A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘service

When talking about a task we truly enjoy, we might describe it as a labour of love—something we’d do even if we weren’t paid for our work because it brings us pleasure.

For one person, that task could be designing and building furniture or a garden; for another, cooking and baking; for yet another, caring for children or grandchildren.

For how many of us would that task be an act of service to our parish, such as serving as a lector or Eucharistic minister, or to our community, such as volunteering at the local food or furniture bank?

What put this in my mind? The other day, I read these verses in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3*:

We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

If our work in our parish or community isn’t a labour of love, are we serving in a position not suited to our skills and abilities—possibly something we agreed to do because no one else stepped forward or we were “voluntold” to fill the role?

Years ago, I served as an usher and greeter at the church I attended. I wasn’t suited to the role and didn’t enjoy serving. But when I had the opportunity to act as a lector, I felt very much at home. I still enjoy serving as a lector and, for over a year, as a Eucharistic minister; I feel blessed to serve my parish in this way and as though I’m in the right place.

If we’re not sure what the right place is for us, we can talk to our parish priest or to the leaders of a community organization we support to find out where there’s a need for volunteers and try different roles on for size, as well as pay attention to those times when we see someone else serving and think, “I’d like to do that.” In fact, that’s what started me on the path to helping serve Communion.

I pray that, if we’re not already serving in our parish or the wider community, the Holy Spirit would guide us in discovering just what our labour of love would be.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

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So many things are designed for our convenience:

  • self-cleaning ovens, which I can appreciate, since I didn’t enjoy crawling halfway into an oven to clean it
  • self-defrosting freezers, which I also like, since defrosting the freezer section of a fridge with the help of a hair dryer was less than fun
  • no-iron shirts, which I like because I find ironing a shirt well is a challenge
  • pre-cooked bacon, which I think takes convenience a bit too far

Our appreciation for convenience spills over into our faith lives as well. Think rosary apps and electronic versions of the Bible that let us turn commuting time into time spent with God. Or diocesan websites that help us find a time to receive the sacrament of reconciliation or a Sunday Mass to attend when we’re away from home. Or even pre-authorized giving, which means we don’t need to write a cheque or find cash for our Sunday offering envelope and we can better plan our giving.

Sometimes, though, our love of convenience can be less than a blessing to others.

Often it’s the same people who serve in multiple roles in a parish or a community organization, or who consistently volunteer at their children’s school in the classroom or on field trips, or who frequently coach or carpool for their children’s hockey or soccer or ringette team. Maybe they see a need and feel called to fill it; maybe others are reluctant to give up their time to help.

People rush to avoid holding open doors for others, refuse to let other drivers merge into traffic, or leave their shopping carts in the parking lot instead of in the cart return. Maybe they don’t want to take the time to be considerate.

People complain about the arrival of refugees or economic migrants when there are already people in need, but they lament the problem rather than contribute to the solution. Maybe it would take some time to sort through closets for items to give to clothing drives, donate a few items to the food bank bin at the grocery store, or urge politicians via e-mail or snail mail to address social justice concerns.

We need to be careful how we divide up our time so we don’t neglect our work and family responsibilities or our need to relax and recharge our batteries. We want to use our gifts well and not keep others from using theirs. But we need to recognize when we’re refusing to serve in some way—even a very small way—simply because it’s inconvenient.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

Do not say to your neighbour, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.

~Proverbs 3:27-28*

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Picture it: people lining up to volunteer at their children’s school, in their parish, or with a community organization. Enough people power to get the job done. No need for anyone to be “voluntold” to take tasks on.

Now back to reality.

In the years since my son started school, I’ve noticed that it tends to be the same people who volunteer in the schools time and again. But some of these volunteers also work from home or part time outside the home, do before- and after-care for young students, or have other demands on their time.

Similarly, in parishes I’ve belonged to or visited, a number of people served on more than one committee or in various roles during worship services.

But volunteers may find their efforts go unrecognized. Or their suggestions for positive changes seem to fall on deaf ears. Or they juggle too many commitments for fear that, if they stepped down, no one would step up to take on their roles.

