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By Parish Social Ministry Section Members For Parish Social Ministers
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An Act of Love
My mom and dad loved their vocation as parents. The challenge of social ministry is that it draws They were good at it - taking advantage of op- people where they would rather not go. It takes portunities to show us we were loved and guiding the faithful into places of brokenness and controus to be people of faith. They obviously enjoyed versy. They are called to stand with people and being a part of our lives, and there was a lot of communities who are hurting, ostracized, on the laughter in our home. outskirts of our society. They are called to name the systems that advantage some at the expense of Yet, I know that there were plenty of things in- others. But not only does it call the faithful to go volved in raising nine children that they didn’t to these places, it asks them to be there with love. love doing: working multiple jobs, helping with For, just as it would have cheapened all that my countless homework assignments, cleaning infi- parents did for us if they would have begrudged nite loads of laundry, driving us to practices and all it took, doing social ministry out of obligation, activities, teaching us to do chores, and so on. I guilt, or resentment cheapens the gift that it is to am sure they didn’t love doing those things. But our neighbor and our God, who identifies Himthey didn’t begrudge us the extra responsibilities self in the hungry, sick, and imprisoned. that we imposed on their lives. How they did it was an expression of why they did it. They did it What we are talking about is nothing less than lovwith love, because they loved us. ing the addict who belligerently is seeking services in our centers. It is nothing less than loving those So it is with social ministry - how we do it should who are just as strongly convinced of an opposite be an expression of why we do it. While there may solution to addressing problems at the heart of our be many motivations for doing social ministry, for life’s work. It is nothing less than loving the people the Christian, there is one that underpins all oth- who live and work together with us. Doing this is ers – love. God loves us so deeply, and in accept- to carry out social ministry as an act of love. ing that love, we are called to love one another. As in the first letter of John, the evangelist writes, “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us” and if God has so freely loved us, “we also must love one another.” (1 John 4: 11, 16) That love draws us to action for and with others in the joys and sorrows of their lives. Ultimately, social ministry is an act of love.
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Having our ministry be an act of love is the art of spirituality. Growing in our ability to love and to act out of that love is an art that gets better with practice. The practice of spirituality is as important to social ministry as the practice of relief, individual development, community organizing, and advocacy. In the pages that follow are reflections from parish social ministers about how they practice spirituality for their ministry. Their stories speak of coming to understand how much God loves them, saying “yes” to that love, and being a conduit of that love to the world. It is our hope that in their honest simplicity, these reflections may resonate with your experience of spiritual practice, and that they will help to unite us as a community of believers to support one another on our spiritual journey and in our ministry.
RACHEL LUSTIG Director of Parish Social Ministry Catholic Charities USA
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Journey Into Spirituality
This reflection was generated from my participation in JustFaith Ministries’ Engaging Spirituality program. I share my ever evolving faith journey with you as a reflection upon my path to involvement with parish social ministry. Hopefully some of this reflection resonates with you. My parents provided me with a foundation in the formal Roman Catholic tradition that included Catholic grade school training followed by eight years of seminary training in high school and college, studying for the priesthood. Upon leaving the seminary, getting married, starting a career and family, I reflected upon the transformational events of the late 1960’s and 1970’s, with Vatican II opening wide the doors of the church. It is at that point I began to grapple with my spiritual path. I was always attracted to meditation. My senior college thesis was on tracing the history of meditation. It led me to embrace Transcendental Meditation in the early 70’s. After a decade of somewhat being both lost and ambivalent, I was introduced to Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, in the 1990’s. His writings and reflections on solitude and the inner journey captured my Spirit. Merton’s exploration of eastern spirituality and connecting this tradition to the Christian tradition currently provides a direction that guides my spiritual path. I have struggled with the concept of God as I have journeyed on this spiritual-seeking path. How do I define God? How do I sort out all the human attributes we give God. Is God an intervener, a zapping God who helps people win, do well on tests, cures cancer. Is God mainly an elsewhere God, up there, in heaven or is God an every where God, truly present in all persons and things. Does he/she plan, does God have a plan for each of us. Does God have a will, “its God’s will.” How do I balance this with the pervasive thought that God is incomprehensible, beyond definition, and an unfathomable mystery. I believe God is a mystery and cannot be totally understood at this point. Now, I center my focus on the incarnation of God: the presence of the Divine in each every one of us. This Source becomes a blur through the layers of life. As we unravel life and all its distractions, we awaken to the Divine in each and every one of us. The experience cannot be planned, achieved, or constructed of our own will, as we access this Center. We just need to BE there and experience the Divine and be receptive to its revealing. The struggle then is how to BE there. How can I be “awake” to the Divine not only in me but in everyone that I encounter? How do I become awake to be in the present? To be aware that I’m aware? To know I am seeing.?
