Friday, April 05, 2019

Advocating for the sanctity of life at all stages

In advocacy work, we are often reminded of the words of the prophet Micah, “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mi 6:8). The love of Christ impels us to advocate for the least among us, the shunned, the outcast, the disabled, the disenfranchised and the underprivileged. Made in the image and likeness of God, we are called to be in right relationship with God and all our brothers and sisters –– regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, age or gender. Worth is never merely determined in isolation, but rather in the interpersonal relationships with one another and God. 

I propose this is what it means to be pro-life: to exercise genuine love and respect for every human person from conception to natural death. Realizing respect for persons in the midst of humanitarian crises and social injustices is just as pro-life and just as important as any other life issue. Brothers and sisters, let us never find a situation where we can bring ourselves to advocate for some life issues and disregard others. If we truly love the Lord, we must take care of one another — we must love one another. There can be no true justice, no true harmony, no true righteousness and no true integrity without love.

Bishop Daniel E. Garcia of Monterey and DeKarlos Blackmon
A few months ago, the U.S. Catholic bishops penned “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” a pastoral letter against racism. The title of the pastoral letter speaks to the very heart of our Christian responsibility to make room for others in our hearts. Very often, I hear people say, “I don’t see color.” I recognize this as a well-intentioned comment, but until all people come to an authentic awareness of where they fit into systems of power and oppression historically, the comment often possesses no real meaning.

Collectively, we are called to a real conversion of hearts to meet the stranger among us and to engage in courageous encounters to raise more awareness of racism, poverty and all other forms of violence that threaten human life within our communities. As we endeavor to open wide our hearts to love, let us encounter and accompany one another to work to change the structures that work against the sanctity of life.

It is not enough that we simply pray about the issues affecting our communities, we are called to participate in opportunities for meaningful action. In our advocacy, let us promote the sanctity of every human life by learning more about the legislative priorities of our church, participating in advocacy day, and meeting with state legislators to discuss the issues that affect the common good.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Encouraging all to be ‘drum majors for justice’

By Kanobia A. Russell-Blackmon | Correspondent
Catholic Spirit • Diocese of Austin
February 2019, Volume 37, Number 2

A commemoration of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. brought together people of all cultures, backgrounds and ages from across the Diocese of Austin. The annual event was held Jan. 12 at St. Louis Parish in Austin. Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri of New Orleans was the keynote speaker. He was joined by Bishop Joe Vásquez, Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Garcia and Father James Misko, pastor of St. Louis Parish and the recently appointed vicar general of the Diocese of Austin. 

As a drum major for justice, King believed in standing up for peace and righteousness, Bishop Vásquez said. “He spoke out against the injustice and evil of racism and advocated for equal rights for blacks,” the bishop said. Considering the current social climate in the U.S., Bishop Vásquez expressed the importance “that we remember [King’s] legacy and continue to stand against injustices.” 

Bishop Cheri, known for his singing and preaching, began his talk by asking all to stand and sing an old spiritual, “If anybody asks you who I am, tell ‘em I’m a child of God.” This hymn, coupled with the “Call of Simon the Fisherman” (Lk 5:1-11), set the stage for his presentation entitled “Changing Lanes.” 

Bishop Cheri said changing lanes is a part of life and one should not simply give up as soon as life throws a curve ball. Invoking King’s words, “Let no man pull you low enough to hate [him],” Bishop Cheri encouraged people to not place limitations on themselves because in changing lanes people should not allow the past to paralyze them in the present. 

This comment resonated with the staff of the diocesan Office of Life, Charity and Justice. Luisa de Poo, the associate director for Pro-Life Activities, said she often cautions those who have endured obstacles of racism or injustices to not live in a wound. 

Bishop Cheri challenged the faithful to not let events that happened to them in the past stop them from moving forward or discourage them from accomplishing their goals. 

Reflecting on the presentation, Wilhelmina Delco said, “I took away from his message that life is full of change and you should not be afraid to change lanes.” Delco knows about change as she was the first woman and the second black speaker pro tempore of the Texas House of Representatives. 

Sonia Eva Vega-Perez, a parishioner of St. Monica Parish in Cameron, agreed and added the message she takes with her is that “love always wins and hate never gains anything but division.”

Bernard Little, the faithful navigator of Knights of Peter Claver Assembly No. 40, appreciated how Bishop Cheri wove the story of Jesus’ calling of Simon Peter, “exhorting him to ‘change lanes’ and step out on faith to try something different.”  

Little, who is a convert to Catholicism, explained, “This was the basis of Dr. King’s message, and Bishop Cheri reminded us that Dr. King called us to change lanes, particularly as to how we view one another.” Considering the various cultures and traditions highlighted throughout the prayer and worship service, Little felt that the cultural presentations were “not only beautiful in their own right, but their inclusion should stand as a stark reminder to us all that God’s presence is everywhere.”

The St. Augustine Choir from Holy Cross Parish opened the service with an African hymn, “Siyahamba.” The hymn was meant to emphasize a spirit of community from the perspectives of those from the African diaspora. 

The choir from St. Louis Catholic School, in songs written by Michael Hoffer, reminded participants to follow the path of the Lord because God gives the courage to brave the storms of life. 

Belizean drummer Bernard Busano of St. William Parish in Round Rock and the Danza Guadalupana of St. Louis Parish in Austin led the march after the program. Busano represented a drum major, and the Guadalupanas represented the growing and varied Hispanic cultures present in the diocese. 

The choir and dance ministry from Holy Cross Parish helped participants praise, worship and witness through the Word, particularly in “Koinonia,” a song by V. Michael McKay which challenges the faithful to love each other with the love of the Lord. Geraldine Jones of St. Joseph Parish in Killeen and Patricia Macy of St. Austin Parish led the congregation in a litany and prayer for promoting harmony and justice.

The Diocese of Austin, through its Secretariat of Life, Charity and Justice, has issued a clarion call every Catholic to be a drum major for justice. During the celebration, the first Drum Major for Justice Award was presented to Johnnie Dorsey. The award was established to acknowledge an individual who truly espouses the ideals of what it means to dedicate one’s life to the promotion of social justice and the dignity of every human life, combined with a strong sense of obligation to the civic community, one’s parish community and family life. The award commemorates the legacy and sacrifice King gave to the world and is presented to an individual who perpetuates King’s convictions “to make justice, equality and opportunity a reality for all people.” The award’s name comes from King’s Drum Major Instinct sermon, during which he said, “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness.”

Johnnie D. Dorsey Sr and Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin

Dorsey, who retired a year ago as the diocesan director of Black Catholic Ministry, was surprised and humbled to receive the award. 

“As I walked up the aisle to receive the award from Bishop Vásquez, I was overwhelmed by the thought that I had been chosen to receive this very meaningful award. Dr. King’s legacy has led to changes in law and social justice and I am humbled to know that I received an award that carries some of the greatest words that Dr. King has spoken,” Dorsey said.

Bishop Vásquez was pleased with the diversity of those in attendance at the commemoration for King. “There were people of different race, culture and language which is a great sign since honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King should never be seen as exclusive to one ethnicity,” the bishop said.

In consultation with the diocesan offices of Social Concerns and Hispanic Ministry, the commemoration program was coordinated by the diocesan Black Catholic Advisory Committee under the leadership of Susan Morris of St. Louis Parish in Austin. 

DeKarlos Blackmon, the diocesan secretariat director of Life, Charity and Justice who also coordinates the Office of Black Ministry, said it was paramount to make the King celebration inclusive of all. 

“This commemoration was a visible sign that we can all sit around the table of the Lord without regard to distinction, expressing in the words of St. John Paul II that there is no black church, no white church, no American church, but the one church of Jesus Christ that is a home for blacks, whites and people of every culture and race,” Blackmon said.

Monday, December 03, 2018

How a “Church on the Move” Functions

Recently, I was reminded of St. Augustine, who when speaking to the people of Hippo, remarked that his deepest satisfaction, strength and consolation, and the challenges that awaited that local church rested in the fact that he was a brother in Christ to so many of them. This was particularly moving to me in light of a recent address I presented at the Diocese of Saginaw Lay Ministry Assembly in November. During my address, “How a Church on the Move Functions,” it was important to drive home the point that we must always pray that our local church grows in the grace of our baptism. We pray we grow in faith, hope and love.

Together, we are called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the truth about the world, and the truth that leads us to our true and common home, the New Jerusalem, the city of the living God. This proclamation of the Gospel in the Diocese of Austin is expressed through 127 churches with their religious education programs, 22 Catholic schools, Catholic Charities of Central Texas, clergy and religious, and a host of dedicated lay ministers. When we explore how a church on the move functions, we must recognize the role of the laity who possess an indispensable role in the mission of the church. The church cannot be without a dedicated laity.

Every day, I am tasked with trying to bridge the ideological gaps between Christians devoted to social justice work and Christians engaged with the pro-life work. I am often intrigued by the dissonance projected sometimes by those in either camp. This dissonance is intriguing because each group’s work is intrinsically pro-life. When our church grows in faith, hope and love, we are better able to celebrate our diversity as a sign of the Holy Spirit. Without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, a church on the move must not allow itself to get so entrenched in any one “political” camp, that it rejects the inviolable dignity of others.

Each of us must challenge one another, and especially our young people, to be radically generous in offering their lives to Christ as priests, consecrated religious, or dedicated lay persons engaged in ministry for the proclamation of the Gospel in our world. We must continue to encourage young people to never settle for anything less than the spiritual and moral greatness of which they are capable. If we are going to be a church on the move, we must be willing to make a path for young people to enjoy a more prayerful and active involvement in the life of our parishes, schools and lay ecclesial movements throughout this local church.

For those of us — whether clergy, religious or laity — who have caused others to become estranged from the church, the love of Christ impels us to reach out to our brothers and sisters, welcoming them back to the sacraments and the fullness of our relationship with Christ and the people of God. If we have, even inadvertently, failed to “welcome the stranger,” the love of Christ and the Gospel message impel us to model compassion, social service and advocacy on behalf of the poor, the addicted, the lonely, the immigrant, the widow, the homeless and the despairing. A church on the move is a church that welcomes all God’s people with open arms and hearts full of love.

May our deepest satisfaction, strength and consolation rest in the certain reality that we are as Pope Francis says “protagonists in the work of evangelization and human promotion.” We are brothers and sisters in Christ who are called to function as a church on the move!

“A Church on the Move” by Joe Paprocki, is available from Loyola Press,

Friday, September 28, 2018

Only love will bring justice, harmony, restore dignity

Recently, I was afforded an opportunity to speak with a man who critically railed against the U.S. bishops and the church for their stances on immigration, health care, poverty, and a myriad of other issues. During the course of our conversation, I began to think of how inconsiderate and disrespectful the man was becoming because the church didn’t espouse his unjust perspectives about treating people with respect.

After our conversation, I began to consider the division felt in many of our communities. As I reflected on the widespread lack of civility in politics, the lack of respect for the human person with whom we come into contact in everyday life, and the overall lack of affording people dignity simply by hearing their cries, I thought, “If we don’t step up and speak out, we would be allowing others to open wide the gates of injustice.” We must step up and speak out against the actions of those who seek to divide our communities. We can no longer tolerate those who use sacred Scripture out of context to advance an agenda that violates human dignity.

Visiting the Diocese of Buffalo and the Diocese of Saint Catharines, Ontario
Jesus was masterful in turning things around on the Pharisees. He easily refocused the challenges of the Pharisees through wholesale and indiscriminate inclusion to expose their interpretation of God’s law. This interpretation is judged to be an avowal of advocacy, adherence or allegiance expressed in words, but not backed by deeds. In the Gospel, we find the Pharisees challenging the Lord by asking, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders, but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” (Mk 7:5). Jesus responds succinctly with Isaiah’s prophesy about hypocrites who not only honor the Lord with their lips, teaching as doctrine human precepts, but also have hearts that are far from the Lord.

Dear friends, we should not cry, “Lord, Lord,” while dehumanizing our brothers and sisters who need us. We cannot merely close off our ears to those who cry out to us in pain and despair. Failure to recognize the inherent and inviolable dignity of the human person would be to ignore that human dignity is the cornerstone of Catholic social teaching. Time and again, I point out that the Gospel illustrates a challenge and question for Peter that is relevant in our own daily lives. In the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter whether Peter loves him. We too are asked daily the same question by the Lord, “Do you love me?” This question is about dedication, fidelity and 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 Christ’s command to “love one another” (Jn 13:43).

