Diaconate Ordination 2014

Bishop Mark J. Seitz      Diaconate Ordination 2014  June 14, 2014     St. Stephen

FIRST READING – Jeremiah 1:4–9 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”

RESPONSORIAL PSALM – Psalm 100(99):1b, 2, 3, 4, 5 (R/. John 15:14)

SECOND READING – Ephesians 4:1–7, 11–13 “And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry…”

GOSPEL -John 15:9–17 ”It was not you who called me, it was I who called you…”

 

Diaconia, The Vocation of Deacons and of All the Baptized

I received my vocation to follow the Lord very early in my life. It was a response to a God who loved me with an unconditional love that I never could have merited. In this moment I gave my life to the service, to the diaconia, of God and his people. This was my vocation! For this I was made! His boundless love entered my life and although I had the freedom to reject it, I also received the grace to cooperate with this great gift. Every day I give thanks for this wonderful day in when God revealed his call in my life.

I give thanks, but I don’t remember very well the day when this took place. The truth is I was young, very young! There I was lying prostrate before the representative of the Church. Everyone in the church prayed the Litany of the Saints. (I still don’t remember any of this, but this is what I am told.) It’s not that I was nervous. How could I remember? It was just a week after I was born! But in this moment the word of God came to me affirming the call that had been part of the plan of God from the time I was formed in my mother’s womb.

I received my call to the service of the Lord in my Baptism and not only I, but all of us received our vocation as a response to the super-abundant love of God. Diaconia is, in its primary sense, our vocation as Christians. We could also speak in the same way about the priesthood.

Today we are gathered here because there are vocations within the calling of all the Baptized. Every person is given his or her particular way in which they are called to live their Baptismal vocation. They might be called to live their calling as married persons or celibate. They may live it working in the secular world or as a religious, living in community.

Even within the diaconate we can find many possibilities. Those who are not already married dedicate their lives to service as a sign of the presence of the reign of God already present within the world by making a promise of celibacy. They are signs of that life to come in which, as Jesus reminds us, people are not married or given in marriage. Others who are married at the time of their ordination commit themselves to offer their diaconia drawing from the font of their marriage and their family life. Some deacons are going to serve in part through their work in the world. Others who are already retired will dedicate all their time to service in their parishes. Our two Transitional Deacons, Gleen and Apolinar, will continue their studies and their parish experiences.

Just as for me, all of you who are going to receive the imposition of my hands, have discovered your baptismal vocation and in your walk as disciples you have heard the particular manner in which the Lord would like to receive your service. In this way and through the example of your lives, much more than through your words, many will discover, as if in a mirror, their own vocations—the way in which they are going to offer their diaconia to the Lord.

We give thanks to the Lord because he has chosen us from the beginning to be His friends. And today, after years of discernment, we have arrived at this new chapter in your pilgrimage. All of us in the Diocese of El Paso are joyful because in you we are able to see the love of the God. In your diaconia we are challenged to live our own. Therefore we all give glory to Christ, our friend and our Saving Lord!

 

 

Celebrations

“Go Out to All the World!”

“When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’  He answered, ‘Let us go one to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’”  (Mk. 1:37-38)

Jesus took the same approach with his disciples when he sent them out, instructing them to travel lightly so they could be free to bring his word wherever they were needed.  In my life moving to different assignments was always a challenge, because as a priest I came to feel very much a part of the community I served.  On the other hand I also found this movement to be a very rich time in my own understanding of my calling and my commitment to it.  Jesus calls the rich young man to lay aside his other attachments and concerns and to “Come and follow me.”  This is a call that echoes through the ages and continues among us today.  Priests are called to be radically committed disciples of Jesus Christ who reflect his way of life and ministry.

By the time you read this a number of new assignment for priests in our Diocese will have been announced.  If your pastor is among those moving I am sure this will be painful for you who have come to know and love your pastor over a number of years.  In this Diocese many priests have been left in their parishes for a long time and so when they are moved it can seem almost like a punishment.  Some will conclude it is simply change for the sake of change.

I can assure you that the regular movement of priests within a diocese is neither a punishment nor is it simply for the sake of change.  This is a normal part of priestly ministry.   Like the first disciples we do not claim a specific place as our own.  Diocesan Priests are Ordained for the service of a particular diocese, not for a particular parish.  We each bring certain gifts and talents.  We also have very human shortcomings.  Some priests are very effective with the youth, others with the elderly.  Some are more effective with one culture or language group than another.  Regular movement allows for those gifts and talents to be shared more broadly and for the weaknesses only to be experienced for a time by the community.

