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