|Fr Oscar Capilla, LC|
Part 3 in a series on priestly experiences and
insights, published on Thursdays in the Year for Priests.
2009. There are times when priests are witnesses to a
soul’s resistance to grace. There are other times when change
comes slowly and gradually, like a sunrise. And there are
other times when profound conversions seem to happen in a
moment, with one lightning strike and a total response of
God does his work in as many ways as there
are souls. And this, for Fr Oscar Capilla, is a
realization that grows deeper with time.
“We can’t change hearts,”
he says. “Only God can change hearts.”
This was a lesson
he learned from two sides, both as a young man
resisting God and then later on as a seminary formator.
In a sense, he has experienced what it means to
be both the Prodigal Son and the father of the
“At a point in my youth, I
stepped away from the faith,” says Fr Oscar. “I didn’t
see the importance. I saw it more than anything else
as a burden, and I felt more drawn to the
lures and enticements of the world.”
In his earlier days, Fr
Oscar had been an apostolic boy for four years at
the minor seminary in Ontaneda, Spain. But when his father
passed away unexpectedly, he came home to be with his
family and to finish high school in his hometown.
that year home, he began to develop a self-sufficient edge.
He felt confident that he could achieve whatever he wanted.
Praying, going to Mass, and keeping up with confession no
longer interested him.
Souls have their reasons for remaining distant from
God or for dropping out of sight. In Fr Oscar’s
case, it was a mistaken view of God, a relationship
“All throughout my life in Catholic schools, even in
the apostolic school where the priests tried to guide us
to a personal encounter with Christ, I had more of
a relationship of fear with God,” he said. “That’s why
during my last year of high school I dropped everything:
convictions, values, spiritual life. I just didn’t care. That wasn’t
the God I wanted to follow.”
No one person changed that
view of God or opened his heart. The change took
place through a series of experiences while he dropped by
to visit the seminary in Cheshire for a few days
after serving as a summer camp counselor in the States.
“Through contact with some of the other seminarians that were
here, through the prayer times, I was able to see
a loving God,” he said. “I was expecting God’s just
judgment, but it was really his fatherly, kind hand that
reached out to me.”
The response was one of instant openness.
“That helped me to see that I wanted God to
be number one in my life, because he loves me
and his love is really what has given me fulfillment.
I realized that what I had done, what I thought
was true freedom, was not actually what gave me a
sense of fulfillment and peace. I found that peace in
my new friendship with Jesus Christ.”
Letting God work
As a recently
ordained priest who is entrusted with the care of other
souls, he nourishes that experience through prayer and tries to
share it through his ministry.
But now he is acutely
conscious of his own limitations, aware of being an instrument
for God and not the protagonist.
“As St Paul says, we
have been entrusted with a treasure. I see myself, and
I’m sure other priests do too, as that fragile earthen
vessel holding this great treasure which is Christ himself, with
his mercy and love for humanity,” he said.
of the priesthood and of my life as a priest
is to not be an obstacle to the Holy Spirit
in my life… not to put ourselves in front, but
to let God act, to adapt to the way he
wants to do things.”
Letting God work also means letting God
work on his own time, as quickly or as slowly
as he wants.
“God has his time and we can
never force anything down anyone’s throat. We can pray about
it, but in the end, if there is something certain
about our lives, no matter what type of vocation we
have, it is that God wants to be present in
us through the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.
That’s what bears fruit in anyone’s vocation, whether to marriage
or the priesthood or whatever it may be,” he said.
|“I’m now representing the Merciful Father, But we’ll never stop being the Prodigal Son. We always need his forgiveness and mercy.”|
For priests, their own family members have a special
place in their hearts and in their prayers. In some
cases, their families are fervently Catholic and supportive of their
sons’ vocations. But in others, the vocation is seen as
a tragedy, as if the son has in some way
died a premature death.
Fr Oscar’s family was never thrilled about
his priestly vocation. In fact, they were dead set against
it. For the first three or four years, his mother
sent him letters telling him to come home and forget
about the priesthood.
His family was not particularly religious, and
his sense of responsibility for them was his biggest temptation
to return home and give it all up.
So he made
a deal with God.
“In my prayer I would tell God,
‘Look, if you called me to do this, you need
to take care of my family’s spiritual wellbeing.’”
went by and there were no visible changes. But one
day, his mother started going to Mass again. As the
years went by, his two siblings also returned to the
Church: first his older brother, then his little sister.
few months before his priestly ordination, his mother sent him
an e-mail saying, “I had to tell you this: your
dad passed away 17 years ago. I’m sure if he
were here now, he would be very proud of you
doing this with your life.”
Mothers of priests
For his mother
in particular, the distance between her and her son had
always been difficult. For some reason, Fr Oscar has never
been stationed closer than 2,000 miles from home.
day, his mother told him, “Oscar, I know you’re very
far away. You’ve always lived everywhere but Spain. I’m pretty
much adjusted to the fact that you’ll never be home
and close for me to visit. But out of my
three children, in some way you are the closest one
For Fr Oscar, the bond between mother and
son has become closer as well. “When we talk to
each other, even if it’s a month apart, it’s like
yesterday. She’s the closest person in my life, after God,”
Is there a vocation to be the mother of
a priest? Fr Oscar thinks so.
“It’s a calling,” he
says. “You come across mothers who are so happy even
when their sons are in the apostolic school.” Either they
are glad to be rid of their troublesome boys, or
they are receiving special graces from God.
But even those graces
have their moment. One mother with several boys in the
apostolic school and in various stages of Legionary formation once
approached a Legionary priest in tears. It was one of
those dark days. She missed her boys and was beginning
to blame herself for their absence from the home.
all of my boys leave me?” she asked. “Have I
done something wrong?”
The priest just looked at her and
said, “It’s not that you’ve done something wrong. Your boys
are following God because you’ve done something right.”
Living the gift
Fr Oscar, his path to the priesthood and within the
priesthood is summed up by one Gospel passage: the parable
of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-31. It is a
passage he now sees from both sides of the story.
now representing the Merciful Father,” he says. “But we’ll never
stop being the Prodigal Son. We always need his forgiveness
Father Óscar Capilla was born on December 7, 1976
in the city of León, Spain. He was baptized on
January 9, 1977, on the feast of the Lord’s baptism.
He studied in the Sacred Heart School of the Jesuits,
in León and entered the minor seminary of the Legion
of Christ in Ontaneda on July 16, 1988. From 1990
onward, he continued his studies in Moncada. In 1992, he
went back to his Jesuit School for his senior year
in high school, and in 1993, he entered the novitiate
in Cheshire, in the U.S. He made his first profession
on September 2nd, 1995 and made his perpetual vows on
October 17, 2001. Fr Oscar was ordained to the priesthood
on December 22, 2007 in Rome. His vocation story can
be read here.
View a list of previous articles in
the series here.