Executive Speaker Series: Bishop Cantú
The most important thing I do each day is to pray for the people I serve.
My father stopped attending school at age 12 to work on his family’s farm, because he didn’t like school. He used to tell us to stay in school so we wouldn’t have to work as hard as he did. And by high school, when I was paying my own tuition, I really saw the truth in that. If I didn’t study or finish homework, it was my own money I was wasting.
He also impressed on us the importance of our faith. Having moved from Mexico to Chicago to Houston after they married, my parents had little extended family. The parish became my extended family.
Faith and education were the two pillars of my upbringing.
One of the questions that really hit me in my teenage years was why some of my friends and neighbors had gotten into trouble — dropped out of school, gotten in trouble with the law, and so on. Why were the there but I was here? It underscored the value of my family and their support. To the question of why people suffer, I found an answer in part in school. I fell in love with literature, especially Dante. He was a master of describing suffering and evil — and that suffering is a natural consequence of sin. It helped me understand that God isn’t arbitrary, and later that virtue is its own reward.
Since before entering high school, I felt a calling to the priesthood. At that time, I was also discerning. When imagining myself as a priest, thinking about doing the things priests do, I felt a sense of joy, which I took as a “yes” from God. It was the start of high school — I wasn’t ready to make such a commitment — but God persisted all four years, and I ended up going into seminary right after high school.
“Quo varis” St. Peter in Rome — when he was discouraged by the persecution of the Christians and leaving Rome, he met Christ on the road going the other way. He asked him “Quo varis?”, “Where are you going?” Christ replied, “To Rome, to be crucified.” And that convinced St. Peter to turn around.
We are one body. When one of us is suffering and can’t lift themself, the rest of the body comes to their aid.
Favorite book? Besides the Bible and Dante’s “Inferno”, “Confessions of St. Augustine” and St. Thérèse’s writings.
Journey from priest to bishop? Growing up, I didn’t want to become a priest, but I felt called. That process involves internal prompting and then sharing it with others. They either agree, or direct you elsewhere. Being called to serve as a bishop doesn’t begin internally — others see it in you and call you forward. When a bishop is needed, the other bishops in the area make a list of recommendations to Rome, which they send to a committee of cardinals. They research the candidates. I was the pastor of my home parish at the time I was called. Whenever I had a bad day, I went over to the school to visit the kids. My cell phone rang — my assistant said the Nuncio called you twice. I went back to the office, all kinds of scenarios going through my head. (Do you have his number? Yeah — it’s on speed dial! No, I’ll just come back to the office.)
Becoming a bishop was quite a learning curve. I’m naturally a quiet, private person. Being a pastor was a struggle for me. Being a bishop, more so. I fell in love with the people I served, which became a big part of what nourished me spiritually.