I recall once asking a group of parents, “Would you be willing to give one day to the parish and to Christ?” It was nearly 16 years ago that I asked that question to a group of parents. I was then the coordinator of our middle school parish religious education program at my parish. Our program brought all three grades together in a highly integrated year ’round program that offered upwards of 75-120 program hours per year. I knew that with such a wide offering of programs, we would need many learning assistants and activity coordinators to offer all that we envisioned 12 months per year. So I was desperate that summer before we launched the program and I was seeking the help of all that might assist us. My thought was to turn to the parents of these 100 students and that is what lead me to ask the question. I really wasn’t trying to be a wise guy that day, but I was trying to get these parents to understand that Christ, our Church, our parish and I weren’t really asking much of them. We were simply asking for a day. Seems reasonable…right?
Well, I did have a little trick up my sleeve and I’m happy to confess it again today. When I asked if they would be willing to give a day, nearly every hand in the room went up. Of course, they would be willing to give a day to help out around the parish or in our religious education program, that wasn’t much to ask, was it? So, I went on to explain that I was thankful that they were all willing to give 24 hours to our program and to the parish, and boy did the faces change. After all, 24 hours is a day isn’t it? I continued by adding that we could do much with 24 hours from each and every one of them. We could make a real difference in the parish. I sent around a sign up sheet and nary a one signed up to give the 24 hours, nor even a few hours!
I was disappointed but not surprised. I did back off on my request and did get a few parents to give a few hours here and there over the first years, but as the years passed fewer and fewer participated and after the 10th year, only four of us were left to run this program. It soon became impossible.
I recount this story now because it came back to me when we were recently discussing the passage from James 2:14-26 during our recent peer leader workshops at UMass Dartmouth. “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
I do not mean to be preachy. After all, what right do I have to preach what each should do. But I simply want to challenge all of us, as we challenged our student leaders, to ponder these words of St. James. My former pastor once indicated in his sermon that James must be from Missouri, since it is the “Show Me” state and James is basically saying “Show me” — that as Christians we need to not only talk the talk but walk the walk. St. James was challenging Christians to a life of action. One in which we go out and act as Christ would act in this world today. One in which we are Christ to others.
Imagine what it would be like in our parishes, our towns, our diocese, our world if each and every one of us took the call to action seriously? Not a year’s worth of volunteering, not even a week’s. Just one little day. Twenty-four hours. Imagine the transformation that could take place if we each gave 24 hours a year in service to our fellow man!
At parishes throughout the diocese at this time of year, I’m sure there are still bulletin announcements begging for catechists or small group leaders to assist in our parish’s faith life programs. At this time of year we always seem to be scrambling to fill catechist roles as well as group leaders to host small groups of children or adults. I ask what could be more important? I’m not sure, but whatever it is, it isn’t happening at church.
Yes, there are good people in our parishes who are always there to assist in the various ministries that make the parish such a faith filled community. But doesn’t it seem to be the same folks who step up? I simply ask “What would it be like” if everyone who calls themselves a Catholic gave of themselves in the same way as our perennial volunteers? Our parishes would be “happenin’ places”wouldn’t they?
I know that I may be preaching to the choir in this newspaper, but I hope that these thoughts might provoke us enough to call others to action. Especially our teens and young adults. I hope you will all give of your time in the weeks and months ahead. Your God, our diocese and your parishes need you.
Now, just imagine it is Christ who is asking, “Would you be willing to give one day to the parish, to others and to Me?” Your answer?
Anchor columnist Frank Lucca is a deacon in the Diocese of Fall River assigned to St. Mary’s Parish in Dartmouth, and a campus minister at UMass Dartmouth. He is married to his wife of nearly 44 years, Kristine, and the father of two daughters and their husbands, and six grandsons (with #7 on the way).