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”
Bishop’s Annual Dinner Scheduled for Dec. 2The Bishop’s Annual Dinner on Friday, Dec. 2 will be held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish Hall, 2209 Kendlewood Avenue in McAllen. The event, hosted by the Stewardship and Development Office, will begin at 6 p.m. and continue till midnight. Valet parking will greet you upon your arrival to this year’s Casablanca themed dinner.
A silent auction will kick off the night’s festivities with drinks, hors d'oeuvres and music at 6 p.m. Partake of the cigar bar and spirits until the formal program begins at 7 p.m. followed by dinner at 8 p.m. and dancing till midnight to the sounds of The Legends Sonny Ozuna, Agustin Ramirez and Freddie Martinez. Gentlemen, dust off your fedoras and white tuxedos. Ladies, acquire a khaki blazer, knee length skirt black clutch and sheer white scarf. Themed attire is actually not required, but it will be fun! Contact Jesse Salinas at (956) 784-5092 for table reservations and sponsorships. “Here’s looking at you, kid!”
Notice from the Insurance DepartmentIt is that time of the year for the annual Health Insurance Open Enrollment. Open Enrollment will be from Dec. 5 to Dec. 16 to be effective Jan. 1, 2017. This year the diocese will not have any open enrollment meetings, but those who have any questions can contact the Insurance Department at (956) 550-1554 or (956) 550-1549.
KAUSSA Catholic Young Professionals Announces Upcoming EventsKAUSSA Catholic Young Professionals invites young adults ages 21-39 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 email@example.com. The next gathering is:
Dec. 10Service: Hospice VisitAll dayComfort House 617 Dallas Ave., McAllen
Our Lady of Guadalupe La Villa Fall Festival Set for Dec. 10Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival, located at 200 N. Laurel in La Villa, Texas will take place on Saturday, Dec. 10 from 4 to 10 p.m. Charro and Charra Guadalupano(a)s contest. Raffle: Five prizes of gift cards (over $3,100.00) in prizes. A talent show, and food and games for the whole family are scheduled. The festival will also feature live music. Everyone is invited to join the parish community and celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Other events will follow.
Sunday, Dec. 11 Gran Bingo (Chalupa) 2 to 4 p.m.Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish hall in La Villa, TexasThree cards for $20. Monday Dec. 12 6 a.m., Mañanitas and Matachines.6:30 a.m., Mass Following Mass there will be a “convivio” in the parish hall. All are invited.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Brownsville Announces Patron Saint Festivities Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Brownsville invites the faithful to a week-long of activities and Mass celebrations in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The schedule is as follows:
Horario de Misas y ActividadesTuesday, Dec. 610:30 a.m. Mass/Misa Adult Day Cares
Wednesday, Dec. 77:00 p.m. Misa de Vigilia/Vigil Mass
Thursday, Dec. 8 – Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception8:00 a.m. Misa/Mass12:00 p.m. Misa/Mass6:30 p.m. (Rosary Catholic Daughters-Spanish)7:00 p.m. Misa/Mass
Friday, Dec. 9 – San Juan Diego8:00 a.m. Misa/Mass6:30 p.m. Rosario Viviente y Danza (Niños del Catecismo)7:00 p.m. Misa/Mass
Saturday, Dec. 108:00 a.m. Misa/Mass5:00 p.m. Misa/Mass(después de Misa Actuación de Jóvenes de la Parroquia)
Sunday, Dec. 118:00 a.m. Mass, Spanish 10:00 a.m. Mass, English12:00 p.m. Mass, Spanish5:00 p.m. Mass, Bilingual 7:00 p.m. Mass, Spanish Habrá una exposición de grupos después de todas las misas y se estará vendiendo almuerzo por la mañana.Serenata después de la última Misa (Se estarán vendiendo antojitos mexicanos durante la Serenata/afuera)
Monday, Dec. 125:30 a.m. Mañanitas 6:00 a.m. Holy Mass7:00 a.m Pan Dulce & Chocolate (Parish Hall)5:30 p.m. Reunión en el estacionamiento de la Catedral Inmaculada Concepcion6:00 p.m. Procesión del estacionamiento de la Catedral Inmaculada Concepcion7:00 p.m. Misa Solemne, Oficiada por el Exemo, Sr. Obispo Daniel Flores y Sacerdotes concelebrantes(Se estarán vendiendo antojitos mexicanos después de Misa)
Good Shepherd Parish to Host Fiestas GuadalupanasGood Shepherd Parish, located at 2645 Tulipan St. in Brownsville, will be celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10 and Sunday, Dec. 11 with a festival featuring food, live entertainment, matachines, Mañanitas, the praying of the Rosary and more. On Monday, Dec. 12, the parish will gather at 4:30 p.m. and travel in procession to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Brownsville for an outdoor Mass with Bishop Flores, which is set for 7 p.m. For more information, call (956) 542-5142.
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