Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 3/09/20-
Share your upbringing.
I had a lovely upbringing. We were a family of five: mom, dad, and my brothers – one older and one younger. Mom was a homemaker, and Dad was the breadwinner. We lived in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, and it was how I imagine it was for many children growing up in the suburbs in the 1970s/80s. We children rode our bikes everywhere, played outside until the streetlights came on, we played sports, and dreamed about all the great things we would do, and we laughed. I am thankful for it all. We lived in the greatest nation on earth, where anything was possible. Most everyone looked out and cared for each other in the neighborhood. I am sure there were problems, but my parents and the adults, in general, shielded us from all that, allowing us to live relatively worry-free. At school, I made friends, earned decent grades, and most enjoyed the subjects of English, Speech, and History. I used to work on the school plays and helped with the school yearbook. Outside of high school, I began playing electric guitar, and singing, always desiring to be a rock’n’roll star. I graduated from High School and was the first in my family to attend and graduate college. My parents were always very proud of my accomplishments. I graduated from Ohio University with a Bachelor of Science in Communications, with a specialty in Video Production. After a couple of odd jobs, and playing locally in a British Invasion themed rock band, I settled into a career with Progressive Insurance, in sales, and then in claims adjusting. After ten years, I paid back all the college student loans and began collecting vintage electric guitars and amplifiers. I thought I was all set, but God had other plans for my life.
You are a Mercedarian Friar. Share your journey.
As a child, my faith life was the Jehovah’s Witnesses. My father believed in God, but did not practice any faith – his parents were Orthodox Judaism and Christian Protestant Methodist. My mother was a Jehovah Witness my whole life, and my father left it to raise us in that faith. Once I was about 13 years old, I no longer wanted to attend the Jehovah Witnesses Kingdom Hall, nor go door-to-door as they do. And with my Father’s blessing, I stopped going. In college, I was assured that religion was all a social construct created by ancient men to control the masses, and so by that point, God was only something I would turn to when I stubbed my toe, or really was in an incredibly desperate situation.
The way that I became Catholic, was that I dated a Catholic girl my senior year of college. She basically said, “Hey, if you’re going to be with me, then you will go to mass, and we have this thing called adoration.” So, I started going to mass, and adoration, and I found there a great peacefulness, calm, and a sense of joy and love that I had never experienced before. Even though our relationship ended, I learned about Catholicism, and was baptized, received First Communion, and Confirmed when I was 23 years old. During that time, my father died, and I am thankful for my Catholic faith which was there for me.
For a while I fell away from practicing the faith, but then on Easter 2003, after an invitation from a friend, I attended an Assembly of God service, and there, God granted me a grace, in experiencing at a very deep level, that He was for real, that He loved me, and that He had a plan for my life. I attended a Teens Encounter Retreat in the summer of that same year, and immediately returned to practicing my Catholic Faith. But now I was “all in”, reading the Bible, volunteering at Church, making friends with Catholics who took their faith life seriously. And soon, people began asking me if I had ever considered becoming a priest. Finally, soon after, I looked into it, and finally accepted that this is what God was asking of me. Like most people, I had never heard of the Mercedarian Friars, even though they had been serving in the Cleveland area since 1921, as well serving in Buffalo, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and in Saint Petersburg, Florida. The first Mercedarian priest I met immediately left a favorable impression upon me. He knew his faith, shared his faith in loving and serving others, and was extraordinarily passionate. When I shared with him my desire to be a priest, his response resonated deep within my being. He challenged me by saying, “How serious are you about being a priest? Are you willing to lay down your life for your brothers and sisters in Christ?” It made me think about what a summons to love really is – it is a willingness to put other people before yourself in the gift of total self-giving love. It is following that commandment to love God and neighbor.
Mercedarian Friars are a great group of Catholic Men who have willingly consecrated themselves to God with vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and redemption, doing so in order to conform our lives more closely to Jesus Christ. We are men who, like Jesus, are willing to lay down our lives out of Christ’s love for others. Particularly, to do for those who are in any form of captivity, for example, for those who struggle with any form of addiction, the incarcerated, broken families, those whose situation may cause them to lose their faith in a God who is love. I began my journey with the Mercedarians in 2006, moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, secured my Master’s Degree in Divinity in 2013, and was ordained a priest with the Order of Mercy in 2015. My first assignment was as an associate pastor at a Church near Saint Petersburg, Florida – three years with all the sunshine you could want and no snow – first time in my life! Now my main duty is to help men aged 18-35 to figure out if God might be inviting them to join our religious community.
What do you want people to know about you and your work?
First, is how much I love them. But more importantly, how much they matter and are loved by God. Everyone matters – no exceptions. My heart’s desire is to always do God’s will, to surrender all to Him, to grow in holiness, to serve God and the people he places in my life. To let people know how much they are loved, and that there is always opportunity to grow in our ability to care and love others.
There are so many distractions. So many things that vie for our time and attention. Share your best advice.
Make time for God. Especially, spend time with Jesus in Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. As Catholics, we believe that when the priest consecrates bread at mass, that it literally becomes Jesus, not a symbol, but actually, really Him. Mind-blowing, isn’t it? In Catholic Churches, we keep some of that consecrated bread in a large ornate container called a tabernacle. This is done so that outside of mass, people can have access to God’s presence in the humble appearance of bread. It is encouraged that the faithful make a visit to our Churches and spend time in that presence.
