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”
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Latest priests’ appointments:
Effective July 15, 2016
Rev. Eusebio Martinez, assigned in residence at Saint Joseph Parish in Brownsville, Texas
Rev. Feliciano Lopez-Ortiz, OMI, transferred by his community to Santa Rosa Parish in San Fernando, California
Rev. Donald Dietz, OMI, transferred by his community to the Shrine of the Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois
Effective July 26, 2016
Rev. Msgr. Gustavo Barrera, reappointed member of RGV Educational Broadcasting Inc. Board
Effective August 1, 2016
Rev. Jorge A. Gomez, appointed member of the College of Consultors
Rev. Juan Pablo Davalos, EV, appointed member of the College of Consultors and of the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine Board
Rev. Luis Fernando Sanchez, EV, appointed member of the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine Board
Rev. Joel R. Flores, appointed Chaplain of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle Catholic Medical Guild
Effective August 22, 2016
Rev. Jesus Edgardo Paredes, appointed Chaplain of the Catholic Student Center for The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College
Spanish Conference Offered for Married CouplesThe Diocese of Brownsville’s Deacon Formation Program in collaboration with Evangelización Activa USA, a new apostolate in the diocese, is sponsoring three Spanish workshops, “El Amor Conyugal,” for married couples in Brownsville, McAllen and Roma. The sessions are scheduled as follows: • August 31, McAllen Convention Center $25, (956) 800-5464 or www.ticketmaster.com• Sept. 1, Performing Arts Center, Roma High School $15, (956) 867-9983 or (956) 263-0161• Sept. 2, Jacob Brown Auditorium, Brownsville, $20
Conferencia: El Amor ConyugalEl Programa del Diaconado en la Diócesis de Brownsville junto con Evangelización Activa USA está preparando en una serie de conferencias en Brownsville, McAllen y Roma. El Tema “El Amor Conyugal” está basado del libro de Génesis 2, 24 y será impartido por el Padre Ernesto María Caro los días 31 de Agosto, 1 y 2 de Septiembre. Para más información llame (956) 263-0161.
Mass for Lay Ecclesial Movements, Apostolates and Associations set for Sept. 10Bishop Daniel E. Flores will celebrate a special Mass for all members of lay ecclesial movements, apostolates and associations at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10 at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine.
Some of the movements and apostolates in the diocese include Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Cursillos de Cristiandad, ACTS, Movimiento Familiar Cristiano, Marriage Encounter, Encuentro Matrimonial, Couples for Christ, Regnum Christi, Comunidad Catolica AMA, Renovacion Carismatica (Charismatic Renewal), Talleres de Oracion, Ministerio de Sanacion Interior, Apostolado de la Cruz, Apostoles de la Palabra, Evangelizacion Activa USA, Apostolado Nueva Evangelizacion, Asociacion de Mujeres Catolicas de Brownsville, Movimiento de la Llama de Amor del Inmaculado Corazon de Maria, Legion of Mary, Schoenstatt Movement, Real Men Pray the Rosary, RGV Catholic Men’s Fellowship, Marian Conference, Fountain of Mercy, Divine Mercy, Pro-Life Apostolate, Consecration to Mary, Catholics United for the Faith, Benedictine Oblates, Third Order Franciscans, Encuentro Catolico Musical, Altar & Rosary Society, Young Adult Ambassadors, Hospital Chaplains, Jail Ministry Chaplains, and Serra Clubs of the Rio Grande Valley.
Attendees are asked to bring banners and stands and wear their respective shirts. For more information, email Deacon Luis Zuniga at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (956) 784-5059.
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 email@example.com. The next gatherings include:
Sept. 6Featured Speakers: Mr. & Mrs. Jesus Saenz, Saenz Pharmacy6:30 – 8:30 p.m.Our Lady of Sorrows Conference Room1108 W. Hackberry Ave., McAllen Oct. 4Theology on Tap7 – 9 p.m.TBA Harlingen Nov. 8Election Night Party Mixer6:30 – 8:30 p.m.BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse 3200 W. Expressway 83, McAllen Dec. 10Service: Hospice VisitAll dayComfort House 617 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local Catholic Daughters Court Honored for Best Newsletter Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Living Rosary Court #2540 Newsletter Committee from Holy Spirit Catholic Church in McAllen, received first place in Category I Division I of the National Newsletter Contest. This national honor was presented to Court #2540 at the 58th Biennial National Convention held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 24.
In order to qualify for the National Newsletter Contest, Court #2540 newsletters had to first win the Texas State Competition, which they did on May 1. The Texas 1st Place Newsletter Award was presented to the newsletter committee by Rosie Stockwell, First Vice State Regent on May 8, 2016.
The purpose of court newsletters are to inform, celebrate court projects and successes and to recruit new members. Newsletters are judged on the following criteria: layout, headlines, local, state and national coverage, journalistic styling and special features. Winning this national award was due to the diligent and hard work of the newsletter committee members, the support of Court #2540 officers and the contributions submitted by all committee chairpersons. This labor of love is reflective of the CDA Motto: “Unity and Charity.”
More information about Catholic Daughters may be found at www.texascda.org or www.catholicdaughters.org. For information about joining CDA Court #2540 contact Sonia Mejia, Regent or Terry Ramirez, Vice Regent at (956) 631-5295
Grief Recovery Support GroupFountain of Mercy Ministries is hosting a support group for adults titled, “Real Help for Deep Hurt,” for those grieving the death of a loved one. The group will meet Tuesday, Sept. 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Divine Mercy Center located at 3701 S. Westgate Dr. in Weslaco. There is no fee for attendance but a pre-registration is required for attendance. For additional information and registration contact Yolanda at (956) 454-2103.
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