We believe that as Disciples of Christ, we are not just called to be as individually holy as we can be, but we are called to help others grow in holiness as well. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told his apostles to go and make disciples of the nations. And this great commission also falls on us. One of the ways we make disciples of others is by helping them recognize the gifts God has given to them and encouraging them to share those gifts with others. We are called to foster vocations and encourage people to enter into ministries. The Church struggles with this endeavor.
First of all, why do people bury their gifts? The Gospel reading tells us that the third servant buries his talent out of fear. I think, if the Church is to improve its success in making disciples it has to help people overcome their fear. I think this fear can look differently depending upon where we are at in our faith journey.
Before people can consider uncovering those buried gifts and sharing them in a particular ministry, they need to feel a certain level of comfort in a Church community. They need to feel like they belong. So consider the likely fact that someone who is celebrating Mass with us tonight is here for the very first time. What has their experience been like so far? When they entered the doors of the Church with us tonight, did they get the sense that they were welcome? Did anyone make eye contact with them? Did they feel noticed?
There was a time in my life when I stopped coming to Mass. Then when I went to the Army, one day, I decided to go with a friend to Mass at St. Francis Cabrini parish in Savannah Ga. After Mass, an older couple came up to us and said, “We’ve never seen you before. What are your names? Where are you from?” Then they invited us to coffee after Mass, and we tried to think of every excuse not to come, but they insisted. And they introduced us to many other people. They never failed to come talk to us after Mass. And if we missed Mass one time, the following weekend they would say, “we noticed you weren’t here last week. We figured you were probably out in the field. But we missed you, and we’re glad you’re with us today.” It was a beautiful ministry that this couple had taken on. And I will never forget them for it.
Once people know they belong in a Church community, then we can help them take the next step toward active ministry.
One particular area that the Church as a whole can improve in is being more welcoming in the ministries themselves. I’m going to use a hypothetical example to explain what I mean.
Pretend I’m not a deacon, I’m a lay parishioner here and I suddenly feel the Holy Spirit is calling me to become a reader at Mass. This can be an anxious thing, because it is a more public ministry, I will be proclaiming the Word of God in front of the community, and I may feel a very common sense of unworthiness. At this point, I could very much use some encouragement from those who have been doing it for a while.
But let’s say I receive the training and my name is put on the list and I’m on the rotation. After a few times, I begin to really enjoy this ministry, I look forward to doing it, I feel good about giving my time during the week to prepare for the readings and I like reading at Mass. This becomes a source of tremendous joy for me.
After a while, the Holy Spirit moves the hearts of others toward this ministry. But I recognize that more readers means less time I get in the rotation. And if I have begun to think of this as my ministry, my work, my opportunity at joy, I can become resentful of them. Chances are, they are at that same anxious stage I went through and are feeling unworthy and they could really use some encouragement. I could really help them by telling them, “Yes, it’s challenging at first, but hang in there because the joy you will experience will be worth it!” Can I give them that encouragement?
Only if I remember that this is God’s ministry, and God’s work, not mine. This could be the very thing that will turn their lives around and changes everything for them and their families. I cannot be an obstacle to that grace. And it could be that the extra time I now have in this particular ministry is a sign that God is calling me to consider applying my other gifts elsewhere. There is certainly no shortage of needs.
Of course, I have used the example of the ministry of being a reader, but this temptation can exist in any ministry. We have to resist the temptation of becoming territorial in our ministry.
Suffering is a Part of Discipleship, but Still Only a Part
Finally, I think another reason why the Church has struggled with making disciples is because we have allowed in our minds and in the minds of others for the idea of discipleship to be reduced as an equivalent to suffering. As if being a disciple equals suffering. After all, Jesus says, “if you want to be my disciple, you must pick up your cross and follow me.” But we know that suffering is a part of life, whether you choose to be a disciple or not. Note that Jesus did not say, “If you want to be my disciple, I will create a cross for you.” He says, if you want to be my disciple, you must pick up your cross, -the one life has already laid upon you- and follow me.
Everyone suffers, whether they are a disciple or not. The difference is, as a disciple of Christ, our suffering finally has meaning. It has a glorious value. And we carry it because we believe Jesus is going to transform it. Ok, but doesn’t Jesus also say that we will suffer uniquely for being his followers? Yes he does. That is true.
Even so, suffering is an important part of discipleship. But it’s still just a part. There is so much more!
There is also tremendous joy. Particularly the joy that comes from sharing our God-given gifts, putting our time, talent and treasure at the service of God and his people. The thing is we enjoy doing what we are good at. Ask the kid who is good at sports to stop playing when he has had enough, and he will play all day long. Why? Because he likes doing what he is good at.
If you have been baptized, the Holy Spirit has given you unique supernatural gifts called charisms. Maybe you have the gift of healing, or of teaching or of music, or of counseling or of hospitality. Maybe you have the gift of administration. Or perhaps you have a charism that will lead you to advocate for the poor? These are just a few examples of charisms. Why did the Holy Spirit give them to you?
He gave them to you because they are needed to build up this corner of the Kingdom of God. And He wants you to have a share in the tremendous joy that comes from such work. If you apply that charism you will find that you are good at it. And we like doing what we are good at!
First World Day of the Poor
Tomorrow is the first World Day of the Poor as instituted by our Holy Father Pope Francis. St. Joseph’s will be hosting a meal for the poor tomorrow at noon and St. Mary’s will be hosting a meal beginning at 1pm.
Typically, people are very generous around the holidays, then donations and volunteering tend to drop off in the months following. For that reason, Holy Trinity has decided to wait to host its lunch until February 25th. In the meantime, we will continue collecting warm weather items and food during the month of November and we are all welcome to join St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s tomorrow.
The point of the World Day of the Poor, is not to make it a single day of giving, but to encounter our brothers and sisters, to let them know we see you. We are all poor in one way or another. The tragedy of our poverty is not that someone doesn’t swoop in and fix it for us. The tragedy is that our poverty is completely ignored. We are treated as though we were invisible in our poverty. The materially poor can see us in our poverty, can we see them in theirs?