Bishop's Interview: Honoring those who reflect the light of Christ
Editor: Bishop Vásquez, on June 20, you and Bishop Daniel Garcia presented the Lumen Gentium Awards to about 85 people from parishes throughout the diocese (see the Lumen Gentium supplement in this issue). Will you tell us more about this honor?
Bishop Vásquez: The Lumen Gentium Awards have been a tradition in this diocese for several years now. The awards were initiated by my predecessor, Archbishop Gregory Aymond, in 2004 to honor the laity who are essential to life in the Diocese of Austin. Every other year pastors have the opportunity to nominate an individual or a couple from their parish for this award. The awards ceremony is always a joyous occasion. I am amazed at the diversity of those who are honored –– we have young people, elders, a variety of cultures, single people and married couples, all of whom take seriously their call as lay people. Their desire is to serve the church and with that comes great joy. These awards are one way to acknowledge their service to the church and to society as a whole.
Editor: Where does the Lumen Gentium Award gets its name?
Bishop Vásquez: Lumen Gentium is a Latin phrase that literally means the light of the nations. It is the title of the dogmatic constitution on the church, which was promulgated by the Second Vatican Council in 1964. It is an important document that describes the mystery of the church. The document beautifully describes how we, the people of God, are pilgrims moving forward on the journey of life. The church in the world exists to proclaim Christ, to evangelize, and to bring the Good News and hope to the world.
As the document says in the opening line, “Christ is the Light of nations.” Christ entrusts this mission to the church. Thus the members of the church become light for others, in our parishes, in our communities, and in our society at large. As a church, we are grateful to our clergy –– our priests and deacons –– for their extraordinary ministry. However, we need the laity for the good of the church and for the good of the secular world.
“It is (the laity’s) specific vocation and mission to express the Gospel in their lives and thereby to insert the Gospel as a leaven into the reality of the world in which they live and work,” St. John Paul II said in 1979. The Lumen Gentium Awards are presented to those who “make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity” (Lumen Gentium, 31).
Editor: How can lay people help others encounter Christ?
Bishop Vásquez: We help others encounter Jesus Christ by proclaiming the Good News. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, came to save humanity from sin and death. He did this through his passion, suffering, death and resurrection. Sharing this wonderful message is really the core and the heart of who we are as Christians. The church exists to communicate this Good News to the world. Primarily through the Word and the celebration of the Eucharist, we as people of the church encounter Christ. But the encounter does not stop when the Mass ends; as disciples, we are sent forth to take that message of love beyond the church to the greater community.
Editor: How can a lay person get involved at the parish level?
Bishop Vásquez: There are many opportunities for lay people to serve in our parishes. There are liturgical roles (lectors and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion) and hospitality ministries (ushers and greeters) during Mass, and lay people can serve as catechists and youth ministers. They can also minister to those in prisons and jails, and bring Communion to those in nursing homes. Many people love to garden, so perhaps they can help with grounds keeping. Some may find themselves called to advocacy and working to promote the common good. Ask yourself what can I do; how can I serve? For this is where we will encounter Christ and this is how we can then help others to shine with the light of Christ.
Editor: For all those laity who tirelessly serve the church what advice do you have for them?
Bishop Vásquez: First, I want to say, thank you! The church is deeply grateful and indebted to you for all that you do for the Body of Christ. Secondly, I would ask you who are involved in ministries and service organizations for the church and for our society to invite others to join you in continuing the service and ministries in which you are involved. Coworkers in the vineyard are necessary for the church to thrive and to continue our good work.
Thirdly, all of us need to be looking for those who will continue these various ministries after we are gone. Look for those who have a passion for Christ and then start a conversation about how they can share that passion for Christ with others. Similarly, our priests are the best vocation directors because they are seeking to find men open to discerning the vocation to the priesthood.
Editor: What is your prayer for the lay people of our growing diocese?
Bishop Vásquez: My prayer is that everyone would see the wonderful gifts that they have been given. By virtue of our baptism, priests and deacons along with the laity fully carry out the mission of the church. As a priest becomes holy by serving the people of God, so too lay people become holy as they embrace the vocation given to them by God.
I pray our laity will embrace the dignity of their vocation. May they continue to share the light of Christ in our communities and throughout the world.