When a priest is in one place for too long a time, since he is a key sign of Christ within the community, the people can overly identify Christ with the individual priest.  No one priest can represent Christ in his fullness.  Each Christian community is a special locus of Christ.  It is not healthy for it to be seen simply as “Fr. Jones’ Parish”.  It needs to be identified as the “Parish of St. ________, served by Fr. Jones”.  When Fr. Jones moves to another parish the community retains its identity and its mission.

I am not attempting to do this work of giving priests new assignments on my own.  I have formed a personnel board made up of well-respected priests of the diocese.  They are: Msgr. David Fierro, Fr. John Telles, Fr. Frank Lopez, Fr. Saul Pacheco, Fr. Joe Molina and Fr. Tony Celino.  I am working with them to find the best ways to fill the needs that lie before us.  And we are praying earnestly to the Holy Spirit for guidance.  At least for the short term we are also seeking priests from other places who may be able to assist us.  Our need for Vocations coming from our own communities for the future is great.

As I asked you when I wrote on this issue last Fall I would once again ask you to do your best to make a challenging moment in our priests’ lives as smooth as possible.  Encourage your priests who are being asked to take a new assignment.  Assure them of your support and your love.  Don’t make them explain over and over why they are being faithful to their calling.  When your new pastor arrives go out of your way to show him the same hospitality you showed me upon my arrival in El Paso. It made what was a challenging time in my life, leaving the place I had been for more than 40 years, into a real joy and a time of growth for me.

On a related topic I have invited the Fraternity of St. Peter, a community of priests dedicated to preserving the Liturgy as it was celebrated prior to the renewal that came with the Second Vatican Council, to come to our Diocese and to serve the parish of Immaculate Conception in downtown El Paso.  The Vatican has told bishops around the world that where a stable community attached to the Tridentine form of the Liturgy exists we have a responsibility to assure that this group has the opportunity to celebrate the Sacraments in this way.

We do have a significant group here seeking this option.  At the same time it was becoming more and more difficult to provide a priest to serve the parish of Immaculate Conception.  Bringing in priests from the Fraternity of St. Peter allows us to continue to serve Immaculate Conception and to meet the needs of those in this Diocese who are requesting the Liturgy according to the Extraordinary Form.

The Fraternity is not a group that denies the legitimacy of the Second Vatican Council or criticizes the proper celebration of the Liturgy as it has been renewed.  They simply prefer the former ways and find in them a path to a closer relationship with God.  They have agreed to allow the 12:00 Noon weekday Mass at Immaculate Conception to continue in the vernacular according to the Novus Ordo with priests the Diocese will send.  In this way we will be able to continue to serve the local business community as we have in the past.

We welcome the coming of the Fraternity of St. Peter and wish them every blessing in our midst.  May God’s Holy Spirit guide us all to make these changes a source of much fruit in our midst.  May we be known by the love we have for one another.

Bishop Mark

Celebrations

Mothers, Who Needs Them?

I heard on the news about a private school in California where the children will not be allowed to make Mother’s Day cards. The reason given is that there are many children who do not have mothers raising them. Perhaps

their parents are divorced and they are in the custody of their fathers. Perhaps their mothers have died. Quite possibly they are being raised by two men. The leaders of this very sensitive and politically correct school want to make sure that no child is put on the spot with the ‘culturally conditioned’ expectation that ordinarily a mother and a father is needed for the raising of a child.

It was for more than mere pragmatism that moved God to give women the unique ability to nurture and nourish a child both before and after birth. It wasn’t simply because we had not yet come up with incubators and baby bottles that God built in that capability. God intended women to have a special and irreplaceable relationship with their children-because they would be the ones called to nurture and care for the life of their children who would be completely dependant upon them. Just as she said ‘yes’ to that new life from the moment it began to take shape within her womb (seconding God’s own decision); just as she affirmed that life every time the newborn child cried out in hunger or discomfort; so she is intended by God to be the first image of God’s tenderness and care in the life of her child.

Through their mothers children first begin to imbibe the Faith and values that will form the basis of their relationship with God and others. Certainly fathers also have a key role in this early nurturing and formation but it is not so immediate. In many ways the father’s role is complementary to that of the mother.

Psychologists tell us that fathers are separate and distinct individuals in the perception of the child. They are to the child awesome, allpowerful protectors as well as their judges. It is not at first clear to children that they are separate and distinct from their mothers. Mother is their other self. With mother they are complete. Little wonder then that our mothers always have a special place in our hearts.