Galatians 6:9-10* has timely advice for volunteers, especially in parishes:

And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

So how can we “not grow weary” and avoid volunteer burnout? Here are a few things to consider:

Where our time could best be used: My husband was serving on two committees at our church but realized he had the time and energy to serve only one committee as well as he’d like. Could we have more of an impact if we focussed our efforts on just one or two ministries?

Where our interests and talents lie: In one parish I belonged to, I served as an usher and greeter for several years, even though it wasn’t a good fit for me. I was much more comfortable serving as a lector and leading the prayers of the faithful. In which ministries could we best use our gifts and skills?

Why we’re serving in a certain role: I served on the pastoral council of a parish, in large part because I’d been asked to. But I didn’t consider and pray enough about whether that was where I should be serving. Do we pray (and ask others to pray for us) before we take on new roles?

How to form effective teams: As part of a sacramental preparation team, I saw how all the team members’ gifts, skills and character traits came into play—desktop publishing skills, a talent for calligraphy, and organizational skills, for example—but especially a willingness to serve. Do we try to do too much on our own, or do we recognize our need for help? Do we leave room for others to use their gifts?

How to encourage others in their service: I had second thoughts about my involvement with one committee after receiving some sharp e-mails, while I enjoyed serving in another ministry because we showed care and concern for one other and felt we had a voice at the table. Are we kind to one another in our e-mail and phone contact as well as in person? Are we “all business,” or do we take time to pray for our ministry and volunteers’ concerns and maybe to share a snack while we work? Do we show our appreciation for others’ commitment and efforts?

How to involve more parishioners: I’ve noticed that people may not respond to a bulletin notice or lector’s announcement calling for ministry volunteers, but they may respond to a personal invitation. Is there someone with a beautiful singing voice who might not volunteer for music ministry but would love to be asked? Someone with desktop publishing skills who wouldn’t mind preparing a worship program? Someone with accounting skills who could assist a finance committee? Do we notice and try to draw on the talents of other parishioners?

I pray that God would guide us in identifying where we could best serve in our parish ministries so that we don’t “grow weary” and that he would lead others to serve so that these ministries flourish.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. . . . All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

~ 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

After each Mass this past weekend, the Catholic Women’s League in my parish held a bake sale, one of the most popular items being ready-to-bake frozen pies.

Maybe it’s because people bake less these days, or because there were treats for sale that people don’t normally make, or simply because people find they’re hungry after Mass and baked goods call their name. (I know the apple pies called my husband. He’d be the first to admit it.) In any event, there was a…well, a dignified rush to the bake sale tables after our service. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a stampede, except in the case of some of the children. Including my son.

Some might see this baking as just one more task, but since this bake sale provides our CWL with the funds for our ministries within the parish and beyond, I think our bakers see it as a task they do with and out of love.

I wonder whether we apply this standard to the tasks we carry out each day for our families.

I’ll admit it: sometimes I struggle to do tasks with and out of love. After all, who wants to drive to football practice before 8 a.m. several mornings a week, hem pants when sewing straight (even on a machine) is a challenge, or restock toiletries other people have used up? It’s easy for me to feel frustrated or to carry out my tasks and errands grudgingly instead of with a loving attitude.

As the Catechism reminds us in s. 2224, “The home is the natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities.” We can set a good example for our children both by handling our own chores and by giving them age-appropriate chores they can accomplish. But s. 2223 also points this out:

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity and disinterested service are the rule.

We can also set a good example for our children not only by treating one another with kindness and respect but also by serving one another with a loving attitude even when the chore is one we dislike or would rather not take on.

Sure, I receive more thanks for making homemade greeting cards or baking chocolate chip cookies than I do for vacuuming or restocking the liquid soap dispenser or toilet paper holder. And being thanked makes me feel useful and appreciated. But the warm fuzzy feelings shouldn’t be my goal. My aim should be to serve others with and out of love, and that should include my family.

Even if no one notices we can’t write “DUST ME” on the TV screen or that the dresser drawers hold clean socks and underwear.

I pray that we would serve others with and out of love, even in the little things.


Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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