A new priest for New Orleans
In ordaining Deacon Christopher P. Zavackis to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of New Orleans June 6 at St. Louis Cathedral, Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond urged him to stay close to Christ in prayer and to seek out the support and guidance of his brother priests.
“There is much asked of a priest,” Archbishop Aymond told Deacon Zavackis before ordaining him to the priesthood by the laying on of hands and other prayers. “Sometimes the expectations are reasonable, and sometimes not. Chris, you will do this faithfully by being a man of prayer.
“You cannot go this alone. Your brother priests will be there to encourage you and support you.”
Father Zavackis, who will begin his assignment as parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Mandeville on July 1, said he was moved by the words of the ordination rite that urged him to imitate what he celebrates as a priest – a deep love for others.
Conforming his life to Christ
He said those words hit home as Archbishop Aymond handed him the chalice and paten a priest uses at Mass in transforming bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
“I recognize that it’s every day that I have to conform myself to Christ and his cross,” Father Zavackis, 46, said. “Certainly, I can only do this with the grace of God. As the archbishop said at the ordination, I hope to serve and not be served. I hope to strive for that every single day.”
The archbishop recognized that Father Zavackis had taken a long journey to the altar. As a teenager, he had nurtured a love for Christ by praying regularly at the adoration chapel in his home parish, St. Margaret Mary in Slidell, and through the inspiration of his pastor, the late Msgr. Richard Carroll.
He graduated from St. Joseph Seminary College and spent a year at Notre Dame Seminary before withdrawing from priestly studies for more than two decades. Archbishop Aymond said Father Zavackis may have had an experience similar to the one mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading, who doubted he was being called because he was “too young.”
Father Zavackis then became involved as a social worker, caring for others with severe disabilities.
“Just to hear Chris talk about that experience is in itself profound,” Archbishop Aymond said.
That work and the encouragement of a priest friend, Father Clyde Mahler of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, eventually drew him back to Notre Dame Seminary in 2011, Archbishop Aymond said.
“He heard more clearly than ever before in his heart – not just with his ears – ‘Chris, come follow me. I need you. I need you to lead and to serve my people,’” Archbishop Aymond said.
The archbishop drew parallels between the conferral of the sacrament of holy orders and what the first apostles did 2,000 years ago.
“In this rite of ordination, beautifully given to us by the church, there are many words and actions, but let us not miss the very center of this celebration,” Archbishop Aymond said. “At the heart of all of this is the simple gesture that the apostles used 2,000 years ago – the laying on of hands, the calling down of the Spirit and prayer. This is a tradition that is unbroken in our church.”
Duties of a priest
The archbishop outlined a priest’s threefold responsibilities: teaching, governing and providing the sacraments for the congregation.
“It will be your responsibility, in the name of Christ, to hand on the Scriptures and the teachings of the church so that people can be nourished and be given direction in their daily lives,” Archbishop Aymond said.
As a leader of prayer, the priest has the power in Christ’s name to transform the gifts of bread and wine into Eucharist.
“The miracle happens through the power of God working in you,” the archbishop said. “It is your hand that feeds others – not with yourself, but with the body and blood of Christ.”
The ability to forgive sins in Christ’s name will make “present to others the forgiving and merciful Christ.”
The archbishop asked Father Zavackis to follow the example of the Good Shepherd in seeking out the lost.
“We cannot wait for the lost to come to us – we have to find them,” he said. “In the name of Christ, you are sent, never to give up on anyone, but to seek out the lost.”
Daily personal prayer is vital to serving as a priest, Archbishop Aymond added.
“No day is too busy that you cannot become a man of prayer,” the archbishop said. “Every morning, as you place your feet on the floor as you get out of bed, Jesus will ask, gently, lovingly, intimately, ‘Chris, do you love me?’ And you will say ‘yes.’ And then he will send you to tend the sheep, to feed the lambs, on the good days, on the days you are tired, on the days you are just overwhelmed.”
The archbishop thanked Father Zavackis’ parents, Shirley and Paul, for rearing their son with the gift of faith.
Parents filled with joy
Shirley Zavackis said she was “overwhelmed” by the ordination Mass. “It looked like they were all angels up there,” she said.
“I’m just in awe,” added Paul Zavackis. “It’s unbelievable, it truly is. I didn’t think it was possible that it would happen like this.”
Paul Zavackis said he believes his son will bring his gift of being a good listener to the priesthood.
“I think his age and his experience have a lot to do with it,” the elder Zavackis said. “He can relate to people very readily, especially people with disabilities.”
Father Zavackis said participating in his first Eucharistic Prayer as a priest was a humbling experience.
“I was simultaneously looking out over all the priests who I have looked up to, and I’m part of that now,” he said. “That’s an awesome privilege.”
Father Zavackis will celebrate Masses of Thanksgiving June 21 at 5 p.m. at St. Pius X, New Orleans, and June 28 at 9:30 a.m. at St. Katharine Drexel, New Orleans.