Many today are finding themselves in this exalted role by surprise, as it were, without adequate preparation and without the benefit of marriage which God intended to be the context of motherhood. I have a great admiration when women in this situation do not attempt to undo their ‘yes’ to life but rather seek out adoptive parents who can assume the parent’s role after the child is born. It is a gut-wrenching decision that clearly expresses the selfless nature of a mother’s love. Adoptive mothers, for their part, are mothers in the truest sense. Motherhood in its deepest meaning certainly has an irreplaceable biological aspect but it is more than biology; it is about more than eggs and gestation. It is about an unconditionally committed love.

I, for one, feel very grateful as we celebrate Mother’s Day that my mother so generously accepted this challenge. She said ‘yes’ to my life day and night, whenever I was in need. That ‘yes’ extends to this very day. She has been my first teacher about the ever present and abundantly generous love of God.

Happy Mother’s Day!

010

Celebrations

April 14 at the El Paso Diocesan Chrism Mass Homily

To Be Named Priests of the Lord

I have been a student of the Liturgy for many years, but I must admit that I have never understood the Chrism Mass well.  It has two very important themes: 1. the renewal of promises for the priests and 2. the blessing of the holy oils.  I have never really understood how these two themes fit in the same Mass.  It doesn’t appear that they have anything in common.  I have no choice but to understand this Mass better now since I find myself presiding and preaching for the first time.

Thanks be to God, finally, I think I get it!  I found the key in the readings of the Mass.  Two times we hear the famous proclamation of Isaiah; first in the mouth of Isaiah himself and then in the mouth of Jesus.  In the Gospel of Luke we are given the beginning of the passage that Jesus proclaimed, but in the first reading we hear more.  Without doubt this was a passage that many Jews in the time of Jesus knew by heart.

In both readings we hear: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.”  To be ‘anointed’ is to be ‘chosen’ for a service by the Lord.  It is to be consecrated, set aside for God, for a sacred purpose.  Reading a little further we can better understand the reason for which a person receives this anointing: “to be named priests of the Lord, ministers of God they will be called.”

Who is a priest?  A priest is someone who is anointed, chosen, by God to represent him in the world.  A priest is someone anointed by God to offer sacrifices to God in the name of the people.  As we learn from the words and actions of Jesus, The Anointed One, the priest is a person who offers his life as a sacrifice for the salvation of the world.

Who are the anointed, the chosen, the priests, today in the world?  As we know, all of the baptized are priests!  By the water being poured and their first anointing with Chrism they are made priests, prophets and kings.  In Confirmation they receive a strengthening of their royal priesthood, through the working of the Holy Spirit.  All are called to live as chosen ones, consecrated to the Lord.  But you have among you some who have received this anointing with the Oil of Chrism a third time.  We could say they are triply anointed, chosen to identify with Jesus in a very special way.  Although we can rightly say that the words of Isaiah belong to all Christians, those whom we call ‘Presbyters’ or ‘Priests’ radically represent Christ in the way the bring together the Christian community in union with the bishop; in the way they guide the People of God, teach the People of God, and sanctify the People of God.

As priests we are called to give our lives in a complete and radical way.  We express this total gift of self by living in a way that shows us to be free of the need to accumulate money or things, by promising or vowing to live in celibate chastity, leaving aside the good of marriage, and in obedience to our superior as if to Christ himself.  Why is it that we are anointed by oil and the Spirit?  For the same reason that Christ, whom we represent, was anointed: “to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to proclaim liberty to captives and sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord”.

We do exactly these things in the most profound way when we offer the same Sacrifice of Christ in the name of the Holy People of God and for them.  Anointed by Christ, in union with the bishop, with the assistance of the deacons, who share in the Sacrament of Holy Orders with us, we have the blessing to anoint many to unite them to Christ in Baptism, to strengthen them in Confirmation, and to join their sufferings to Christ’s for their healing in the Anointing of the Sick.

Today in this Chrism Mass we give thanks to God for the anointing and election of all Christians, but in a very special way we give thanks to God for his calling of our brother presbyters to the Holy Priesthood of the Church.  We give thanks to you Lord for calling them, for the generous response of their lives, for the holy anointing we receive from their hands.  Guide them, Lord, in the service of your people, particularly in the service of those who most need your anointing, your compassion, your healing.  Send us, Lord, many more like them!

