The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. (Deus Caritas Est, 25)
I find this quote from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to be a powerful reminder of the intimate relationship between charity and the Word of God. Charity, he seems to remind us, is an expression of the Word. The practice of charity opens us to the Word of God, and openness to the Word of God leads us to practice charity.
Unfortunately, the social ministries at our parishes sometimes feel separate and apart from the life of the parish and its evangelical mission. This three-fold formula—proclaiming the Word, celebrating the sacraments, and practicing charity—can help us see our social ministries as an integral part of the Church’s evangelical mission. As the director of social ministry at my parish, I have the opportunity to develop the parish’s ministry of charity and service. I can help the people of this community see how the work of this ministry helps them proclaim the Word of God by serving the people in the larger community. I can help the parish community recognize the sacramental nature of charity: we can experience God through his wondrous creation, including the encounters that we have with others. Finally, I hope that our practice of charity will help my parish see how openness to the Word transforms us and moves us to become Christ to one another.
Fortunately, my parish has valued this mission. Yet we face challenges in fulfilling this mission. My parish is changing. The people who have been most involved are aging and are no longer able to be as active as they had been. The younger generation finds itself very busy and is less involved in the life of the parish outside of the Mass. Finally, the emergence of a new ethnic community in the life of our parish brings new devotions and expressions of the faith; I need to navigate how these expressions may, or may not, resonate with the parish’s groups and ministries. My challenge will be to find a creative way for the parish to be open to the Word so that we may live the commandment Christ gave us—to love one another as Christ loves us—in a very concrete way.
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