Starting the week off right
Image: Father John Herman, C.S.C. gives a blessing to one of his flock during a Mass.
I love being a Holy Cross priest. I give thanks to God every day for calling me to the priesthood in the Congregation of Holy Cross, especially because this was not my original plan. In college I was certain that I would be a civil engineer one day and be married with a wife and several children.
One of the things that I love best about my life as a priest and pastor is Sunday mornings. My parish is la Parroquia de Nuestra Madre Santísma de La Luz, or in English, Our Most Holy Mother of the Light Parish, in Guadalupe, Nuevo Leon, México. After 20 years of being a priest, Sunday mornings and the celebration of the Eucharist still have never gotten old. I love it all!
I started in parish ministry as a deacon at St. John Vianney Parish in Goodyear, Arizona, with Father Joe Corpora, C.S.C. as my pastor and mentor. I learned many things from him during the four years we were together. One of the most valuable things that I learned was the importance of being present before and after the weekend Masses to greet and interact with parishioners. He taught me that it’s the one time each week that we can be, even briefly, with most of the people of the parish. Although offering this kind of presence can be tiring, I enjoyed it from my very first days in parish ministry.
Many people aren’t part of groups or ministries that meet during the week. Most don’t or can’t come to daily Mass, but many will come to Mass on Sundays. Being present before and after our Sunday Masses is the best possible way to get a sense of what’s going on with our people and one of the best possible ways for us to show the people that we care for them and are there for them. Frequently, it’s the time when people will ask me to hear their confession or ask for a blessing before they have surgery. Practically, as well, it’s often also the best way to take care of things face-to-face with parishioners that might otherwise require a phone call or a visit during the week. But most of all, I simply enjoy being with the people.
Getting to know people
One of the challenges that I have faced in being present to the people is the size of La Luz Parish. We have our main church and four chapels and a population of nearly 35,000 people within our parish boundaries—most of whom are Catholic and many of whom, unfortunately, don’t attend Sunday Mass. (Yes, we’re working on that all of the time!)
Unfortunately, I’m not able to be in each place every Sunday, neither to celebrate each Mass nor to greet the people before and after. I only see many of them once a month, which makes it more difficult to have continuity with them and learn their names. I’ve seen from the beginning how much learning names means to people, so I have to work even harder here to do it. I’m frequently embarrassed to have to ask certain people their names over and over before it finally sticks. I enjoy joking with the women whose names I don’t know by simply saying, “Maria?!” I’m right half of the time here when I do that!
We’re in it together
I feel blessed that I’m not here alone at La Luz and our four chapels. This is a ministry of our Holy Cross community and there are four other Holy Cross priests as well as Holy Cross sisters who serve here as well. There’s no way that I could preside at our four Saturday evening and 12 Sunday Masses every week. Sundays are very busy for all of us, but I don’t mind because I know how important these celebrations of the Eucharist are for our people.
In fact, it’s a great privilege and blessing to be able to celebrate the Eucharist with and for the people of La Luz Parish. I don’t feel worthy of this blessing in so many ways. Me, a sinner, preaching the gospel and praying the words of institution and calling down the Holy Spirit to change simple gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus? Nonetheless, God has called me to this, and now here I am, serving in northern Mexico.
As Catholics, we believe, as the Second Vatican Council told us, that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Sunday Mass offers us all the opportunity to encounter Christ in a profound way in the Eucharist and to be strengthened by Him in our efforts to live our faith with joy, gratitude, and fidelity.
Unified at Eucharist
One thing that helps me feel very grounded in celebrating the Eucharist here is the connection that I’ve developed with the people after being here for more than four years. I see Imelda out there and know that she’s suffering greatly from the sudden, tragic death of her daughter. I see Oscar and Marta, who are expectantly and anxiously awaiting the birth of their child after recently suffering a very painful miscarriage.
I see Alfonso and know how he is struggling to turn away from sin and be faithful to God and know how important the Eucharist is for him in doing so. I see Santiago and Norma, who are on fire for their faith after they were required to attend a retreat as parents of a child who would be confirmed and to their surprise had a powerful and life-changing encounter with Christ. I see Gregorio, who’s struggling to find a job that will allow him to support his family. I see David, who is discerning a possible vocation to religious life and priesthood in Holy Cross with a mixture of excitement, anxiety, and wonder.
All of our people bring who they are and what’s in their minds and hearts to our celebration of the Eucharist. I do as well. Somehow we are all drawn more closely together in the Body of Christ through what we celebrate together each Sunday in the Eucharist. Through the grace of God, we’re also drawn more closely to the kingdom of God through our participation in the sacrifice of Jesus in the Eucharist.
I love Sundays, not because it’s the day for NFL football (I’ve often suffered through Sundays as a Detroit Lions fan!) or because a family will likely invite me to their home for carne asada for a birthday celebration or because it’s the day for free rides here on the Metro. I love Sundays because we all get to come together and encounter Christ in our celebration of the Eucharist. Does it get any better than this?
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