Celebrations

Centennial Homily 2014

El Paso: A Diocese of Saints and Martyrs

I don’t know if you remember the first time you came together as a Diocese with me last July?  What a great celebration!  I told you in my homily that day that your new Pastor was very lost.  Even now I am learning a lot about El Paso, but, thanks be to God, I do not feel as lost.  Part of the reason is that I have had an opportunity to visit with many of you in your parishes and at other gatherings.  How kind you are!  I feel much more at home.

But I also don’t feel as lost because I have learned much about our history, much of which can be found in places like this historic Ysleta Mission.  This history orients me.  Here it is as if one can sense the deep roots that have endured for centuries, more than 400 years, through so many challenges and difficulties.

Without doubt we have experienced those who have not represented well either Christ or His Church; Conquistadors and civil authorities who have abused their power; clergy who have served themselves before the faithful.  Even as we are gathered here we need to confess that we have not always been faithful in the way we have lived our faith.  Aware of our own shortcomings we always need repentance. The Church is always in conversion.

At the same time especially today as we celebrate one hundred years since the founding of our Diocese we can look back through the years, as if from a mountain and see the sacred history revealing the divine presence of God walking with us throughout the centuries. And from this privileged point of view we can say that the Lord has never forgotten us—has always protected us and accompanied us, blessing our humble sacrifices. Never forget that we are a diocese of Saints and Martyrs!  At least two canonized saints have walked this land, San Pedro de Jesus Maldonado and San Miguel Pro, not counting the thousands of saints known only to God.

Because of this we cannot do anything at this moment but praise and bless the Lord who has always offered everything that we the Church of El Paso could ever need.

Looking ahead we can see on the horizon many challenges; there is much work we need to do.  In the life of a Christian the cross is never far away. But we will not worry about what we will eat or wear.  Because we have a very dear mother near her people of El Paso in Our Lady of Guadalupe and her son our Lord Jesus Christ who has been with us in the past and will continue to walk with us in future, day after day, in good times and difficult times, until the day we arrive at the Kingdom of God!  For this reason we shout:

Long live the People of God!
Long live all the Saints and Martyrs!
Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe!
Long live Christ the King!

Celebrations

Homily for World Marriage Day

World Marriage Day: Choose to Be Pico de Gallo

I really love to eat!  I love to eat not only to sustain my body; I love to eat for the flavor!  I want salt and salsa in my food!  I am not alone.  If we are able to choose, almost anyone will choose food with flavor.  But many eat food that is bland because they simply don’t know there is another option.  Some are unaware and others are just afraid to try something new.  They only eat what is familiar, what everyone else is eating.

It is a bit hard to understand.  Many live all their lives without trying salsa picante or cabrito; without trying food from Greece or China.  But sadder than the fact that many will not try food is the fact that many refuse to be flavorful food for the world.  To be salt and salsa we need to be different; we need to follow another path.  There isn’t much salt or spice in this world; therefore we desperately need people who can add a little pico de gallo to our lives.  We need Christians who want to live their faith so fully that others can savor their taste.

We need witnesses to faith in every aspect of our lives.  Today we celebrate the World Marriage Day.  Today in the world we see many people opting for a life that is common and bland rather than for a life full of flavor.  They choose a life that is very superficial, a love that is guided by hormones, which satisfies for the moment and then is lost.  This certainly appears to be the case when we consider the distressing statistics of nearly one out of every two marriages ending in divorce. Couples just seem to be unaware that there for the choosing is another way; a way based upon the love of Christ, full of mutual sacrifice, but deep and fulfilling and lasting.

We believe as Catholics that every Sacrament is a sign of the love of Christ; but the Sacrament of Matrimony is the Sacrament that most clearly and concretely reveals Christ’s love in the world—a love without limits that is always open to cooperation with God in his love, which overflows for the creation of new life.

For us in the Church, marriage does not represent just any kind of loving relationship.  It is not simply a love shared among friends of the same or opposite gender.  This love among friends can be the basis of a beautiful relationship, but it is not the same as the love of marriage.  The Scriptures of both the Old and New Testament teach us the true nature of a married love: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24)  Christ tells us that this union is something sacred.  For us, the Baptized, it is a Sacrament.

There is no such thing as a temporary or experimental marriage.  We cannot say, “Let’s drive this marriage around the block first and then decide.”  It needs to be a marriage in the eyes of God in accord with his teachings or it is not a marriage.  Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman which they enter into before God; it is a vow to love without limits or conditions, today and tomorrow and forever.

And who could possibly live a vocation that is so great, so challenging, without the grace of God?  That would be like jumping from a plane without a parachute.  The grace of God is absolutely necessary!  True enough, some married people do not experience success in their marriage even when they are married in the Church and have taken advantage of all the preparation and assistance the Church can offer.  But those who jump from plane with parachutes will also sometimes suffer injuries—we can only say that the chance of injury is significantly less than for those who jump without a chute.

