Friday, October 01, 2021

Synod will benefit from the richness of diversity

As the month of October brings Respect Life Month, World Mission Sunday and the Synod of Bishops on Synodality, I have been reflecting on the common dignity of all people and the mission of the baptized. I am drawn particularly to the reality that each of us is made in the image and likeness of God with an inherent dignity that can never be taken away. If we stop and rest in the Lord, amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we will find that we have been called to be in eternal union with God and in communion with one another.

This brings my thoughts to the ecclesiology of who we are as the church. Considering the nature of the Christian faithful, our ecclesiology underscores how the church is a communion of persons consciously in relationship with each other in response to God. The faithful are affected by this relationship as it is essential to the church as communion. This is the same communion as expressed by Christ in the Gospel, “…so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn 17:21).

Baptism into the church is not just a singular experience between the individual and Christ. There should also be an authentic bond of fellowship among us. After all, it is through the sacraments of initiation that we are all one in Christ without distinction. So, while there is diversity in our vocations, our works, our ministries and the richness of our charisms, there is also a common dignity and a common mission of the Christian faithful.

As Christ promised that the Spirit would dwell in his disciples, the Christian faithful share in the experience of the indwelling not only of the Spirit, but also of the Son and of the Father. In the Gospel of John, Christ conveys, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn 14:23).

In “The Teaching Ministry of the Diocesan Bishop,” the U.S. bishops summarized this nature of the people of God as church: “In the creed we affirm our belief in the triune God and the salvific actions attributed to each of the persons of the Trinity. Rooted in this faith, the believer also affirms credo in ecclesiam, that is, a living communion with and commitment to the Church which is the creation of Christ and the Spirit. To ‘believe in the Church’ means to believe that the Holy Spirit is so intimately united with and active in the Church that the living witness to the Gospel of salvation is found there. There is then, an ecclesial dimension essential to Christian faith and church teaching because the Church itself was founded by Christ to proclaim and to live the paschal mystery until he comes in glory” (13).

As we consider the Synod on Synodality which begins this month, let’s remember that synodality accentuates the diversity in our vocations and the richness of our charisms. The Holy Spirit is working through the hearts of each of the Christian faithful as we are “journeying together” with a common mission.

The preparatory document for the upcoming synod reminds the Christian faithful that the synodal journey “is intended to inspire people to dream about the church we are called to be, to make people’s hopes flourish, to stimulate trust, to bind up wounds, to weave new and deeper relationships, to learn from one another, to build bridges, to enlighten minds, warm hearts, and restore strength to our hands for our common mission.”

The fundamental question guiding the whole synodal process is: “How does this ‘journeying together,’ which takes place today on different levels – from the local level to the universal one – allow the church to proclaim the Gospel in accordance with the mission entrusted to her; and what steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow as a synodal church?” The faithful are invited to offer our perspectives through broad consultation, taking into account the diversity of our stations in life and the richness of our varied charisms for the good of the whole people of God.

Remember, the Christian faithful’s involvement with the church as a communion of persons consciously in relationship with each another in response to God, highlights the reign of God. This communal dimension reveals that all power and authority come from God, and that the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of the faithful are coworkers in God’s beatific work of salvation. By journeying together, and in encountering and accompanying others through this process, we will be able to truly enter into an objective attitude of considering authentically the context of another’s journey toward salvation.

The Diocese of Austin invites the faithful throughout Central Texas to pray for and participate in the diocesan phase of the synodal process. No one should be excluded because every voice should be heard. Pope Francis will formally open the synodal process at the Vatican Oct. 9-10, and Bishop Joe Vásquez will open the synodal process in the Diocese of Austin Oct. 21 at 6:30 p.m. with a Mass at St. Mary Cathedral in Austin. The diocesan phase of the synodal process will run until April 2022. More information will be forthcoming in parishes, on the diocesan website, and through social media.

DeKarlos Blackmon, OblSB, is the director of the Secretariat of Life, Charity and Justice for the Diocese of Austin. Contact him at (512) 949-2471 or

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Voting process must reflect equal access

Regardless of where people may find themselves on the political spectrum, if we were to have an open and honest conversation about voting after the last general election, a simple encounter with those who historically have felt marginalized would reveal their feelings that the right to vote is under attack. Unfortunately, it is all too easy for some voices to dismiss the very real concerns of those among the working poor and the marginalized. Dismissing the legitimate concerns of any of our brothers and sisters does not reflect our obligation to respect the dignity of all people.

