|Fr Alejandro Ortega, LC|
Part 14 in a series on priestly experiences and
insights, published on Thursdays during the Year for Priests.
2009. Fr Alejandro Ortega, LC, has a personal motto for
his priesthood, a motto that sums up his ideal of
what a priest should be: “A heart that only knows
how to love.”
It’s also a prayer, because let’s be realistic:
growing into a loving heart might sound poetic, but it
doesn’t always feel like sweetness and light. Sometimes it feel
more like blood, sweat, and tears.
“Sometimes the heart doesn’t let
itself be conquered. It’s a slow, arduous, bloody conquest; a
battle that is fought millimeter by millimeter. Sometimes you lose
ground,” he admits.
“Although love is written into the very
marrow of our lives as men, and especially as priests,
we also have to conquer the great dragon we carry
inside: our selfishness,” says Fr Alejandro.
“But with God’s grace,
my heart is learning that its only option is to
love, if it wants to be a priestly heart. And
I know very well that it’s not a question of
a program of work; it’s a grace from God,” he
Covered with kisses
There are times when a priest feels the
heart of Christ beating through his own, and when he
can almost touch the mercy of God pouring itself out
on the soul of a penitent in the confessional. These
moments, too, are part of forming a heart that only
knows how to love.
Fr Alejandro refrains from mentioning any concrete
experiences with confessions (let alone sins), but he does say
that the Gospel seems to come to life in the
confessional – especially the parable of the Prodigal Son.
I have gotten chills listening to a very sincere confession,
perhaps after many years away from the sacrament, because you
can almost touch how all that grace, peace, and joy
come flooding into a heart that is just returning to
the Father’s House.”
|“He is always there, ready to pour out all the love our hearts can hold.”|
“I’ve felt how my face, voice, and gesture
of absolving the penitent were nothing less than the Father’s
very own embrace for a prodigal son,” he says.
my favorite translations of the Gospel says that the Father
covered his newfound son with kisses. [Editor’s note: The actual
Spanish phrase is “se lo comía a besos,” literally: “he
ate him up with kisses.”] We cannot be quite so
expressive with the souls, but it’s very beautiful and deeply
gratifying to experience being an instrument of such a warm
and merciful love.”
A very busy day
While still a seminarian, the
then-Br Alejandro was sent to help out with practical tasks
at a retreat center in Vic, Spain, where a group
of priests were doing their spiritual exercises.
On the day after
spiritual exercises ended, the entire group of priests and brothers
went on an outing to relax and enjoy a hike.
Br Alejandro had sprained an ankle two days before, so
he stayed home by himself.
After preparing himself a good
lunch and limping around the kitchen, he made some plans
for his solo vacation day. First, he decided, he would
iron some purificators and clear off some of the altars.
Then he would pray his Rosary and do his spiritual
reading. And the rest of the day? He was looking
forward to relaxing with an interesting book he had brought
along. It was going to be a very busy day…
something changed his plans. An inspiration, perhaps.
“I was all set
to face my ‘crammed’ agenda when it occurred to me
to start off with a visit to the Blessed Sacrament
in the retreat center’s little chapel,” he said.
don’t know what happened. The visit got longer and longer,
in a kind of simple but very heartfelt conversation with
Christ in the Eucharist. And I felt a peace like
I have never felt before in my life.”
Time seemed to
stand still. But when he finally did look at his
watch, he realized it was already 8:00 in the evening.
Over four hours had gone by in that heart to
heart conversation. As he heard the front door open and
the sound of many footsteps, he realized the priests had
already returned from their outing.
It had been a busy
day—just not in the way he had planned.
Lest anyone should
think he is a mystic, Fr Alejandro clarifies: “It’s not
that this happens to me every day. But it made
me think of how much we can enjoy a visit
to Christ in the Eucharist if we go with the
“He is always there, ready to pour out all
the love our hearts can hold.”
Another one of God’s kisses.
hymn of thanksgiving
Fr Alejandro has been a priest for 10
years. Not a long path, he says, but enough to
begin to touch the “infinite power of a biblical truth:
|“I feel God’s fidelity when I wake up every morning to a new opportunity to be the saint I have not been up to now. I feel it when he forgives me again and again for the same faults, without regretting having called me.”|
God is faithful.”
“I feel God’s fidelity when I wake up
every morning to a new opportunity to be the saint
I have not been up to now. I feel it
when he forgives me again and again for the same
faults, without regretting having called me.”
“I feel his fidelity when
he spares me every day from so many dangers of
body and soul, when he gives me a little gift
of gratitude through a thankful person, when he sustains me
if I am tired, and when he doesn’t stop calling
me to the perfection of my state as a priest.
I feel his fidelity when we pull off an unexpected
success in the apostolate, when he makes me see that
a failure ‘isn’t such a big deal,” and when he
fulfills—and does he ever fulfill!—his promise of a hundredfold of
fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters…”
“I feel his fidelity when,
as night falls, I close my eyes and can say
nothing more than, ‘Forgive me for today…’ and even so,
he gives me the gift of sleep.”
“That is my God!
A faithful God, with a fidelity that embraces me and
kisses me every day, just because.”
And experiencing and communicating this
truth—of a God who “covers us with kisses”—is also what
our mission as lay people is all about.
“I think the
most fundamental thing that lay people must believe in, as
a personal experience, is God’s love for you in Christ.
To know how loved you are and also to know
that you are invited to be messengers of that love,”
“Pope Benedict XVI’s central message in his encyclical ‘God
Is Love’ was so tremendously true: our Christian life can
only be the fruit of a love we have received,
felt, experienced. This is what moves a person to live
in love for God and others.”
And this is the way
toward a heart that only knows how to love.
Ortega, LC, was born in Tijuana, Mexico. He studied Medicine
at the Technological Institute of Monterrey, and then entered the
Legion of Christ in 1985. After studying spirituality and classical
humanities in Salamanca, Spain, he went on to study philosophy,
moral theology, and bioethics in Rome. He was the prefect
of studies at the Cumbres Institute and general academic director
at the Anáhuac University in Mexico City. He served as
territorial director for Mexico and Central America for several years,
and is currently the men’s section director in Monterrey, a
retreat master, and a speaker on topics ranging from spirituality,
philosophical anthropology, dating and married life, bioethics, and educational psychology.
View a linked list of the other articles in the series