March 15, 2015 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
March 15, 2015
Fr. George Smiga
If you went up to the counter at McDonalds and said, “I’ll take a large fries,” and the person behind the counter said, “We don’t sell French Fries here,” what would you think? Wouldn’t you ask, “Is this really a McDonalds?” You see McDonalds stands for a certain menu, and there are specific items we expect to be available at every McDonalds. Something similar is true of the Catholic Church. If you were to walk into a Catholic Church and have someone tell you, “In this church we do not respect the Blessed Virgin, or we do not oppose abortion, or we do not recognize the authority of Pope Francis,” you would ask, “Is this really a Catholic Church?” It is the responsibility of every Catholic parish to respect the essential parts of the Catholic tradition. And it is my role as pastor to see that all essential Catholic teaching is present at St. Noel.
All Christians accept the teaching in today’s passage from The Letter to the Ephesians: we have been created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them. Christians must do good works. We are to love our neighbor by our actions. But what does love look like? Here the Catholic tradition is clear. Our tradition identifies two kinds good works that disciples of Jesus should perform. They are works of mercy and works of advocacy. Mercy loves by meeting an immediate need of our neighbor. Advocacy loves by attempting to change the structures that cause the need in the first place.
The difference between mercy and advocacy can be illustrated by this parable. There was once a Christian village situated by a river. The Christians of that village worshiped God and followed the teaching of Jesus. One day severely wounded people began to float down the river past the village. The people there immediately began to rescue and care for those floating in the river. They provided food and medicine. They reverently buried those who died. Day after day more distressed people kept floating by their village. In time the villagers built housing for the homeless, hospitals for the sick, orphanages for the children who lost their parents. Their work was crucial and they did it all in the name of Jesus. Then one day a young man said, “We are doing wonderful work caring for the sick and dying. But should we not send an expedition party up the river to find out why so many people are floating down to us and then do something to stop it?” The town agreed and the party was formed. The parable ends here, but its point is clear. Pulling people out of the river is mercy. Discovering the cause of their suffering and working to eliminate it is advocacy. Both are essential. Both are ways to love. Both are expected of Christ’s disciples.
Catholic social teaching calls mercy and advocacy the two feet of love. Both are necessary to walk the way of Christ. Every Catholic parish, then, should have ministries of mercy and ministries of advocacy. Over the last year our Parish Pastoral Council has been working with me in this area. Our work uncovered two things about our parish. First, most parishioners are not aware of the role of advocacy. They see loving our neighbor simply as mercy, as meeting immediate needs. Second (and this is obviously related) although our parish promotes several excellent ministries of mercy, it has no obvious ministry of advocacy. The Council has therefore recommended with my full support that we emphasize to our parishioners that Christ’s command to love has two feet and that we select a specific ministry of advocacy to establish in our parish.
This is why we have been emphasizing the roles of mercy and advocacy in the bulletin, on our website, and today in this homily. We are asking for your help in selecting which ministry of advocacy would be best for St. Noel. We have identified four possible ministries. They are outlined on our website. I am asking each parishioner to review these four possibilities and then express your preference in a survey present on our website. The survey is brief—only five questions. It will be available until Easter Sunday. We will then tabulate the responses and report back to you. To assist you in understanding the four options and to address any questions you may have, representatives of the Pastoral Council and Social Justice Committee will be presenting a brief 25 minute program after this Mass and after every Mass this weekend and next. These programs will be held on the lower level of our building. I strongly encourage you to attend one of these sessions either this weekend or next. You do not need to attend a meeting to complete the survey, but doing so will assist greatly in understanding the choices before us.
I believe that we are at an important moment in the life of our parish. We want to follow the command of Christ to do good works. We want to be aware that Catholic teaching insists that both mercy and advocacy are necessary to follow Christ’s command. We want to be sure that St. Noel has a viable and active ministry of advocacy on our service menu. Please attend a meeting after one of our Masses. Please visit our website to register your preference for what ministry of advocacy we should undertake. I am convinced that working together we will more fully understand Christ’s commandment of love and be able to walk in Jesus’ steps with the two feet of mercy and advocacy.