My purpose is not to debate any particular piece of legislation; it is to express how each of us has a responsibility, a right and a duty to contribute to the common good by being active in the public square. One of the primary ways to be active in the public square is to exercise the civic responsibility to participate in the electoral process.

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin reminds us that all people are called to work for and promote a society of truth and justice that benefits the common good for all people. “For this reason, the right to vote is a privilege and civic duty that citizens must take seriously,” he said recently.

Bishop Vásquez has also explained “the Catholic Church has a rich and historic tradition on morals and social teaching, which is the foundation that forms our conscience when we vote.” We are encouraged to zealously engage in the work of advocating for the weak and marginalized. While there are competing voices that will attempt to debate whether, or why, the church has been perceived to have fallen silent over the many years of political strife in the U.S., we should instead encourage each other to accept that a fundamental work of the Christian community is to apply Gospel values to the ordinary and extraordinary situations with which society is confronted (Living the Gospel of Life, 22).

In 2021 we find many young people who take for granted the high prices paid for the freedoms in our society that Black Americans – and many other ethnicities – still have not realized. This is all the more a reason why we should consider the importance of every person’s active participation in the political process. In joyful hope, I choose to believe that when people know better, they will do better. So, as we renew our commitment to respect the dignity of people, we must continue to stand for the more difficult right and just, as opposed to settling for the easy wrongs of indifference, lack of interest and lack of concern.

As I write, I am reminded of a 2013 gathering of Christian Churches Together in Birmingham, Alabama, where we commemorated the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the landmark moment in the pursuit for racial justice. When speaking about the letter, my friend, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux challenged the whole church “to remember our collective past as a way to overcome historical ignorance and enact good public policy.”

Today, Bishop Fabre, the current chair of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, continues to stress that the sacraments call us to “engage the conversion of human hearts in racial harmony,” in an effort “to transform attitude and action in ourselves and others.” As we remember our collective past, let us also carefully seek to encounter, dialogue and accompany each other in ways that respect the dignity of one another.

In the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” the church teaches that the Christian faithful have a responsibility to support appropriate advocacy for “procedures which allow the largest possible number of citizens to participate in public affairs with genuine freedom” (Gaudium et Spes, 31). Considering that voter restrictions had already increased prior to now — particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court stripped provisions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 — the church expects that the conditions imposed upon those who seek to vote should reflect equal and appropriate access that reflects the dignity of every human person.

“It is fully in accord with human nature that politico-juridical structures be devised which will increasingly and without discrimination provide all citizens with effective opportunities to play a free, active part in the establishment of the juridical foundations of the political community, in the administration of public affairs, in determining the aims and the terms of reference of public bodies, and in the election of political leaders,” (Gaudium et Spes, 75).

People of good will must agree that “fraud and other subterfuges, by which some people evade the constraints of the law and the prescriptions of societal obligation, must be firmly condemned because they are incompatible with the requirements of justice” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1916). However, public officials and political leaders must never nefariously use such a truth as the pretext to restrict access unjustifiably and excessively to the ballot box for the working poor and marginalized. The current contempt and bitterness that have bred the attempts to restrict voting for the marginalized is reminiscent of have how unjust laws were used to permit limitations and constraints to equal access to voting in the past.

In their 2018 pastoral letter against racism, the U.S. bishops communicated unequivocally, “Many of our institutions still harbor, and too many of our laws still sanction, practices that deny justice and equal access to certain groups of people” (Open Wide Our Hearts, 10). For some, it appears that what is happening concerning voting across our nation does not seem to appropriately meet any standard of justice. If we are committed to respecting the dignity of people, we must stand for what is right and just.

The political firestorms, the social unrest and the absolute gridlock within legislatures are sure signs that we must focus more attention on not only charity and mercy, but also on our responsibility of addressing social inequality. Pope Francis tells us, “We must never forget that true power, at any level, is service, whose bright summit is upon the Cross” (Address to the Plenary Assembly of the International Union of Superiors General, 9 May 2013). Referencing the wisdom of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, we are reminded that while for man, authority is often synonymous with possession, dominion, and success, while for God authority is always synonymous with service, humility, love (Address to the Plenary Assembly of the International Union of Superiors General, 9 May 2013; cf. Angelus, 29 January 2012).

The Catechism presents to us the obligations of being faithful citizens who work for truth and the common good. The church teaches that political authorities should respect the fundamental rights of the human person, dispensing justice by respecting the rights of person, particularly families and the disadvantaged (Catechism, 2237). We, citizens, have a responsibility to contribute to the common good in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom. For out of profound gratitude, we must fulfill our rightful roles in the life of the political community (Catechism, 2238) and exercise the right to vote (Catechism, 2240).

