February 19, 2016

Worship and Evangelization Outreach / Erin Jeffries

Taking on the ‘smell of the sheep,’ we might just find the shepherd

One can only observe for so long if you hope to truly get to know another, and this cannot be taken lightly because it entails encountering their world, their culture. Pope Francis reminds us of this when he says:

“An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges differences, it is willing to abase itself if necessary. … Evangelizers thus take on the ‘smell of the sheep,’ and the sheep are willing to hear their voice” (“Evangelii Gaudium,” #24).

I have had two opportunities of immersion into deaf culture through Pastoral Week, a conference for deaf Catholics and people who work in ministry with deaf Catholics. I wanted to share a few reflections on this experience in hopes that it may be of help to you as you explore the beautiful facets of your own parish community.

I won’t pretend it is not scary to step into someone else’s world, especially when it includes a language you do not know. I had to fight the urge to isolate myself, and in particular to sit with those I knew could hear, because I was afraid of having to try to communicate with others.

Yes, it is challenging, even frustrating to sit next to someone and feel as if there is an invisible barrier, and like an outsider in a lively conversation happening around you that you don’t understand.

However, because I fought the urge to stay in my comfort zone, I discovered friends. I encountered people who, with a smile, invited me to join their table at breakfast, who patiently finger spelled, taught me new signs, and wrote things down if needed. These friends asked questions of their own, and we found connections. Through interactions like this, I found a little more confidence in reaching out to those I did not know as well.

One particularly memorable moment was to hear a deaf couple’s experience of participation and stewardship in their predominantly hearing parish, and how they encouraged others to do the same. There were challenges, but they showed only joy as they spoke of sharing their talents in everything from choir and religious education, to computer work and coaching soccer.

Pope Francis spoke of the evangelizing community getting involved and taking on the “smell of the sheep.” I might add that by doing this, those who do reach out can be just as moved and, dare I say, be evangelized. I know I was.

I would like to invite everyone to experience this vibrant culture for themselves. On April 20, Father Mike Depcik, a deaf priest who works with the deaf community in Detroit, will be coming to Indianapolis.

Hosted at St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, Father Mike will celebrate Mass in American Sign Language, followed by dinner and a presentation on “Celebrating the Year of Mercy.”

Save the date, reservations will soon be available. For questions or more information, contact me at 800-382-9836, ext. 1448, or 317-236-1448, or e-mail ejeffries@archindy.org.

(Erin Jeffries works in the archdiocesan Office of Catechesis as coordinator of ministry to people with special needs, and liaison for the deaf Catholic community.)

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