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I have a sense the best way to access this Source is through silence. Through the practice of silence and practicing awareness, we create space to listen, to be open to the Divine. Then, from this well spring of awareness and connectedness to the Divine, we begin to treat everyone as the Divine. We begin to develop equanimity, which is, giving everyone space - knowing we are all on this earth to try to make sense of our lives and lead our lives the best we can. We begin to discern the truth and not condemn through judgment of others who hold different views. I am challenged to handle the illusions of my ego. The ego is the source of all unhappiness, who judges, is hurt, is angry, who generates false impressions and identification based on wealth, status and material possessions. How do I become awake and courageous enough to acknowledge these feelings, process them, not bury them and then let them go. Not run away, close down, cut off, ignore and “sulk.” How do I become aware of the middle path of balance- to have the courage to live a life of integrity, of compassion and of forgiveness? I struggle with wondering if I walk enough with the poor? Do I do as I preach? Do I acknowledge my biases and prejudices? How do I deal with the inequities of the world, the suffering, the staggering gaps between wealth and severe poverty and inhumanity without becoming hardened and hopeless? How do I live simply? How do I develop community? These are my struggles. I believe the answers to these struggles are part of the journey. “The journey is the destination!” The core of my practice is meditation. I attempt to sit on the cushion 45 minutes each morning as I rise. This sitting practice sets the tone for the day and links me through out the day to be present and aware. I consider this sacred time where I place myself in a position to be open to the Divine. It also gives me an opportunity to practice awareness as I focus on the breath as a grounding method to come back to as I become aware of my wondering mind. Exercising this awareness muscle enables me to be present and aware throughout the day. This practice is nurtured through participating in a yearly 10 day silent retreat. It is a meditation boot camp where meditation is practiced from 5:30 am to 9:30 pm. Only periods of teachings break the silence. My practice is further nourished by reading, particularly Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh, eastern spirituality journals, Jack Jezreel, and Jim Wallis. Connecting with my wife and sharing our spiritual path, balance, support, and, at time, clarity as we grow our relationship and faith.
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Being intentional in my prison ministry helps me to be grounded by find God in the “crucified poor.” As I grow in being in the present and aware of the Divine, I find myself turning off sources of conflict like the evening local news, reality shows, and talk shows. I have a sense these are noisy static. An important part of my practice includes daily exercise alternating between running, biking, swimming, weights and yoga. This attention to my physical wellbeing is a source of strength in my life. Many times I am able to be mindful of the Divine and focus on the present as I participate in these activities.
I challenge us to create space to listen to the Divine and each other, to be awake to God’s presence and open to change and transformation. In doing so, we plant seeds for basic social justice. I believe this is best achieved through community; as when we are in community, amendments are made and we can hold each other accountable and grow. I challenge us to live a life of gratitude- to be open and aware of the awesomeness of God and the miracles of life in all levels of existence. Thank you for the opportunity to share a part of my soul with you.
My challenge to all of us is to live a life of compassion. I believe this is the central theme of the Jesus story. How can we live the Jesus story in our own lives through compassion. I believe compassion is developed through understanding. The best way to create understanding is to walk with those who are different than we are—those who are materially poor and marginalized; for this is where God is most profoundly.
BOB SCHUELKE Director Social Justice Ministries, Three Holy Women Parish Archdiocese of Milwaukee
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Spirituality in Every Day Life
For those of us involved in parish social ministry, our ability to understand and appreciate spirituality in our everyday life is an added bonus to our work. I remember hearing discussions at the Catholic Charites USA Annual Gatherings from members of the Parish Social Ministry Professional Interest Section (PSM Section), many of whom devote all their working hours to social ministry and justice for the most impoverished people in our society. I see their joy in their work, I see the love of God and through Him the love for our neighbors as Jesus commanded, even when faced by seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I was able to interview a few members of our Section recently and one in particular inspired me. He is a deacon doing parish social ministry in the Midwest to provide spiritual and material help to the people he serves. His weekly activities are twofold and take him all over the state. He drives over 3000 miles per month and his weekly schedule is grueling. He stretches out his resources as he stretches out his hands in service every day. His work is a wonderful example of the embodiment of our call from Christ. It was easy for him to answer my questions because it is both his life’s work and his life’s devotion. If I were asked to name someone who embodies both the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy into his everyday life, he would be a great example. What struck me the most in speaking to him on the telephone from many hundreds of miles away was his calm demeanor and his obvious peace of mind. I am sure that this peace in him is a direct result of the work he does, and his attitude beams out in every direction he goes. Does he have problems? Does he get tired? Does he need help? The answer to all of these questions are yes and it would be easy for him to be overwhelmed by the weight of it all. That is where his faith and his spirituality assist him and through his efforts, others are affected.
