The Catholic Faith is at the center of my family. I grew up on my family’s farm in San Jose de la Pila, Poncitlán, Jalisco, Mexico. I come from a large family, the 16th of 18 children. I have seven brothers and 10 sisters. We are devout Catholics who understand the importance of the sacraments. I was raised with great devotion to the rosary and St. Joseph. My mother taught me and my brothers and sisters the importance of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the family, and my father taught us that St. Joseph was a very important model for our lives.
When I was a young boy, I frequently prayed the rosary with my family. Even though I sometimes fell asleep while praying due to my young age–I was a mere 6 years old—I still knew I wanted to become a priest. My mother told me on several occasions that one who wants to become a priest should not fall asleep while praying; she told me that priests pray a lot as they pray for all the people and their needs.
Once, when I was 7 years old, I remember attending Mass on a Saturday in the chapel in my hometown. I was concentrating on the Mass and paying close attention to the eucharistic celebration. I kept thinking about how much I wanted to become a priest. From that day forward, each time I attended Mass, I thought about and prayed that I would one day become a priest like those who celebrated Mass at our local chapel. I prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to St. Joseph for help in discovering what it was that God wanted from me if, one day, he called me to be a priest of the Most High God.
And so, it came to be that I attended seminary and university to prepare for the diaconate and priesthood. During these years, I learned about loving God and serving God. Above all, I came to understand that God loved me and wanted me to become a priest. I was ordained a deacon on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011, at San José de la Pila. Then, on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011, I was ordained a priest at the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman in La Crosse. This day is the day that the Catholic Church celebrates the birthday of the Virgin Mary and, for me, this was a sign that I was reborn to communicate to the whole world who Jesus is, who God is, and what the Catholic Faith is all about.
It has been 10 years since my ordination to the priesthood. At the beginning, my time studying theology, the Bible, the sacraments and so forth gave me the necessary background of the Catholic Faith, but only experience and the guidance of the Holy Spirit has given me an understanding of ministering to people.
I currently minister to the Hispanic communities of Arcadia and Sparta. God has given me the experience, these past 10 years, to listen to His voice and to know how to discern the urgent needs of the Hispanic community. Hispanics are easily influenced by people of other religions. The first need consists of showing them how to listen to the voice of Jesus in the Scripture readings. It is also important to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, so He can guide us in the truth. It is very important for me to work closely with the community to help them recognize the fire of the Holy Spirit.
The next need is helping them learn how to follow Jesus’ voice, especially in times of difficulties, problems and sickness. It is important that I get to know my parishioners personally so I can accompany them along their path of Faith and help them discover their Faith more fully.
The Hispanic community has many traditions that need to be retained because they help Hispanics grow in Faith. It is important that the pastor and his flock walk together along the path leading them to heaven. Some examples close to the Hispanic community include: the celebration dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by celebrating Mass the first Friday of each month, organizing the procession of Corpus Christi, celebrating the sacraments in their own culture, and organizing holy hours and retreats where they are encouraged to have an encounter with Jesus. It is very important for me to explain the Faith to Hispanics by leading classes about the Bible and the Virgin Mary, and explaining why attending Mass and celebrating the sacraments are important.
A man recently asked me to pray with him following the death of a loved one. I did. I helped him with love and compassion during his time of grief. As a result, he realized he is loved by God and, because of this, his Faith has been strengthened and he has started a more regular practice of his Catholic Faith.
God loves you as He loves me. Jesus, through the Eucharist, is the spiritual food that nourishes our souls.
Father Fernando Lara Hernandez Associate Pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Sparta
Published in the September/October 2021 Issue of Catholic Life Magazine