By Ignatius Plato
There are times when God calls us to offer the simple gift of our presence, to be there for people as they deal with hardship. Deacon Aric Serrano, SJ, has felt this call to be present for others throughout his Jesuit formation, and continues to live that call as he prepares for life in the priesthood.
“My first real experience with the Jesuits was going to a ‘Come and See’ event at the St. Alberto Hurtado novitiate in St. Paul, Minn.,” says Serrano. “My aunt, a Carmelite sister, had a Jesuit spiritual director who invited me up there to get to know the Jesuits in person. And I was amazed! These were people my age, acting like people my age, but still living as Jesuits by being there for people like me.”
Early in his discernment, Serrano experienced the willingness of Jesuits to be men for others. This sense of community would be one of the major driving factors behind Serrano’s decision to enter the Society of Jesus.
After his novitiate, Serrano began to understand the power of presence during his regency at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo. Though his primary responsibilities were involvement in the school’s music and theology programs, Serrano’s ministry of presence extended well beyond the classroom.
“I was also involved in the retreats and campus ministry at Regis Jesuit,” Serrano said. “Retreats are way different from the classroom; students talked to me about things going on in their lives and troubles they were having. In those moments especially, I realized that God needed me to be present for them.”
Serrano reflects on these experiences as an initiation into a ministry of presence, for which God has formed him through spiritual formation and personal connection.
Today, Serrano is present for God’s people as a transitional deacon. He currently serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Oakland, Calif. Amid his preparations for the priesthood – blessings, baptisms, etc. – Serrano finds being around the parishioners one of the most fulfilling parts of his ministry.
“People come to me for blessings, which is humbling because I am also a sinner,” Serrano said. “Yet God still needs me to be present for these people no matter what.”
Serrano quickly learned that he would need to be present for his parish in more ways than one.
“Our diocese has announced that it will make a lot of mergers and closings this summer,” he said “So, the morale of our parishioners has been understandably low. None of us knows what the situation will be with Our Lady of Lourdes in the coming months.”
Serrano recognizes his role as going beyond that of deacon, acting as a bringer of hope for the parish through his presence and actions. “In my case, the need is great for someone to just stand with these people and reassure them,” says Serrano. “I’ve been honest with them; things will be different, but the parish will be taken care of. So, let’s just focus on what we have now.”
While reassuring the parishioners completely may be impossible, Serrano notices that his presence and support are mirrored by the parishioners. Despite the looming uncertainty of the parish’s future, its members have inspired Serrano through their own presence in the work of the parish.
“The passion of the parishioners has been astounding, even though they are a bit concerned about what direction the parish will go in,” he said. “They look for ways to volunteer throughout the week, not just Sundays. And this has formed a communal feeling in the parish where people can know each other and be present for each other.”
This kind of reciprocal presence for one another manifests one of the most important lessons in Serrano’s formation: in order to be men for others, we must first be present for others. “Presence means a lot to people,” he emphasizes. “When you’re there with them, you can listen, you can help them reflect on God’s work in their life, you can actually have a spiritual conversation with them. At the very least, what it all comes down to is this: just show up. People will appreciate it more than you could ever know.”
Aric Serrano, SJ, will be ordained to the priesthood on June 10, 2023, at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in New Orleans. Please keep him and his ministry in your prayers.
Do you think you might be called to life as a Jesuit? Visit www.BeAJesuit.org.