There was a nice convergence this week-end in my life which does not always happen when a bishop flits from one thing to another and then to another. On Saturday at the Bethany Center about 250 people gathered who are involved in the various ministries of mercy in 0ur parishes. We get them together once a year to thank them and to share with them not only our own hopes and aspirations but also some “best practices and programs” which are being utilized throughout the diocese. In two hours, max, they leave with a sense of renewed mission, or so they tell me. We also provide them with a nice free lunch. This year the organizers at Catholic Charities brought a welcome new wrinkle to the day by asking representatives of seven parishes to take about ten minutes and visually and verbally share their particular ministry of mercy.
A project initially begun at St. Stephen’s parish in Valrico and now spreading throughout lower counties of the diocese called San Jose Homemakers Ministry recounted how two women responded to a need to furnish an apartment for a homeless or migrant family and now it has become a major ministry. They have grown from collecting and storing furniture in their home garages to two warehouses (soon) with furniture, dishes and flatwear, etc., which are used when someone moves from homelessness to a stable house and has no money or access for outfitting their new residence. It is an amazing story. Prison Ministry in the diocese was presented by a representative from Prince of Peace parish in Sun City Center where their work at the Women’s Faith Based Correction Prison was outlined in detail. Holy Family parish in St. Petersburg shared their story of twinning with a parish in Haiti, helping that parish before and after the tragic earthquake. Espiritu Santo shared their experience running a Sick and Homebound Luncheon Ministry where elderly an physically challenged parishioners can come for Mass, communal Anointing of the Sick, and a lunch and sense of community. Respite Ministry was presented by a lady from Catholic Charities and we were informed of their experience in providing respite for alzheimers caregivers. Parish Nursing is a program in some of our parishes where a licensed nurse visits the homebound whom the system might ignore and checks on their health. All of these various ministries of mercy form an amazing mosaic of love, kindness and service. I am always so proud of what is done in the name of Jesus.
Those of you in Church this week-end know that two of the readings (the first and the Gospel) focused on the thematic of humility. Both Sirach and Jesus in his parable in the Gospel make it clear that only after we have imitated his love and concern for our brothers and sisters can we expect a place at the heavenly banquet table. Humility suggests that those who work in the shadows seeking neither fame or acclaim have a better chance in heaven than those who puff themselves up and proclaim, look at me and what I do for others. Sirach suggests that humility is not something one assumes in order to become a “casper-milktoast” but there can be genuine strength in humility. Certainly there is strength of character. Those gathered for the convening of the Ministries of Mercy in the diocese on Saturday were living and breathing examples of holy humility placed at the service of others, sometimes demanding great strength and patience.
Finally, I let last week come and go without mentioning the 100th birthday of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. What a week to celebrate the centenary of her birth, when the liturgical readings focus on humility. Make no mistake about it and take it from someone who was in her presence four times in my life, she was no push-over! Yet with unrelenting humility she preached, practiced and lived a life of humble service for God and God’s people. She lit up the world in which she lived even if the owners of the Empire State building refused to light up the sky in her memory. A brief but wonderful tribute to Mother Teresa can be found on the “mother of all church blogs”: Whispers in the Loggia.
Finally, I celebrated two Masses in a parish yesterday which was in need of a priest for that purpose. I thought I had “nailed” the readings in my homily. The pastor inquired of me, “what did you preach about” and I responded “humility and boy was I good!” The pastor appropriately suggested that after that comment, I had better continue to meditate on humility in my own life.