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I was also able to witness how spirituality works in our everyday lives during a weekend-long race, Relay for Life, for the American Cancer Society. Cancer survivors joined together with family and friends of cancer victims, caregivers, and community organizations to raise money, raise consciousness, and call more people to get involved. I was able to hear firsthand how spirituality helps all the people affected directly and indirectly by this terrible disease. The hope and faith of people even in the face of devastating losses and suffering was a true testament to how our spirituality helps us in our everyday lives. The money that was raised is important and is very gratifying, but it was small in comparison to the sharing of faith and compassion for those in need. These unselfish acts of kindness shows the strength gained from the sharing of faith. I really believe that the actions we take in our everyday lives, whether or not these actions are large or small, combine together to form our Spiritual lives. The faith and hope gained each day adds up. It multiplies our usefulness and gives us peace in the knowledge that we are trying our best to be a beacon of light for those most vulnerable in our society.
LARRY FULTON Chair, Social Outreach Commission St. Mary Magdalene Church Diocese of San Diego
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God created us as social beings. Even while we may require time in solitude, we are drawn to a connection with others for a variety of reasons. Community may be defined as a group of people with shared interests and a common identity, and there are many different communities with which we may be affiliated, as they related to different circumstances and experiences. Each of us comes from a family, we live in neighborhoods, and we belong to networks related to our needs or interests — such as sports, politics, the arts, work, support groups and church. Some evolve naturally, while others are intentional. Our relationships with the members in these different groups depend on many variables. In reflecting back on my own experience of community, I realize that I probably gave little thought to this concept prior to my middle-adult years. As a child and teenager, I naturally needed to belong and feel accepted. As a young parent, I gravitated toward other mothers who had children of similar ages. We supported and learned from one another. When I was in my mid-thirties, I decided to go back to college. I decided that an independentstudy program would suit me just fine. It would allow the flexibility I needed with a busy household. After all, I was a responsible, hard-working adult, committed to earning my degree. Within about four months, however, I realized that something very important was missing. I needed to be with other students in the learning process. I needed to be in a learning community. Years later, when I discovered that my teenage son had a drug problem, I turned to a local program that worked with adolescents with chemical dependency issues. I was initially resistant to the near-mandated family support component of the program. I now believe that my active participation in the family association was significant to my son’s successful and ongoing recovery. Family members of individuals with addictions need the support of others who share that same anguish. In both of these examples, I initially did not feel the need for a community, yet with the grace of God, I was able to open myself to the value and support of community. Likewise, my faith has drawn me to other experiences of community. Growing up, my family did not claim a particular religious tradition. I refer to our faith connection as “generic Christian.” Attendance at worship services and Sunday school were minimal, however I always had a sense of God in my life and felt drawn to an elementary spirituality. When my two daughters were toddlers, I began to feel that I wanted them to have an experience of church that I had not had growing up. In the late 1970s, while living in San Antonio, Texas, I convinced my non-practicing Catholic husband to start attending Mass regularly “for the children.” After about a year of sitting in the back of the church— because I was not really “one of them”—I began to realize that I was isolating myself from the community, while they were opening their hearts to me in welcome. I observed a community of people who not only professed their faith; they also
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lived it through worship and song, prayer, witness and service. I didn’t really understand what I was observing, but I recognized that I wanted to enter into the experience. I admitted to myself that my resistance to membership in this community was a cop-out, so I made an appointment to meet with the pastor. The parish did not have a formal RCIA program, so I spent a year in weekly “formation classes” with the pastor. It was a small, tightly-knit parish, and so I considered the whole parish to be my sponsor in faith formation. And I began a deeper encounter with Jesus than the “Sunday School Jesus” of my immature spirituality. I was received into the Catholic Church in December, 1978. My son was born five months later. I was now a Catholic but I soon learned that membership meant more than showing up. I was invited to teach CCD. They needed a catechist for 8th grade. I balked, claiming I was not ready and I did not know enough. I was assured of training and support. I trusted and jumped in with both feet. In preparation and to support my lesson plans, I participated in workshops, attended catechist meetings and joined prayer groups and Bible studies. I was hungry to learn as much as I could. In 1981, my family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. I grieved leaving my new parish family and was convinced I would never find another faith community like my first parish. And I was right. There will never be another parish like my first, and yet, I know that God led me to the place I needed to be. In Tulsa, my new parish sponsored and formed me in new ways. I met some amaz-
