Working at a Catholic Church feels like I am right there in the vineyard of the Lord at times. It certainly does not imply that only those who work in churches are knee deep in grape juice. No, the world is the vineyard and opportunities abound in every corner of it. Specifically speaking, it is the part of the vineyard where broken and wounded souls wander when they are finally ready to actively seek the Master. Perhaps they have tried to fix matters on their own through various means good and bad and have come as a last resort hoping to find within her walls, answers that have eluded them. In other words, I occasionally am honored to be a bridge along the pathway that leads to the Shepherd.
Youth ministry was my initial passageway into church work, but for years now, I work with adults preparing for marriage, or have challenges therein.
Age is of no matter, hurting souls need a listening ear and sometimes clarifying tongue. It is hard especially now, to find someone who will speak Christ’s truth and light into the darkness. I never know what someone will need to talk about when they come to my office. My prayer is always just to be God’s instrument and voice. I know I have my own thoughts and experiences which God uses to assist someone in a similar situation. Ultimately, although each person is unique, most situations are common and require the person to speak out loud as they process. Most of us know what we need to do in our hearts but lack encouragement to follow through. Listening will always be a big part of what I do. When we are all willing to hear the various narratives that are part of the human journey it benefits us all.
There was a time that I gaged everything I did according to tangible, measurable work. It was how I determined if I was productive that day or not. Some days I would be frustrated because I felt I had “not gotten anything done.” I imagine I am not alone in this thinking. We ask our spouses, friends, and neighbors the same thing when they return home from work or at Happy Hours. We are more akin at times, to be human doings rather than human beings.
A few years back I read, Katrina Zeno’s book, “Every Woman’s Journey.” It was instrumental in helping me understand and define my time, and I believe it is helpful for both women and men. In fact, it gave me a whole new outlook on a different kind of productivity that cannot be measured, fruitfulness. Let me explain. When I take time to listen to someone who needs advice, encouragement, or loving support, I am being fruitful. Willingly entering into another’s deepest pain is sharing the raw reality of the human experience. It is an honored place where trust in God, empathy, and love, are the tools that help navigate the darkness and confusion bringing light and hope.
Some days are very fruitful, but cannot be measured on a spreadsheet, or in a tangible detectable way. It is not something I seek out. There is nothing to tabulate, ship, or shelve. Its effects may never be known nor bear fruit for decades. Yet its worth is incalculable. God knows, God sees, and God magnifies the little work we do in this area producing efficacious results.
An amazing consequence I finally discovered was that in all those things of life that often make us crazy, leave us questioning why, or the suffering we encounter- are just more sources we can use in fruitful work. I cannot tell you the number of experiences in my life that at the time, I begged God to take away or to lessen, which turned out to be the very salve necessary to help bring comfort to someone else’s wounds. It is a miraculous gift to behold what God accomplishes when we share our stories and afflictions. I don’t have to buy it, make it up, or search the world for it. “It” is our own real experiences and God’s pure and free gift for us to share with our brothers and sisters. I would have never guessed that many of my own painful experiences would be useful later to help another. What a generous and perfect present. So personal, so real, yet it cannot be wrapped, purchased, or cloned. Our painful moments can be a source of healing and strength for another.
We are one week away from Christmas in the year we all wish would go away. It is easy to be caught up in gift buying and preparations for our facemask-clad celebrations. Do not underestimate this gift of 2020 wrapped up in corona paper. It is something universal, much like Catholicism. Rather than simply commiserate and complain, try instead to reach out and share wisdom and hope through the eyes of faith during your holiday. That gift may be the priceless present someone dear to you desperately needed to receive.
So, when we encounter someone in the midst of confusion, doubt, despair, and hopelessness or are there ourselves, receding into self is not the answer; reach out. We are here to help one another, and we have the balm of the Good News and the salve of hope that soothes.
May you and your family laugh and be filled with joy this Christmas season and upcoming year. In the words of Fr. Edward, “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.”
Never forget that.