Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Welcoming the Stranger, Defending All Human Life

As a young man, I remember meeting Monsignor Dominic Luong, the dynamic pastor of Mary Queen of Vietnam Parish in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Last month, Luong—who held the distinction of being the first native-born Vietnamese Roman Catholic bishop in the United States as auxiliary bishop of Orange—died from a lengthy illness. Bishop Luong’s episcopal motto, “You are strangers and aliens no longer” (Ephesians 2:19), reflected his ministry to refugee and immigrant communities. Bishop Luong’s work is a reminder of what it means to encounter and respect all human life, especially migrants.

Considering Bishop Luong’s ministry, Bishop Joe Vásquez’ work with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, and Pope Francis’ focus on authentic Christian relationships, we are reminded that when we confess the pro-life designation, there is a presumption that we are building a culture of life by going out into the world to nurture a culture of encounter. Being pro-life means modeling the approach of Christ to all people, bringing life and peace. An overarching theme in my own heart has been the Share the Journey campaign, which focuses greatly on migrants and refugees. In this contemporary age, we find migrants and refugees who risk their lives, enduring long-suffering and hardships on perilous journeys, only to encounter the walls of hardened hearts that are constructed to keep from their goals of life and peace. As Pope Francis harkens us back to the notion that having compassion means to “suffer with,” we are challenged to remember that our encounter with each other must be in word and deed. We are called to act in defense of all human life.

As a Christian people, we must welcome “the stranger,” expressing genuine care and hospitality for the immigrant community. Approaching the Martin Luther King federal holiday, we must show young people the value of giving back to our communities, renewing our collective commitment to justice and charity. Each of us is called to be a “drum major for justice.” Each of us must be attentive to opportunities to create structures of justice and integrity for those rendered defenseless by indifference. Each of us is called to fight for the fundamental right to life on which every other right is predicated. 

As we approach the commemoration of Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, and the tragic consequences of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, we are called to affirm the intrinsic value of human life and the dignity of every human being in a way that transforms culture. Each of us is a holy child of God who is wonderfully and fearfully made. After all, Christ came that we may have life, and have it abundantly (Jn 10:10). Let us readily accept our moral obligation to defend human life at every age and every stage from conception to natural death. 

Finally, I encourage everyone to participate in the Mass commemorating the work of Martin Luther King at St. Mary Cathedral on Jan. 13 at 5:30 p.m. with Bishop Curtis J. Guillory of Beaumont. We also encourage everyone to participate in the activities of Texas Catholic Pro-life Day on Jan. 27 beginning with Mass at San Jose Parish in Austin at 10:00 a.m. with Bishop Joe Vasquez, or Saint Louis Parish in Austin at 10:30 a.m. with Auxiliary Bishop Daniel E. Garcia. For details, visit http://www.austindiocese.org.   

Monday, November 06, 2017

SOCIAL JUSTICE: Just Care for the Poor

Last year, Sara Ramirez, the executive director of Catholic Charities of Central Texas, reminded a gathering of social ministers that we must recognize and distinguish between situational poverty and chronic poverty. “If we don’t address the situational poverty, it will become chronic poverty,” she said. When considering the millions of people measured to be living below the poverty line in the United States, we may sometimes fail to consider the reality that many of them cannot manage to feed their families adequately, even working well over forty hours a week. These situations, if left untreated, can become chronic and dire for families leading to generational poverty. Our diocese is grateful for the work of Catholic Charities, as the agency stands at the forefront of helping people of all faiths, cultures, and socioeconomic statuses to meet the Church’s obligation to the poor.

"Creating Hope" is the mission of Catholic Charities of Central Texas

When we think more deeply about the issue of poverty, we must consider seriously how expressing compassion and effecting justice is crucially important to eradicating poverty in our land. We cannot claim to know and follow Christ and fail to express compassion for the poor. We are reminded that because Christ laid down his life for us, we too must sacrifice ourselves for each other, expressing compassion to all those in need, not only using words, but in deed and in truth (1 Jn 3:16-18). 

The Christian faithful have an obligation to care for those in poverty who are without a voice because “the just care for the cause of the poor” (Prov 29:7). When we say we are pro-life, we must keep ever before us that the poverty is indeed a pro-life issue. This is why our support of Catholic Charities USA is so very important in support of the dignity of human life, the foundational principle of Catholic social teaching.

The work of Catholic Charities serves the needs of all God’s people because we understand there is not one of us who possesses a corner on the market of God’s benevolent grace. God lavishes his grace widely, and so too are we called to give back to him by serving the needs of the human family. Notwithstanding the concrete realities of everyday life, we are called to transform human activity by the Gospel by showing a noble concern for the poor and for social justice (Evangelii Gaudium, 201). 

As we prepare for our Thanksgiving celebrations with our families and friends, let us continue to awaken our consciences to a keen awareness of social responsibility, justice, and solidarity with the poor and the oppressed. Let us remember to continue to go out into the world endeavoring to make a positive difference in the lives of others, a difference that is pleasing to God who does great things for us, a difference that spreads the joy we have received from the Lord. 

May we realize such a powerful witness of the preferential option for the poor that people will exclaim, “The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:3).