ing women of faith who stretched and challenged me in ways I could never have imagined. I prayed with and learned from them. I began to understand and know Jesus better. I continued reading, taking classes and teaching CCD and ministering with youth, but I felt that these areas of ministry were not the best fit for me. And then in 1987, we moved again, this time to New York. I grieved leaving my second parish family, and yet I felt that God had more plans for me. To say that this was a comforting thought would not be totally honest. It was unsettling to consider the path to which I was being called. In my third parish on Long Island, I was introduced to parish social ministry; I found what I didn’t know I was looking for. Parish Social Ministry gave expression to my faith. Jesus claimed my heart, and the Gospel came alive in the faces of the poor and the humbling experience of walking with them. God and the people who have sponsored and challenged me in faith throughout my life are still forming me, and I pray that I am a source of encouragement to those I meet. I used to call myself a convert, however I now feel that identifying myself as a member of the Catholic faith tradition does not describe conversion. Conversion is an ongoing process. It evolves and deepens with time, prayer, wisdom, service and the support of individuals and community. The seeds of conversion were planted at my conception, and God’s grace and the people in my life have nurtured these seeds. Just as our families and closest friends love us for who we are, they also
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keep us “honest” about our complacency or motivation. When we make a commitment to any community, we both offer and receive support, and the community challenges us to explore new possibilities, as well as confronting us with our inconsistencies. When we come together in worship and prayer to hear God’s word proclaimed and to receive the Eucharist, we are joined with our sisters and brothers in Christ. When we call to mind our own brokenness, we are united with the common experience of the human family. In the book, Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, authors Nouwen, McNeill and Morrison describe community this way: “[A]s a Christian community we are people who together are called out of our familiar places to unknown territories, out of our ordinary and proper places to the places where people hurt and where we can experience with them our common human brokenness and our common need for healing” (pp. 154). St. Augustine said, “Be what you see, and receive what you are—the Body of Christ.” If I am part of the Body of Christ, then even as I care for myself, I must move beyond my own needs and recognize the needs of the whole Body of Christ. What is my responsibility as a member of this body? What does my commitment to the Body of Christ mean?
What is my response to the brokenness of the world? When I feel God tugging at my heart with questions related to my faith and my response, or lack of response, and especially when I recognize my resistance to God’s tugging, I am drawn back to my relationship with Jesus as I try to understand. In parish social ministry, it is crucial to connect our acts of charity and justice to our faith. I believe that we must build this ministry on the foundation of prayer, scripture and the rich tradition of Catholic social teaching. We must recognize the presence of Jesus among us and be the Body of Christ. We must continually ask ourselves questions, such as: “Why am I doing what I am doing?” “Am I reflecting the love of Jesus through this ministry?” There is great value in personal reflection, and it is equally as important to explore tough questions with other people of faith. I am fortunate to belong to a variety of faith communities. The community of parish social ministry coordinators in the parishes on Long Island and the staff of the Parish Social Ministry Department at Catholic Charities are true blessings to me. Their faith, passion for justice and commitment to the ministry are inspiring. Not only do we work hard together, we also pray and celebrate regularly. We share our joys and sorrows; we support and challenge one another with love and respect. Like the experience of most of the rest of the country,
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the past several months have been extremely difficult for our diocese as the overall economy and financial realities have challenged parishes as never before. In large and small groups we have shared our sorrow and fears about potential losses, while being open to new possibilities. And as always, we prayed for one another, for our common ministry and for our Church. Budget deficits remain and future financial security is still a great concern, but we have found strength within our community and hope for the continued vision of parish social ministry as an integral ministry of our Church on Long Island. I am now in my fourth parish community after moving to a new area of Long Island eight years ago. I miss all of my former parish families. And while distance may prevent my being with them, they are each part of the scrap book of my faith journey. Each of those communities served as a building block in my formation and ongoing spiritual life. My current parish community also nourishes my faith with their presence as we gather around the Eucharistic table. And I have learned that when I make a true commitment in service and participation within my parish community, my own conversion deepens.
The busy-ness of raising a family is long past. I cherish the quiet of my current home life where I enjoy more time for reading, prayer and reflection. I cherish each of the communities to which I belong. It is within these groups that I can share the insights from my private reflection, which are received, respected and sometimes challenged. They keep me honest.
