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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Fr Luis Garza, LC, on the Choice for a Friendship
Part 17 in a series on life as a priest.

P. Luis Garza, L.C.
Fr Luis Garza, LC

Part 17 in a series on priestly insights and experiences, published on Thursdays during the Year for Priests.

January 21, 2010. Sometimes, the course of one’s life can be traced back to a single decision. When Fr Luis Garza, LC, was 10 years old, his father decided to enroll him in a new school that was just opening up in Monterrey, Mexico.

It was a Legionary school, and at that point more of an idea than a reality. But Mr. Garza was convinced that the school would be a good choice because it promised a well-rounded formation alongside an excellent academic foundation. In fact, he was right; for many years now, the Irish Institute has been one of Monterrey’s leading boys’ schools.

Through school, the 13-year-old Luis joined ECYD and began to get involved in apostolic projects. As he was a bright student, high school came to an end at age 16, and he went on to college at Stanford University in California to study engineering, finishing his bachelor’s degree at age 19.

While in college, he decided to enroll in one of Stanford’s overseas campuses in France. There, a surprise was waiting for him.

“When I was there, an idea came to me like lightning one Friday night: ‘Why are you not a priest?’ I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t know what to do,” he says.

While struggling with the idea, he was invited to go to Italy for a summer course offered for young Regnum Christi members. His idea was to use that time for prayer and vocational discernment.

While there, the choice before him was presented in the simplest of terms.

“The priest I spoke with essentially told me that I should not expect much more clarification from God, and that I should take a piece of paper, divide it in two with a line, and write on one side the reasons why I should become a priest, and on the other, the reasons why I should not,” he recalls.

One side of the paper filled out quickly. The reasons why not were easy to list: plans, dreams, studies, career, future, family…  On the other side of the paper, a lone reason held its ground: “what seemed to be an uncertain call from God.”

On one level, the decision was obvious. Fifty reasons would seem to outweigh one. But the problem was that that single reason was infinitely more weighty than all the rest; it belonged to an entirely different category.

“In the process of making my list, I thought that I must be fooling myself. I realized I could not put God and my own personal ideas and expectations on the same balance, because they are of a completely different nature,” he said.

For a person as logical as Fr Luis, the decision was straightforward, although not necessarily easy.

“I simply thought that God really called me out of love and that I could only respond by giving him my life.”

The choice of the Legion, he said, was “the most natural decision.” The Legion “was where I was born to the practice of my apostleship, the place where I could be put at the service of God and the Church.”

Midnight in Mexico City

Fr Luis Garza has held many apostolic responsibilities in the Legion, many of which have involved making far-reaching decisions. He is currently the territorial director for Italy and the Vicar General for the congregation. As Vicar General, he is responsible for overseeing key areas of logistical governance of the Legion and Regnum Christi. It is mental work, often done behind a desk, involving constant analysis of numbers and personnel,
P. Luis Garza, LC, vicario generale del Movimento Regnum Christi, ha impartito una conferenza sul ruolo del Movimento nella rinnovazione dei valori in Italia.
“There is still a long way to go, but I think that God will give us graces of hope and courage to live more evangelically and to become better instruments in his hands.”
structures and organizations, risks and opportunities. Here, too, there is a place for lists—and there are moments when God’s plan weighs more heavily on the shorter list.

One night, while working in Mexico City, he arrived home from a dinner at about 11:00 at night, carefully closing and locking the iron gate behind him. In Mexico City, it is absolutely necessary for houses to have gates, walls, and alarm systems. In a city of over 21 million people where the very rich live alongside the very (and very numerous) poor, robbery and even kidnapping happen every day.

He walked up the driveway, entered the house, and closed its glass doors behind him. At that moment, the gate bell rang. Two men were standing outside, watching him through the iron bars of the gate. At first, he was a little reluctant to open; after all, it was 11:00 at night and he had never met these two men before. But he decided to give them a chance and at least find out what they needed.

The two men, one older and one younger, told him that their grandmother was sick and needed a priest. When he asked them where she was, they mentioned a run-down neighborhood nearby.

“In those instants, I thought to myself that I could not say no to them, but the thought that it could be a hoax came to me.”

He got into their old car and went with them to the grandmother’s apartment. In that poor and small space, three generations lived together. All of them were employed as maids and servants to some of the well-off families nearby.

As Fr Luis entered the room, they all slipped out the door, giving the two some privacy for the last confession and the final rites. He was left alone with the elderly lady and a crowd of silent witnesses, with walls and shelves full of images of Christ, Our Lady, and the saints. Since she was almost unconscious and fading fast, he quickly began the anointing of the sick, helping her say the words of the act of contrition after her confession.

