Raised Jewish; priest shares conversion story
By ROSE YBARRAThe Valley Catholic
EDINBURG — “I am a 26-year-old Catholic, but my body is older than that,” said Father Richard Lifrak, 60, of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Church in Edinburg.
Father Lifrak was born into a Conservative Jewish family in Fall River, Mass., and in college he became an adherent of Zen Buddhism for 10 years.
Father Lifrak said that the long and winding road to Catholicism was all part of the journey to fulfill God’s purpose for his life. “God had to find the way to get me through all the barriers,” he said. “It seems impossible that a Jewish person, raised as I was, could become Catholic, much less a religious. It’s stupendously impossible.”
Father Lifrak said he had a conventional Jewish upbringing that included religious training, a Bar Mitzvah at age 13 and later, Confirmation, a Jewish rite of passage.
“The normal expectation was that I would always be Jewish,” he said.
But by age 12, Father Lifrak was already searching.
“I had an insight that my life was very poor,” he said. “I didn’t have wisdom and I didn’t have love. I remember that I started to say a prayer, a desperation prayer about the poverty within me. I prayed, ‘please God, help me and if you do, I will do anything.’ And I forgot it until the age of 35 when I entered the Church. I’d say that was a key moment.”
By the time he went to college, Father Lifrak had developed a strong passion for science, earning a master’s degree in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I was not that interested in religion because I didn’t find any use for it,” he said. “And second of all, I was very focused on truth, on what can be true.”
A sociology course started him down the path of Zen Buddhism.
“I started getting serious about Buddhism,” Father Lifrak said. “Buddhism questioned a deeper place than science did. It became my passion. I was a very zealous Zen Buddhist.”
He moved to Rochester, N.Y. for the purpose of realizing his goals as a Buddhist.
A relationship with a woman brought out the power of what he thought was love – and also the power of being betrayed by sin.
“I gave myself to the experience but I was discarded,” Father Lifrak said. “The experience gave me foundation to question Buddhism. How did Buddhism help you address the whole question of love?”
The experience gave way for a new spiritual path. One day, he saw a picture in a magazine of a Celtic cross.
“There was something in me that said, ‘I have to have a Celtic cross,’” Father Lifrak said.
He went to a Catholic store to purchase a Celtic cross and the clerk told him he needed to have a priest bless it. In the process of having his cross blessed, he met a religious brother and a priest, who were both from his hometown of Fall River, Mass., a city more than 400 miles away from Rochester.
For Father Lifrak, it was no coincidence.
“I think it was God’s design that I ended up at that church,” Father Lifrak said, holding back tears. “I felt invited there by God. It was the place where I had my first experience with Christianity and with my first Mass. The only Mass I had been to prior was for a wedding and that Mass made no impression whatsoever. There was a world of difference between those two Masses, a world of difference.”
Father Lifrak also recalled the moment when he knew, with complete certainty, that he was finally in the right place.
“I was at St. Peter’s Soup Kitchen in Rochester, New York, sweeping the floor, when I had this feeling: you’re home,” he said. “Logically it makes no sense but in my heart of hearts, my heart told me, ‘this is your home, what you’re doing right this minute, which is serving for the purpose of a greater purpose, which is both mystical and social, you’re home.”
Two years after entering the Church, Father Lifrak began the formation process with the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He took his first vows in 1988, his final vows in 1991 and was ordained a priest on June 16, 1995.
Father Lifrak’s parents, however, did not accept his chosen spiritual path.
“With Buddhism, they thought it was a phase,” he said. “Christianity was too threatening. There was a tenfold increase in the level of opposition from my parents. So I struggled with my parents, but I how could I say no to God?”
Father Lifrak said it was agonizing to be at odds with his parents.
“I didn’t like being disloyal to my parents, I didn’t like bringing them unhappiness, which I did,” he said. “They let me know it and I saw it. My father actually physically tried to resist my leaving him when I was going to be ordained. He stood in the doorway and said, ‘you’re not leaving.’
“I had to run out the back door. It got very messy.”
Father Lifrak’s father died the same year he was ordained a priest. Ultimately, there was some reconciliation between them, Father Lifrak said. His mother died some years later.
“I got her into a Jewish nursing home and I was her guardian until she died,” Father Lifrak said. “But she was never accepting of the course that I took. She loved me as a mother but she did not in any way approve of what I was doing.”
During his formation, Father Lifrak was sent to Cuernavaca, Mexico to study Spanish. While in Mexico, he went on a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“Then things became possible,” Father Lifrak said.” I didn’t have my earthen mother’s blessing, but I had Our Lady’s blessing.”
Photo by The Valley Catholic
“VERBUM MITTITUR SPIRANS AMOREM”
Pope Francis to Address Rio Grande Valley Youth Via Personal Video Message Bishop Daniel E. Flores announced at a news conference on July 19 that the pope will address the youth in our diocese via a personal video message at a local World Youth Day celebration.
The video message will be presented on Tuesday, July 26 during the first World Youth Encounter/Encuentro Mundial de los Jóvenes at St. Anne Parish in Peñitas, as millions of youth from around the globe are gathering for World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland.
“It will be his way of being two places at the same time because he will be in Poland, in Krakow for the world celebration where millions will be gathered with him, but in a certain way, giving a special sign that he’s always mindful of those who can’t make a trip,” Bishop Flores said. “He has taken the time to really prepare a local message for the youth of this diocese.
