given to us to open us to holiness,” he said. “These are the Catholic ways to have a personal encounter with Jesus that is real.”

Regarding prayer: “The best way to start is to become aware of Jesus presence. … prayer [then] becomes a personal encounter, otherwise it’s an intellectual exercise.”

Regarding Scripture: “It’s not about information … it’s about God telling his love for me.”

Regarding sacraments: “The sacramental life is God touching me with his holiness.

“In the Catholic Church we believe that Jesus Christ didn’t want us to only have a recorded memory of him as in the Scriptures, but a living presence among us. He said: ‘I will be with you until the end of time.’”

I dare you to allow God to make a great saint of you.”

Just as Jesus was present with the people of Galilee healing and forgiving them, so he is present with us today through the sacraments, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“That’s why he instituted the sacraments. Each sacrament is a merciful and sweet touch of Jesus in our lives,” the bishop said. “This is what we mean when we say he makes us holy through the sacraments.”

So why isn’t there more holiness in our lives and more saints in the Church?

“God wants to work with our clay … but to make a saint is a question of love,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Love cannot be imposed, it cannot be mandated.”

Rather, one must cooperate with God’s grace to become the saint God desires.

“Last March, Pope Francis wrote an apostolic exhortation on our call to be holy, Rejoice and Be Glad,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “His thesis is that we have been made for happiness, and true happiness and joy only comes from a holy life.”

Holiness doesn’t mean perfection, performing miracles or that we are not tempted, Bishop Rodriguez said. Rather, it means loving God and one’s neighbor by doing the everyday tasks of life with love.

The answer for times of persecution and crisis in the Church has always been the holiness of the people of God, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“I dare you to allow God to make a great saint of you,” he challenged.

“This is our response to the Church crisis today: holy Catholic men and women,” he asserted. “We will never give up and we will fight against discouragement and loss of hope. Jesus is with us as he promised.”

Featured image by Roxanne King