“It was a very sweet and calm moment and I felt that Christ was there celebrating the sacraments. It seemed that the time had really stopped,” he recalls.

“I thought that I could have been a priest just for that moment of helping somebody, a lady I did not know and whose family or relatives I was not going to see ever again, go to meet our Lord.”

On that night in Mexico City, his presence had brought an oasis of peace and light to a suffering soul. Getting into a car with two unknown men near midnight was not on the heavy side of his list. But it was on God’s list.

A very long Holy Saturday

As Vicar General of the Congregation, Fr Luis shared in the difficult task of visiting Legionaries and consecrated members around the world to help them cope with the painful news about the founder. There is no easy way to sum up such an experience; it does not lend itself to easy spiritualized formulas, nor is it something that the mind can fully understand.

As one might expect, the situation on the Legion’s own Ground Zero has been a mixture of reactions, and these are as varied as the individuals who make it up.

“There has been so much suffering and difficulty among people affected by all of this, and sadly, I have seen some despair. This is heartbreaking. They are brothers and sisters that we love dearly. There is no doubt that this is a time of trial and we all know there is nothing that escapes God’s loving providence, but this is hard to understand. Only faith can shed some light and hope in the midst of these strange circumstances,” he says.

Alongside understandable reactions of sorrow and anger, there is also the very real testimony of people who weigh the options and decide for a vocation which will be weighted down with special crosses for some time to come.

“Sharing shattering news with my fellow priests in the Legion and the consecrated members has been a dreadful experience,” he acknowledges. “But it has been uplifting for me to realize how much faith, love, courage, and decision there is in every one of them, and how precious a treasure we have. We are all sad for the people that have suffered with all this and wish that with our penance and actions we could somehow repair the damage that has been done.”

In the lay people as well, he has found a source of strength and encouragement, not only in these times, but also throughout the course of his priesthood.
 “I am grateful for each and every person I have met in my life. I have seen in many of them so much generosity and faith, that they have helped me see how real and important the priest’s life is for so many people. With them, keeping hope in a world full of discouragement has been much simpler, since it is so easy to see the face of Christ in them,” he says.

In a way, he says, the present time in the Legion is like a long night of purification, a time when all of the discouragement caused by human sin can begin to weigh heavily on the heart.

“At times, one could think that God has abandoned us. It seems like we are undergoing a long, very long Holy Saturday. We are all waiting for the Resurrection, the moment when we can live our charism peacefully with the Church’s blessing, serving people and building the Church.”

Are there fruits emerging from this dark night of purification?  Fr Luis believes so.

“It is true that for us, this experience has helped us to be humble, much more dependent on God and not on our own capabilities. It has allowed us to grow more trusting and close to the Church, with a greater desire to serve her. It has made us grow in our understanding of human beings, and has given us a heart that is meek and humble, a bit more like the heart of Christ,” he says.

“There is still a long way to go, but I think that God will give us graces of hope and courage to live more evangelically and to become better instruments in his hands.”

“I call you friends.”

In the end, the vocation to the priesthood and the ministry of the priest—from Good Friday to Easter Sunday—is never just a matter of personal choices. It is always a gift from the heart of a Friend whose will is a mystery at times beautiful, and at other times painful.

“’I do not call you servants, but friends.’ This phrase has always resonated in my life for many reasons,” says Fr Luis.

This friendship has brought him many gifts: a good family, the Catholic faith, and the vocation to the priesthood. But besides these things, for which he is grateful, there is an ongoing gift that appears in unexpected ways: the experience of witnessing how Christ touches the lives of other people.

“Especially, he has allowed me to see—although in most instances indirectly—how much he reaches out to everybody, helping them be his children, making them friends and not servants,” he says.

“I have seen how much joy being Christian gives to people and how much every single dream and desire is fulfilled in people’s lives when they encounter Christ and are touched by his grace.”

“These people—lay faithful, mothers, suffering souls— have become friends of Christ and are capable through their witness and joy, through their commitment, of bringing new life to so many.”

In the midst of decisions that do require careful reflection, perhaps what weighs most is just that: the option for a friendship that will bring hope and new life when we need it most.

Fr Luis Garza, LC, is originally from Monterrey, Mexico. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial engineering at Stanford University, and entered the Legionary novitiate in 1978. During his time in the Legion, he went on to earn a licentiate degree in philosophy and theology, followed by a doctorate in Canon Law. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1985, and went on to serve as the director for the territory of Mexico and South America from 1988 to1991. He has been the Vicar General of the Congregation from 1992 to the present. In 2003, Pope John Paul II named him as a consultant for the Congregation for the Clergy and in 2008 Pope Benedict XVI confirmed him for another five-year period in this position.

To view a complete linked listing of the other articles published so far in the series, click here.



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