I would like to conclude with three invitations:

  1. To those unmarried young people here today: Of course, I would like you all to be priests and sisters!  I would like you all to ask God about this possibility.  But, for the majority of you, when the day comes that you encounter the love of your life and you decide that you want to live with that person for the rest of your life, go quickly to the Church.  We can assist you a great deal to realize your dreams for a marriage that will last.  And don’t wait for a day when you will be able to buy a costly ring and pay for a big reception.  The most important things in life, money cannot buy.  Celebrate your marriage as the beginning of your life together and buy the stuff later.
  2.  To those who are living together now without the benefit of the Sacrament of Matrimony: Go to your parish!  Speak with your priest and he will be able to help, without cost, in the preparation and celebration of your Marriage.  Don’t live without the grace of the Sacrament one more day without doing something about it!  We want to assist you in this!
  3. To those who are already married: Congratulations and thank you for your witness!  In this age when everything seems temporary you are living reminders of what grace can do.  Remember that your marriage is not only for a day. You need to commit yourself each day to the renewal of your covenant.  Love is not a sentiment; it is not simply the work of hormones.  Love is the decision to give your life for the other.  I would urge you, dear married couples, to take advantage of the tremendous help that a retreat for married couples can offer.  This can be a wonderful way to restore and deepen the flavor of your love.

In your married love you will certainly encounter the cross of Christ.  As St. Paul reminded us no Christian can avoid the cross.  But choose the salsa, even when it is a little hot.  Don’t accept the bland and tasteless food this life often offers.  Give your lives to Christ, not just part of your life, but all of it!  Show your faith in the service of your spouse, of your family and of all!  Offer what you have as a generous, loving and joyful sacrifice to the praise of God, not holding back as though you will be able to find security in things.  Choose to walk the narrow way of Christ and you will become salt and salsa, light and lamps for the world!

Celebrations

Conversion of St. Paul – St Paul Vicariate Diocesan Centenary Celebration

Bp. Mark J. Seitz   Conversion of St. Paul – St Paul Vicariate Diocesan Centenary Celebration

January 25, 2014   Cathedral of St. Patrick

 The Church of El Paso: Ever Ancient, Ever New

This month I completed another year.  It was a big one!  Now I am 60 years old!  I don’t know how that happened, but I guess I am now a senior citizen.  I still feel young, but mi hair—or lack of it—betrays me.

 But when I consider the age of the Church here in El Paso, which is celebrating 100 years; when we consider that the Sacraments of the Church have been celebrated here for more than 400 years; when we note that the Church has been serving the world for nearly 2,000 years, I feel younger once again.

The truth is that the Church after all these years is not old.  She always remains young just as does her Lord, because the Church is nothing more than the Body of Christ, and he never grows old.

We can understand better when we reflect about the Feast we celebrate today, the Conversion of St. Paul.  Saul (this was his name before his conversion) saw the Church as simply a human institution, a group of people following strange and heretical doctrines.  How surprised he must have been when, in the midst of his journey to Damascus, the Church spoke to him in the person of Jesus Christ!  The Lord was not dead; he had risen and made his dwelling among his community, the Church.

As we are taught in the Book of Revelation, “Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”  Therefore it doesn’t matter how many years the Church goes on; she is always a Church that is young and full of life.

Oh, you may be thinking to yourselves that you thought this experience of Paul on the way to Damascus was simply an encounter between him and Jesus and had nothing to do with the community of the Church.  But consider what Christ says to Paul.  He says, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  Who is suffering persecution?  The Church!  Furthermore, who is it that prays for Saul when he arrives, blind and confused, to Damascus?  The Church!  Who cures Saul?  A member of the Church!  Who Baptizes Saul?  A leader of the Church!

Therefore, as we celebrate the Centenary of the Diocese we rightly celebrate a great history.  We remember many holy families, which through the years have been very dedicated to the Lord; who, alongside many holy Sisters and Priests, have built up the Church in our region.  We remember good times and very difficult times that our community of the Church has experienced.  And through it all we discover the presence of Christ—always young, always new, always full of hope—caring for and animating the Church.

This same Lord, without doubt, will continue to accompany the Church of El Paso as she makes her pilgrimage into the future.  In our time—but I hope not too quickly—we will all grow old; but not the Church!  With the help of God she will always remain young, thanks to the constant presence of her Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen!

