Part 11 of a weekly series.
Human beings learn by experience. Above all, we learn love by experiencing it.
When we feel loved and cared for, and know that our basic needs are being met, we feel safe. When we feel safe, it’s easier to turn our attention to learning, growing and helping others.
Our Lord knew this well. The Gospels frequently tell of times when large crowds approached the Lord and he began by listening to them, healing them and feeding them. Jesus easily could have done all of this single-handedly. Instead, he chose to work through other people. He sent out the 72 disciples to preach and heal in his name. He asked the apostles to help gather and distribute the loaves and fishes in the feeding of the 5,000.
As the body of Christ, the church bears responsibility not only for teaching and preaching but for real pastoral care that meets the real needs of real people. This includes caring for the sick and dying, accompanying the grieving, encouraging those on paths of recovery, reaching out to the marginalized, offering support to families of all ages, living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
In a phrase: loving our neighbor.
When we hear the word "church" different things can come to mind: the local church, the universal church, the parish and church buildings, the hierarchy. But "church" also refers to each and every one of us, the baptized community of believers.
In order to collaborate and work together as we strive to carry out Bishop David Zubik’s vision for On Mission for The Church Alive!, each one of us needs to make a personal contribution. Each one of us needs to be the church, to be the eyes, ears, hands and heart of Christ to each person we meet. We never know when we might be their only contact with God’s love and mercy.
The Year of Mercy has just begun. Pope Francis has invited all of us to encounter God’s mercy in a way that transforms our lives and helps others rediscover God’s mercy through our love and kindness.
That doesn’t take a lot of time. If you have several hours a week to dedicate to ministering and caring for others, that’s wonderful. If you only have a couple of hours a month, it’s worth it. Or do it whenever you can.
The Lord sends us plenty of opportunities to care for others. We don’t usually have to go out of our way to find them. We need to open our minds and hearts to notice and care for those the Lord places in our path, through our family, work, community, parish.
As we move forward in the Year of Mercy and On Mission for The Church Alive! let us remember, in the words of St. Augustine, what love looks like, and freely choose this path of love.
"What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like." — St. Augustine of Hippo
Mady is director of the diocesan Office for Marriage, Family and Life.