Photo: Felix Carroll

Present and Accounted For

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By Dan Valenti (Jun 3, 2010)
On Memorial Day 2010 before a Shrine full of family, friends, loved ones, and supporters, Br. James A. Cervantes professed his perpetual vows as a member of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.

"Present," Br. James answered as his name was called during Holy Mass at The National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Eden Hill, Stockbridge, Mass.


The word sums up the requirements for embracing religious life, especially in this turbulent time not only for the world but also the Catholic Church. An aspiring priest must be present to God before all else, the "death" signified by a man turning his back on the world to face with openness what providence asks of him.

As he waited for the moment of profession in the hands of Marian Provincial Superior the Very Rev. Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC, Br. James stood straight, shoulders back, chest out as if leaning into the moment. He kept his hands folded in prayer. He wore an expression of contemplation mixed with contentment, focus blended with faith, a remnant of anticipation moderated by calm concern.

+ + + View a photo gallery of the vows ceremony. + + +

If you had called Central Casting and asked for someone to play a man in this moment, he would have done it like Br. James, except with his "Present," the young man of Filipino descent hailing from Rolling Heights, Calif., wasn't "playing a role." He was embracing a commitment that will extend his grasp beyond a lifetime and reach into eternity.

Solemnity and Great Joy
Those are the stakes on a day of perpetual vows: a balancing of eternity in a tilt toward the good. No wonder it's a day of both solemnity and great joy.

In his homily, Fr. Dan referred to the number of Marians present to witness the vows of Br. James, mentioning "a pride of priests, a den of deacons, and a bevy of brothers." They included Fr. Larry Dunn; Fr. Seraphim Michalenko; Fr. Michael Callea; Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek; Fr. Donald Calloway; Fr. Bob Vennetti; Fr. Mark Baron; Fr. Tim Roth; Deacon Jim; Deacon Ken Dos Santos, MIC; Deacon Michael Gaitley; Br. Ron McBride; Br. Angelo; Br. Ken Galisa; plus many seminarians, novices, and postulants.

Why would God choose Br. James to join "this small and obscure community"? Fr. Dan asked. "God chose you for our congregation [to complete] a task." The job remains to be determined, Father Provincial told the newly professed, although the "task" will run up against what Fr. Dan called "the reality of religious life," where much of it can become "tedious and mundane."

'God is Full of Surprises'
He told Br. James not to expect melodramatic religious moments but, through persistence and determination, to take "small steps forward to holiness." In fact, he said, sometimes the religious life can be "three steps forward and five steps back." Nonetheless, these obstacles often bring about greater advances in the overall march to sanctity, this "sojourn of your community in brotherhood."

Father Dan shared a moment from his first profession of vows, where he "thought about the road ahead of me." Based on what he has learned since, he advised Br. James to get rid of his expectations of what religious life might be like and instead experience it openly, as God chooses to reveal it.

"God is full of surprises," Fr. Dan said. "God has a great sense of humor. You have been asked to do things you didn't think you could do," he said. "You have done them, and you have done them well. We look forward to seeing what God has asked you to do in laying down your life for Him and His Church. Whatever Christ calls you to do, embrace it as your cross. You job will be to proclaim the greatness of the Word with your whole being."

After the Rite of Religious Profession and following the Liturgy of the Eucharist, novice Gabriel Cillo accompanied himself on acoustic guitar from the choir loft and sang the "Servant Song," one of Br. James' favorites.

From Death to the World Comes New Life in God
Following the ceremony, Br. James picked up on the theme of death and life.

"I couldn't help thinking that a part of me is dying," he said. "At the same time, I feel I am being born again into a new life. I didn't think it was possible to feel this way or that the reality of it was so deep." Referring to the tears he shed during his profession, Br. James said they came from receiving "such an incredible outpouring of love. I see my brothers now in a totally different way. I never thought this would happen. I thought, OK, this will be a Mass, I'll pronounce my vows, and then that's it. It was nothing like that. I can't even put into words the emotions I feel."

His father Oscar and mother Yolanda headed a large family contingent. They shared their son's tears of joy. During Mass, they brought the bread and wine to the altar.

"When we brought the gifts," Oscar said, "I thought 'I'm going to offer [James] to God, to give him away to the Father.' As his father, this was both a sad and a happy moment, but the joy is the one that lasts. I have now given him to God. I have no more control over James. He is not mine. He belongs now to God."

Oscar mentioned how they lost another son, Jerry, who was born after James and struggled for five years with cancer before succumbing to the illness in 1999 at the age of 20. J.B.'s death became a key event in James' life. As he took James took his perpetual vows, Oscar said that James had gained so many new brothers, and he said he knew in his heart that Jerry had a role in his brother's decision to become a priest.

Parents, family, friends, loved ones, supporters, and fellow Marians could join James in answering, "Present."

Following the Mass, the Marians held a reception at the monastery on Eden Hill.

Learn why Br. James has given his life over to serve Christ and His Church.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.

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