December 18, 2020
For The Good
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In politics, the first 100 days in office often determines the agenda for the newly elected official. Well, for a new bishop, it is kind of the same. We do not choose the times in which we are called to live or the moments in which we are called to serve, and I certainly never could have imagined being called to be a bishop in the middle of a global pandemic. I know that it is by God’s grace that He has guided me in my new tenure as the Bishop of Southeast Texas. In these first 100 days I have fallen in love with just about everything in the Diocese of Beaumont: our clergy, religious, parishioners, small churches, rice farms, cattle, countryside, hardworking people, and the great ethnic and multicultural diversity of SETX.
So what have I been doing these past 100 days? Desiring to be a good steward, I thought it would be good to render an account of my service (to quote Jesus). So, here’s the Top 10:
- Storms: Well, to start, we had two hurricanes! As you know, I was inspired by the Holy Spirit to lead our diocese in prayer for protection and the dissipation of the storms. Bringing our Eucharistic Lord to both the Neches River and the Port of Port Arthur for Laura and Delta respectively was an act of surrender and trust in God to lead us through whatever would come our way. And I have seen your gratitude for being spared (for the most part) overflow in generosity to our brothers and sisters on our eastern border and across the Sabine River – thank you for being so gracious to those in need!
- Travel: I have visited all 48 of our faith communities that make up the Diocese of Beaumont. It has been wonderful to have listening sessions in all of our parishes and really start to get to know you, the people of God. I have heard about what you are proud of, what you would like to do better, and ways in which I as bishop/diocese can better assist our parish communities. These visits have brought me great joy and have helped to ground me in the rich traditions and heritage of our people.
- Media: I have continued Bishop Guillory’s ministry of offering a daily 90-second reflection on TV. “For the Good” reaches an amazing amount of people in our viewing area, and I am so grateful for the platform from which I can proclaim the Good News to all who listen, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Similarly, I have offered a daily Mass from St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica to assist those of you unable to attend Mass during the pandemic – another opportunity for me to come into your homes and bring you Jesus!
- Review of Records: As our new bishop, I wanted to fully understand the content and history of our diocesan personnel files. We contracted an outside consulting group, made up of former FBI investigators, for an external audit of our files. Four objective investigators had full access to our clergy files and reviewed all of our active priests and deacons in ministry. I am very grateful to say that there were no irregularities or credible allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors made against anyone currently serving in public ministry in the Diocese of Beaumont. This is certainly a credit to Bishop Guillory and the administration of our diocese in consistently being proactive in protecting our most vulnerable from any harm or cover-up by the Church (link).
- Fiscal Responsibility: With the retirement of Father Michael Jamail and Sister Esther Dunegan, who were the right and left hands of Bishop Guillory, and due to the financial impact of the Coronavirus on our diocese and the damages of two named storms, it became abundantly clear that a reorganization of the Pastoral Center and a reduction in staff would be necessary. Working diligently with our leadership team in the chancery, we were able to put into place a 15 percent reduction in staff and design a new organizational flow to match our new realities. In doing so, we were able to save the diocese over a half a million dollars, which will help us greatly in these challenging times.
- New Look: The ETC will move from a newspaper to a magazine next month. I will say more about this change in the next edition, but suffice it to say, we will now publish the ETC every other month in a high quality/glossy magazine format. This decision came about because of a few very simple and important reasons, namely, timely news can be easily found online and with this change of format and frequency we are actually saving significantly on both time and money (another $100,000).
- Youth: Having already met with multiple groups of youth, young adults, and our parish youth ministers, I am excited to work with our “young church” and build upon the work we have already done and help form our missionary disciples of tomorrow.
- Spanish: My previous work as a seminary rector of a bilingual seminary in the Southeast, prepared me well for ministering in our diocese. In fact, I have spoken more Spanish in the past four months than I have even in the bilingual environment from which I came. Thank God for the immigrant church, which renews the community in each generation. I need to start working on my Vietnamese now!
- Vocations: At the Lamar Catholic Student Center, we hosted 24 young men for a night of prayer and fellowship as we discussed the possibility of a priestly vocation. Father Tino Barrera and I will follow up by inviting these men to be a part of a discernment group. I have also asked every Catholic in our diocese to offer one Hail Mary a day for the particular intention of priestly vocations – please don’t forget! We have 6 seminarians; my goal is 20 in the next three years.
- COVID-19: We will get through this together! I encourage all of us to continue to follow COVID protocols in order to stay safe and to take the vaccine as it becomes available (link).
