"I had offered myself to the Virgin in Fatima and of course She took me at my word and began little by little to change my heart, opening it to the call to the priesthood that God was making to me."Religious Name: Fr. José Javier of Mary
Date of entrance: November 25th, 2001
Age at entrance: 31 years old
City and country of origin: Cuenca, Spain
Date of perpetual vows: September 8th, 2009
Date of Ordination to the Priesthood: September 26th, 2009
Current Community: Parish of Our Lady of Loreto, Guayaquil (Ecuador)
The mythical year 2000 brought a huge change in my life. I had always thought of getting married and forming a family, but during the summer of that year the relationship I was in broke up and that helped me to re-think my life. I began to consider that perhaps the idea of getting married was my own plan and that God might have other plans for my life. This led to a resolution to get closer to God in order to ask Him for the first time in my life, seriously, what He wanted me to do with my life. Finding the answer was not easy.
I was a member of a magnificent group of young people in Catholic Action in Cuenca, my home town, where, thanks be to God, I received an excellent formation and where I encountered the spiritual life I needed in order not to lose the faith during my adolescence. So, in these circumstances I began to lead a life of greater spiritual commitment, attending Holy Mass every day, praying before the Blessed Sacrament for half an hour daily, as well as the Rosary, spiritual reading, frequent confession… I even bought myself a Breviary and began to pray lauds, vespers and compline. In short, I got wildly serious about getting closer to the Lord to find out what He wanted of me. But my plan was still to get married and I hoped God had the same idea. That was how the year 2000 passed and so began the new century and millennium, with the year 2001, the year in which God had something very special prepared for me.
My life went on as normal: I was working as a high school teacher in Tarancón, a town a fifty-minute drive away from my home in Cuenca, where I lived with my family. I had my car, a good wage, all for me. I played on an indoor soccer team, sang with a traditional music group… In other words, I had a comfortable life with everything a young man could desire. But I was missing something… Almost a year later, in the summer of 2001, God began to act providentially to show me the way.
One day, some friends at my parish asked me if I could take them in my car to a town in the hills to attend the entrance ceremony to the novitiate of some religious Sisters that they knew: they had no other way of getting there. Since I had nothing better to do, we went that evening to Priego (Cuenca). Of course the religious Sisters turned out to be the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother.
The ceremony was very beautiful. I had never attended anything like it. I was impressed by the joyfulness of these young women, with their resplendent white habits, who wished to consecrate themselves totally to God. This was my first contact with the Home of the Mother. When the ceremony ended they invited us to eat and I also met the Servant Priests and Brothers of the Home of the Mother. What I most liked about the Home from the beginning was the great love they had for the Eucharist, which was something I too had always learned in my youth, along with their love for Our Mother the Virgin Mary, and the Church and the Holy Father, who at that time was John Paul II.
During the meal the Servants invited us - my group of friends and I – to a pilgrimage that they were organizing to Fatima at the end of July. I had summer vacations and I always loved Fatima as a place of encounter with the Virgin, Our Mother; so we said we would think about the invitation. We had other options that summer, since the parish was also organizing a pilgrimage, in this case to Lourdes. Fatima or Lourdes, what a dilemma! This would turn out to be a transcendental decision in my life. We talked about it and in the end decided to go to Fatima with the Servants of the Home of the Mother. The school year was over and I had to find things to do because otherwise the summer vacation can be very boring. So this pilgrimage suited me very well in every way.
We were a group of fourteen pilgrims, one of them a priest, in a nine-seater van and my car. During the journey a Servant traveled with us in the car and I bombarded him with questions. I found the spirituality of the Home very attractive and was impressed above all by the atmosphere of joy and of family. As always for me, the time in Fatima was one of joy. Recalling the Virgin’s message and visiting those spiritual places where the presence of Our Mother is palpable, did me a lot of spiritual good. Truly, all of the Marian pilgrimage sites are special sources where God’s grace flows.
On one of the days there, a Servant Brother talked to us about the vocation and challenged us to be generous with God and to offer our life totally to Him to serve Him. How often in my life I had already heard talk of the vocation! But on this occasion I had a very different spiritual disposition. I accepted the challenge and in the time of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament I said to the Virgin: “Mother, I offer you my life if your Son needs me to be a priest; I am ready to give up everything for Him.” This daring on my part was the beginning of something that changed my life. This was in the first days of August 2001.
