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Bishop Ordains New Priest for San Diego

By Denis Grasska

SAN DIEGO — The presbyterate of San Diego gained its newest member May 29, with the priestly ordination of Bernardo Lara.

The ordination liturgy, celebrated by Bishop Robert W. McElroy, took place at The Immaculata Church on the campus of the University of San Diego.

In his homily, Bishop McElroy noted that the occasion brought him “special happiness” because this was the first priestly ordination over which he has presided as bishop of San Diego. He said it also represented “a moment of great happiness for our Church.”

“This day, Bernardo, you commit yourself to the priesthood of Jesus Christ in service to God’s people,” Bishop McElroy said. “You have received this calling from the Lord Himself and, during your years of formation, you have contemplated the nature of the priesthood in all of its fullness.”

The bishop reminded the 25-year-old transitional deacon, who was shortly to become a priest through the laying on of hands and the prayer of ordination, that the priesthood is a vocation of service and that a strong personal relationship with Jesus is needed to carry out that ministry successfully.

Bishop McElroy predicted a rewarding life for Father Lara, one that will be marked by great joy, though not without difficulties.

“It will be a source of incredible joy to you as you preach the word, celebrate the sacraments and build up the Body of Christ’s unity, which is entrusted to your care,” he said. “But it will also be a source of challenge and hardship for you at times, as it was for the Lord Himself.”

Referencing a conversation he had two days earlier with Father Lara, the bishop identified the “three pivotal elements” that had led Father Lara to recognize God’s call to the priesthood and to accept it. These included his family, the witness and example of other priests, and the life and ministry of St. John Paul II.

Bishop McElroy thanked Father Lara’s parents and younger brother, seated in the front pew, for the love and Christian example that they had provided to Father Lara. He urged Father Lara to take inspiration from his family’s example and “to make service to marriage and family life a central reality of who you are as a priest,” expressing hope that Father Lara might fulfill these duties “with zeal and fidelity.”

Noting that every priest is able to identify “specific men who have molded us, inspired us, challenged us by their priestly life and example,” Bishop McElroy exhorted Father Lara to be an example for others, just as many priests had been for him.

Of St. John Paul, whom Father Lara identified as one of his inspirations, Bishop McElroy told him, “It would be hard to find a better example of priesthood for you as you take up this wonderful vocation to which God has called you.” He prayed that the late pope would “constantly intercede” on Father Lara’s behalf.

“There are few images of the Gospel as evocative as the image of the Good Shepherd, caring personally and individually for each member of the flock, calling each by name, risking his very life for their protection,” Bishop McElroy said. “St. John Paul II was, in so many ways, the embodiment of the Good Shepherd.”

As he concluded his homily, the bishop told Father Lara, “I give thanks to the Lord that He created you in love, called you to discipleship and now to priesthood, and gave you a wonderful family, priestly examples and good friends to light the pathway of your journey to this moment.”

He added, “May these same lights and many new ones sustain you in your priesthood and be complemented by the marvelous lived discipleship of the pilgrim people of God, which it will be your privilege to witness to as priest, brother and shepherd.”

Father Lara was born in Chula Vista and grew up in Tijuana, Mexico. He said the first time he seriously thought about entering the priesthood was when a priest gave a talk to his eighth-grade class about vocations.

When he came to the United States for high school, he had dreams of a career in radio or television, and any thoughts of the priesthood took a backseat to those aspirations. In high school, he found part-time radio/television work and acted in community theatre in Tijuana.

“I guess I was planning my life to go into that direction,” said Father Lara, who credits one of his religion teachers at Marian Catholic High School and Father Luke Jauregui with guiding his vocational discernment.

Formerly a member of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in San Ysidro, he began his studies for the priesthood with four years at St. Francis Center for Priests and Priestly Formation, located in San Diego, followed by another four years at Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon.

He was ordained to the transitional diaconate on June 17, 2014, at his home parish. His first assignment as a priest will be as associate pastor of Sacred Heart, St. Margaret Mary, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help parishes in Brawley, and St. Joseph Parish in Westmorland, effective July 1.

“A priest for me is a father for everyone,” explained Father Lara, reflecting on the vocation to which he has pledged the rest of his life. “He is not only acting in the person of Christ during Mass, but he is also a bridge between God and man. ... He is to pray, to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of his flock, while also bringing God’s love and mercy to others.”

Father Lara distinguishes between a vocation and a career.

“Priesthood is a life I want to live, and not a job I want to work in,” he said. “A priest is who I want to be and not just a position I want to take.”

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