TYLER – Bishop Joseph E. Strickland said that the ordination of Deacon Jonathon Frels to the priesthood is a sign that the work of the Church written about in the Acts of the Apostles continues today.
“Through the Church that Jesus Christ established, his apostles continue to act,” Bishop Strickland said in his homily during the June 11 Mass of ordination in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. “We are an apostolic people. Along with Pope Francis and the bishops of the world, right here, right now, in this small but beautiful cathedral, we continue the very same acts, the same work of the Spirit. That is what we celebrate at this Mass.”
The Acts of the Apostles “is all about mission,” Bishop Strickland said, “the preparation for the Christian mission, the mission to Jerusalem, the mission to Judea and Samaria, the mission to the gentiles, the mission through St. Paul to the ends of the earth. … And in the mystery of God’s calling, your life of mission, the ends of the earth, bring you here to continue the Acts of the Apostles.”
That is, the bishop said, “a humbling reality. I face the challenge of being the fourth apostle for the Diocese of Tyler. I can’t live up to that. I can never accomplish that work. But the grace of God and the Holy Spirit can overcome my weakness, which is very real, and strengthen me to be the apostle this church needs.”
That same grace, he said, has been at work in Father Frels’ life from his baptism and has moved and guided him in his journey to the priesthood.
“You began your mission in the Church on Jan. 20, 1974, when you were baptized,” Bishop Strickland said. “Truly, that’s when it begins for all the baptized, pope and bishops, ordained and religious, all the faithful. We are the baptized of Christ, in Father, Son, and Spirit. We have received an indelible character that is deepened and enhanced and enriched in the charism of priesthood that Jonathon receives today.”
That journey continued through Father Frels’ confirmation and into his chosen life and career as a chemist.
The new Father Frels is also Dr. Frels, with a PhD in chemistry. He worked in research and development at Eastman Chemical in Longview prior to entering the seminary.
In Longview, he was a parishioner at St. Mary Church, where he taught CCD and discovered adoration. As his understanding of the faith grew and deepened, he began to feel the call to the priesthood.
“The Lord was nurturing your heart and ultimately calling you to take a chance,” Bishop Strickland said, “to take a new path. And here you are. You’ve been in formation for years, but in many ways you’re just beginning. Continue that formation, continue to learn and to study, as all of us priests and deacons are urged to do. Ordination is never an end, but a beginning, again and again, to deepen our life in Christ at his altar and in all his sacraments.”
As a priest, “you are to be a steward of the sacraments,” Bishop Strickland said. “What a glorious stewardship that is! My brother priests can tell you that many times it’s ordinary, mundane. But there are moments of reconciliation, as the Word of God speaks of, to be reconciled in a sacramental way, to anoint those who are seriously ill, to console those who are mourning, to baptize the infants, and to visit with and nurture the lives of families. All of that is your call, your mission.”
The bishop called on Father Frels to stand up and to turn in a slow circle to see all those gathered into the cathedral for his ordination.
“Those faces – our brother priests and deacons, the religious, the faithful – are who you will serve, in this place, at this time,” Bishop Strickland told him, “continuing the 2000-year tradition that began with the Acts of the Apostles in our one holy, catholic, apostolic faith. The Church continues to act.”
The new priest also joins a brotherhood, the bishop said, the presbyterate of the Diocese of Tyler.
“You are going to work with (these men),” Bishop Strickland said. “You are going to cry with them, laugh with them, you are going to find them at times to be a pain in the neck, as they will find you. But they will be your brothers. You join a presbyterate, a brotherhood, where we need to and we do care for each other. This is always an extension of our care for all the faces in this congregation.”
Yet even as he joins a brotherhood, the Church also needs Father Frels’ singular gifts, the bishop said.
“We need you,” he told Father Frels. “We need your love, your energy, your quiet heart, your wonderful mind, your caring spirit, your presence. Give all that you are and know that, as Scripture tells us, and as our Lord models so marvelously for the body of Christ, his body, pour yourself out and you will receive abundantly in ways you could never imagine.
“I can testify to that, Jonathon,” Bishop Strickland said, “and these men can as well. The baptized can testify to that. When we truly become the baptized of Christ, our lives and our world are transformed.”
Father Frels, 42, is a native of Corpus Christi and a son of Dan and Susan Frels, both deceased. He has a younger brother, Matthew.
He has a bachelor of science in chemistry from Southwest Texas State University and a PhD in chemistry from Texas A&M. He has lived in East Texas since 2002, when he moved to Longview to work at Eastman Chemical Company there. He has been serving at the cathedral.
Announcement of his first parish assignment as a priest is pending further arrangements.
The Diocese of Tyler has 14 seminarians in various stages of preparation and study for the priesthood.