January 30, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Even in hard times, ministry of charity must continue

As our society confronts the dire consequences of the current plunge in the economy, so does our local Church.

We live in the real world. But the reality of the situation in the Church is compounded by the numbers of impoverished folks who understandably and rightly are turning to us for help.

However challenging it may be, as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, we Catholics are not like a federation of individualists who tend to our own needs while turning a blind eye to those in need around us.

We are not individualists who care for others if and when it is convenient and if it doesn’t require sacrifice. It is of the essence of being Catholic and Christian that we are a communion of believers.

As such, we are called to charity in any circumstance.

In his famous encyclical letter on charity, the pope teaches us that proclaiming the Word of God and participating in the sacramental life of the Church are incomplete if charity to others is set aside. In other words, we share the responsibility to look after each other, especially those in grave need.

The Catholic Church is not an abstract organization or institution that exists for its own sake or that exists merely as an administrative body. We believe that we are the Body of Christ instituted by Christ to carry on his mission and ministry in our world.

Yes, the Church organizes itself in order to administer the mission of Christ, in order to provide for the real needs of ministry. It organizes itself so that the Word of God can be proclaimed and that the sacraments of Christ, especially the Eucharist, can be provided.

The Church organizes itself so that the ministry of charity, which is a shared responsibility of all Catholics, is promoted for all of us, but especially for the poor.

I suppose the most immediately visible way in which the Catholic Church is organized is in our local parishes. The parishes are the places in which most Catholics enjoy the proclamation of the Gospel, the Eucharist and the other sacraments. Our parishes are the forums in which the Church and her mission and ministry are most visibly alive.

It is difficult for some, perhaps many folks, to realize and understand that the good of parish life and a large part of the mission and ministry of parishes depends on their being in communion with the other parishes, which together are the archdiocese.

Together, our parishes share aspects of Christ’s mission that otherwise would be difficult if not impossible to carry out by individual parishes.

We often speak of these as “shared ministries.” Examples of shared ministries are the works of archdiocesan Catholic Charities, or ministry in our Home Mission parishes that need the help of other parish communities in order to provide pastoral care in some of our rural and urban localities.

All Catholics of our archdiocese, like members of a large family, share the challenge of providing for our poor people, especially our poor children. The needs of the poor and of our children in pockets of poverty are more severe in these troubled times.

Even as most of us are seriously affected by the current “economic tsunami,” we cannot turn our backs on our sisters and brothers who are in desperate circumstances. Nor is this a time when we can allow ourselves to curtail the resources that all of us need to strengthen our faith and to maintain a healthy spiritual and moral life.

In the spiritual arena, our human limitations cause all of us to be poor and in need. Not only do we need to help provide for our physical and spiritual needs within our parish boundaries, but also for those faith families in even more severe circumstances who need our help in a special way.

Especially in difficult economic times, we need to ponder the reality that whatever we have by way of human, material and spiritual gifts we receive by the providence and blessing of God. No one of us, rich or poor, lives outside the providence of God.

Even in hard times, we are called by faith to return thanks to God and to share resources even from our needs. Sometimes this means we do without some things so that we can help others who need us. Sometimes we do without in order to strengthen the shared ministry in our archdiocese that otherwise cannot be done.

All of what I say is a call to Christian stewardship.

We need to participate in the annual Called to Serve stewardship appeal. It is our way of helping to carry on Christ’s mission in our parishes, and also in the larger mission and ministry of the Archdiocese.

It is not too late. †

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