In our daily lives may we continually recommit ourselves to be inspired by the Word of God and nourished by the sacraments, so that we may live with the Lord for eternity. Let us pray for one another, keeping before us that the will of God would never place us where his grace cannot sustain us. May the great challenges facing our state and nation today, and in our future, be met as great opportunities as we endeavor to become ever more faithful citizens!

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Making the decision to love will bear much fruit

In 2015, I was installed president of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights at a liturgy celebrated by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth in Western Australia. Because of this, I am always drawn to the archbishop’s gift for imagery. This month, I am reminded particularly of his images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the vine. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus is depicted as he who is treading ahead of us, guiding our paths; standing behind us, impelling us to move in a particular direction; and standing amidst us, bringing us closer to himself. As the vine and the branches, Jesus is depicted as he who is so united with us that our very existence — our life and well-being — is dependent on our connection to him because apart from him, we can do nothing.

These images are rooted in God’s profound love for each one of us. Jesus tells us that if we keep his commandments, we will remain in his love. He impels us to love one another as he loves us. Yet how often do we consider expressing our love to those who do not look like us, those who do not speak like us, or even those who do not share the same faith as us?

Recently, I have been well-loved by many. I have been told how much I am loved by my peers in ministry, those with whom I collaborate around the country, and those with whom I have worked around the world. Amidst the hardships I have experienced, I admit that it feels good to be loved just as it feels good to love in return, and I am grateful that the Lord has given me more time to be in his service. While these feelings of love are appreciated, let us not dwell on our feelings of love, but let us remember it is our decision to love.

How many times do we consider the quality of our love? When we choose to remain in the love of Jesus, we also consciously must choose to build a wider circle with others, always seeking the inherent good of other people. When Christ exhorts us to remain in his love, we are called to make a conscious choice to effect his will, doing the best we can for even those who are strangers among us. Jesus tells the disciples to love one another as he has loved us and that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, yet how often are we willing to lose our very lives for the sake of the Gospel? Jesus gave his life for even those who crucified him.

As we consider the detrimental effects of the degradation of the family and society, we have a duty to continue to resist the temptation to allow secularism to compete with our holiness.

We have to help young people resist the perceived cultural norms that encourage “me, my, and I.” As our culture has become more individualistic, teaching many to love oneself first, we are called to help each other resist the temptation to seek what is of material benefit to us before thinking of others.

The Lord reminds us it was he who chose us. So, if Christ chose us, we can be assured not only that Christ is aware of our every weakness, but also that Christ will give us all the strength and help we need to actively love in our world.

Each of us is made in the image and likeness of God; therefore, may we always see the dignity of each person. May we first model how, and then challenge one another to love like St. Peter Claver, St. Teresa of Kolkata and St. Vincent de Paul, who each recognized the presence of Christ in people whose dignity was disregarded by society. This is how we proclaim the Gospel, and this is how we live the common priesthood we received at our baptism.

Love is not merely about feelings or emotional connection. Rather, love is a decision to will the best for each other. In doing so, I earnestly believe we will produce fruit, and bountiful fruit will remain.

DeKarlos Blackmon, OblSB, is the director of the Secretariat of Life, Charity and Justice for the Diocese of Austin. Contact him at (512) 949-2471 or

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Active witnesses of Christ and ‘doers of the word’

In December Bishop Joe Vásquez proclaimed a Year of the Domestic Church for the Diocese of Austin. One day later Pope Francis recalled the sesquicentennial of the declaration of St. Joseph as patron of the Universal Church, and subsequently proclaimed a Year of St. Joseph. Why are these providential proclamations so important at this time for us, and what do they have to do with social justice?

Recently, I gave a talk at Holy Cross Parish during Black History Month reflecting on the importance of these year-long observances of the home as the first school of Christian life, and St. Joseph as the exemplar of the love of a father for his family. As we recognize the importance of the domestic church and its implications for our families, our Christian households are challenged to contribute fully to the flourishing of our parishes, schools and communities.

What does the Lord require of us this year?

Evangelization is both a call and a response, which means our responsibility is not only preaching and teaching but also witnessing. As the Christian faithful are commissioned to make disciples of all nations, we are to conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Modeling Christian witness begins in our homes, the first schools of love for God and neighbor. Our homes are where we learn and model love, compassion, respect, mercy and forgiveness.