These thoughts are shared to give glory to God. As Mother Teresa was fond of saying of herself: “look what God can do with nothing!” It is my privilege to have been called to serve our diocese. What has been accomplished in a relatively short period is all grace, and I can’t wait to see what God wants to do with and through all of us in the years to come. As we close out 2020, it will be a year we will never forget; a year that has brought us to our knees emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially. May we stay on our knees in prayer as we journey through the remainder of these difficult days – Lord hear our prayer! Merry Christmas!!!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop David L. Toups
For The Good
November is the month in which we say thank you! My heart is filled with gratitude for so much: the gift of God in my life, the Church that Jesus gave us, my particular calling to be a priest and now a bishop, the gift of my dear parents and a loving family, the support of friends, and most recently, my deep gratitude for you: the faithful of Southeast Texas, the priests and personnel and volunteers who serve the Diocese of Beaumont and have made me feel so welcome in my first three months. So thank you all!!!!
Earlier this month, I spoke to our Parish Catechetical Leaders during their virtual annual gathering, and so today’s column is a variation on that presentation. But before that, it is good for all of us to say thank you to those who are handing on the beauty of our Catholic faith to our young people: catechists, Catholic school teachers, youth ministers, and first and foremost to parents and family where the faith is hopefully and initially handed on. These days of the Corona Virus have not made it any easier, and I consider all of them heroes for creatively and innovatively working so hard to share the gift of faith with our young people.
The Latin phrase lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi can be interpreted as: the way we pray (orandi) is the way we believe (credendi) is the way we live (vivendi)!
So first of all, orandi, the way we pray. During COVID-19, there is a huge danger of being removed from public worship for these past nine months. While acknowledging that the virus is real and that those with underlying conditions need to err on the side of caution, our parishes are operating in an amazing way both by their protocols and their availability to minister to those in need. While I want to continue to encourage attending live-streamed Masses for those unable to attend, I also want to encourage our parishioners that when possible we should be attending Mass. My now famous line is, “If you can get to HEB for groceries, you can get to church and get fed!” The Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our spiritual lives. In a post-pandemic world, we are going to have to make a huge catechetical push on re-teaching the Eucharist. It has become too easy to complacently “attend Mass” in pajamas with a cup of coffee from the bedroom on a Sunday morning (albeit understandable – but it is not enough to carry us long-term). Jesus comes to us in both Word and Sacrament. We need to be fed by the Body of Christ in Holy Communion – an incredible gift Jesus offers us at every Mass! Thus, the way we pray at this time is limping along: minimal participation, little music is possible, the involvement of only a few, and the list could go on. However, the virus is not forever, and keep the faith that we will return at some point as a full community of worshiping believers. But for those who already can return to your parishes, I encourage you to do so – we need to be fed and we need to be in community – not to mention our country and world really need our prayers!
The way we pray affects the way we believe (credendi). Our faith and the way of worship has implications on either strengthening or weakening our faith life. The bottom line for the effectiveness of our worship and teaching is that we are to receive the love of God and in return love Him even more. Let us strive to love Jesus and love the Church He gave us 2,000 years ago, and to love the beautiful and sometimes challenging teachings of our Church and hand them on to our youth in their fullness. Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are the bedrocks of our faith and have formed us as a Catholic community for two millennia, what a treasure!
And if the way we pray affects the way we believe, then it all has ramifications on the way we live our lives (vivendi). We are meant to be leaven of society – truly salt and light changing our world for the good! (cf. Rm 8:28) Our beautiful Catholic Social Teaching shows us how to live Matthew chapter 25 (the Gospel we have been hearing all through November). Mother Teresa modelled this so well for us as she would so often repeat the words of the Gospel: “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did it to me” (Mt. 25:40). Faith is not just for ourselves but meant to be shared and lived and witnessed in the world by the way we live and love. “They will know we are Christians by our Love” (cf. Jn. 13:35).
I believe Southeast Texas has been so positively impacted by our amazing 11 percent Catholic population. We want to see this continue in the years and decades to come; this is the greatest mission of our lives, to make Jesus Christ known and loved in the midst of our society. Let us strive to be missionary disciples in our daily lives on our journey to our heavenly homeland. St. Paul reminds us how God wants to work through us: “The Kingdom of God is not about eating or drinking, but about Justice, Peace, and Joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rm. 14:17). I am so excited, honored, and humbled to be your new bishop. Despite the challenges of today – we are making a difference, and I want to encourage us to never give up hope and to persevere in our mission of sharing our faith in the Diocese of Beaumont.
