Michael J. Matt (MJM): First off, Father, I’d like to thank you for the stand you’ve taken in recent months in defense of the Church’s moral teaching, especially with respect to so-called ‘gay marriage’. Catholics all across the country have been following your case, and we’re delighted to have a chance today to ask you a few questions. Before we get into the “controversy”, however, I wonder if you’d mind telling us a little something about your personal background?
Father Rodriguez (FR): Not at all. I was born in El Paso, Texas, on August 23, 1970, the middle child of five. Many years later my parents adopted a sixth child, my youngest sister. As I grew up in the early ’70s, I was completely unaware of the disastrous post-Vatican II revolution that was sweeping throughout our beloved Catholic Church. Thanks be to God, I was raised by parents who were staunch Catholics with their childhood roots in the pre-Vatican II Catholicism of México. An example of the depth of these roots is that my maternal grandmother (born in 1906, in Aguascalientes, México) never accepted the Novus Ordo. She left this passing world in August 2002, always true to the Ancient Rite. Requiescat in pace. Even though my parents had accepted and adapted to Novus Ordo Catholicism during their post-collegiate years, they nevertheless raised us similar to how they had been raised: fidelity to Mass (albeit the Novus Ordo) and Confession, praying the Holy Rosary at home in the evenings, praying novenas and the Stations of the Cross, etc. As I reflect back on my childhood, it was a time of great grace and blessings. Even though my parents failed to hold fast to all the venerable traditions of our Faith and the Ancient Rite, they still did an excellent job of instilling the Faith in us. Interestingly enough, we four older children (born between ’67 and ’74) are now ardent supporters of the Traditional Latin Mass, even more so than our parents.
MJM: And are there one or two persons in your life that mentored you and helped you to remain open to God’s call?
FR: My parents, Ruben and Beatrice, were the ones who were most instrumental in my eventual discernment of a vocation to God’s holy priesthood. Through my father, God blessed me with discipline, fortitude, perseverance, and a love for study. Through my mother, God graced me with the convictions of faith, awe for the Catholic priesthood, a tender devotion to our Blessed Mother, and a love of religion.
MJM: At what point in your life did you know you had a vocation?
FR: I was raised in El Paso, TX, but spent four years (1981-1984) living with my family in Augsburg, Germany. We returned to El Paso, and I began high school. Following my junior year, I spent the summer (1987) at M.I.T. University in Cambridge, MA. I was participating in a special program for gifted minority students from around the nation. The program was geared to recruiting us to study engineering and science at M.I.T. as undergraduates. Well, our good God had different plans for me! I left El Paso that summer thinking I’d study electrical engineering (like my father) upon graduating from high school, only to return from Boston six weeks later, announcing that I wanted to enter the seminary! My mother was overjoyed.
MJM: Clearly, someone was looking out for you. Do you have a favorite saint, by the way?
FR: My favorite saints are: St. Michael the Archangel, St. John the Baptist (largely due to my 9 1/2 years at this El Paso parish), St. Paul the Apostle, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and, to no surprise, the holy Curé of Ars. I have a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under three of her specific titles: Immaculate Conception (I was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 8, 1996), Mater Dolorosa, and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.
MJM: And, liturgically—where would you place yourself? I know you offer the traditional Latin Mass, but is it accurate to describe you as an outright “traditionalist”?
FR: Liturgically, I’m 100% behind the Traditional Latin Mass, which is without question the true Mass of the Roman Catholic Church. Theology, liturgy, Catholic spirituality and asceticism, and history itself all point to the obvious superiority of the Classical Roman Rite. Unfortunately, all of my seminary formation was in the Novus Ordo, and I only “discovered” the Latin Mass about six years ago, so I still have a lot to learn in terms of “real Catholicism,” i.e. “traditional Catholicism.”
MJM: What was it initially that led you to begin offering the old Mass?
FR: About six years ago, several members of the faithful began asking me if I would be interested in offering the Traditional Latin Mass. At the time, there was serious concern on the part “El Paso’s remnant” of traditional Catholics that the Jesuit priest who was offering the Latin Mass twice a month (under the 1988 Ecclesia Dei “Indult”) was going to be transferred. Thus, they were looking for another priest who would be willing to offer the Latin Mass. At first, I declined, not so much because I wasn’t interested, but due to the immense workload which I was already carrying.
As the weeks passed, I began to study the prayers and theology of the Traditional Latin Mass. The more I studied, the more my awe and amazement grew. I was “discovering” not only the true Catholic theology of the Mass, but also the true Catholic theology of the priesthood, and so much more! Throughout my first nine years of priesthood, I had struggled to make sense of the very serious problems which exist in the Church. At this point, it was obvious that an extreme crisis pervaded the Church and her hierarchy, but why? I just couldn’t quite understand how all of this “diabolical disorientation” had come to pass . . . until the brilliant light of the true Catholic Mass (“Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam . . .”) began to penetrate my priestly soul. This “discovery” of the Traditional Latin Mass has been, by far, the greatest gift of God to my poor priesthood.
MJM: So this gives us an idea of how Pope Benedict’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum can and does impact priests who might otherwise never have had the opportunity to discover this great treasure. Given how it impacted you, how do you believe Summorum Pontificum will impact the Church long term?
