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Why I became a priest: ‘I cried because my dream to be a priest was in danger’

placeholder May 24, 2010   •   VOL. 48, NO. 10   •   Oakland, CA

Ian Mendoza stands with his family at the beginning of his ordination rite on May 14 at the Cathedral of Christ the Light.
all photos by José Luis Aguirre
New priest for Diocese of Oakland
(Read the full text of Bishop Cordileone's homily below.)
After making his pledge of obedience, Ian Mendoza prostrates himself in front of the altar while the Litany of the Saints is sung.

LEFT: Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone ordains Ian Mendoza to the priesthood through the laying on of hands.

ABOVE: Newly ordained Father Mendoza prays the words of consecration during his ordination Mass.

BELOW: Father Mendoza blesses Bishop Emeritus John Cummins, who participated in the ordination ceremony.

Father Dan Danielson (left) and Father Richard Mangini place the priestly vestments on Oakland’s newest priest.

Priests of the Oakland Diocese offer their blessings and prayers for the new priest.
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Homily– Mass of Ordination to the Priesthood
For Ian Mendoza – May 14, 2010
Readings: Acts 20:17-18a, 28-32, 36; Rom 12:4-8; Lk 12:35-44


As this “Year for Priests” draws to a close, it is most fitting and, indeed, a happy occurrence, that the occasion is marked in our Diocese by this ceremony of Ordination to the Priesthood of our brother in Christ, Deacon Ian Mendoza. It was the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney last year, the patron saint of parish priests, and of all priests, that moved our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to declare this a year dedicated to priestly renewal.

St. John Vianney: Complete Adherence to Christ and the Church

St. John Vianney was born three years before the French Revolution, and it was the aftershocks of this social upheaval that marked his growing up years and, later in his life, his priestly ministry. The clergy in France was divided: those loyal to the government, and those who remained faithful to the Church. The parish in the little town where he grew up was entrusted to what was called a “constitutional priest.” His family, refusing to succumb to social and political pressure, had to worship and receive the sacraments in secret when a faithful priest would sneak into town. By the time he was ordained and sent to the village of Ars, the effects of secularization were rampant: the culture of the people there was characterized by religious indifference and material preoccupations. One wonders how much has really changed since then!

Yes, our world today is much like that; our response, then, must be that which the Curé of Ars has taught all of us, the response which is the same in every generation: holiness. It is well known that he was not intellectually gifted, and so greatly did he struggle in his studies that he almost was not approved for ordination. It was his remarkable devotion that got him through. It is also well known that this devotion, which blossomed into exemplary holiness, showed itself most famously in his service as a confessor, to the point of spending sometimes up to sixteen hours of the day hearing confessions. He demonstrated in his life a comment made in the homily delivered at his Mass of Ordination: “The Church wants not only learned priests but, even more, holy ones.”

This is as true today as it was then, even if the way St. John lived his Priesthood might seem unrealistic in today’s world. Yes, it does indeed seem that everything is much more complicated nowadays than then. Still, the basic reality remains constant, transcending cultures and ages throughout history. This point was brought home recently by Pope Benedict in a talk he gave to participants in a theological congress promoted by the Congregation for the Clergy on the theme, “Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests.” He said:

There is great need for priests who speak of God to the world and who present the world to God; men not subject to ephemeral cultural fashions, but capable of authentically living the freedom that only the certainty of belonging to God can give. ... And the prophecy most necessary today is that of faithfulness [which] leads us to live our priesthood in complete adherence to Christ and the Church.
“Complete adherence to Christ and the Church”: complete, that is, in one’s personal life as well as ministerial life. This theme of fidelity seems to be one the Holy Father is repeating these days, as he brought it up again just yesterday in Fatima, where he celebrated the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima during his Apostolic Journey to Portugal. He said there:
The greatest concern of every Christian, especially of every consecrated person or minister of the altar, must be fidelity, loyalty to one’s own vocation, as a disciple who wishes to follow the Lord. ... This evidently supposes true intimacy with Christ in prayer, since it is the powerful and intense experience of the Lord’s love that brings priests and consecrated persons to respond to His love in a way that is exclusive and spousal.
Perhaps the Holy Father has in mind the travails the Church is suffering these days, and which are affecting him personally, and is all due precisely to a lack of fidelity to Christ among some of the Church’s ministers.

The Fatherhood of the Priest

For the priest, this fidelity means the complete gift of himself to Christ and his Church, which carries with it a new title, a title which Ian will acquire as of this day for the rest of his life: “father.” It is with fondness and respect that our people address their priests with this title, so much so that it is instinctual, it comes as second nature – even when addressing their bishops. When people inadvertently address me in this way and then catch themselves, they often feel embarrassed and apologize. My standard reply is to reassure them that, while I have acquired a number of titles at this point in my life, the only one that really means anything to me is that of “father,” when it is spoken with sincerity.

