by Father John Manno
Recently, I was visiting a parish in our diocese and I noticed that many people were cleaning the church and the sanctuary. I approached one of the people and asked if it was time for spring cleaning. The response I received was, “No, we do this every week, we are just volunteers that love to keep the church clean.” I thanked this person for their great work in keeping the Lord’s house so beautiful and the response was, “Father, my pastor asked me to help in this ministry 30 years ago and I am still doing it…with a smile.” Throughout the diocese, I know there are countless people that give of their time and talents and serve the Church in various ways. It leaves me filled with gratitude and, at the same time, asking, “Where would we be without these faithful volunteers?”
There is no question that the success of so much of what we do as a people of faith depends on the involvement of many. If we all were to stop and think about just our parish communities, I am certain we would recognize the great work that is done by our volunteers. People graciously donate their time as lectors, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, greeters, ushers, altar servers, music ministers, various parish committees, parish outreach programs, cleaning, lawn maintenance, snow removal, cooking, serving and the list goes on and on. It truly is inspiring to reflect on how people so generously give of themselves in service to God and others.
One might ask why people give so graciously of their time and talents to serve. I would like to think that it is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit motivating people to recognize their baptismal call to be people of service. While that may be part of the reason people donate their time and talents, I would say that most people do so out of love. First and foremost, it is the love that people have for God that moves them to be of service. Secondly, that love of God is expressed through their faith, which inspires people to serve God through their parish church or organization. Thirdly, this love of God and faith is often expressed in service to one another. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical letter, Caritas in Veritate, speaks of love as an “extraordinary force” that motivates people to give of themselves. It is a blessing to witness the love made visible in the ways that people come forward and volunteer to build up God’s Kingdom.
“How can I help?” This is a question that I often hear from people in my parish. In fact, it always moves me when I hear this question asked. The reality that I have come to in ministry is this — there is much work to be done! Since there is much work to be done, we can apply the old adage here, “many hands make for light work!” I will speak on behalf of my own parish when I say, we are always looking for help (I am sure this is the case in all parishes). There are opportunities for volunteers for all of our liturgies and outside our liturgies. There is so much that goes into making a parish community successful and a lot depends on the goodness of our volunteers. Oftentimes, people will say “I am too old” or “I am too young” or “I don’t have enough time as it is” and so on. To all of this I say there are opportunities for everyone to volunteer.
Several years ago, I was approached by someone who had a physical disability and could not walk and this person made it their ministry to spend time in prayer each day and pray for all of the people on the parish sick list. What an extraordinary ministry! I would encourage all who read these words to ask themselves how they can volunteer their time and give back to God and others. There is no question that volunteering is a sacrifice. But, we must remember that sacrifice does not just mean that we are “giving up” something. The word sacrifice comes from two Latin words “sacer” and “facere” which means — to make holy. So, when we volunteer for the Lord, we do it for our own sanctity and the sanctity of those around us. All volunteers will say that it is a sacrifice worth making.
To all volunteers and ministers of the Gospel, I offer sincerest thanks. To those looking for ways to volunteer — there are many, many opportunities — take advantage of them! In reference to volunteers, Mother Teresa once said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop!” May we keep adding our “drops” with faith and love!
Father Manno is pastor of St. James Church in Syracuse.