Our communities are experiencing progressively more degradation of the family. There are far too many competing voices attempting to redefine the family under the guise of “equality” and civil rights. Parents have an awesome responsibility to combat the many ideologies that run contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Modeling St. Joseph, the tender and obedient father, parents can express their responsibilities by offering themselves in love at the service of the Gospel. This is, in part, what it means to pursue an upright life in our increasingly secular society. Being present in the family, encountering our children and accompanying our neighbors are ways we conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.

Again, what does the Lord require of us?

The Year of the Domestic Church and the Year of St. Joseph encourage us to live authentically the Gospel of Jesus Christ by living lives of active witness. In doing so we allow our families to genuinely influence our communities. At the same time, we can find inspiration in the words of the prophet Micah, “…to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” to help us live worthy of the manner of Christ.

Committing to justice, loving goodness and walking with God are how we become disciples and active witnesses of Christ. As active witnesses we become as the Book of James says: “doers of the word and not hearers only… [for we know] faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” By virtue of our baptism, we are people of life sent to evangelize the world. The application of Gospel values begins in our homes, and thus emanates to the very real situations in our communities.

As we continue our observances of the Year of the Domestic Church and the Year of St. Joseph, let us be encouraged to continue to live and work for the well-being of all God’s children, especially in our families. The great works of charity, mercy, forgiveness and love we teach in our homes will further the kingdom of God in our midst.

May the Mother of God and St. Joseph, through their never-failing intercession, always watch over our families as we strive to do the work of Christ, the Son, in our world.

F. DeKarlos Blackmon, OblSB, is the director of the Secretariat of Life, Charity and Justice for the Diocese of Austin. Contact him at (512) 949-2471 or

Monday, February 01, 2021

Helping others allows us to encounter

A couple of years ago, I participated in an Ozanam orientation which provided significant insight into the history, spirituality, organization and activities of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. While I have never considered any major fears, biases or judgments about my work among the poor, I recognize the natural human inclination for some is to feel troubled about the injustice that gives rise to the hardship and the suffering of the poor and marginalized.

Amidst the current coronavirus pandemic, I am aggrieved at the circumstances of so many families throughout Central Texas who are enduring the effects of unemployment, stay-at-home orders and remote learning due to in-person schooling being restricted. The lack of adequate childcare resources further impacts the ability of parents to work and provide sustenance for their families. In these circumstances people are unable to work through no fault of their own.

I know very well how it feels to grow up poor. I know what it feels like to grow up without all my needs and wants met. I know what it feels like to struggle under the weight of poverty, privation and hardship. As a child, it’s no picnic to witness the joyful experiences of one’s friends as a result of their families’ resources. However, at this point in my life, I accept the obligation to meet people in their circumstances to provide hope as the Lord impels me to stretch out my own arms and hands to help my neighbors in need.


Notwithstanding the psychological or sociological scars people may possess, we must endeavor to see the face of Christ in each person. In the faces of the many, I am hopeful that God will constantly prepare me to face my own shortcomings, imperfections and weaknesses. These realizations will then remind me of how very blessed I am to be able to help others.

Just before Christmas, I participated in a couple of pastoral field experiences, Camp Esperanza and the Vincentian Family Center. In each of these experiences, I genuinely encountered persons and families who were in critical need of sustenance, money and work. They included veterans, working poor, unemployed and people experiencing homelessness. One encounter was with a woman who, even after having succumbed to a life on the street, works arduously to be a source of hope by sharing with others the little sustenance she has for herself. Another encounter was with an ex-offender who had just been released from incarceration. Looking for a fresh start, he discussed the perceived stigma of having been incarcerated and what that will mean moving forward as he attempts to put his life back together.

One of the greatest takeaways from my encounters is that each of us is on a pilgrimage. Let no one be duped into thinking the present age is an end. As I encountered my neighbors — my brothers and sisters — I was reminded that giving of myself for the good of others is providing shelter to Jesus Christ. These neighbors with whom I served taught me that while they are “houseless,” they are not necessarily “homeless.” These encounters provided multiple opportunities for me to welcome Christ. God reveals himself in the least of our brothers and sisters.

Considering my own humble and meager beginnings, the Lord reveals yet again that I, too, but for the grace of God, could be where each of our neighbors are. Consequently, I have more work to do in the vineyard, and it is noble work that lacks society’s view of glamour and prestige. I pray we will all partake in the good work of encountering and welcoming the stranger, the impoverished, the ex-offender, the traveler and the pilgrim.