The pilgrimage ended and we returned to Cuenca, but I stayed in contact with the Servants. They invited us to another ceremony of entrance to the Brothers’ novitiate and to a non-silent retreat which is called the “Home – Center”, in Barcenilla (Cantabria). In Barcenilla I had the opportunity to get to know the spirituality of the Home more deeply, and as I said, I loved it; so much so that at the end of the retreat, on August 10, I entered with the commitment of friend of the Home of the Mother. I wondered to myself why the Lord had brought me in contact with the Home, given that I seemed to have everything that I needed in my life. Then I thought, “Ah, now I understand! This is where God wants me to meet the girl that I will marry.”
But God had other plans. Those days I spent in Barcenilla were very special: I felt a great interior peace and a great closeness to the Virgin Mary. After meeting the Home my relationship with the Virgin became more tender and close, and in prayer I would address Her as “Mom.” I am convinced that is was She, from the moment of my offering in Fatima, who guided my steps towards the discovery of my vocation.
September arrived. The school year was soon to begin and I wasn’t sure about anything, although I had made some progress: I was open to the possibility that God might be calling me to the priesthood, even though at first I wasn’t ecstatic at the idea. I was back in school giving classes when they invited us to Barcenilla again, to spend a weekend there, because an Italian priest who was a very good friend of the Home was coming to visit.
He was the instrument God used to give me a final nudge towards the following of God, which I didn’t yet see clearly. I had the grace of speaking with this priest to ask for his advice, and as I say, his words of wisdom and holiness were a great help to me. He reached my heart with his affability, his gentleness, the peace he transmitted. Above all, three ideas from our brief conversation were branded in my heart, three ideas which helped me and continue to help me greatly in my life. The first was that created beings are not man’s end but God; the second was that in life one must not look back towards the past but always ahead towards our goal, which is God; and the third was that if God changes our life plans it is always in order to give us something better.
With these ideas in my head we returned to Cuenca and I continued to reflect and meditate on all of this, bringing it to prayer and asking light of the Holy Spirit to know his will and strength to follow it. I wanted to be a hundred percent certain that God was calling me to be a priest, but this is not possible, except in special cases like the conversion of Saint Paul. Normally God, in the way of faith, gives us sufficient light to make the next little step without seeing the rest of the path. What He wants is that we entrust ourselves to Him. Sometimes He can ask of us what looks like a leap into the void, like giving up everything to consecrate ourselves totally to Him, but this is always accompanied by the grace to trust, knowing that God is there to receive us with open arms.
This was the case with Abraham, whom God asked to give up everything: his home, his country… and to start walking towards a land that He would show him. In our times the Lord continues to ask many young people to give up everything to follow Him. But God never allows himself to be outdone in generosity and He himself promised a hundredfold, with persecutions, and in the end eternal life, to those who give up all for Him and for the Gospel.
I had offered myself to the Virgin in Fatima and of course She took me at my word and began little by little to change my heart, opening it to the call to the priesthood that God was making to me; and She saw to it that this idea which was one of secondary status in my life, became more and more relevant. Until finally, aided by the grace of God and the tender company of Mary, Our Mother, I took the decision to make that leap of faith and to follow God’s call.
Availing of the long weekend of All Saints’ Day on November 1, the Servants of the Home of the Mother organized a four-day Ignatian retreat for young people, in the convent of St. Michael of the Victory in Priego. I went there with the decision already made to consecrate myself to the Lord in the Home and I enjoyed the Spiritual Exercises as a confirmation of my vocation. I see it as providential that the Lord called me to be consecrated to Him in the Home of the Mother, because this institution belongs totally to Mary and it was precisely She who stirred the calling in me in Fatima and who accompanied me throughout the process of discernment with her maternal hand until I gave my “yes” to the Lord.
On the second day I told the director of the retreat, who was the Superior of the Servants, of my decision to be consecrated to God as Servant of the Home of the Mother and the conversation we had filled me with joy and enthusiasm to give myself totally to God. After the retreat I told my parents too and although it came as a surprise to them, they were filled with joy too and they completely supported me, God be praised.
Funnily enough, one of my friends from the parish who had also gotten to know the Servants on that famous pilgrimage to Fatima, was also at that retreat. We had never discussed the matter so neither of us knew about the other, but he too had experienced God’s call. Our paths unfolded in parallel and the two of us received the same giant-sized gift from God which is the vocation to the consecrated life and the priesthood.
I remember that after the Spiritual Exercises, one cold evening in November I drove this friend to the Music Conservatory where he was studying Music and Fine Arts. We arrived early so we stopped in the Plaza Mayor in front of the Cathedral and got out of the car to pass the time. Then, with great solemnity, I said to him: “I have something important to tell you. I’m going to enter the Servants of the Home of the Mother.” He doubled over with laughter and said: “I don’t believe it… Me too!” We congratulated each other with a big hug. It was such a joyful discovery for both of us.
