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”
Live broadcastDiocese to Live Stream Ordination of Four New Priests on May 27 Bishop Daniel E. Flores will ordain four men to the holy priesthood at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 27 at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine. The Mass will be live streamed in this website or in our YouTube Channel for those who cannot attend. The faithful are encouraged to pray for these men as they begin their priestly ministry.
The ordinands will be:Deacon Joel Ramiro Flores, son of Robert and Diamantina V. Flores of MissionDeacon Leonel Rodriguez Bazan, son of Leonel Rodriguez Gonzalez and Araceli Bazan de Rodriguez of EdinburgDeacon Joshua Andrew Carlos, son of Cruz and Beatrice Carlos of BrownsvilleDeacon Ricardo Chavez Flores, son of the late Ricardo Chavez Frausto and Maria Elena Flores of Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico
La Feria Parish Invites Faithful to St. Padre Pio Celebration St. Francis Xavier Church, located at 500 S. Canal St. in La Feria, invites the faithful to a celebration in honor of St.Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. Father GianMaria DiGiorgio, OFM Cap., from Foggia, Italy worked with Padre Pio as a seminarian. Father DiGiorgio will present a video about the life of Padre Pio and share an inspirational talk, followed by the veneration of relics of Padre Pio. The event will take place on Saturday, May 21 at 10 a.m. in Spanish and Sunday, May 22 at 3:30 p.m. in English.
For additional information you may call the parish office at (956) 797-2666.
En EspañolEstudio sobre el libro, ‘El Secreto del Rosario’ en Elsa Durante el mes de mayo, habrá un estudio de libro sobre, “El Secreto del Rosario" cada jueves a las 7 p.m. en el salón parroquial de la Iglesia Sagrado Corazón, 1100 Calle Broadway en Elsa. Este libro fue escrito por un gran devoto de la Virgen Maria, el santo Luis de Montfort. Narra historias de Santo Domingo, el propulsor inicial del Santo Rosario y los grandes esfuerzos que hizo este santo en el siglo XIII. Igualmente menciona a otros santos, santas y beatos que se han valido de tan poderosa arma para llevar a cabo conversión de personas, librarlas de posesiones demoníacas, y protegerlas del mal.
Para más información, llame al (956) 262-1406.
Coming soon...Summer SoftballThe Diocese of Brownsville Summer Softball season is quickly approaching. If your parish is interested in participating this year and you do not know where to start, contact Monica Benitez of the Office of Youth Ministry at (956) 784-5036 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Commitment Form was due May 13. Final Roster is due Friday, May 27.
Additional information and all downloadable forms are available online at http://www.cdobym.org/sports
Theology of the Body Course Offered By San Juan Diego Ministry InstituteThe San Juan Diego Diocesan Ministry Institute is offering a six-hour course on Theology of the Body.
The “Theology of the Body” is St. John Paul II's integrated vision of the human person. The human body has a specific meaning, making visible an invisible reality, and is capable of revealing answers regarding fundamental questions about who we are and how we ought to live.
Theology of the Body is based on 129 Wednesday audiences popularly known as the “Theology of the Body,” delivered by St. John Paul II between 1979 and 1984. His reflections are based on Scripture and contain a vision of the human person truly worthy of man.
Classes will take place over two different Saturdays from 9 a.m. until noon and will be offered in Brownsville and San Juan in both English and Spanish.
The classes will be as follows: Brownsville in English on Saturdays, May 7 and 21 at St. Mary’s Church. In San Juan in English on Saturdays May 14 and 28 at the San Juan Diego Ministry Institute; San Juan in Spanish on Saturdays May 7 and 14 at the San Juan Diego Ministry Institute.
**The book for Theology of the Body in Spanish is: Estos Hermosos Huesos: Una Teologia del Cuerpo Apta Para el Diario Vivir por Emily Stimpson
Cost for the six hour course is $35.00 which covers the cost of two books and registration. Books for the course include: Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West and Theology of Her/His Body by Jason Evert. In addition to the two books (pdf) handouts will also be included as part of the course.
Preregistration is required in order to have enough materials for every participant. To register please call Cindy Castillo at (956) 784-5059 at the San Juan Diego Ministry Institute or email email@example.com For more information contact: Deacon Luis Zuniga, director at the Lay Ministry Institute.
Juan Diego Academy to Hold Entrance Exam for Prospective StudentsJuan Diego Academy will hold an entrance exam for prospective students on Saturday, May 21 on the campus from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The exam fee is $25 and also covers the application fee to the school. Please call the school office for further information at (956) 583-2752.
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