Celebrations

Baptism of the Lord – Migration Week Homily 2014

Bp. Mark J. Seitz.              Baptism of the Lord – Migration Week Homily 2014
January 12, 2014.             Cathedral of St. Patrick, El Paso

I have seen the place where Jesus was Baptized from a distance—across forbidding barbed wire fences and signs in various languages that give ominous warnings. Perhaps there are mines there. You see, the place where Jesus was Baptized by John is down near Jericho, not far from where the Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea. It is at the ‘frontera’, the border with the country of Jordan.  Since it is a border between two occasionally warring countries, the actual place of this dramatic moment in the history of our salvation is not open on the Israeli side to the public.

Jesus, since he is the Son of God, surely saw what would become of this place where he chose to be Baptized–and as I think of it, I see an amazing appropriateness to his choice. Now, perhaps more than ever in this age of nationalism, borders have come to symbolize for us–not a meeting place of friends or a place of encounter, but a ‘no man’s land’, a place of conflict and alienation. Even among ‘friendly’ countries they are places we protect against ‘aliens’ with all our military might.

In this light how interesting is Jesus’ act of entering into the water of the Jordan.  He is entering into a river that constitutes a border. Rivers have always been places of both life and of danger. It is striking to me how verdant and green even the driest desert becomes in those places where a river runs through.  But, in a moment, a calm peaceful river can, with a little rain upstream, become a raging torrent.  Many who have attempted to cross our border river, the Rio Grande, in places and times when the water is flowing, have drowned in its swift and unpredictable current. Even where there is little or no water our fences have forced them into treacherous mountain and desert areas where literally hundreds die every year, their corpses left to the buzzards and other desert animals.

When the people of Israel arrived after their 40 year journey to this same river at about this same place, it marked the border of their entrance into the Promised Land. On that occasion God intervened just as he had when they left the land of slavery in Egypt. Joshua used the staff of Moses to part the waters so the people could enter.

Jesus surely could have parted the waters with a word of command, but he chose instead to enter into them. He entered and was swallowed, ‘buried’ by the waters.  For a moment it seemed as though he disappeared, lost his identity, ceased to be.  In the earliest rites of Baptism, before there were churches and fonts, the one to be Baptized would enter the water on one side of the river, would be buried under the water three times confessing the Trinity, and then would emerge on the other side, a new person, a child of God.  By passing through the water he or she received a new identity; they belonged to God’s holy kingdom.

Jesus was already Son of God, who by his Incarnation and birth had become one of us. By entering the water and participating in John’s Baptism of repentance it is not too much to say that Jesus was taking upon himself the experience of every migrant—and, after all, we are all migrants, passing through this life for a little while on our journey to our true home, which is heaven. We all have the experience of migrants losing our identity for a time as we pass through the raging rivers of loss and transition in our lives. Those who leave their homelands in desperation, fleeing violence or extreme poverty, live the experience more clearly while we, if we are lucky enough, can sometimes live in circumstances so relatively stable that we can make the bad mistake of thinking we have already arrived in our eternal home.

But Jesus entered the water because he wanted to enter in fully to the experience of those passing through all the borders of life. In Baptism he accepted this mission. By his Passion, Death and Resurrection he would fulfill it. By our Baptism we have joined him along his way. Like him we are united with all those who would be denied their human dignity because of the impermeable borders we have established between us and them.

There are other borders besides national ones. In our country we have a sad history of having created borders based on the color of one’s skin. We still have borders that all too often separate rich and poor, those who have opportunities and those who have none.

Perhaps the most shameful border of all is the one we have created between the child in the womb and the one out of the womb. So lacking in humanity and dignity are those children not-yet-born that we have decided we can brutally take their lives and call it our right.

Since Jesus, our Lord and Savior, has entered into the waters where human beings lose their identity how can we in the Church, who claim to be his disciples, fail to enter with Him?  As Pope Francis has been reminding us so well, we, who call ourselves Catholic-Christians, disciples of the Lord, need to be wherever human beings are being turned into numbers and statistics–faceless creatures with no names. Wherever they are called “alien”, “illegal”, “blobs of tissue”, “unwanted”; we say no, this is “Mary”, “John”, “Marta”, “Jesús”!  They are dear “children of God” and we love them!
We need to be in the prisons, in the nursing homes, in the shelters and detention centers. We need to be with the woman who is so alone she feels that killing her unborn child is her only option. And we certainly need to be with migrants, whose numbers, we are told have to a jaw-dropping 214 million in our world. We must, because we know Christ has! No human law can keep us from serving our suffering brothers and sisters! As we serve them we will continue to urge our legislators to mold just laws that respect the human dignity of those who find no other option but to leave their beloved homeland to seek a new life.