FR: Unfortunately, both Summorum Pontificum and Universæ Ecclesiæ have plenty of weaknesses. Nevertheless, these documents do represent an initial step in what will probably still be a long and arduous “Calvary,” i.e. the quest of traditional Catholics to restore the Cross, the Mass, the kingship of Jesus Christ, and true Catholic doctrine, outside of which there is no salvation. In Article 1 of Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI writes that “due honor must be given to the Roman Missal promulgated by St. Pius V for its venerable and ancient usage.” This directive of our Holy Father is currently being disobeyed almost universally. In the accompanying letter to the world’s bishops (July 7, 2007), Pope Benedict XVI writes, “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.” These remarkable words of our Holy Father are also being disrespected and disobeyed almost universally, especially by many bishops. Finally, Universæ Ecclesiæ, No. 8, states very clearly that the Ancient Rite is a “precious treasure to be preserved” and is to be “offered to all the faithful.” Where in the entire world of Catholicism is this directive actually being obeyed? The same number from Universæ Ecclesiæ emphasizes that the use of the 1962 Roman Liturgy “is a faculty generously granted for the good of the faithful and therefore is to be interpreted in a sense favourable to the faithful who are its principal addressees.” This is an astounding statement. This statement from Rome means that the use of the 1962 Missal doesn’t depend on a particular bishop’s liturgical views, preferences, or theology. It’s not about the bishops! On the contrary, it’s about the faithful! Where in the entire world of Catholicism is this directive actually being obeyed?
MJM: Are you now able to offer the old Mass exclusively?
FR: Since I began my new assignment (Sept. 24, 2011) out in the rural, isolated missions of the El Paso Diocese, I’ve offered the Traditional Latin Mass exclusively. I consider this to be a marvelous and unexpected blessing from Providence in the midst of a very difficult trial. I hope to continue offering the Traditional Latin Mass exclusively. If it were strictly up to me, I would never celebrate the Novus Ordo Missæ again. However, the sad reality of having to “obey” in the Novus Ordo Church that has largely lost the Faith, and the need to reach out patiently to Novus Ordo faithful who have been so misled, means that I will probably be “forced” to celebrate the Novus Ordo occasionally. In these instances, however, it will be the Novus Ordo ad orientem, with the Roman Canon, the use of Latin, and Holy Communion distributed according to traditional norms.
MJM: Up until last year, I believe, things were pretty quiet in your priestly life. What happened to change all that?
FR: The local, and even national, “controversy” that has engulfed me is due to the fact that I have been vocal in promoting what the Roman Catholic Church teaches in regard to the whole issue of homosexuality. It’s a disgrace, but the City Council of El Paso has been adamant in trying to legitimize same-sex unions. This goes completely contrary to Catholic Church teaching. I’ve made it clear to the Catholics of El Paso (and beyond) that every single Catholic has a moral obligation before God Himself to oppose any government attempt to legalize homosexual unions. A Catholic who fails to oppose this homosexual agenda, is committing a grave sin by omission. Furthermore, if a Catholic doesn’t assent to the infallible moral teaching of the Church that homosexual acts are mortally sinful, then such a Catholic is placing himself / herself outside of communion with the Church. These are the Catholics who are actually excommunicating themselves, not the Society of St. Pius X!
MJM: I can understand why the civil authorities and media might find this “controversial”; but why would your ecclesial superiors find it so?
FR: The dismal response of both civil and ecclesiastical authorities to the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church in regard to homosexuality demonstrates how extreme the current crisis of faith actually is. It really can’t get much worse. There’s hardly any faith left to lose! Even a pagan, bereft of the light of faith, can arrive at the conclusion that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil. Reason, natural law, and consideration of the male and female anatomy more than suffice to confirm this moral truth.
MJM: And yet you must go where the bishop tells you to go. Is this difficult for you?
FR: In my particular circumstances, obedience to my bishop has been incredibly difficult. Nevertheless, obedience is essential to the priesthood, and I intend to be obedient. One consoling aspect of “sacrificial,” “death-to-self” obedience, is that the Holy Ghost will always come to one’s assistance. I’m reminded that my poor sufferings are nothing compared to those of Mater Dolorosa and our Divine Redeemer. If I’m counted as one even slightly worthy to suffer for the Faith and the Traditional Latin Mass, I will consider myself profoundly blessed. God is so good.
MJM: As you are already living through a form of persecution, I assume you foresee more to come not only for you personally but for all Catholics who stand in defense of Church teaching. But what about the future? Any hope?
FR: Yes, I do foresee plenty of persecution still to come for all those who remain steadfast in the Faith and in their adherence to the Ancient Rite. However, the promise of our Savior cannot but fill our souls with hope, “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for My sake. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven.” (Mt 5:10-12)
MJM: How can lay Catholics best survive this crisis of faith?
FR: In order to overcome this crisis of faith, we must (1) do everything in our power to recover the Catholic Faith: the Ancient Rite, traditional Catholic teaching in doctrine and morals, the theology and philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, traditional Catholic piety and devotions, and a traditional Catholic “code of living” or “rhythm of life.” (2) On a daily basis we must strive to pray, study, fast, do penance, and practice charity with the aforementioned goal in mind. Finally, I strongly urge all faithful Catholics to (3) pray the Holy Rosary daily and heed our Blessed Mother’s Message at Fatima.
One of the hallmarks of the Traditional Latin Mass is its exquisite and concentrated focus on eternity. If we are to survive and overcome this terrible crisis of faith in the post-Vatican II Catholic Church, we have to keep our intellect and will focused on eternity. We cannot lose hope when, from a worldly perspective, all seems lost. Jesus Christ promises “the kingdom of heaven” to those who endure persecution, and “a great reward in heaven” to those who suffer for His sake. (Mt 5:10-12) The final goal is heaven! Like St. Paul, we must press ahead towards the ultimate “prize” (Phil 3:14) and never cease to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God.” (Col 3:1)
MJM: Like so many others, Father, I find myself deeply moved by your powerful witness not only to the Faith itself but also to the Catholic priesthood, which, as you know so well, is under diabolical attack. Thank you for this example of what it means to be a Catholic in an era of persecution. May all of us have the courage to follow your lead through the rough seas still ahead.