"The parish must recover its 'missionary character,' as Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes. “And by this I mean primarily a shift from the selfish self-centeredness of the modern parish to the concept of the parish as servant.” The parish must learn once again to serve God, and both the clergy and the faithful must kill the prevalent attitude that 'each parish must first take care of itself.'”
This quote is from Fr. Theophan Whitfield in the recently released The Servant Parish Project: Strengthening Ministry to the Poor and Suffering research study. Fr. Theophan spoke with Timm on The Second Liturgy podcast about the study and how to begin moving from selfishness to servanthood. Listen to the podcast episode here. Learn more about The Servant Parish here.
With the fear of God and with faith and love, let us draw near.
10/3/2019 0 Comments
"Sickness is a cross, and so is health. If you are healthy, your cross is to take care of those who are sick." - roughly paraphrased from Fr. Hector Firoglani
Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Tom Miller for our “Least of These” podcast series. In our two two recent episodes, we talk about what Jesus said: “I was sick and you visited Me.”
From his experience as an orderly, family doctor, missionary, and hospice/palliative care physician, Tom shares stories and practical ways of visiting those who have serious illnesses.
Listen to part 1 of the interview here and part 2 here.
In our next podcast episode, I talk with missionary Jesse Brandow about poverty and generosity in Guatemala. Interestingly enough, much of the conversation talks about the topic of caring for others when they are sick.
- Timm Wenger
Last December, Thaniel and I shared a podcast about our family's interactions Richard (not his actual name). This is the Richard who prefers living on the street to accepting help to get an apartment; the Richard who would sit on our porch drinking coffee and talking about the people he met in his travels around town and his hopes to travel someday; the Richard who accepted our invitation and came to our Thanksgiving meal. This is the Richard who helped us realize that meeting Christ among the poor is a lot messier than meeting Him at the Chalice. (Listen to the podcast, if you like.)
Soon after we shared the podcast, Richard stopped coming to visit us. We would occasionally see him downtown or as he walked the streets, and he would always greet us with his smile and signature thumbs up. Once, he mentioned an extended stay in the hospital for his skin problems.
Last Saturday, I ran into Richard outside a downtown cafe. He eagerly told me that he was moving back to the city where he lived 13 years ago, a city almost 500 miles way (and a city with frigid winters, I think, as fall and winter approaches). He had gathered up enough money and found someone who went online to purchase a bus ticket for him, he said while patting his pocket. He made arrangements to get six-week treatment at a hospital in that city, he said, because our local hospital wasn't helping him. Would I drive him to the bus station the next day?
At the appointed time on Sunday afternoon, when Kristina and I returned home from Liturgy, Richard was on our porch. Although he did not look well, he was ready to travel, with only a plastic shopping bag in hand. I took a look at his ticket and realized that his bus was scheduled to depart in 20 minutes, from the bus station 45 minutes away. He missed his bus. In true Richard form, he accepted the news without much reaction. I noticed then that there was a second ticket for his connecting bus. We still had time to catch that one, at a city an hour and 45 minutes away, in the opposite direction.
Kristina packed a bagged lunch, and Richard and I hopped in the car. Instead of a quick drive to a nearby familiar bus terminal, he and I were heading to an unknown destination in the downtown of a larger city with more traffic. It's not my idea of a restful Sunday afternoon. Richard wasn't at all concerned. He ate his lunch and we chatted briefly. He mentioned his sisters who live in other parts of the country and who he hasn't seen for decades. He soon drifted off into a deep sleep. I kept vigil, praying for him while the GPS called out directions.
He woke up as we were driving through Chinatown, a few blocks from the bus terminal. We found the station (thanks to GPS), parked the car, and went inside. I helped Richard find the right door and, ready to hurry off (I wasn't sure I was parked legally and didn't want to get towed), we said our goodbyes. He thanked me for the ride and shook my hand assuring me that he wouldn't fall asleep and miss his bus.
On my drive home and for the next couple of days, I worried about Richard. Did he get on his bus? Did the bus company honor the second ticket even though he didn't show up for the first leg of the trip (despite Kristina calling the company to confirm their policy and me double checking at the bus ticket counter)? If he missed his bus, where would he spend the night and find food? Would he make it to the other city? How would he get to the hospital there? Was the hospital even expecting him?
Even more than the logistics of his trip, I was hit with the realization of how easily Richard can fall through the cracks. Does anyone else in our city know that he is no longer here? Richard has no one to check up on him. He is alone in this world and totally dependent on others for his very existence. When he dies someday, will anyone know his name (he doesn't have identification) or how to contact his estranged next-of-kin?
I don't know if I will ever see Richard again in this life, but I am grateful for the connection we have and what I have learned from him. He lives simply, from meal to meal, from park bench to park bench, from city to city, with all his possessions in a plastic shopping bag. Among other lessons, he reminds me that despite my supposed "having it all together," I too am totally dependent and God will provide.
As one of our priests said in reflecting on last Saturday's Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, "Poverty is a cross, but so is abundance. If we have more than we need, our cross is to share what we have with others." Mother Maria of Paris talks about the similarity of taking up a cross and having a sword pierce our hearts. I thank God for bringing Richard into our lives; my heart has been pricked with love. Relating with Richard was sometimes uncomfortable and inconvenient, but never anything close to a cross or sword. May my heart be opened and ready to meet the next "Richard" God brings my way.
Afternote: When I called the hospital a few days later to ask if Richard was a patient, I was told that someone with his name had already been discharged. It seems he made it, but rather than getting six weeks of treatment, he's likely out on the streets again. Please pray for him.
After taking some time off from blogging and podcasting this summer, we're back with Season 2 of The Second Liturgy. Thaniel has moved to Waco, Texas, and Timm is still in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. With the wonders of technology, we'll still be working together to bring you podcasts, blogs, social media posts, and weekly inspirational emails.
This season, God willing, we'll be:
We would love to hear from you! What do you do to encounter Christ outside of the Church walls? Who is doing a great job of ministering to the Least of These, and what can we learn from them? What are the roadblocks hindering us from seeing and meeting Christ in those who are materially poor? What would you like us to explore and share? Please contact us!
Today I was thinking about the story of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25.
Jesus says to the goats,
"Depart from Me, ... for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me. ... inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me." ... And these will go away into everlasting punishment...
When we have the opportunity to meet Christ in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the unclothed, the imprisoned, and the sick, but turn away, we are departing from Him all by ourselves. We don't have to wait for a final judgment at the end of time to be sent into punishment. We have already chosen our path: to not be with Christ.
To the sheep, those who meet Christ in the poor and lonely, He says,
"...inherit the kingdom prepared for you."
The inheritance starts now, in this life. We don't have to wait for the judgment at the end of time to receive our reward. Caring for the "least of these" in all its unglamorousness is participation in the kingdom of God.
Lord, have mercy on us.