JAN JAMROZ Director, Parish Social Ministry Catholic Charities Diocese of Rockville Centre
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I am struck most by how our call to follow Jesus so often comes at the invitation of another. And at times and places that we least expect. I can never recall wanting to be anything other than a priest, yet I can’t tell you exactly how it all came about. Underneath it all, it was a way to serve and minister, I know that now. Beyond that, maybe there was the fact that my mom’s brother was a priest—a Vincentian who worked in California and came home during the summers. He was always really kind—called us boys “double ruffle petunias”—why I am not sure. He also loved raw hamburger on Saltines and he could say a Latin Mass in about 25 minutes. Maybe it was that my Dad had a brother who was a priest, but we never met him. Mom and Dad always went to Sunday Mass and there were days for “Confession” and “First Friday” devotions. So, I “started out” on this journey of mine always wanting to be a priest. After high school, I entered the seminary spending two years in Springfield, Ill and then two years ending with a Philosophy degree from Quincy University. I traveled from my Decatur, Illinois home to St. Louis were I attended Theology School. You’d think with all that seminary training and altar boy serving that I would remember a lot more Latin that I currently do! At the end of my second year of Theology, I decided to take a year off to make sure this was really where I wanted to go with my life. In the end, while I still wanted to serve in the ministry as a priest, my discernment led me on a different journey—that of marriage and children. And this new path has led me in ways I never expected. Not long after Bev and I were married in 1973, I came across Bread for the World—making a difference through public policy, through the legislative arena. I became involved with this effort to address poverty and hunger and realized this was a significant way to change the world as well. It was only a short time later that a phone call came, from an acquaintance whom I believe I first met at a Bread for the World meeting, inviting me to run for public office and become a state representative. After telling him no, that our first born was due in just three months or less, we decided to take a chance and file for office. And what journey this has been! My career path of serving God in the priesthood evolved into a 22 year career as a State Representative and almost 6 years as a State Senator from the City of St. Louis. It was during this time that I was able to serve by trying to change public policies- the structures and systems—for the sick, the poor and those at the margins. I can’t say that I often thought of this as service or ministry. I cannot say that there was always prayer around the policies I fought for nor can I say that I always saw it as service back then. But now I see more clearly that this was work on behalf of vulnerable and it was seeing the face of Christ in others. The journey is indeed, never ending.
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I now am working for Catholic Charities in St. Louis as the Senior Director of Advocacy. While I could not say that I saw this coming as a path in my life, I am not surprised that it is in some way connected back to my journey toward the Priesthood—making a difference. And it comes by way of another “invitation”. My studies and formation in seminaries, my working a couple years in a parish, several years working for state family services as a caseworker and then twenty eight years as a state representative and senator and now I work at Catholic Charities, all were “invitations”. Let me try and connect the dots. As I think about where I am now, I am struck by the “invitations” I received—invitations to follow Jesus, although I may not have thought it was a call to follow Jesus at the time. After I was term limited out of the legislature, I learned over lunch of an opening at Catholic Charities and where I now work. This “invitation” came from a priest friend who I went Seminary with—someone whom I met 37 years before. I feel this calling was re-connecting me to a path that I started on when I was a younger person. More dots. It was shortly after beginning at Catholic Charities that an “invitation” came to attend a national gathering focused on Justice. Now that I think of it, it was here that another “invitation” presented itself. One a night were we had some free time, a luxury I must tell you, two
new friends and I were out for dinner and drinks. We stopped at a neighborhood restaurant for a beer. Here we were sitting in a bar drinking beer and my new friends were talking openly about their faith life, prayer and work at the church. I mean, in a bar! Really. I sat there listening and trying to take this all in—men and women sharing about their faith in front of me, in a bar. I didn’t exactly know what to make of all this then. Now, I see it as a call for me to delve deeper into what my faith journey was all about. I was not just at meeting for the great programs; I was being called, invited, by the expressions of faith of those around me. This journey has led from “beers” night to a struggle to find out how to include others on this walk of min; in other words, how can I find a community of fellow travelers? Mass and Eucharist make up part of this faith journey, but for me, there needs to be more. There is this constant desire to be with some others on my journey. As I read, particularly the reflections and callings inside the works of Megan McKenna, I am struck by her words as she sees the call to walk with Jesus demands “community” of some kind, that the demand is to somehow walk with and to BE with the poor and marginalized and that it is in trying to understand what was going on in the life and times of Jesus that we can come to a better understanding of what our call is and how this Jesus is for us today.
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In her book, Parables-The Arrows of God, Megan McKenna writes:“Our religion is the seeds that have been planted in us, that have been nurtured by many other people. Hopefully others will reap the benefits of what we begin and pass on. If we don’t pass it on, it dies with us. The dream dies. A piece of the Kingdom dies. There is no possibility if we don’t plant. God relies on us to bring the kingdom. If it doesn’t come on earth, it is because most of us can’t be bothered. We want it but not enough. It’s too hard. It is true we do very little alone; the kingdom comes in community. Leon Bloy says that he will know when he gets to the kingdom of heaven because the first thing God is going to say to him while he looks around is, “Where are all the others” “ Our journey “with” others gives us hope. I recall that I have been most impacted by those who journey with me and who share their faith story--this is where I feel God often speaks to me; where he extends another “invitation”. What a joy and profound difference if we have our own “companion on the journey”. It is in the sharing not only of life’s struggles and joys of the everyday part of life, it is really the sharing of the faith journey-- how we are to respond to His call to us to grow, to serve and to weather the tough times in our personal life and now especially the tough times we are experiencing in our own Church. It is the “community” of another and of others as well that is helping me to grow and to honestly struggle and to experience what it means to take this faith journey seriously.
