New Holy Cross Chapel director discusses importance of vocations, sanctity of daily life

September 24, 2013

HOUSTON — Serving in a sanctuary just steps away from the whoosh of the METRO Light Rail, Father Jerry Jung has a ground-level perspective of professionals laboring in the central business district of downtown Houston.

The Opus Dei priest was installed as the new director of Holy Cross Chapel in July, and he is quickly becoming acclimated to the community that surrounds him. Father Jung succeeds long-time Holy Cross Chapel director Father Michael Barrett, who now serves as personal advisor to Archbishop José Gomez in Los Angeles.

“As (Daniel) Cardinal DiNardo said, the chapel is strategically placed on Main Street so we can be available to those who come here and in turn, they can go back to their respective parishes all over the Houston area spiritually energized,” said Father Jung in an interview from his office across the hall from the chapel. 

“People can bring friends to Mass here or to the Sacrament of Confession — maybe bring in some guy who hasn’t been to the Sacrament in 10, 12 or 20 years. That is apostolate. These people here, working in their offices nearby, they are the leaven.”

A member of the Opus Dei community since 1975, Father Jung is no stranger to life in the professional sector. A native of the Kansas City area, his family moved to Pittsburgh where he attended high school. He studied economics at Georgetown and after graduating in 1974, he enrolled in the University of Chicago where he earned his MBA. 

He went to law school and was a lawyer in Chicago and St. Louis before working for Opus Dei in Rome. Although he never really considered joining the priesthood during his collegiate years, Father Jung didn’t stray from his faith.

“I never left off the practice (of attending Mass), which can say a lot for many kids who go to college,” Father Jung said.

But Opus Dei always intrigued him — “this whole thing of living in the mainstream of society and using it as a springboard to holiness,” he said. “Our professional work and our relationships with people, along with the Sacraments, help us get closer to Our Lord.”

Father Jung will be the homilist for the annual Red Mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Oct. 16. Cardinal DiNardo will celebrate the annual Mass for legal professionals to mark the start of the judicial year. 

“The focal point of the Red Mass is that it is a Mass, a unifying principle of the Holy Eucharist,” Father Jung said.

Father Jung recently spoke with the Texas Catholic Herald about vocations, faith and his new assignment in the heart — and souls — of downtown Houston.

Texas Catholic Herald: You were not discerning the priesthood when you originally joined the Opus Dei community as a lay person?
Father Jung: I still saw myself eventually getting married. The thought of becoming a priest never entered my mind. I saw a vocation with Opus Dei as it was brought up to me, and I became a member of Opus Dei, still thinking at that point that marriage was also my vocation and calling, a dual vocation if you will. As you may know, there are married and single members (of Opus Dei). It’s a vocation, but it is not a religious vocation — there are no vows or that sort of thing. But after a few years, it occurred to me that you know what? Our Lord was maybe calling me to become a priest.

TCH: Do you have any advice for those discerning the priesthood or religious life?
Father Jung: Everybody is different and every vocation in some sense is a bit of a miracle. You have people who are called to the priesthood and they know it from their youth. We are all different. This (idea of becoming a priest) kind of crept up on me so I can only speak to my experience. 

You hear about young men who take inspiration from priests at an early age and that is very important. In a way, like it or not, we priests are always “under the lights” in a sense. We may be on the golf course and dressed in civvies, but we are there and we always have to be aware of that. We are not better than anyone else, but there is a certain responsibility that comes with the grace of the vocation. And people notice — even athiests, they notice (your presence).

The Lord said, in His parable about the wedding, “compel them to come.” How do you compel them to (discern a vocation)? You do it by the way you live your faith and you bring up the word vocation. 

It is done at times from the pulpit, because people need to be reminded of that. But it’s the way you live your life — it is show and tell. What is a vocation? It is a calling by God, it is a calling to be a saint through a particular way of life — whether in priesthood or as religious, in single or married life. Everybody is called to be a saint. 

TCH: Why is Holy Cross Chapel important to the community in downtown Houston, particularly for professionals during the hustle and bustle of a work week?
Father Jung: This is where they come in from their offices and they lay everything they’ve got on that altar. They graft their problems on the sacrifice of the cross at Mass. Their aspirations, the things that worry them, the things they are giving thanks for — it all gets placed with the hosts and with the wine to be consecrated in our Lord’s body and blood. And then, they can go back to the “salt mines” and they are reinvigorated spiritually, emotionally and probably physically. It can be like a spiritual super-charger.

Also, when they are (at Holy Cross Chapel), they realize they are not alone because there are a bunch of other people in here. This is a communion of saints, they are all here together, they are like-minded people and they are not in it alone. We have our Lord at the altar and Our Blessed Mother with us.

In sanctifying your daily activities, there’s unity in your life between the sacramental and ... your work, family, relationships and friends. These things might be disparate and not be cohesive, but when they are united in Christ, then they take on a value they might not have had before.