Bishop's Interview: Giving thanks for a year of mercy and many blessings
Editor: Bishop, it’s November and there’s much to be thankful for in our diocese. What are you thankful for this year?
Bishop Vásquez: I feel extremely blessed to serve as the bishop of the Diocese of Austin. God is blessing us in many ways. First of all, I always thank God for our priests because they do so much for the people of God. They continually serve our people in our parishes — they hear confessions, celebrate Mass, visit the sick, take care of the shut ins, visit the inmates in our prison system and in so many other ways they help young people, young adults, families and the elderly. I am most grateful for our priests and for the fact that we have a large number of men discerning the priesthood. This year we have ordained six new priests, and 11 new seminarians began studying for the priesthood.
Also, I am grateful for the Pastoral Plan that is being implemented in our diocese. Our priests, particularly the pastors in our parishes, are helping people encounter Jesus Christ, who is alive and well and active in the lives of our people. This is a sign of great inspiration for me, especially as I go to visit our parishes. As I celebrate confirmations, I see that our young people are seeking God, and they are learning and practicing their faith. I also see this in the lives of their parents and families. Our faith is a great treasure, so parents want to come to Mass, and they want to deepen their faith and pass it on to their children.
I am also thankful that on Nov. 19, we will ordain 17 new deacons to the permanent diaconate. All of these are signs of the life of the Catholic Church in Central Texas. God continues to work in the lives of all of us here in our diocese.
Editor: This month also marks the end of the Year of Mercy. How has the past year affected you personally?
Bishop Vásquez: Pope Francis has blessed the universal church with this great gift of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. I believe our people have responded positively to this year of grace. I have witnessed the return of people who have been away from the church for many years, and I am very humbled to witness the joy this brings to these individuals. God is truly working in the lives of those who seek him.
I have had the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation with our people in some of our parishes, and I have been amazed by the level of humility on behalf of the persons seeking confession. They obviously believe in and seek to experience God’s mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation, which is sincerely inspiring for me.
I am deeply grateful to our priests who have accepted the challenge to avail themselves throughout the week so that people can experience the sacrament of reconciliation. Personally, it brings joy to my heart every time I go to confession, and I feel renewed in my faith and strengthened to follow Christ.
At the end of September, I had the privilege of leading a pilgrimage to Italy. It was a great blessing to walk through the Holy Doors at St. Peter’s Basilica during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. It was utterly amazing to watch as people processed through the Holy Doors at St. Peter’s Basilica and the other churches. As we joined people from other countries and backgrounds to walk through the Holy Doors, we realized we are part of a much greater church.
Then I personally witnessed the faith of the people in our own diocese as they passed through the Holy Doors at Holy Trinity Parish in Corn Hill. As I was leaving the parish after the annual Deacons’ Convocation on Oct. 1, a large group of families, some with small children, arrived at the parish. They all came to the Holy Door and touched it as a group. As Pope Francis reminds us, we cross the threshold of the Holy Doors fully confident in the strength of the Risen Lord, who constantly supports and sustains us as we grow in our faith. So it was a beautiful moment for me to witness that group come to the door with such profound faith.
Editor: The diocese has also kicked off the annual Catholic Services Appeal. What is the purpose of the annual appeal?
Bishop Vásquez: The purpose of the Catholic Services Appeal is to continue the good works of the church here in the Diocese of Austin. This includes the work in our Catholic schools, our religious education programs, the education of our seminarians, the care of our retired priests, ministering to those in prison and in nursing homes, and the services of Catholic Charities of Central Texas.
Through the Catholic Services Appeal, we not only accomplish the Corporal Works of Mercy (to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to visit the sick, to visit the imprisoned and to bury the dead) but we also undertake the Spiritual Works of Mercy (to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently and pray for the living and the dead). The Catholic Services Appeal is the primary way for the Diocese of Austin to care for people in Central Texas.
This year’s theme of “Living Water” was chosen because water is a sign of vitality, joy and hope. Central Texas is well known for its streams, lakes, rivers and springs. We also know water is a powerful sign of life, and we receive God’s life as we enter the waters of baptism. Water refreshes our souls, whether it is through nature or through the cleansing waters of baptism. Because we have been given this grace and life through the sacraments, we must also share the blessings God has given us with one another, which is what we accomplish through the Catholic Services Appeal.
Editor: What is your prayer for the diocese as we approach the end of 2016?
Bishop Vásquez: As we prepare to celebrate the national holiday of Thanksgiving, let us pray that our nation will be grateful for the abundant blessings God has showered upon us, particularly our freedom. As the Jubilee Year of Mercy comes to an end, let us allow the grace God has given us to sustain us long after the year has concluded. May our faith that we have received as a pure gift from God grow ever stronger in our lives through acts of charity and mercy.