This call or invitation to have a community of some type grows stronger and yet is still elusive. Often the sharing of one with another, a companion, is a sharing with one who may be hundreds if not thousands of miles away. The desire to have a local community where one can journey and be fed and be called or invited to life a life of faith and giving is strong. It is in this yet unrealized call to community that God calling me to be more than I am, to follow Him. Understanding what this “being with”, this “community” of believers is still vague and yet to be fulfilled. I know that this yet to be realized “community” will be a significant part of my spiritual growth and yet only a part. And community can begin with our hearts saying “OUR Father who are…….”
PATRICK DOUGHERTY Senior Director of Advocacy Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Louis
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Honoring Our Sacramental and Liturgical Life
That would have been hard to predict. Seemingly, incongruous. It just doesn’t seem to make sense. How the heck did this come about? Or, it’s never been like this before. Pick a phrase and you don’t need to go very far or think very hard to find an application. Record floods are not hard to imagine here in Minnesota, but in September? At a time we should be reaping the harvest, we are planting sand bags and closing roads and bridges. This would have been hard to predict. As I write this my still green grass needed mowing, yet again and we have a stretch of sunny 70+ degree days as far as the forecast can see, yet the calendar proclaims OCTOBER in a seemingly incongruous way. If the airwaves are not reporting about weather, than the topic is likely politics. In this land of the free and home of the brave, with women and men dying on battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have people of many different political persuasions engaged in name-calling, mud-slinging and belittling the patriotism of their opponents with a heightened hate not seen before. It just doesn’t seem to make sense. Pick a body of believers of virtually any faith these days and we will find a house divided. We are not talking about simple differences of opinion here. The extreme positions articulated from all points of the compass reach a frenzy of questioning salvation or its equivalent with a screeching selfrighteousness that results only in harm, violence or even death. How the heck did this come about? In this state of fertile farm fields and grocery store shelves piled high with mega-packages of food, Second Harvest Heartland, the largest hunger relief organization in Minnesota has determined we are missing 125 million meals for our hungry sisters and brothers, many of them children. The census figures released at the end of September show that nearly 45 million people are now living under the federal poverty level ($22,000 for a family of four), including an additional one million children. And what about our own hearts and minds? How have we violated values and principles in ways great or small, and what shade of clarity do we apply to our own need for redemption? Has it ever been like this before? From the silly -- to the superficial -- to the serious, contradictory and disparate pieces form a fragmented puzzle, and like the Emperor with no clothes, we can convince ourselves we are looking good and doing just fine. This outlook as a way of life is not sustainable and, if fact becomes more burdensome with time, it can be the death of us. This weekend, like every weekend, we hear the gospel call that makes a claim on us as followers of Jesus Christ. Depending on the moment in life we find ourselves, sometimes with fear and sometimes with confidence, we are called to step into the mystery that is daily life as we know it. The presence of Christ in our lives brings the presence of Christ to the world around us and it has the power to transform the fragmented puzzle of our
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weary and worn world. Faith becomes the essential corrective lens to bring clarity to the ministries and mission for all of us to carryout. We saw it on display at the recent Ministry Fair with hundreds of ministries here at Pax Christi working to proclaim the faith of hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, countering the images of self-centered people neglecting or not even seeing others in need. Because of faith it is easy to predict people would respond in this manner. We see it each time we make the sign of the cross. The cross as an instrument of violence and death becomes an instrument of peace and resurrection. The mystery of faith takes the seemingly incongruous and transforms it for the world. We see it when we celebrate baptism, and indeed all of our sacraments, as we proclaim a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and are joined to his suffering and death, only to also be joined to his eternal life. It might not make any sense without faith, but with faith the transforming grace of God enriches and inspires us to go forward to love and serve the Lord. We see it most centrally when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist at Mass on Sunday. Without the gift of faith, Mass could be viewed as a series of steps and actions designed to create a fragmented puzzle. A body of people broken, sinful and in need of healing assembled to share a small piece of bread and a drink from a common cup?
We are precisely the people Christ called to his table. Just as his broken body on the cross was made whole, so too is the Body of Christ on earth made whole through faith. His blood poured out was for the forgiveness of sins, our sins. The grace of his touch brings us healing no matter how we got there in the first place. So how the heck did this come about? God calls each one of us by name, even before we are born, to enter into a relationship of love and to share this gift of love with those around us. Our response in faith helps make evident the transformation of the contradictory into the reality of love. The hungry are fed, the poor are lifted up, the broken are healed and the dead are raised to new life. Living in this manner is sustainable to the point of eternal life. Drawing on the grace of God and the support of our faith community, the burdens of a contradictory, incongruous world are lifted. Putting things in sync with God and one another strengthens the mystery we celebrate as followers of Jesus Christ.