The reality is, that all people, regardless of their belief, or of no belief, are always welcome to come and visit our churches. To spend time in the quiet, in silence. To speak to God, and to listen for His voice. I recommend everyone give it a try some time. Stop by and come inside a Catholic Church for an hour, or half an hour, or even fifteen minutes. Sit in the silence of the Catholic Church in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament. It is life-changing.
Share a monumental moment in your life.
The day I was ordained a Catholic priest was one of the greatest moments of my life. There is a video of it posted somewhere on Youtube. On Saturday, August 15, 2015, surrounded by family, friends, parishioners, clergy, and people I knew throughout my life, I was ordained by Bishop Richard G. Lennon in my home parish. That smile on my face from the joy of surrendering my life out of love for God and neighbor still echoes in my face four and a half years later. To be able to minister to people in that way that only a Mercedarian priest can is the joy of my life. I love being a priest and a Mercedarian friar. Sometime after there was some acceptance of my mother of my priesthood, and then I was granted the blessing June of last year of being able to minister to her at her passing.
What changes have you seen in the church?
In the twenty-five years that I have been a Catholic, one of the biggest and most alarming changes is the widespread disbelief amongst Catholics in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, in the Blessed Sacrament. Then also would be the lack of involvement in practicing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, which all Catholics should joyfully be doing. These Works are found in the teachings of Jesus and give us a model for how we should treat all others, as if they were Christ in disguise. They respond to the basic needs of humanity as we journey together through this life. They are the following: Corporal works of Mercy: to feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; ransom the captive; and to bury the dead. The spiritual works of mercy are: to instruct the ignorant; counsel the doubtful; admonish sinners; bear wrongs patiently; forgive offenses willingly; comfort the afflicted, and to pray for the living and the dead. It is a joy to pour out ourselves in love for others, so let’s get busy!
An exaggerated and unhealthy focus first on self and upon the world without any belief in God. This, sometimes without seeing any value whatsoever in practicing a life of faith, especially this among Catholics not focusing first on Jesus.
A lack of trust in the Church. The Church teaches and believes that she is both of divine and human origin, so not something a bunch of old men a couple thousand years ago came up with. And when you think about it, if it really was only man made, would it really have lasted so long? Sadly, there are those in the Church who have chosen to go their own way, and rather than choosing to love, as God commands, have wrongly chosen to use people, position, and power to do some horrendous and evil things. Due to this, I can understand completely the lack of trust in the Church. However, the Church was founded by Jesus Christ, and it is the Church’s belief that He will see her through until the end of time. Trust God always.
Share a bit about your ministries: Foreign Missions and Human trafficking.
At a personal level, last year I was involved in a mission trip to Pamplona, Peru. We helped the poor people living in the mountains at the outskirts of the city to build staircases. The staircases help them to easily get from their homes down to the streets at the base of the mountain, so they can reach public transportation, jobs, hospitals, shops, etc. The people were so loving, humble and grateful. Soon, I am looking forward to a mission experience amongst the poor and disadvantaged living around Lexington, Kentucky.
Our Order originally started in Barcelona, Spain in 1218, and across the centuries began missions in many other nations. Presently, Mercedarian Friars serve in 22 countries. Our missions today are in the African nations of Cameroon, Angola, and Mozambique. Also, in Columbia and India. However, realistically, any nation we are in, whether we have been there 800 years or less has people who are not being treated properly by other people. As a Mercedarian, we must ask ourselves: what is the Captivity that is enslaving people, and what may I do to help assist them to be set free from that situation?
Human trafficking is a modern day slavery that continues to enslave people, people that are in our own neighborhoods. No person has a right to buy or sell or use other people for their own benefit. In the United States raising awareness about Human Trafficking is the first step in stopping Human Trafficking. Partnering with other religious communities and local resources in Northeast Ohio has been very beneficial in this regard.
Share some of the opportunities that you offer locally and how people can get involved.
The first step is becoming knowledgeable about Human Trafficking. Please visit this website to find out more: www.collabtoendht.org. Also, nationally at, www.humantraffickinghotline.org AND www.polarisproject.org AND www.endslaverynow.org.
In the cities where Mercedarian Friars are located: Cleveland, Ohio; Philadelphia, PA; Buffalo, New York; Saint Petersburg, Florida; and Saint Augustine, Florida there are opportunities to join the Friars in prayer and in the Works of Mercy. We have groups of people known as Mercedarian Lay Associates (or Third Order), who help assist us. Some areas are visiting nursing homes, prison ministry, hospital ministry, crisis pregnancy centers, and aiding families in crisis. The St. Raymond Nonnatus Foundation particularly provides outreach to families in crisis, including an on- line support groups for those who have experienced divorce.
Do you have any additional thoughts?
I love Jesus, and this is because I know that He loves me personally. And because of this relationship I am one of the happiest people on earth. I can see God’s hand in every person, situation, and circumstance. A relationship with Jesus is something that everyone is invited to consider, everyone without exception. Overall, it is my hope and dream that everyone may joyfully do all that God asks of us for the glory of God and the salvation of souls!
Mercedarian Vocation Office
6928 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44102
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org