We have been called, formed, and are now being sent – in other words let’s go deeper into prayer, our profound beliefs, and radically living the Gospel in the world – lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi!!! (To hear more on this topic, follow the link to the original talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP0VeK-K3vs)
For The Good
As you may know, I have been our bishop a little under two months and as we get closer to November 3rd I’ve heard two requests rather consistently: “Bishop tell us what to do and who to vote for” and “Bishop, don’t you dare tell us what to do.” So, as an equal opportunity offender I will upset both groups! First of all, we all should be pro-life, pro-freedom of conscience, pro-charity, and pro-American! Therefore, I am going to tell us what to do, and that is, vote with a well-formed conscience. I am also going to give us a little homework by inviting us to read our two bishops’ conference letters: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship and Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics. However, I am not going to tell you whom you must vote for because I am both pro-American and pro-freedom of Conscience. As Americans with the God-given gift of free-will, we must each use it to the best of our ability.
As your bishop, I do not support any single party platform, but rather the Catholic Creed. So let us turn to what we believe, namely:
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. This means that if God is our Father then we really are brothers and sisters with all of humanity. This is exactly what Pope Francis just reminded us of in his new letter Fratelli Tutti. “All brothers and sisters,” imagine what a better society this would be if we truly respected each other, even in our differences? Pope Francis included a section on “political charity” that would be worthy of reading for both sides of the aisle (FT, 176 ff). In addition, I found particularly moving the section on forgiveness, which is so desperately needed in our society today (FT, 250-254). All decisions we make, even the choice of political candidates are oriented to our goal – eternal life in heaven! But because this life matters as well, so does all that God has created – we are to be good stewards of this creation.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God. If Christ is really Lord, then we must make all important decisions in prayer. Jesus you are Lord of my life, who do you want me to vote for? We call this discernment – every decision of our lives, and certainly the ones that have such significant impacts, should be made in prayer as we allow God to inform our consciences and decision making process.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. All life is sacred – the unborn, the vulnerable, the immigrant, the poor, the sick, the incarcerated, the elderly, and this list could go on an on. In these days of COVID-19, life threatening storms, and other natural disasters, we have been reminded just how vulnerable and precious the very balance of our lives can be. As our medical professionals race to develop a vaccine to lead us out of global pandemic, we have had a chance to reflect that saving every life is important. I repeat, all life is sacred, and that life in the womb is a “pre-eminent priority” among all of the life issues (cf. the USCCB documents above). God is the source, “the Lord, the giver of life” and no one has the right to extinguish another’s life from the womb to the tomb.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
This last line of our Creed reminds us that we are all a family of faith. May we live in the unity of the Trinity as we face difficult choices in life. May we respond always as men and women of faith, making decisions according to our well-formed consciences, keeping before us the good of our society and the eternal salvation of our souls. Vatican II reminds us of the dignity, beauty, and importance of conscience:
Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells him inwardly at the right movement: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity lies in observing this law, and by it he will be judged. His conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths (Gaudium et Spes, 16).
I cannot tell you what to do, you are a free American citizen, but I can remind you that you are first and foremost a “citizen of heaven.” May we always allow that citizenship to enlighten our minds and hearts. May God bless you and may God bless America!
Bishop David L. Toups
For The Good
Well, my first month as our bishop has been quite a ride! I know for all of us in Southeast Texas these days in preparation and recovery from Hurricane Laura have presented great challenges. In discussion with our friends from the American Red Cross, they told me that there have been more “Level 3/Level 4 disasters in the Texas Gulf Coast Region in the last five years than anywhere else in the nation.” That is a staggering statistic! In the midst of it all, I have seen the faith, courage and resiliency of our faithful as we help to repair not only our own neighborhoods, but as we reach out across the Sabine River and help our brothers and sisters who took the brunt of the storm.
