There is an adage that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Every teacher, pastor and bishop is likely familiar with the phrase. Much attention and time is devoted to those who are complaining or raising problems.
Although most leaders need to address problems or legitimate complaints, I always feel sad I don’t have the necessary time to thank the great number of volunteers who quietly devote their time, talent and treasure to making our parishes successful. I know I speak for many pastors and priests who stand in admiration of those who so willingly serve Christ and his church.
As I travel around the archdiocese I am constantly amazed at the amount of work performed by so many individuals who just desire the best for their parish community.
How many of our confirmation programs could maintain their high quality without those men and women willing to share their faith? Our young people expect the testimony of priests, deacons or religious to promote the faith, however, when the testimony comes from the mouth of a neighbor whom they respect and view as successful, they realize the significance of the program.
Think of the pancake breakfasts, the Sunday coffee receptions, and spaghetti dinners accomplished because women and men cook, set up, clean and wash dishes. They do so with smiles on their faces knowing they provide a hospitality that welcomes fellow parishioners and guests alike.
There is not a great amount of glory that surrounds the kitchen or that comes with pushing a broom or mop, but without those efforts, any celebrations would be diminished. I know of parishes where volunteers plant flowers or cut grass just to present the best face of the parish grounds for the community and parishioners.
One area which has seen an increase of volunteers over the last decade is parish study and Bible gatherings. There is a rise in the desire by men and women to enhance their faith life. Men’s and women’s spirituality groups afford an opportunity for people to share their faith. They are often established though the initiatives of laymen and laywomen serious about deepening their religious life through prayers and study. I truly applaud this effort and know it will produce dividends for the parish and the church in the future.
Many of these programs have emerged from their encounter with Men and Women of Christ. Excited by the presentations and understanding the need to maintain the energy experienced in the conference, men and women gather together to pray, explore church teachings and commit themselves to being intentional disciples. Volunteers are in many instances products of personal witnesses of others who have changed the course of their lives by embracing the church.
As the archbishop of Milwaukee, I meet on a regular basis with the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. These are representatives of the various parish councils of the parishes throughout the 10 districts that comprise our archdiocese. We usually meet on a Saturday, which I am sure is a sacrifice for all of them.
I am always energized by those gatherings because the members care about the church and the parishes they serve. They are typical of so many, although elected representatives, who make up our parish councils and chart the course for parish activities through the advice they offer the pastor.
Another volunteer group is the finance council that uses its financial expertise to keep a parish’s monetary situation stable. They must offer the pastor difficult advice when choosing how to use the parish resources for the good of the congregation and the extension of the mission of the church.
One of the most difficult but very necessary roles that men and women assume is that of stewardship. I don’t know many people that like to ask for money. I admire those that stand before their brothers and sisters of the parish and make a case for a contribution.
I have asked individuals what is the secret to the ease of their “ask.” They told me they believe in the church and when you believe in someone like the church, you know that it serves the good for all. “Besides, Father,” they add, “I do it for God.” God bless them.
A parish helps its parishioners understand the importance of sharing. From the very beginning of the Christian Community the new Christians were called to share their goods with others. Our social concerns committees are volunteers who reach out to those in need, educating the parishioners to the concerns of our community but also offering opportunities for involvement which may come through stocking and working at a food pantry, collecting for or distributing at a clothing depository. In this the Jubilee Year of Mercy addressing the corporal works of mercy helps us feel connected to poor and also to Pope Francis.
Every Sunday, Eucharistic ministers, lectors, altar servers, leaders of song and choir members, ushers and ministers of hospitality contribute their time to serve the worshipping community. As our young people would say, “How awesome!” to think of all those friends and neighbors willing to serve.
Perhaps I have celebrated too many funerals lately or perhaps I am realizing my age, but I want you, my friends and faithful of the archdiocese, to know of my gratitude for all the good works and efforts you perform on our behalf.
Having had the privilege to meet many of you, I know what your response would be, “Archbishop, I love God and my church; that’s why I do it.”
I am convinced that God loves them. However, I want all of them and you to know that their work for the church doesn’t go unnoticed and I want you to know just how thankful I am to be the archbishop of so many generous and active Catholics whom I hold in prayer before God.