Reclaiming the Mission

Reclaiming the Mission

I’ve always had a desire to go on a mission trip. Perhaps it is my attempt at being more selfless and making a difference in the world. Yet, between work and family schedules, I never seemed to find the time. The only “mission” I had most days was to make it through to bedtime. I imagine a fear of getting my head chopped off simply because of my country of origin hindered my enthusiasm a tad too… Wimp!

Yet, Jesus never said anything about a travel requirement for helping the poor. Like Nike, He just told us to “just do it.” Sadly, these days one does not have to go far to find someone in need. One can likely find someone in the neighborhood who could use a helping hand. No passport required.

This spring, I learned that our Archdiocesan Deacons ministry, Hope’s on the Way, was traveling to Appalachia to work with the Glenmary Home Missioners. Hope’s on the Way (HOTW) began as a response to the needs of people in the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. Volunteer deacons and lay members traveled eleven times over three years to rebuild a school, monastery, and homes. Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, prompting another response and ultimately evolving HOTW into a “second response” organization for those in need. The ministry distributes “Buckets of Hope” to send cleaning supplies to affected areas, “Sheds of Hope” for people to store items as they clean up after a natural disaster and has an ongoing renovation ministry within the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The expertise of the HOTW volunteers meshes well with the ministry of the Glenmary Home Missioners. The Glenmary Home Missioners is a Catholic society of priests and brothers to serve the spiritual and material needs of people living in rural areas with limited access to Catholic resources and services. Operating in areas where Catholics are underserved, this society promotes evangelization, pastoral care, education, and social justice as they look to establish mission and ultimately, parish communities.  

When I was preparing for my trip to Appalachia, people would often ask me what I would be doing there. Each time I was asked, I would respond, “I don’t know.” I was new to volunteering outside my parish and diocese and had no idea what to expect. But it did not bother me because I was determined to follow Jesus’ command to help others, even if meant overcoming my introvert tendencies and work with strangers. My wife was amused at the notion of me assisting in “house” projects. I avoided most of those over the years, whimsically telling her that I did not go to “grad school to be a carpenter.” Of course, each week that I mow the lawn I am reminded of this folly…

Fortunately, I traveled with experienced HOTW volunteers. During our nine-hour drive to the Tennessee region, I did not concern myself with the upcoming week. I enjoyed the scenery and the company of those I was with. In the back of my mind, I was looking forward to the week away. I had taken a lot of “baggage” with me – baggage from work, ministry, and thoughts of retiring. My plan was to leave these totes in Illinois. But secretly, they managed to join me on the way.

Arriving at the Glenmary volunteer site on Joppa Mountain we were told that we would be painting at the Kingswood Home For Children during our stay. Kingswood is a private, residential children’s home for ages 5-18. Arriving there the next day with no tangible skills, I volunteered to sand the walls. I figured that would keep me out of trouble. I learned quickly that the two workers doing the spackling bordered on obsessive compulsive. Some of the rooms looked to be polka dot in color! By noon, I was covered in sweat and dust from sanding down those polka dots by hand. I felt rather good about helping some kids in tough situations have a decent place to stay. I had a notion that “the guns” would be a little sore the next day as well..

Working at Kingswood got me thinking about ministry. In all honesty, I did not like being there sanding walls. Yet, during the process I thought about the kids. I imagined that they did not want to be there either. A couple of days of sweat pales in comparison to what those kids face. I was sanding walls for them. I soon realized that my hours sanding probably meant more than all the time I’ve spent in other ministries. Each of those other ministries had an element of “me” and my desires in them. Who was I loving more as a deacon– my neighbor or me?

The mission of a permanent deacon is multifaceted, and it can be understood in terms of three primary areas of service: ministry of the Word, ministry of the Altar, and ministry of Charity. These three areas correspond to the three-fold ministry of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King. Ministry of the Word is preaching and teaching the Scriptures so that the Gospel message of Jesus is heard and understood by the community. Ministry of Charity is reaching out to those in need, both within and outside the Church community. All three ministries are meant to be “In Christi Servi.” Deacons are ordained “in the service of Christ”  to emphasize their service in the Church. What was my Kingwood experience telling me about this?

While helping the Glenmary mission, my discernment reminded me that the whole Gospel of Jesus can be summed up in one word – love. Not the misconstrued versions of “love” plaguing our society today. True love, as in wanting the best for the other, celebrating God in His creation and seeing Christ in all things. In Christi Servi means nothing if not done solely for love. Did I travel to Tennessee out of love? I certainly didn’t go for the “love” of work.  

How often do we “walk the walk” or “talk the talk” but fail to put the necessary “love” behind our actions?

While it may be deemed acceptable to act in accordance with societal norms when those norms are virtuous, it is important to recognize that such actions do not necessarily stem from love. Jesus calls us to engage in action being driven by love rather than mere responsibility. If love is the foundation of our actions, such actions would not merely be a response, but the norm. The issue with my ministry was not that it lacked any of the three foundations of the diaconate. My discernment focused on whether my actions and ministry were motivated more by obligation than love. Discerning my ministry while sanding the walls at Kingswood reminded me of my true mission, which was to serve kids I would never meet. At that moment I realized the importance of ministering with unconditional love as my sole motivation.

Glenmary’s efforts to spread the Gospel to the peripheries had a profound impact on me. All the personal baggage I had carried with me suddenly became insignificant. This mission served as a powerful reminder of what it truly means to be a deacon. It is not so much about embodying Christ’s servant leadership as it is about embodying the love of Jesus to all we encounter in service. Being a visible representation of the Church requires a deacon to witness Christ’s love in all that we do. Love is not merely the foundation of ministry. Love must be the very essence and motivation of it. Anything less than anything less is a disservice to Christ. Love is our only mission.  

My Glenmary moment changed me and my ministry. May I embrace this change every time I put on the stole.

The Glenmary Home Missioners rely on the generosity of donors and volunteers to support their mission. They can be reached at glenmary.org

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster