Priesthood candidates reflect on what mercy means to them
CAPTION: From left are Deacon Adam Cesarek, Deacon Jacob Valle, Deacon Alex Millar, Deacon Eric Bolek, Deacon Joseph Baker, and Deacon Matthew Deptula.
The six men who will be ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Peoria on May 23 are thrilled that their first year as priests will include the opening of the Holy Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis.
The jubilee year will be celebrated from Dec. 8, 2015, until Nov. 20, 2016.
As the transitional deacons approached their ordination during the 10:30 a.m. Mass this Saturday at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, The Catholic Post asked each what mercy means to them. Here are their edited responses:
DEACON JOSEPH BAKER
Priesthood ‘the ministry of reconciliation’
“I started the seminary in the Year for Priests and now we get to end in the Year for Consecrated Life and the Year for Mercy. I think that’s providential . . .
“There is a priest in Maryland — I go to confession to him a lot — and he always talks about the priesthood as the ministry of reconciliation. I think it’s so true.
“People need to be reconciled to God. It happens through various means, but the priest very much sacramentally plays a role in that. It’s through the Father’s loving mercy that we are reconciled to God. It’s really powerful.
“There’s such a need for mercy in the world today. There’s so much hurt. . . .”
Deacon Erick Bolek
‘Confession a big thing in my life’
“It will be my first time hearing confessions and giving sacramental absolution. I’m glad the first year I get to do that will be the Year of Mercy. The year that the pope has declared for specially participating in God’s love I get to confect that sacrament.
“Confession has been a very big thing in my life. It’s very providential, and a wonder, how God would make the Year of Mercy in my first year of priesthood.”
Deacon Adam Cesarek
‘Words will give spiritual life to people’
Deacon Cesarek recalled being in Assisi with fellow seminarians last Dec. 26 to Jan. 15 for a retreat.
“I woke up early one day and prayed before St. Clare at her tomb. I told her that ‘I need to learn the prayers for absolution, so I’m going to keep saying it over and over.’ After 15 or 20 times it hit me how amazing that is. Saying ‘I absolve you’ doesn’t mean anything now, but after ordination, those words will give spiritual life to people — people who may have fallen away from the Lord entirely. In that moment they will receive the Lord’s mercy.
“How incredible it is that I will be able to take part in that. It doesn’t come from me. It comes from Jesus Christ.
“God knows that more than likely we’re going to fall again. We’re going to mess up again. But that is his mercy, and he keeps giving and giving it, no matter how much of a mess we are.”
Deacon Matthew Deptula
‘You can always turn back to God’
“The first thing I would think of with that being my first year in the priesthood is my own need for mercy, my own sense of unworthiness of this vocation that God’s given me and that the church has affirmed . . . . It’s so humbling, God’s infinite mercy and knowing that path I’ve been on. The sacrament of reconciliation was a large part of my journey back.
“The day you stop going to confession is the day you’ve said, ‘Enough,’ on some level. ‘I refuse God’s mercy’ on some level. Don’t give up. Whatever happens in your life you can always turn back to God.
“It’s so easy to say, ‘I’m tired of asking for forgiveness,” but as Pope Francis says, ‘God never tires of giving us his mercy. We tire of asking for it.'”
Deacon Alex Millar
‘Better than anyone could ever imagine’
Deacon Millar noted that Pope John Paul II was known as the “Pope of Hope,” Pope Benedict XVI as the “Pope of Faith,” and that Pope Francis is already known as the “Pope of Charity.”
“Fifty years out from the Second Vatican Council we understand what the council was trying to do well enough that we can go out with it. Let’s go out and show God’s mercy to a world that thinks it knows the message of mercy, but doesn’t know it all. The world doesn’t believe the message can be that good.
“We can go out and show the world that the mercy of God is life-giving, active, and better than anyone could ever imagine. We can show them the church isn’t just a set of rules, but it’s a community of love. And that’s fundamentally who God is.”
Deacon Jacob Valle
‘Sharing God’s mercy with others’
“It’s very exciting. I take mercy in two ways.
“The first, the primary, is God’s mercy — recognizing and understanding God’s mercy to us. Though we are all sinners, he extends his love and mercy and calls us all into relationship with him . . . . That’s concretely seen in Christ’s passion and sacramentally in confession, where sins are wiped away.
“I also see that Pope Francis has called us to personally extend mercy toward others, especially in charitable outreach to others — to be merciful to those who are poor, downtrodden, the hungry, the homeless. God’s mercy is the prerequisite for mercy to others.
“I think this Year of Mercy is exciting on both that personal level, our personal experience of God’s mercy, and also on a social level of sharing that mercy with others.”