How can we not hear the Father’s voice speaking to those who pass through the treacherous waters and deserts of our border, saying, “This is my beloved son, my beloved daughter, care for them!”

Celebrations

Reflection for Holy Family Sunday

December 29, 2013

Can you imagine what the situation we have just heard described in the Gospel would have been like had Joseph not been there?  We would have had Mary and her infant Son taking that perilous journey at a moment’s notice, across mountains and foreboding desert, retracing the path that their ancestors had taken 40 years to complete.  What odds would you give Mary and the babe without a father?

Well, you might say, Mary and Jesus would have had God’s help.  My response: They did have God’s help, they had Joseph!  You might say God “built in” the help for us by creating the family, the basic cell of society, made up of a father and a mother and children.

Just as it was no accident whom God chose as the mother of His Son, so it was no accident that God chose Joseph to be his foster-father.  We rightly consider the Holy Family to a model family.  Not an idealized, incomprehensible family, but a down to earth real family that is given to us to remind us of God’s plan.

It is true that often due to circumstances beyond their control children have to be raised in less than ideal settings—a spouse dies in an accident, a victim of abuse has no option but to leave the abuser, etc.  We can have nothing but respect for those who have experienced these tragedies and we should do all can to assist those who find themselves in these situations.  But none of these examples should lead us to doubt the value of the model the Lord has given us.

The stable loving home provided by one man and one woman provides the best environment in which a couple’s love can cooperate with God’s creative love to bring new life into the world.  The family made up of a father, a mother and children forms the basic cell of a stable society.  The only real notable exceptions through the history of humanity of which I am aware are some situations in which men used their power to marry more than one woman—and from the stories that come down to us that didn’t work out very well.

Society and governments have learned that it is in their best interest to offer support and protection to these stable units for the sake of the community’s ability to prosper.  Sadly, today, we have set out to experiment with this fundamental cell of society.  Today 4 out of every 10 children born in our country are born out of wedlock, and they are not being born primarily to teenagers either, but to unmarried women in their 20’s.  One in 5 children live in homes without dads.

Study after study shows us what we know intuitively: that an intact family in which children are raised by their biological parents is the best situation for children.  Jennifer Marshall summed up the studies in this way: “Compared with counterparts in other common household arrangements, adolescents in intact families have better health, are less likely to be depressed, are less likely to repeat a grade in school, and have fewer developmental problems, data show. By contrast, national surveys reveal that, as a group, children in other family forms studied are more likely to experience poverty, abuse, behavioral and emotional problems, lower academic achievement, and drug use.” (Jennifer Marshall, Heritage Foundation, 2004)

We don’t have a lot of data yet on same-sex couples that marry and raise children, but even setting aside the serious moral implications of such a relationship the information we do have is that children who are raised in this novel experiment face significant psychological hurdles.  Even in Scandinavia where same-sex couples have had a civil equivalent to marriage for more than 20 years and where homosexual behavior is widely accepted, the divorce rate is much higher than for heterosexual couples, and we know that divorce is a significant hurdle for children to overcome.

We rejoice today at the model of the Holy Family provides for us in this challenging time.  By upholding Marriage according to this ideal and insisting upon its essential nature for society we do not in any way deny the inherent goodness and fundamental dignity of any person.  Our newborn Savior calls all persons, no matter their struggle, to follow him according to His divine plan.

+Bishop Mark J. Seitz

Celebrations

Priesthood Ordination – Allan Oluoch Alaka

What a joyful day Saturday was for me and for the whole Church of El Paso!  The Cathedral Church was filled with laity, seminarians, religious, deacons and priests from around the Diocese to celebrate the Ordination of Allan Oluoch Alaka who came to us from Kenya, to the priesthood for our Diocese.

The celebration was even more memorable for me since it was my first Ordination to the Priesthood.  The now, ‘Father’ Allan is a wonderful deeply spiritual and gentle man who I am certain will be a real blessing to the Church.  There was hint of disappointment in that Fr. Allan’s family was not able to be there.  Certainly they were united with us in prayer and next month, God willing, he will show them the video of the celebration personally when we returns to Kenya to visit and continue the celebration.

Fr. Allan will begin his ministry this week as Parochial Vicar at the Cathedral parish.  You will find my homily from the Ordination below.

