The Love That Welcomes – Pastor’s Reflection (June 11, 2017)
By the time you read these lines we will have celebrated, on June 8, our Volunteer Appreciation Party.This is our attempt to conclude the parish year with the recognition that the parish year only happens because of the donation of time and energy. In the heart of one of the world’s great commercial cities our parish, and many others of course, lives in an economy of gift. Our parish thrives because it continuously receives services it could never pay for.
When people describe their volunteering phrases come to the fore such as “giving back,” “I get back more than I ever give,” and “this fulfills me.” These expressions speak to the aspect of service that, “does for.” Here we can locate giving as an outlet and a growth for the giver. But I perceive that those who volunteer in a community such as ours not only give to us, they also include us profoundly in their lives.
Catholic Christianity has always recognized that people engage with the life of the Church at varying levels of intensity. For some this will mean fulfilling obligations, for others receiving spiritual services, and for others supporting initiatives for good in the world. Those who volunteer receive the grace of an engagement that goes beyond supporting the Church to welcoming her into the heart of their lives. For these folks the cycle of feasts and fasts begins to shape the contours of domestic life, and the people and places of the Church cease to be external and become extensions of self.
I think that those who volunteer must be amazed at how often they become the first preacher. They extend a greeting to all comers across a church bulletin or a cup of coffee and so put a human face something as vast as the Catholic Church. Before anyone ever hears a priest at Mass they hear a lay volunteer interpret the Scriptures so that prophecy, psalm, history, and exhortation come off the page with a real New York inflection. Some people would never enter a Catholic church, but the Catholic Church comes into their homeless shelter with a smile and tangible consolations in a difficult life: volunteers bring not only kindness but the willingness to embrace a completely different pattern of life as part of the
pattern of their own.
It amazes me to see a server run like a commuter to be on time to help with the Liturgy. He has made our concern his own. The very systems of parish life run because volunteers open the realm of their preoccupation to include things like scheduling, budgeting, shopping, and cleaning up.
We never understand the Church until we see the ways in which the ordinary isn’t. The work of volunteers not only establishes a culture of decency and generosity; it gives a sign of the mystery of the life of God we celebrate today. Whenever Jesus describes the love and life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, He speaks in terms of inclusion. The persons of the Trinity never act separately but refer to each other in the creation, and in the re-creation in Christ. Volunteers show us how the way of loving that is within God is reshaping our way of loving, person by person.
This weekend we are honoring Fr. Joseph Allen’s fifty years of priestly ministry. Here we find joy in another instance of trinitarian love. After decades of dedicated service Fr. Allen came among us in September of 2015, and he has included us by making our problems, challenges, and joys his own. With his customary zeal he has included new people from our parish into his longstanding ministry of pilgrimage to Lourdes. He has widened the patterns of his life to include our people, and in so doing he has made it possible for them to enlarge their circle of loving to include the sick and the handicapped.
I wonder how often this kind of love embraces us without our realizing it. Yet when we have been included without strings we discover our own generosity. And so it continues.