MICHAEL GRIFFIN Director, Faith Formation & Social Justice Pax Christi Catholic Church Archdiocese of St Paul-Minneapolis
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Stories of Conversion
Several years ago, I read a book entitled “Jesus Before Christianity” by Albert Nolan. I did not realize that this book would be responsible for a conversion in my life. For me, the book opened my eyes in a new way to the amazing love of God lived through the life of Jesus. The comparison between the image of God portrayed in the Old Testament and the New Testament helped me to realize more clearly the desire God has for us to live in union with Him and receive the unconditional love He has to offer each and every person created by God ~ EVERYONE! The difference between those that live in an intimate relationship with Him and those that do not is basically the choice each person makes to either be open to His invitation or choose not to accept it. The Old Testament offers many stories of the wrath of God, warnings that when a person sins, this person and many generations to follow will be punished. It seemed that once a person went wrong, there was no way of “erasing” this error and being exonerated. God becomes flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. From the very beginning, His Life shows us the love of God. Jesus embraces those that society rejects – lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, those with physical deformities and handicaps, the poor. He sits at table and breaks bread with those who others would not look at or talk to, let alone socialize with. To “sit at table” with another clearly communicated acceptance of the person and that a close relationship existed in this society. In His relationship with the Father, Jesus modeled for us the relationship we are all welcome to enter into. By His compassion and love for the “lowly,” He demonstrated that God does not measure the worth of a person in the same manner humans often measure it. By the mere fact that we are created by God, we are sacred beings. So many do not believe themselves to be “good enough” or worthy of an intimate relationship with God. In Scripture, all we need to do is really read the stories and be conscious of how simple people, sinners, those that would be unlikely candidates are called by God and by His grace, transformed into new life in Him. Conversion! If you have never had the opportunity to enter into Scripture with all five senses, you may be surprised at how your heart may hear in a way your ears have been missing! Take some quiet time with a group of people and ask one person to proclaim a story in the Gospel. Before it is read aloud for the group, take some time to read it a couple of times. All in the group should begin by taking a moment to be still and recognize that they are in the presence of God. One person is chosen to be the “reader” and may prepare the group by pointing out some notable things in the story. For example, if you choose the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples after His Resurrection at the shore, you may ask - what do you:
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See – the ocean (how does the water appear), Peter and the disciples in the boat (what do they look like), the beach (the sand, the fire), Jesus on the shore looking out to the boat (do you see Him, what is He wearing, what is the expression on His face) Listen – the sound of the ocean, the disciples talking as they try to catch some fish, the voice of Jesus as he calls out to them, the crackling of the fire Smell – the fish as it cooks, the smoke coming from the fire, the ocean Taste – salt air, fish, ocean water Feel – the mist in the air from the ocean, the breeze, sand beneath your feet, the fishing poles in your hands, the presence of the Lord These are just some suggestions for how to prepare to enter into the story with all of your senses. As the story is slowly proclaimed, put yourself into the story and notice who you may identify with and how you may come to understand this story in a new way. Jesus knows us well. The stories in Scripture offer us opportunities to come to know Him. This is different than knowing about Him. Conversion happens when your heart is touched and it is not possible for you to not be changed in some way by this gift from God. There are many events and many people in Scripture that can speak to our own circumstances, fears, insecurities and doubts. Often, you may be able to identify the moment when your heart was touched by grace and faith became alive for you.
The story of St. Paul is the most dramatic conversion story. He is passionate about his mission to persecute Christians and is literally knocked off his horse by a streak of light which blinds him and he then hears the voice of the Lord. Jesus summons Ananias and asks him to embrace Saul. Ananias is faithful to the Lord and greets Saul by addressing him Saul, my brother”. Saul experiences scales falling from his eyes and now, with new sight, uses his “passion” for the Lord. We all know the story of his journey after his conversion and the effect it had on the Church. Conversion is an ongoing process that deepens on our journey of faith. The first “spark” creates a greater hunger for deeper intimacy with God and helps raise consciousness when opportunities for growth in wisdom, knowledge and understanding are before us. You may have a “conversion story” of your own to share. It may be about particular people in your life, a story that you heard from Scripture that seemed to “come to life” in a new way, a book that you have read, an event that you attended. Most of the time, these “little surprises” happen when, where and through people we may least expect. Conversion is a process, a journey that continues throughout our lives. It is our choice to accept God’s gift and trust that He will satisfy our desire for deeper intimacy with Him.