Steps had to be taken and a date was set for our entry as Candidates: Sunday November 25 2001, which was the Feast of Christ the King, in the chapel of Barcenilla. I began to experience something like vertigo when events took over and my life took such a dramatic turn, so I decided to ask the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother at my parish for prayers. It was through them that I had first met the Home. I told them the news, at which they were overjoyed, and they assured me of their prayers. They were and still are a great model of fidelity for me in the following of my vocation. I have always seen in the Servant Sister that older sister who gives a good example to her little brother and who always supports him with her prayer and self-giving.
At this point I was ready to give up there and then my job as a high school teacher but my Superiors considered it more prudent to finish the school year and then join the community life. In fact, I had already told some colleagues that I was going to leave the job to become a priest. It was a big surprise for everyone. I remember one colleague asked me very seriously if I was okay, if something had happened to me and I needed help. In other words, had I gone mad or what. But everyone responded very well to me and they threw me a big farewell party at the school.
In September 2002 I entered the novitiate and after two intense years of formation, work and spirituality, I began the studies for the priesthood. I had previously studied the career of Law and when I finished it I was sure I would never study again in my life, but the Lord’s ways are not our ways, and I had to study another career. Now I was facing into the first year of Philosophy and then I would study Theology. I studied philosophy in Burgos and by a gift of divine Providence theology in Rome.
After being ordained a deacon while in my final year of theology studies, I received one of the biggest graces in my path towards the priesthood: I got to serve as deacon for the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, in the Basilica of St. Peter, during the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost on May 31 2009. It was an unforgettable experience, to be so close to the Pope and to be able to see at first hand his profound reverence in the celebration of the Eucharist, as well as his humility and friendliness in the way he relates with everyone. I was impressed by the affection, tenderness, patience and gentleness with which he greeted everyone: he is a man who truly transmits peace and hope, qualities our world needs so much.
Having completed my studies in Rome I returned to Spain and finally the big day arrived. On September 26 2009 I was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of Cuenca. This was the end of a long road of formation, but the beginning of a new life for me, my soul now configured with Christ, the Only and Eternal Priest. It was a very happy day for me. I was surrounded by those I love, especially my parents who were giddy with joy just like I was, or perhaps even more. My first Mass, of thanksgiving, I celebrated in the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows, patroness of the Diocese of Cuenca, where my parents had gotten married and also my sister.
Over the following days I celebrated several thanksgiving Masses in different places, but the most special one of all, the one I experienced as a sweet gift from the Virgin Mary, was the Holy Mass I was able to celebrate in Fatima, in the capelinha of the apparitions. It was there that Mary had first stirred the vocation in my heart, and there, eight years later, I thanked Her for this gift so great by virtue of which I was able, in the name of the Lord, to convert bread and wine into his Body and Blood, as spiritual food for all men. How loved we are by the Lord and Our Mother! How they spoil us! And sometimes we don’t even notice.
My first destination as a newly ordained priest was Nicaragua. You could say it was my honeymoon, because hand on heart I can say that this first year of my priesthood was, without a shadow of doubt, the happiest year of my life. There, to the new continent, Providence led me, to a town called San Marcos, in the region of Carazo, where I did pastoral work enthusiastically in a university and in the local parish: Masses, confessions, spiritual direction, Spiritual Exercises, retreats, talks, pilgrimages… How much work of evangelization there is to be done in the world! Certainly, “the harvest is great and the workers are few; pray therefore to the owner of the harvest, to send workers to his harvest.”
I am deeply grateful to the Lord for all the good people that I encountered there in the lands of Central America. It is beautiful to see the great thirst for God that people have, especially the Latin-American youth, in contrast to the youth of the old continent who so often neither respect nor appreciate the Sacred: they don’t seek the Living God who loves them without their realizing it, because they are too busy consuming the world’s pleasures which leave their hearts empty and bitter.
But the biggest grace I received in my first year as a priest was to experience how God takes care of his children through his priests, and the feeling of being an instrument through which God’s grace is poured into souls. It is deeply moving, for example, to hear the confession of someone who has been fifty years separated from God and from the Church, or to administer the Anointing of the Sick and give the Viaticum and the papal benediction “in articulo mortis” with plenary indulgence to a dying person, who died a matter of minute afterwards, at 3.00 o’clock in the afternoon, the hour of Divine Mercy.
How can I fail to give thanks to God for the great gift of the priesthood? I ask you for your prayers for the fidelity and holiness of all the priests of the world.