This command to love one another is encapsulated in “Koinonia,” a song written by V. Michael McKay, a Christian composer. The lyrics speak to the heart of the call to love everyone. “Koinonia” states: ‘How can I say that I love the Lord, who I’ve never ever seen before? And forget to say that I love the one who I walk beside each and every day? How can I look upon your face and ignore God’s love, you I must embrace? You’re my brother, you’re my sister, and I love you with the love of the Lord.’

We must be as Christ expects us to be for one another. Without love there can be no true justice, no true harmony, no true righteousness and no true integrity. For this reason, we must illustrate and express more clearly our care and concern for each of God’s people, regardless of religious affiliation, ethnicity or whether they are documented or undocumented.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Let us rejoice, be glad: We are holy people

During the Octave of Easter, I visited Holy Family Catholic School in Austin to present an award to Madelyn Edwards, a seventh grader. Madelyn participated in the 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King Essay Contest on the theme, “Followers of Christ: A Rich Legacy of Equality for All People.” Drawing on the legacy of King, and the first disciples’ transformation by Christ, Madelyn reminded us that, created in the image and likeness of God, he created us to live in a state of justice and peace with the responsibility to exercise good and morally right decisions reasoned by faith. 

Thinking about Madelyn’s perspective caused me to reflect on how people are largely products of their families — or cultural background and experiences. Accordingly, when bringing people of diverse cultural backgrounds together, we should always consider the varying perspectives of all persons. While inevitably there may be cultural dissonance, we should endeavor to appreciate the rich cultural contexts of our communities. Globalization and emerging technologies bring diverse peoples together not only in business and education, but also in our small communities throughout Central Texas. As we bring people together, we must equip ourselves with the capacity to champion every person’s inherent dignity and value — even when we do not agree on political views. This is how we build mutually beneficial relationships.

A couple of days after my visit to Holy Family, I participated in our diocesan Day of Reflection for Black Catholics. Bishop Joe Vásquez stressed during the gathering, “I believe the Spirit that moves, the Spirit that allowed Christ to rise from the dead, the Spirit that continues to move in and through others, the Spirit is very much alive in you.” No cultural group is merely just part of the church because we are the church; in all our blessed diversity, collectively, we are the church, he said. 
“Don’t ever think of yourselves as just kind of an appendage. Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that you are the Church, just the way you are!” Bishop Vásquez emphasized.

Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate” (Rejoice and Be Glad), forthrightly provides anew the clarion call to reorient ourselves to holiness. Pope Francis “[reproposes] the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities.” Considering the complexities of the ever-fluctuating uncertainties of the political landscape around the world, and in our own domestic communities, meaningful encounter and respect for every human person is a priority for living together as a people destined for greatness, a people holy to the Lord. 

This call to holiness keeps before us our relationship with and responsibilities to the Lord, who has always kept his covenant of mercy to his people. When we strive to live in holiness, we exercise better commitment and courage. Our commitment to people — as in the Parable of the Good Samaritan — helps us to meet each other in our brokenness. Yes, this means we reach out with preferential concern to those who are weak, vulnerable, poor and oppressed. Courage compels us to always advance the more difficult right and just as opposed to the easy wrong when others are being persecuted and mistreated. 

As Madelyn instructs in her essay, “We must stand up, fight, and not cower.” It is courage that enables us to stand up and champion the concerns of those who look different from us. We do it because, as Madelyn’s peers at Holy Family Catholic School ably remind us, “We are ‘holy’ people!” 

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Remembering our past to create a better future

Five years ago, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Four years ago, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed during a time when the federal government found itself wrestling with the constitution’s prohibition of denying equal protection in terms of banning the use of racial, ethnic or gender criteria in an attempt to bring social justice and social benefits. And now, in 2018, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

In their statement on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the U.S. bishops remind us, “The Dream of Dr. [Martin Luther] King and all who marched and worked with him has not yet fully become a reality for many in our country. While we cannot deny the change that has taken place, there remains much to be accomplished.” 

