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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Fr Alejandro Ortega, LC, on God’s Kisses
Part 14 in a series on life as a priest.

Fr Alejandro Ortega, LC
Fr Alejandro Ortega, LC

Part 14 in a series on priestly experiences and insights, published on Thursdays during the Year for Priests.

November 26, 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 admits.

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.

“Many times I have gotten chills listening to a very sincere confession, perhaps after many years away from the sacrament, because you
Fr Alejandro Ortega baptizing
“He is always there, ready to pour out all the love our hearts can hold.”
can almost touch how all that grace, peace, and joy come flooding into a heart that is just returning to the Father’s House.”

“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.

“One of 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…

But 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.

“I still 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 right dispositions.”

“He is always there, ready to pour out all the love our hearts can hold.”

Another one of God’s kisses.

A 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:
Fr Alejandro Ortega standing
“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,” he says.

“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.

Fr Alejandro 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 here.



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