“It’s also a sign of his awareness and his love for the people of the Rio Grande Valley because he makes the effort to offer a word of encouragement and a word of consolation.”
Our condolences Our condolences go out to Sister Norma Pimentel and her family on the passing of her brother, Alberto Pimentel. Funeral arrangements are as follows:
Funeraria Del Angel Buena Vista125 McDavitt Blvd.BrownsvilleWednesday, July 20Viewing 3:30 p.m.Rosary 7 p.m.
Mass service at 11 a.m.Our Lady of Guadalupe Church1200 Lincoln St.Brownsville Thursday, July 21
Please keep Sister Norma and her family in your prayers.
Youth Invited to World Youth Encounter in PeñitasInspired by the call of Pope Francis to create "a culture of encounter," and in light of the upcoming World Youth Day in Poland, we unite to celebrate the First World Youth Encounter.
St. Anne Parish in Peñitas and the Office of Youth Ministry invite the youth of our diocese to participate in the World Youth Encounter, set for Tuesday, July 26 from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. To register, contact your parish or call the Office of Youth Ministry at (956) 784-5037.
Not everyone can travel to Poland for the World Youth Day but we believe that even in our area, a profound and meaningful encounter with the world's youth can be organized.
The event will feature four levels of Encounter:• Encounter of young people in our diocese• Encounter of our young people with the world's youth• Encounter of our young people with the saints (history and tradition)• Encounter of our young people with our Lord Jesus Christ
Summer Food Program Volunteers NeededCatholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is in need of volunteers for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) 2016. The SFSP was established to ensure that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. Free meals are provided to all children at approved sites in areas of the Rio Grande Valley.
We are in search of responsible and committed volunteers for the months of June through August to help maintain the program running smoothly. Volunteers will work out of our San Juan or Brownsville offices. Hours are flexible. All volunteers will receive training detailing their responsibilities. Volunteers should have an available form of transportation as well as a driver’s license and automobile insurance.
For questions or referrals of interested individuals please contact Tracey Perez, Food Program Coordinator, at email@example.com or (956)702-4088.
Tables Available For Sacred Heart Parish Garage SaleSacred Heart Parish, located at 306 S. 15th St. in McAllen is hosting a garage sale from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, July 29 and Saturday, July 30 in the CCD playground area.
Tables are available for rent at a cost of $15 for one day or $25 for both days. For information, please come by the parish office or call Irma at (956) 686-7711.
Prayers, Volunteers Needed for Jail/Prison Ministry The Jail Prison/Ministry of the Diocese of Brownsville will be hosting a Kolbe Prison Retreat on July 21-23 at the Lopez State Jail in Edinburg.
Please keep the team leaders and retreatants in your prayers.
The Kolbe Prison Retreats, similar to the ACTS Retreats undertaken in Catholic parishes, has had tremendous impact on the lives of men behind bars across the State of Texas. Begun by a group of men in the Austin Diocese, the Kolbe Prison Retreats have brought new hope to men who are cut off from their families and loved ones - who are in pain - who are suffering - who are forgotten. Trained volunteers provide a life-changing experience coupled with follow-up ministry to men desperately in need of faith, hope and love.
After the retreat, the Kolbe Team Members continue visiting their brothers behind bars weekly to share their faith and provide faith formation.
Do you feel called to join this ministry? Call the Jail/Prison Ministry Office at (956) 784-5046 for more information.
KAUSSA Catholic Young ProfessionalsKAUSSA Catholic Young Professionals invites young adults ages 21-39 to join for an evening of fellowship, networking, and personal growth based on a common Catholic identity. For more information about KAUSSA Catholic Young Professionals, please contact Raul Cabrera at (956) 784-5045 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The next gatherings include:
Aug. 2Film Night: Patch Adams6:30 – 8:30 pmAlfredo Gonzalez Texas State Veterans Home 301 East Yuma Avenue, McAllen Sept. 6Featured Speakers:Mr. & Mrs. Jesus Saenz, Saenz Pharmacy6:30 – 8:30 pmOur Lady of Sorrows Conference Room1108 W. Hackberry Ave., McAllen
Oct. 4Theology on Tap7:00 – 9:00 pmTBAHarlingen Nov. 8Election Night Party Mixer6:30 – 8:30 pmBJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse3200 W. Expressway 83, McAllen Dec. 10Service: Hospice VisitAll dayComfort House617 Dallas Ave., McAllen
Young Adult Ambassadors NeededAre you passionate about young adult ministry? The office of Campus & Young Adult Ministry encourages you to apply for Bishop’s Young Adult Ambassadors. Applicants must either live, work, study, and/or worship in the boundaries of the Diocese of Brownsville and be between the ages of 18 and 39. They must also demonstrate an ability to speak and advocate on behalf of their peers, work collaboratively with other young adults, and be open to using their spiritual gifts, talents, and leadership abilities in the service of the Catholic Church. The deadline to apply is Aug. 12. All applicants will be contacted with the final decision the third week of August. Download the application at www.cyam.net. For more information about Bishop’s Young Adult Ambassadors, please contact Raul Cabrera at (956) 784-5045 or email email@example.com.
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