“The Ultimate Relationship”: An Interview with Joe Hernandez
“Jesus hides in the blessed Sacrament of the altar because he wants us to dare to approach him. He wants to nourish us so we become one single thing with him… He has stayed here with us, he is totally available to us” (Christ is Passing By, no. 153).
In 2021, Joe and Donna Hernandez founded the St. Josemaria Apostolate of Evangelization in Sebastopol, California. They currently work with two local parishes in their diocese. Their mission is to bring Christ into the lives of Catholics, outside of Sunday Mass, through hospitality, the Liturgy, and community gatherings and events centered around the Holy Eucharist.
In this interview, the St. Josemaria Institute speaks with Joe who shares how this parish program began and is growing beyond their hopes and expectations!
Q: Can you briefly share with us a bit about your background, family, and faith?
Joe: I’m a first-generation Mexican American. Like so many, I fell away from the faith at age 18 and came back when I was 31. The Holy Spirit led me back to Holy Mass while I was trying to make sense of my father’s suffering and death, and within a few months, I went back to confession. In 2010, I approached my pastor about starting a bible study, which led to bringing in several well-known speakers for parish missions and conferences, and organized movie nights and Holy Hours among many other events and activities that invigorated our parish. During this time I met Donna who helped me organize many of the events we were doing. We have a 2-year-old adopted daughter from South Korea, Olivia. Our faith as a family is extremely important, so we try to attend Holy Mass a few times during the week, pray The Divine Office at home, and of course the Rosary. Jesus is the center of our marriage and our family and we try our best to live the vocation we have been called to.
Q: Tell us about the apostolate. What inspired and motivated you to launch it?
Joe: Our apostolate is focused on evangelization, in other words, bringing people to Jesus through hospitality, the Liturgy, and community gatherings & events centered around the Holy Eucharist. What led us to re-start the apostolate, which laid dormant for 8 years, was the COVID lockdowns. We saw even more people fall away from Our Lord and start to lose hope including not attending Holy Mass after the dispensation was lifted. The ultimate relationship is with Our Lord but having Catholic friends and support is also important.
Q: What activities do you currently organize? What have been the best means for inviting people to attend, and how do you follow up?
Joe: We currently organize Evening Retreats on the First Friday of every month. We focus on how people are greeted when they enter the Church, always with a welcoming smile and gratitude for their coming. Confessions are usually offered beforehand and we typically have Eucharistic Adoration, a Spiritual Talk, Rosary, and Benediction with the accompaniment of Gregorian Chant. After the Evening Retreats, we offer fellowship with amazing home-baked goodies and refreshments. Our team’s primary mission during fellowship is meeting attendees and introducing them to others and our clergy who stay afterward. We have also organized a series of Holy Hours and Scripture Studies during this past Lent. We have a weekend Parish Mission scheduled for Advent 2022 featuring Fr. Jeffery Kirby, which we are very excited about. The best way of inviting people to attend is a personal invitation. We have handed out invitation cards after Mass and have volunteers that attend other parishes do the same. The parishes that support our apostolate include bulletin announcements, pulpit invitations that we script to invite people, nicely designed posters that we have the parishes hang around the Church, and of course our email mailing list which is the primary way we follow-up.
Q: What impact is it having in helping to bring people back to God and the church, especially after the recent lockdowns? Can you share any anecdotes with us?
Joe: We have received wonderful feedback about helping people come closer to Our Lord by the sheer number of people that attend our Evening Retreats. We average about 150 people. We get people involved with our apostolate who would never be involved with their parish because they have never been asked. Most of our team is in their 20s-40s. Our youngest volunteer is 13, she loves baking for the fellowship we have after our Evening Retreats.
Q: How did you come to know about St. Josemaria Escriva? What has been his role in your life?
Joe: I came to know about St. Josemaria Escriva through attending several Men’s Evening of Recollection at an Opus Dei retreat house about a decade ago. I started reading about his spirituality shortly after that and was intrigued by how applicable his spirituality was to laypeople. His intercession has been vital in my life and my friendship with Christ. In particular, in relaunching the apostolate. Every night my family prays the Rosary we ask for his intercession for our family and for the apostolate’s work.
Q: What motivates and enthuses you most about this work that you and your family are doing?
Joe: A few things that really excite me. One is that it brings my wife and I closer to Christ in our marriage by working together in our apostolate events. We look forward to raising our daughter being very involved with our work too. Secondly, seeing and meeting people who attend our events that normally would not be involved with a parish, other than attending Sunday Mass, is very exciting. Especially reaching Millennials and those with young families motivates us to continue the work we do. Thirdly, getting the support of our friends who are priests is very encouraging, generous with their time with our events, and seeing them excited about bringing people closer to Our Lord.
Q: What advice can you share with those who would like to start something similar at their parish?
Joe: Do it. Seriously. The enemy uses doubt and fear to hold us back. Get a game plan together and talk to other like-minded laypeople. Once you have a team, and it doesn’t have to be big, talk to your pastor to get their support. You can reach out to me with any questions too.
Q: Joe, thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us? where can our readers learn more and get involved if they are in your area?
Joe: Readers can check out our apostolate website at www.stjosemaria.info to learn more about us, our mission, and our upcoming events. Thank you.