Ian will now become the father and leader of a community of God’s people. Our liturgy this evening, though, especially in the Scripture readings, makes clear to us what this means for the Christian leader. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul speaks about certain functions in the Church which are to be exercised “according to the grace given.” One of these which he lists is, “if one is over others, with diligence.” “Over others” literally means, “to take the lead,” or “to exercise authority”; “diligence” carries the sense of “zeal” or “eagerness.” This is then fleshed out by the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of St. Luke: it is a great irony that, upon his return, the master is the one to wait on the servants, that is, those servants whom he “finds vigilant on his arrival.”

This, then, is authentic Christian leadership, taught and modeled by our Lord and exemplified in life of St. Paul. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles we heard from Paul’s farewell discourse to the people in Malta he had come to love in Christ. He speaks very strong words about keeping the integrity of the faith, and not being led astray by those whom he knew would distort the full truth of Christ. The reason he could speak so boldly was precisely because he lived it. In other parts of this discourse, parts which were not included in the reading, St. Paul speaks of his lack of interest in comforts and conveniences and of how this is not what is of importance to him, of how he did not water down the message even though it brought hardship, and that now he was moving on to Jerusalem and, although he does not know exactly what awaits him there, he does know that it will involve further hardship and suffering. The point is, he doesn’t care about any of this, he doesn’t even care about his own life; of sole importance to him is Christ and the full truth of his teaching.

St. Paul is exhibiting here true Christian leadership as expressed in the form of fatherly care for those he was sent to serve, putting them before himself. Again, this is a reality which must be reaffirmed and lived out in every age. We hear – and see – it again in the life and teaching of St. John Chrysostom, the fourth century Archbishop of Constantinople and counted among those whom we rightly and fondly call the “Fathers of the Church.” In his treatise on the Priesthood he says, “A priest ought to be sober minded, and penetrating in discernment, and possessed of innumerable eyes in every direction, as one who lives not for himself alone but for so great a multitude.”

Ian, your life is now to be another repetition of this pattern, a manifestation of the mystery of complete gift of self to Christ and his Church. Your life is no longer your own; this is what it means to be a father to your people, and to be worthy of that title by which you will now be addressed. In God’s inscrutable Providence a significant part of your own journey to Priesthood has been precisely the discovery and appropriating of the meaning of fatherhood. Along with your dear mother and the rest of your family, you have had to bear the pain of the loss of your own father. But for you, you have had to come to terms with this in the midst of your priestly formation in a land far away from your family’s home. We do not always understand the ways of our eternal Father, but we trust that He is working out His loving plan according to what best serves our eternal salvation. This has been for you a cause for pondering, growing in and interiorizing in your own life that which is the call of every man: to be a father.

In the Church today we rightly stress the importance of collaboration among all of the members of the Body of Christ, with their different functions and corresponding graces, in the Church’s mission of knowing Christ better and making him better known. But this does not mean that the leader of the community may then remain uninvolved. Ian, you are ordained to be a minister of Word and Sacrament. Therefore, be actively involved in catechesis, for children, youth and adults, for those preparing to receive sacraments. Be a leader of prayer and worship by your own personal prayer life, and by participating in and guiding the planning, preparation and execution of the Church’s liturgy.

As a father is involved in life of his family, so be pastorally present to your people: do not dilute your ministry, that is, do not let wane your zeal to give yourself completely to Christ and his people; do not dilute your prayer; do not dilute your teaching. In other words, in your priestly ministry, which is to say, your fatherly care for your people, make sure your people receive the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God, even those parts of it that you – and sometimes they themselves – think they will not like, and which some people may even wish that you be silent about. At those times, ask for God’s help not to be silent, neither in word nor in example, for it is the whole truth that will save them. For a priest to do less would be a disservice to his people and a betrayal of his fatherhood. Again, the experience of the Church in these days more than adequately demonstrates how true this is.


We all have different gifts, to be used for service to the Church according to each one’s vocation in life and state in the Church. In the end, though, it is all for one purpose: holiness. The Church’s priests are those who must “take the lead,” and with zeal. My dear brother priests: the Church needs you, you are irreplaceable; the Church needs holy priests, priests who truly live the words spoken to them by the bishop on the day of their ordination when they were handed the paten and chalice with which they would offer the sacrifice of Christ, and which in a few moments I will speak to Ian: “Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”

This is what our people really look for in their priests, it is what they really want and really need. I could not do better, then, than to conclude with the words which the Holy Father used to conclude his talk at the theological congress on the faithfulness of priests:

… the men and women of our time ask us only to be priests to the full, nothing else. The lay faithful will be able to meet their human needs in many other people, but only in the priest will they find that Word of God which must always be on his lips, the Mercy of the Father abundantly and gratuitously distributed in the Sacrament of Penance, and the bread of new life.


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