Bishop's Interview: Resolving to spread joy in the New Year

Editor: Bishop, the Year of Faith has concluded but nourishing our faith is an ongoing process. As we begin 2014, how can we keep growing in our faith?
Bishop Vásquez: The Year of Faith was a blessing for the Diocese of Austin. Pope Benedict XVI gave this great gift to the church as an opportunity for us to deepen our Catholic faith and to strengthen, recommit and revitalize it. As long-time Catholics we tend to take it for granted. As believers we are asked to experience the joy of our faith; therefore, Pope Benedict encouraged a resurgence of energy and enthusiasm for our faith. He wanted us to be on fire with Christ and willing to share him with others. 
Pope Benedict XVI gave us plenty of examples where people need to hear that message especially in places where the church is experiencing suffering, pain and persecution. The message is needed here in our own country where the church isn’t necessarily suffering, but certainly it is facing confrontation, some difficulties and challenges. 
Now that the Year of Faith has concluded, it may be good to ask ourselves what happened during this Year of Faith. How is my faith stronger than it was maybe a year ago? What am I doing that demonstrates I have definitely grown in that faith? Am I taking more time with my family? Do I spend a little bit more time in prayer? Am I going to Mass more frequently? Am I frequenting the sacraments, going to the sacrament of reconciliation? If you are, then obviously God has been working during this Year of Faith and moving you in that direction. If you are not, please examine why it didn’t happen or ask yourself how you can make it happen now as 2014 begins. As we celebrate the Christmas season and begin the New Year, it is a perfect time for all of us to recommit ourselves to following Christ.

Editor: What are some specific resolutions or activities that we can make in regard to our faith?
Bishop Vásquez:
I think the first one is frequenting the sacraments because we are a sacramental church. In the celebration of the sacraments we encounter Christ time and again. The sacraments should not become routine because Christ is revealed to us in every sacrament. Of course this is so in baptism, in confirmation, in marriage and in holy orders, but the sacraments that we most need and that we can practice more frequently are reconciliation and Eucharist. 
I especially want to encourage us all to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. The mercy of God’s abundant love is poured out in the sacrament of reconciliation. Even if you have been away from the church for a long time, you are welcome to experience God’s mercy in this sacrament, where we see the face of Christ revealed in a merciful, compassionate and loving way. 
I also encourage Catholics to attend Mass every Sunday and during the week if possible. The Eucharist gives us life, vitality and strength. Through the Eucharist, the life of Christ is poured into us so that we can go into the world and offer that same life to others. 
Prayer is another way we can strengthen our faith. How am I praying? Am I giving more time to prayer? Am I spending at least two or three minutes or five minutes in prayer? Or should I consider more communal prayer? Can I join others to pray the rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours? There are so many ways we can expand our prayer lives –– they are not extraordinary, but basic, ordinary and simple things that people often overlook. 
Another way Catholics can deepen our faith is by reading and studying sacred Scripture. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is also a wonderful way to deepen our faith. I encourage Catholics to regularly spend time with Christ in adoration.
It is important that we set reasonable expectations of ourselves. If we aim too high, we may become disappointed and disillusioned very quickly. But if we understand that faith is more about the quality and experience of the love of Christ, then spending five or 10 more minutes in prayer is not so daunting. Instead of committing to 30 minutes a day praying with the Scriptures, start with two or three minutes or read and absorb the daily readings or just one of the daily readings. Resolutions are meant to spur us on to keep going and not to give up.

Editor: The church has not set a theme for 2014 per se. Is there a reason for this?
Bishop Vásquez:
Pope John Paul II began the tradition of establishing these particular years dedicated to certain themes for the universal church. Of course before his pontificate there were years of particular emphasis, but they were very infrequent. The most recent Holy Fathers have focused our attention on specific aspects of the faith, and we have come to expect such themes. But this doesn’t mean that a theme must be set for each year. There could be a year or two or even more years where we do not have a particular focus. This is not a tradition that goes back for a long time; therefore, it’s perfectly normal not to have a designated them for 2014.

Editor: Given Pope Francis’ latest exhortation, perhaps we might turn our attention to spreading the Gospel or evangelizing?
Bishop Vásquez:
I have begun reading “Evangelii Gaudium,” the Joy of the Gospel, which was released by Pope Francis at the end of November. This is his apostolic exhortation, which is a meditation that is done on the work of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization in October 2012. The pope heard what the bishops said, prayed about it and through his exhortation is proposing the direction that the church should take regarding the new evangelization. First of all, the title itself, is translated the “Joy of the Gospel,” not the burden of the Gospel, not the difficulty of living the Gospel. The pope wants us to realize the joy of the Gospel is good news for us and is good news for all people. It is not about burdening people. It is not about making them feel guilty. It is not about wagging our fingers at people for not living up to the Catholic faith. It is about the joy of the Gospel that changes people’s lives. 
Over this short period of months that our Holy Father has been shepherding the church as the successor of St. Peter, he has demonstrated time and again that there is joy in living out the Gospel. There is joy in being a Christian and a Catholic and people should find that joy when they meet another Christian or Catholic. The Gospel should alleviate burdens, it should bring us hope, it should sustain us. This is especially true for those who are on the fringes or disconnected somehow from the church or those people who feel that they are not worthy of the church. Pope Francis encourages us to go to the periphery and bring the good news of the Gospel to these people. I think that “Evangelii Gaudium,” is going to be a challenge to us all about how to live out this new evangelization. At the same time, I think it is going to give us a renewed sense of strength and hope and move us in the direction of bringing more joy into the world.

Editor: What is your prayer for all of us as we begin 2014?
Bishop Vásquez:
We have been extraordinarily surprised in 2013 by the events that have happened –– the retirement of Benedict XVI, the election of Pope Francis and the excitement that he has brought. He has re-energized the church in a way that I haven’t seen since I have been around and it seems the church now has more appeal than it did before. People are taking a second look at the church and almost everywhere I go people ask me what I think about Pope Francis. Well, I think he is great. He is fabulous. He is marvelous and he is a blessing to the church! Therefore, my prayer is that we will be grateful to God for all he has done in this past year and all the abundant blessings that we have received from him. At the same time, in the New Year, I pray that we might be also aware of those who are still suffering and struggling and who need to hear the good news of Christ. May we as Catholics go out and bring the good news to the world. 

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