SALT LAKE CITY — Bishop Oscar A. Solis presented the 2019 Aquinas Lecture Feb. 10 at St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center.
The Newman Center, located directly across the street from the University of Utah, seeks to draw people into the Church not only through the liturgy but through fellowship and intellectual life, “and this is where the Aquinas Lecture really stands out,” said Kristiane Sonnenberg, who welcomed those gathered for the lecture.
The lecture is part of the Newman Center’s efforts to “examine the Church’s intellectual life … and think about what our faith is,” she added.
The lecture, titled “A Bishop’s Story of Service to God’s People: Forty Years in the Lord’s Field In Five Dioceses on Two Continents,” took place on the 15th anniversary of Bishop Solis’ episcopal ordination.
Introducing his talk, Bishop Solis said his 40 years in the priesthood have been “filled with God’s blessings, in spite of my brokenness and unworthiness,” he said.
Bishop Solis was born in the Philippines, and from an early age his mother told him he was going to be a priest, he said. He was an altar boy, and at age 12 he left home to attend high school seminary, then went on to college at Divine Word Seminary, where he earned a philosophy degree. However, he decided he didn’t have a priestly calling. When he told his mother, she told him how disappointed she was that she would not have a priest for a son.
“I told her, ‘Mom, you do not understand. I also want to have a priest son of my own,’” the bishop said, as the audience laughed.
He enrolled in law school but realized something was missing from his life, so he returned to the seminary, where he earned a theology degree in 1978, graduating cum laude. He was ordained a priest in 1979.
“As a young priest, I discovered early that saying ‘yes’ to God brought tremendous joy and fulfillment,” he said, but he also realized there were “dark moments when I questioned whether my vocation was God’s will. It was a teaching moment: no matter what our vocation in life, we all encounter dilemmas, and life unexpectedly becomes difficult or frustrating.”
After five years working in two dioceses in the Philippines, he headed to Rome to further his studies but first made a stop in the United States to visit family. He ended up staying in the U.S., first as an associate pastor in the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., then for 15 years as a pastor in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, La. After his ordination as the first Filipino-American bishop in the U.S., he was assigned to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In 2017 he was appointed the 10th Bishop of Salt Lake City.
Among those who have influenced his ministry is St. Thomas Aquinas, who taught important lessons on the love of God, the priesthood and the Holy Eucharist, Bishop Solis said.
During the past 40 years, the laity’s love and devotion to the Eucharist also “has deeply touched me,” he said. “God blessed our Church with so many Christi fidelis, or Christ’s faithful, who live the evangelical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience much more than we ordained priests do.”
In particular he mentioned the commitment of married couples through the Sacrament of Marriage; the faith of the sick, the elderly and the dying who call for the Sacrament of the Sick; those who seek forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation; and the young people who become “courageous soldiers of the Church and witnesses of Christ in the midst of a faithless world” through the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Among the popes who influenced Bishop Solis have been Pope John XXIII, “who convoked the Second Vatican Council and had the courage to call for a prophetic Church to respond to the signs of the times;” Pope John XIII, who “brought to us the Gospel of Renewal;” Pope Paul VI, who issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae and “guided the Church during the tumultuous years when the world clamored for freedom without responsibility;” and Pope John Paul II, who “led the Church in her battle against the culture of death and exhorted the faithful to promote a civilization of love.”
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI proclaimed the Gospel of Love, of Hope and of Truth, and Pope Francis has ushered a renewed call to a New Evangelization, Bishop Solis said.
“Pope Francis strongly promotes inclusiveness where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the Gospel values,” he said.
The Holy Father also “encouraged the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization to proclaim the Good News, marked with joy and enthusiasm by encountering the love of Christ in their heart and the abiding presence of God in their life,” Bishop Solis said, and joked that while the pope wants priests and bishops to “acquire the scent of the sheep by going out of our comfort zones to the peripheries,” that does not mean that the priests should actually smell like animals.
As he concluded his prepared remarks, Bishop Solis said, “Forty years of my priestly life and ministry is truly a living spring of God’s boundless blessings.”
He also pledged “to serve, to preach, to teach, to sanctify, to lead and to love, hoping for His ultimate reward in heaven.”