Bp. Mark J. Seitz              Priesthood Ordination – Allan Oluoch Alaka
December 15, 2013          St. Patrick Cathedral, El Paso

Well, Allan, I gather from the assembly that they agree with my decision in the name of Christ to Ordain you.  It is rare in the Church these days that we get this kind of unanimity.

Think back for a moment to the first time you felt attracted to the priesthood back in your native Kenya.  Think back to when you gathered things from around the house in order to “play Mass” when you were a child of 5 or 6.  Perhaps you had a sense in that moment that God was whispering to you, His Holy Spirit speaking in you.  More likely it was a simple desire arising in you that seemed to be all your own.

Either way, this initial impulse began a long dialogue between you and the Lord, which has led you to places you would never have imagined—to a city in the desert of far West Texas in the United States and to this Cathedral on this bright December day.  The stirring in you was kept alive by various persons that God placed along your path—by parents and family who nurtured your Faith from the beginning, by a missionary priest from England, Fr. John Clark, who became a close mentor, by your parish community and so many others.  Can you see looking now with the clarity of hindsight and from this holy mountain how God placed each one along your way?  They were indeed his instruments helping you to grow in faith and to discern just as much as was needed for the next step.

How many times have you asked him along the way, especially in the difficult moments clouded in darkness, “Lord is this what you want of me?  Lord to whom shall I go?  I know not how to speak; I am too young.”  How many times has he calmed your fears and strengthened you to carry on?  How often has he placed his words in your mouth?

Yes, over time that quiet little voice in you, whose origin was unclear, became more and more a dialogue.  How beautifully that conversation which unfolded in the depth of your soul is expressed in the words of Jesus in the Gospel you chose for today: “I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know what his master is about; instead, I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything the Father has told me.”

Why you?  Why here?  Why now?  These are all questions that will remain largely shrouded in the mystery of this friendship you now have with Jesus in the Church.  Who can ever fully explain why friends just click or why a couple falls in love?  These are mysteries of a high order.  But an even more wondrous mystery is this call to the priesthood.  As we heard in the second reading from Hebrews God does not choose a person because he is so good.  No, he chooses “erring sinners”, thus helping you to deal gently with others who share the same human frailty.

What began seeming to be your work and your desire is now revealed to be God’s work and God’s desire.  So Jesus has said in the Gospel, “You did not choose me; I chose you to go forth and bear fruit.”  So in Hebrews we also hear, “Christ also did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’”

Can you see it now, Allan, in this graced moment as the whole Church has expressed its enthusiastic affirmation of God’s choice?  It is indeed God who has called you, set you aside from the beginning and appoints you to go forth and bear fruit!  Allow yourself to be a docile instrument in God’s hand.  Say to him, “Lord, wherever you send me I will go; whatever you command me I will speak.”  Every day give yourself generously once again.

Make of your life a total consecration to God’s service in faithful chastity and in daily prayer, in ready obedience to your superiors and to the Church, in simplicity of life that seeks nothing more than the opportunity to serve God’s holy people.  And when you fall short of responding with complete docility to this high calling, as you surely will fall short, seek the Lord’s merciful forgiveness and begin anew in his grace.

From your life, which as of today is so graciously consecrated to the Lord, all your ministry will flow.  The Eucharist you celebrate will be a moment when the Christ who has claimed you makes present his Paschal Mystery through you.  The Gospel you proclaim and your preaching will be his word spoken anew.  The Sacraments you celebrate will be moments in which the great Saving Work of Christ, so often obscured by a fallen world, comes into clear and glowing relief.  The sick will find healing and peace, the lost will find refuge, the despairing will find hope—all by the simple and joyful way you allow the One who has consecrated you today for his service to work through your hands.

Rejoice today, Allan!  Christ has chosen you.  He will give you all you need and restore more than a hundred-fold whatever you lay down before him.  And we will rejoice with you.  We will rejoice with the whole Church because today we see the Lord at work among us here in the Church of El Paso.  In the light of your consecration to God I renew my self-offering to His service, as do all the priests and deacons here.

Perhaps at times the road can seem long and difficult, but today we too see in your light what God is doing in our lives.  Consecrated women here renew the beautiful gift of their lives to Christ their spouse.  Seminarians see on the horizon the day for which they long and they find sustenance for their challenging journey toward the priesthood.  Young people here are asking themselves whether God might be whispering to them about his dream for their lives.  All the baptized are strengthened in their discipleship of the Lord and encouraged in their service.

May God bless you for allowing that attraction in your heart and the small quiet voice of God to lead you to this moment in this place on this holy day!

Celebrations