February 3, 2012

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

The ministry of charity and the Gospel message

David SilerIn my December column, I explored our Catholic tradition for gathering—for Eucharist, prayer, Bible study, etc.—and suggested that all of this gathering is only purposeful if it leads to sending.

Our faith is only alive and well if it deeply impacts the way that we live in our families, communities, and places of work and recreation.

And as Pope Benedict XVI reminded us in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (“God Is Love”), our faith is expressed by the celebration of the sacraments, the preaching of the word and the ministry of charity.

In our parishes, imagine if we were to look at our budgets in terms of how much of our financial resources are dedicated to “gathering activities”—the celebration of sacraments and preaching of the word—and how much are allocated to “sending activities”—the ministry of charity.

What if we looked at the staff in our parishes and asked how many members are employed for gathering and how many for sending (service or charity), then analyzed our use of our parish facilities for our own parish needs and the needs in our communities?

Our parish facilities can be put to wonderful service to the community in a variety of ways.

I was recently in Tell City in the southwestern corner of our archdiocese. Our Catholic Charities location there has partnered with a Methodist church right behind our offices to offer a free, once-a-week evening dinner to anyone who needs a good, nutritious meal.

It occurred to me that any of our parishes with a decent kitchen, and tables and chairs could do the same thing. SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish in Indianapolis offers a morning meal to the hungry six days a week, and has done this for many, many years.

I am aware that some of our parishes make their meeting space available to Alcoholics Anonymous or similar community groups. What a wonderful witness to those who may not normally show up for Mass on Sunday. It serves as a witness that we are relevant to the world around us.

An Episcopalian church near downtown Indianapolis converted a large building that they no longer needed into a homeless family shelter. The parish cannot operate this ministry alone, but partners with many other congregations and organizations to provide shelter for families.

I was intrigued to recently hear of a 3,000-member church of another faith tradition in Georgia that gathers as a congregation for worship one Sunday, then on the next Sunday the entire congregation travels to some part of the city for a service activity of some kind. I can only imagine the impact that 3,000 people could make on a Sunday morning for a couple of hours. Imagine if every church followed their lead and did the same thing. What an impact we would have!

The world desperately needs the Gospel message, and our parishes cannot only serve to nurture that message in our own hearts through word and sacrament, but can also provide us various means to carry this message to those people in need around us through the ministry of charity.

(David Siler is the executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at dsiler@archindy.org.)

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