ROCHESTER — Humans are born with a unique dignity, as they are created in the image and likeness of God.
But often, their actions do not jibe with this essential aspect of their being, said Father Rafael González Ayala during his nearly two hours of preaching the first night of the annual weeklong Santa Misión from Aug. 20-24.
When people who claim to be Christians stray from God, they are akin to a person trapped in a cage that is too small for the person, who then must twist his or her body to fit, explained Father González, pastor of Cristo Rey Church in Corozal, Puerto Rico.
"Many Christians who abandon God find themselves sideways," he said. "They have no structure. They have no strength. … God’s strength is what gives us dignity."
As Father González spoke, his voice echoed throughout the streets surrounding St. Michael Church as he spoke from a small stage set up at the corner of North Clinton and Clifford avenues. A statue of Our Lady of Providencia, the patroness of Puerto Rico, stood alongside the podium.
Bishop Matthew H. Clark celebrated the closing Mass for the Santa Misión, which had the theme "The Mystical Body of Christ: Are We the True Vine?"
The closing Mass with Bishop Clark was beautiful, noted Ray Perez, a parishioner at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish, who attended most of the weeklong mission. He commended Father González for carrying the theme throughout his preaching.
"He clearly explained our role as parishioners, the role of our priests as pastors and the role of our bishop as head pastor," Perez said.
Perez and Alberto Rodríguez, a fellow parishioner of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish, said that they also appreciated Father Gonzalez’s down-to-earth style and stories, especially one about a carpenter and how each of his tools found a way to play an important role in the finished product.
"When we serve the Lord, despite whatever imperfections we possess, we are helping build the kingdom of God," Rodríguez said in an e-mail. "We also must not forget (Father González’s) invitation to ‘spiritual ingenuity.’ We have the responsibility as laity to creatively serve the Holy Spirit to bring our brothers and sisters into the Lord’s fold."
Father González also spoke of the observations he has made in how parishioners in his own church in Puerto Rico treat each other when it comes to filling lay roles. If a new person tries to help out, they are treated as intruders at times instead of being welcomed as a member of the one body of Christ, he remarked.
"I have not found as much gossip, as much chaos as in the church," Father González said as the more than 70 people in attendance chuckled.
"Father González sternly warned us about the waste of time spent complaining on trivial matters and "finger pointing," Perez added.
As a latecomer when it comes to spirituality, Father González explained how he feels empathy for people who take that step to join or return to the church. He received his first Communion at age 19 and was confirmed a year later. At 21, he entered seminary.
"I didn’t know anything about the church," Father González said. "I didn’t even know that when the priest said, ‘The Lord be with you,’ that you respond, ‘And with your spirit.’ "
As he grew in knowledge, Father González said that he realized that we must be patient with one another and respect where everyone is in their personal journey.
"We need to see how the Father …. wants to be with his people," he added. "Because Jesus is never ashamed to call us his brothers."
As brothers and sisters in Christ, we should always walk with our heads held high, noted Father González.
But too often, Christians in modern society are surrounded by negativity and they neglect their own human dignity, he added. They must be reminded that Christ’s blood was poured out so that we can live out that dignity, and we must repay that debt, he said.
"With that (blood), he rescued us," he remarked. "With that, he saved us. … The value of the blood of the Lord is priceless."
Father González urged those gathered before him to share this message with everyone they encounter in their churches and communities and to be there for each other in all situations.
"We cannot trip each other up," he said. "What hurts one Christian should hurt us all."