Monday, October 23, 2017

Time Is Filled With Swift Transition


Time is filled with swift transition, naught of earth unmoved can stand, 
build your hopes on things eternal, hold to God’s unchanging hand.
 Trust in Him who will not leave you, whatsoever years may bring,
If by earthly friends forsaken, still more closely to Him cling.
Covet not this world’s vain riches that so rapidly decay,
Seek to gain the heav’nly treasures; they will never pass away.
When your journey is completed, if to God you have been true,
Fair and bright the home in glory your enraptured soul will view.

This old song from my youth says, "Time is filled with swift transition." One of my favorite hymns, the lyrics are conveying to us that time is passing away from us quite quickly—and one day we will be numbered indeed among the dead. In a section warning against presumption, in the epistle of James, we find that the uncertainty of life, its complete dependence on God, and the necessity of submitting to God’s will all help us to know and to do what is right. I have no idea what my life will be like tomorrow; and I am reminded, "You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears" (4:14). I fervently pray, that when my earthly life is completed, I will enjoy seeing the face of God at the eschatological banquet. May we keep ever before us this certain realization: Only when God is placed first are our lives well spent.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


In the various talks I have given around the country over the years, I often refer to Jesus asking Peter whether he loves him (Jn 21:17). Jesus asks us the same question every day, “Do you love me?” It is not a question of faith so much as it is a challenge to a commitment for each of us. If we truly love the Lord, we must take care of one another—we must love one another. Illustrated throughout the Gospel by his words and deeds is the command of Christ to “love one another” (Jn 13:43).

Each November, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sponsors the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) collection. Through the generosity of Catholics throughout the country, CCHD is able to provide much needed funding to groups whose work reflects Catholic social teaching in terms of the intrinsic dignity of human life. A preeminent objective of CCHD is to fund groups whose very efforts are to effect positive change in the policies and social structures which weaken dignity, particularly for the underprivileged and defenseless. Support of the annual CCHD collection helps the socioeconomically disadvantaged improve their lives, overcome injustice and escape poverty.

Pope Francis reminds us to not allow the spirit of global solidarity to be lost in times of crisis and economic hardship. As Catholics, we are united through the sacraments of initiation; and “the Eucharist commits us to the poor” (CCC, 1397). Participating in the work of CCHD helps us not only to reach out to those on the peripheries, but also to give hope to those in despair. During his Apostolic Visit to the United States in 2015, the Holy Father succinctly reminded the nation through his address to the Joint Session of Congress, “The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.” When the Christian faithful participates in this national collection, we are actively responding to the clarion call to live out the Gospel values by expressing an authentic priority to alleviate the hardships of the underprivileged and vulnerable as a labor of love.

Everything we have in our lives is a gift; and we know God cannot be outdone in generosity. As we proclaim the gospel of life and justice, celebrating it in the Mass and in our whole existence, may the way we are to be in the communion processional be the way we are in the world because “in prayer, there are no rich or poor, there are sons and daughters, sisters and brothers” (Pope Francis).

If I can help somebody as I pass along,
then my living will not be in vain.
Be courageous!!

Sunday, October 08, 2017

SOCIAL JUSTICE: Share the Journey

On Sept. 27, Pope Francis launched Share the Journey, a campaign that helps us focus on our responsibilities as a united global human family. This campaign is an appeal for us to promote a culture of encounter to counteract the culture of indifference that exists in our world. This campaign is intended to strengthen the bonds between migrants and our communities. During October we observe Respect Life Month, and we are reminded to resist the culture of indifference by endeavoring to initiate a culture of fruitful encounter that restores every human person to their rightful dignity as a child of God. Pope Francis reminds us that daily proximity to people’s share of troubles enables us “to practice the commandment of love, not on the basis of ideas or concepts, but rather on the basis of genuine interpersonal encounter.”

Share the Journey with Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin

While recognizing the harsh realities that conversations about migrants and asylum seekers in American society causes fear and division — even among “church-going” people — and considering that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees who fled the violence of Herod, could it be possible that we would be more understanding of their plight because we know their story? Fruitful encounter is so very important because it reminds us of our Christian responsibility to ensure that all persons, regardless of status, have inherent human dignity that must be respected.

We are called to lead by example by contributing ourselves individually and collectively not by mutual exclusion, but by equality in dignity. The Share the Journey campaign is important because it is about human dignity. This campaign compels us to appreciate the sacred dignity of migrants and refugees as children of God, recognizing that life is sacred, regardless of the color of our skin, our ethnicity, or our nationality. After all, are we not tasked with reminding our communities that we all sit around the Eucharistic table without regard to the distinctions of nationality, ethnicity, age, gender, or whatever labels society uses to divide us?

Let us pray for a just solution to mitigate the fear, uncertainty and terror that finds itself as a part of the migrant and refugee experience in the U.S. As we continue to bring the message of Christ to all people, we must continue to ask the God of wisdom and justice, through whom authority is rightly administered, to assist with counsel and fortitude all government leaders. Let us continue, in keeping with the instruction given in the first epistle to Timothy, to pray for our nations, legislatures, members of parliaments and all who are in authority (2:1-3), that they may reject the temptation of indifference and adopt sincere hearts of encounter.

