“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle.” This quote from Pope Francis forms the backdrop of my reflections over the past two weeks. Jason Carter (Family, Fellowship and Youth Director) mentioned a way in which our young people have taken this “call” to heart. Last week I outlined ways in which the men of the Holy Name society have also answered the call to discipleship in ways that fit their particular charisms.
Yearly the Parish Staff gets together for a full day planning session. Among the components of the Parish Staff “Charter,” we discuss several “Key Responsibility Areas” including goals and tasks that we would like to accomplish as a team over the next 12 months. Last year, KRA #1 was: Increase participation of “in-active” parishioners by 3% – within next 3 years in fulfilling the idea of the “New Evangelization” as defined as an effort to reawaken the faith of Christian/Catholic people, families and parishes which might have been “catechized” and received the sacraments many years earlier but now stand in need of a new presentation of the Catholic faith (aka, the “New Evangelization”).
After developing a list of in-actives parishioners, we looked at particular areas on which we wanted to focus, specifically youth, music/liturgy and leadership. Finally, we discussed a way where we could come up with one idea or one initiative for one year to fulfill the call to evangelize and “New Evangelization.” We came up with two ideas, both based on the idea of “going out” to the world, being seen, connecting with our people, seeing where we can help and seeing what develops. Our first idea was to hold our weekly parish staff lunch meeting in a local restaurant. Already we have encountered parishioners during lunch who seem to enjoy seeing and talking with us. It has also given us an opportunity to inform them about some aspect of St. Monica about which they might not have been aware.
The second idea was to help out at Surrey Service in Devon twice each month. During my first visit there, I was very impressed at the scope of what is offered at Surrey. We also discussed what the needs are (hint – hint). Their #1 need is transport. Rover Chesco provides vans but part- time drivers one day a week are always needed. Seniors also often need a kind of “Uber-for-seniors” to take them to doctor appointments and grocery shopping. It’s often difficult for seniors to lift heavy grocery bags. “Fix-it” people are also needed for relatively simple jobs (changing lights bulbs, put in and take our air conditioning units as the seasons change, yard work, painting and cleaning out accumulated “stuff”). Non-medical, rudimentary home visits, home care and “visiting angels” to help with cleaning, money management, teaching computer skills are also areas where Surry sees a need.
We chose to help out in the kitchen and dining room. We go on Fridays, help serve the meals and do “bussing” after the people are finished eating. In between we have had the opportunity to talk with parishioners (and non-parishioners as well) about the neighborhood, the parish and the good things that are happening at St. Monica.
Our staff offered some thoughts concerning their experience at Surry:
“To be of help in any capacity for a service that gives back to the seniors of our area is always a pleasure.” (Cathy L).
“I am enjoying the time spent volunteering at Surry Services. It is a great way to live out our call as Catholics to serve others. Working at Surrey is a pleasant and rewarding opportunity to interact and assist those living in the community.” (Mary P).
“Although I’ve only been to Surrey twice so far, both occasions went very well. I feel like we are there supporting the endeavors of an organization committed to assisting the elderly in the area to maintain bonds in various aspects of their lives: socially, nutritionally, health and fitness, and education. It is nice to treat these older, people, who have put in a lifetime of living, to a smile and an inexpensive restaurant-type meal complete with wait staff and table busing. A meal they didn’t need to prepare or clean-up, but could just enjoy with friends.” (Diane P)
In 1990, Pope St. John Paul II wrote an encyclical on the Church’s “missionary mandate” entitled Redemptoris Missio. In it he states:
Recent popes have stressed the importance of the role of the laity in missionary activity. In my exhortation about On The Vocation And The Mission Of The Lay Faithful In The Church And In The World (Christifideles Laici) I spoke explicitly of the Church’s “permanent mission of bringing the Gospel to the millions and millions of men and women who as yet do not know Christ the Redeemer of humanity and of the responsibility of the lay faithful in this regard. Whereas the foundation of a new church requires the Eucharist and hence the priestly ministry, missionary activity, which is carried out in a wide variety of ways, is the task of all the Christian faithful.
Most of us are not called to go out “to the nations,” but Pope Francis has reiterated that all of us – not just church “professionals” (priests, sisters, Catholic school teachers, youth directors and parish staff) are called to go out to the fringes of the local community, to engage our people in our neighborhood and make St. Monica that presence of Christ in “our ‘hood’.”