The late Divine Word Bishop Joseph Abel Francis, a former pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Austin, often appealed to the conscience of Catholic America, calling for conversion in its way of thinking, speaking and acting relative to blacks. Today the clarion call is for conversion in our way of thinking and acting relative to all God’s people — whether red, yellow, brown, black, purple, green, blue or orange. The duty to be “neighborly” is rightly given to us in Scripture. We have a moral obligation to offer hospitality, even to those who do not look like us or talk like us. 

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 love (1 Jn 4:9) and to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4). In Evangelium Vitae St. John Paul II explains “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.” 

Our bishops have challenged us to “remember our collective past as a way to overcome historical ignorance and enact good public policy.” As a community who claims to be truly Catholic, and believes that the sacraments call us to “engage conversion of human hearts in racial harmony” in an effort “to transform attitude and action in ourselves and others,” we should consider the humanity and dignity of those striving under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). We should not allow the conversation about relief to be undermined by the rhetoric of illegal immigration. 

Pope Francis brings attention to not only charity and mercy, but also to our responsibility of addressing social inequality by reminding us that “true power, at whatever level, is service, which has its luminous summit on the cross.” Like David and Isaiah, despite their faults, were chosen “for the great evangelization,” and so, too, are we chosen for the great evangelization. May we endeavor to work toward peace, love, joy and happiness in our communities this Easter season. 

Thursday, February 01, 2018

The Body of Christ is alive in our midst

Our involvement with the church as a communion of people consciously in relationship with one another in response to God, highlights the reign of God, illustrating a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. The ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of the faithful are coworkers in God’s work of salvation. We are united truly through our diversity. It is in understanding our own cultures, and in welcoming others’ cultural values, that we authentically encounter one another on the journey toward salvation. 

This year Bishop Dominic Carmon, the retired auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, celebrates the 25th anniversary of his episcopal ordination. I have been thinking of Bishop Carmon in recent months, particularly his insight on what it means to be church. In an exhortation, Bishop Carmon taught us the preaching of Christ is so powerful because he does not say one thing and do another, as we are often prone to do. He said, “We must always value God’s reign over our lives; we must value justice, peace and mercy. We must value the love of God and neighbor more than anything else.” 

DeKarlos and Kanobia Blackmon visiting with Bishop Dominic Carmon, SVD

Just like the disciples, when we recognize the value of the Kingdom, we should possess the driving desire to bring about that Kingdom just like the merchant seeking fine pearls or the man looking for buried treasure. Bishop Carmon reminded us that valuing the kingdom of God is the first step to discipleship. In fulfilling his Father’s will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. As we learn from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (763), we must keep ever before us the certain reality that the church “is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery.” 

When considering the varied ethnic and socioeconomic diversity that comprises communities throughout our diocese and the nation, we are hearkened to endeavor to spread an ever-larger, more welcoming table. However, to do so, we must actively seek to understand each other through meaningful encounter. 

In September 1984, the 10 black Catholic bishops of the U.S. published a pastoral letter entitled “What We Have Seen and Heard” as a collective witness to the black community. The bishops conveyed the richness in the black experience that must be shared with the whole church because it is in the “celebration of the Sacred Mysteries … when the Church is most fully actualized.” Well, as we fast-forward to 2018, we find the same is true of Hispanic and Latino heritage: there is a sincere richness in the Hispanic experience of faith and sacramental life that must be shared with the whole church.

The number of Hispanic Catholics is growing exponentially in the U.S. This demands and justifies the need to ensure we are actively bringing forward the gifts of their heritage to add vibrancy to what we know today as church. By embracing the culture of the Hispanic people, in light of our own respective cultures, we can revitalize our church today, and thus greatly strengthen the effectiveness of the Gospel message. Our Hispanic brothers and sisters not only draw from the sacraments of the church, but also bring to the church how God penetrates our world and is present in the ordinary aspects of life. 

Christ calls us to take hold of the kingdom of God, here and now. Through the diversity present within each of our parishes, we experience Christ’s presence. As we encounter others this year, we must remember the parish community is the Body of Christ alive in our midst.