May the great challenges that are facing our communities today, and in our future, be met as great opportunities! May the Mother of God, through her never-failing intercession, always watch over us, with all our blessed diversity, as we strive to do the work of her Son in this world. May our work be in perfect harmony with the eternal teachings of Christ, and may the Gospel message come alive through each of us this Respect Life Month and forever!

Friday, September 01, 2017

SOCIAL JUSTICE: Speak Out Against Racism

The tragic events of Charlottesville, Virginia, have revealed again the prevalence of racism in the U.S. Almost 60 years ago, the U.S. bishops spoke out against discrimination and enforced segregation in the 1968 document “National Race Crisis,” in which the bishops called for us to eradicate racism from society. In the 1950s and 1960s, various branches of the federal government wrestled with laws and policies restricting equal protection. Some bishops found themselves fighting the architects of division, racism and separation. We are still fighting these battles today.

Undoubtedly, this is a very uncomfortable topic for people in our pews. However, “Racism is a sin, a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father” (Brothers and Sisters to Us, 1979). Many of us have remained quiet and on the sidelines of issues that affect the whole family of faith. 

Catholics pride ourselves on being intrinsically pro-life. During the 1999 Apostolic Visit of St. John Paul II in St. Louis, as he challenged us to be unconditionally pro-life, he also directed us “to put an end to every form of racism.” Being pro-life means we must always stand up for the uncomfortable “right and just” as opposed to merely remaining silent in the face of the inherent “wrong.” Being pro-life also means working toward the eradication of racism from our society. 

Considering the entrenched divisions between the Jewish and Samaritan communities, Jesus was clear about our responsibility to others in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We know very well that “every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (Gaudium et Spes, 29). We have to stand up, speak out and work toward the unity that St. Paul speaks of, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5). 

Every day of my life, I look at my black face in the mirror. At the age of 40, I know very well that blacks among others have not made it over. Regardless of our ethnicity, we must recognize the certain reality that every day is a process of continual, ongoing conversion. The anthem of the Civil Rights movement remains our objective: to overcome some day. Bigotry, violence and racism should never be tolerated. 

So, as we praise God for another day, we should also recall the words of Jesus to “Do to others whatever you would have them to do you” (Mt 7:12). For Christ to increase, we must stand up to be witnesses to the saving power of God. We will overcome prejudice, racism, intolerance and bias when we stand up and speak out. Life seen as self-centered earthly existence and lived in denial of Christ ends in destruction. Let not our silence be construed as tacit approval.

Thursday, October 01, 2015


In October of each year is observed Respect Life Month in Catholic parishes across our great nation. This annual observance provides a special time to focus on the truth and dignity of the human person. 

Past Supreme Lady Geralyn C. Shelvin and I attend the
Youth Rally and Mass for Life at the Verizon Center in 2012

Watching television, listening to the radio, reading the newspaper, and perusing online news magazines will present in a very real way just how much an increasingly secular society is constantly attempting to compete with our holiness. Considering that we live in a largely sophisticated society, sometimes we are left trying to make sense of varying incongruences to the culture of life, such as, law enforcement officers assaulting unarmed civilians, a young man walking into a place of worship to kill people during prayer in South Carolina, a man murdering journalists during a live interview in Virginia, legalized abortion, and capital punishment.

In our culture, human life is repeatedly under assault. From the very moment of conception to natural death, life is threatened because our society has lost the true meaning of humanity, respect and basic human dignity. We must never lose sight of the fact that Christ became flesh so that we may come to know God’s beneficent love (1 John 4:9) and to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Saint John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae explains to us that “it is an absolute imperative to respect, love and promote the life of every brother and sister, in accordance with the requirements of God’s bountiful love in Jesus Christ” (n. 77).

Each of us was made in the image and likeness of God, and so we must affirm the intrinsic value of human life and the dignity of every human being in a way that transforms the culture of secular society. This priority is not limited to any “particular” human life. Rather, the priority is to affirm the dignity of “every” human life because every human life has value. Pope Francis reminds us, “All life has inestimable value even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor.” Every life should be worth living, no matter the circumstances. 

We must remember that being pro-life encompasses the serious concerns of extensive hunger, poverty, homelessness, violence, euthanasia, capital punishment, and the absence of adequate health care. We cannot support those who promote widespread abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and the many other ills that destroy the dignity of human life, who at the same time claim that they are personally opposed to the evils they support or endorse. We cannot continue to allow those who claim a belief in “choice” to escape the moral responsibility to “choose life.”

Evangelium Vitae presents unequivocally that we are “to preach the Gospel of life, to celebrate it in the Liturgy and in our whole existence, and to serve it with the various programs and structures which support and promote life” (79). The way we are—supposed to be—in the communion processional during the Holy Eucharist is the way we must be in the world every day. Be encouraged to overtly participate in programs and initiatives that defend the dignity of every human life. May we never forget that Jesus came that we may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Let us take seriously our moral obligation to defend human life at every stage and every age from conception to natural death.