The witness and service of our Catholic Charities, the service offered by our youth, the responsiveness of our clergy and faithful, and the collection for relief that we have taken up exhibits to me the incredible altruism of the Diocese of Beaumont, the holy people of God! One image stands out for me as an amazing example of courage and charity. The day after the storm passed and after I had spent two mornings surveying the damage on the eastern side of our diocese, I heard from the religious sisters who staff Catholic Charities in Lake Charles, and they shared the fact that they had no running water in their part of the city. With the help of Catholic Charities in Beaumont, we were able to quickly put together a box-truck with five palettes of water and three palettes of MRE’s. As we were unloading and Bishop Glen Provost of Lake Charles was describing to me the devastation of his entire diocese, he went on to tell me that his Vicar General no longer had any gas in his car to continue to get around and visit the damaged parishes. At that very moment, a family in an SUV drove up with ice chests of ice and water and multiple gas cans (gas for the VG to get around!). This was a family from Lake Charles who had evacuated to Houston and were returning with supplies. They has just seen their home in ruins, and were headed to their family business with a similar expectation. AND YET, even in this moment of loss they were still thinking of others – that is faith in action, that is the faith I have seen lived over and over in these past few weeks as I visit our parishes and schools – YOU are an inspiration to me and I feel so honored to be a part of this great Diocese of Beaumont.
As your new shepherd, I am humbled to be a part of this great community of believers, and I look forward to walking with you through the challenges of life for many years to come. Together we will get through these moments, as our diocese has done before. Please count on my ongoing presence and prayers as we continue to assist those in need during this time of COVID-19 and storm recovery. Let us trust in the Lord who promised us in the very last words he said before the Ascension: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). Indeed, He is with us and so we cry out in the midst of it all: Jesus, I trust in You!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop David L. Toups
To the Dear Faithful of the Diocese of Beaumont
“Peace be with you!” These are the words of the Risen Lord Jesus on Easter morning as he greets the fearful disciples locked in the Upper Room after the horrors of Good Friday. These are also the words with which the bishop greets the community at the beginning of Mass that I look forward to proclaiming at each of our parishes in the coming months. The peace of Christ is certainly what we need in our minds, hearts, and world at this time of unprecedented global pandemic and civil unrest, and I pray that my new apostolic ministry to our diocese will be marked by peace as we journey together through these difficult days.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks on June 9th when it was announced that Pope Francis appointed me to be the sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Beaumont, “I am all yours!” Though the ordination on August 21st will not be what we were all hoping for regarding a large diocesan celebration, in its simplicity it will be exactly what God has planned for us. Despite the restrictions due to the coronavirus, I indeed am all yours as the bishop’s ring will be placed on my finger by Cardinal DiNardo symbolizing the unity of the bishop with the diocese. I promise to spend myself in your service and together build up the Kingdom of God in Southeast Texas. And though we can’t all be together for the ordination on August 21st, we can all spiritually participate! I humbly ask each of you to join us virtually online or on TV as we pray for the Holy Spirit to descend upon me in a new and profound way as I am ordained and installed as your new bishop.
An incredible reality for me is that at every Mass offered in our diocese I will now be prayed for by name in the Eucharistic Prayer. That is probably the best “fringe benefit” a guy could get with a new job offer! “Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity, together with Francis our Pope and David our Bishop and all the clergy” (EP II). For those daily prayers at each of our altars I am eternally grateful! Notice that the office of bishop is linked to love and charity. It is my desire to be a source of love, healing, and reconciliation for all of our peoples, both inside our faith community and in our secular society. I will strive to build on the great work of my predecessor and your beloved bishop of twenty years, Bishop Curtis Guillory. Thank you Bishop Guillory for your welcome and guidance to me these past months and for loving and shepherding our diocese for the past twenty years!
The other interesting note about the prayerful remembrance of the bishop at the Mass is what the bishop himself says when celebrating the Mass. The Church puts on the lips of the bishop not his own name, but the following words: “for me your unworthy servant.” To some this may sound overly pious or smack of false humility, but in reality it is the recognition that God has called me to Southeast Texas, not because of my worthiness, but simply because in mystery He has called me to serve you. As Jesus says, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain” (John 15:16). This young bishop is conscious that as I pray that prayer, it is by God’s grace and not of my own worthiness that I come to serve you. As your new bishop I come as a stranger into your midst, but I want you to know that I come striving to minister with love and humility in my heart. I also pray that we won’t be strangers for long!
God has called me here at this moment in time to love and serve you, and I look forward to doing so for many years to come. We can’t truly understand the days in which we are living, but we know that God is with us even in the chaos. This is why both Bishop Guillory and I have chosen Romans 8:28 to define our ministry in this diocese: “For those who love God, we know that all things work together for the good.” May we lean on this scriptural promise and trust the Lord, who is the Good Shepherd, to lead us through this dark valley to greener pastures of refreshment and comfort (cf. Psalm 23). As we place our trust in Him, “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop David L. Toups