MARIA HUNTER Director, Office of Social Concerns & Volunteers Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey
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20 Questions and Signs Discerning Spiritual Growth
Life is equivalent to growth. Without growth we stagnate and die. The same with our spiritual life; we were given our spiritual life as a gift from God, through Jesus Christ. He intended for that life to grow; for us to grow in Christ. Growth can lead to maturity. How do we know we are achieving or growing towards spiritual maturity? First we need to know what the end goal is of reaching that maturity level. The goal of spiritual maturity, as is evident in the gospels, is to be like Christ. It is our responsibility, as a Christian and a Catholic, to be like Christ. Ephesians 4:15 says “Instead of speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is Christ.” Secondly, how does this growth occur? One needs nourishment in order to grow. Just like our bodies need food, air and water to grow, our soul and spirit needs to be nourished through Christ. He is essential to our spiritual growth, so our first task is to ask ourselves if we are being spiritually fed. • Are we reading the Word of God? • Are we taking in God’s Word, His Truth & reflecting on it, acting on it? • Do we meet daily with God; making time to quiet ourselves and spend some private time with Him in prayer and contemplation? • Do we feed ourselves with His Body and Blood by way of the Eucharist on a regular basis? • Do we spend time in communion and worship with other Catholics / Christians? We also need to find out where we are along the path of this spiritual journey and in our relationship with God. So the next phase of our spiritual growth discernment is how is our relationship with God the Father? We learn a great deal about how to be more Christ-like when we look at Jesus’ relationship with God: • When praying to God, do we sense His total forgiveness, and do we accept it? • Do we feel encouraged or discouraged during our private prayer time with Him? • Do we tend to worry too much, or do we trust in God; that He is ultimately in control? • Do we truly know, believe and accept the depth of God’s love for us? • Do we praise Him for the good in our lives? Finally, if the reward of reaching spiritual maturity is being like Christ, then how “Christ-like” are we? These are some of the signs of spiritual maturity. • We forgive one another our transgressions. • We often have a kind word or smile for others. • Our decisions are not always ruled by our desires, but rather what’s right in God’s eyes. • We do not react to those who disagree with us. • We refrain from looking at others through eyes scaled over by judgment; We look at them through the accepting and loving eyes of Christ.
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• We obey God’s commands, especially what Jesus taught us that the greatest commandment is to love one another as He loved us. • We do not look to fulfill our own will, but rather God’s will for us. • We do things for God’s glory, not our own. • Our life’s mantra is Matthew 25, caring for “the least of these” in our midst. • We are serving our brothers and sisters in love, as Paul teaches us in Galatians 5:13. Growth towards spiritual maturity can be thought of as a sanctification process, or the process of being made holy. During this process, we are moving away and separating ourselves from sin more and more, as well as growing closer in our relationship to God. The Bible characterizes growth in spirituality in various ways throughout Scripture. One of the most prominent scriptures being Romans 12:2 “…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” As you grow towards spiritual maturity, becoming more like Christ, you will see a total transformation of your mind, heart and soul… “Become like unto me”, says our Lord Jesus Christ. Be Holy as I am Holy.
LOURDES O. TAGLIALATELA Director, Parish Social Ministry St. Francis de Sales, Patchogue Diocese of Rockville Centre
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Our Prayer for You
“True encounter with Christ liberates something within us, a power we did not know we had, a capacity to grow and change.” -Thomas Merton God our Creator, Christ our Redeemer and the Holy Spirit as our Sustainer, knowing that we all have the same gifts of Spirit waiting to be revealed. Open our hearts with compassion; fill it with understanding and acceptance of others. Guide us, teach us, and strengthen us, fill us with your Spirit, so that as we transform the lives of others we too will be transformed. Grant us the gift of caritas. Come Holy Spirit! Guide us to respect the dignity and potential of each human person through our ministry. Lead us to collaborate with the wider community to serve those in need. Enliven us with the power of love as we seek unity in diversity. Empower us to struggle together for social justice through advocacy and empowerment! Sisters and Brothers: It is a blessing to understand the seasons of our lives and our purpose. Let us us embrace one another, hold hands, and pray with one another. This is the day of the Lord, our God, and we should celebrate and give thanks in praise. Peace Be with You,
NICHOLAS ALBARES Parish Social Ministry Coordinator Catholic Charities New Orleans Archdiocese of New Orleans CHRISTINA BALDERA Training Manager, Parish Social Ministry Catholic Charities USA CYNTHIA MORRIS-COLBERT Convening/Education Coordinator Justice, Peace and Human Development United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
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Cover Artwork: Everytime I Feel the Spirit (Sr. Thea) by Michael O’Neill Mc Grath, OSFS, Copyright © Bee Still Studio, www.beestill.com Tel: 410.398.3057 All rights reserved. Used with permission. Back Cover Artwork: The Gospel Feast by Michael O’Neill Mc Grath, OSFS, Copyright © Bee Still Studio, www.beestill.com Tel: 410.398.3057 All rights reserved. Used with permission.
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8
Catholic Charities USA • Sixty-Six Canal Center Plaza, Suite 600 • Alexandria, VA 22314 (703) 549-1390 • www.CatholicCharitiesUSA.org
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