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On the Way There (Article)

Fr Oscar Capilla, LC, on God’s Timing and the Parable of the Prodigal Son
Part 3 in a series on life as a priest.

Fr Oscar Capilla, LC, smiling
Fr Oscar Capilla, LC

Part 3 in a series on priestly experiences and insights, published on Thursdays in the Year for Priests.

September 3, 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 openness.

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 Prodigal Son.

Falling away

“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.

During 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 of fear.

“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.

“The challenge 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
Fr Oscar Capilla chatting
“I’m now representing the Merciful Father, But we’ll never stop being the Prodigal Son. We always need his forgiveness and mercy.”
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.

The prodigal family

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.’”

Six years 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. 

A 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.

But one 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 to me.”

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,” he said.

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.

“Why do 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

For 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.

“I’m now representing the Merciful Father,” he says. “But we’ll never stop being the Prodigal Son. We always need his forgiveness and mercy.”

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.



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