Service: Life on a higher plane

By Mary Ann Otto | For The Compass | January 15, 2014

I am a very blessed person in so many areas of my life, but especially in my ministry. As the stewardship director, I have the wonderful privilege of traveling to parishes and meeting with our dedicated pastors, pastoral leaders, staffs, councils and committees. It can, in many cases, be a humbling experience as I witness men and women of all ages on whose hearts God has placed a call to service and they have joyfully and enthusiastically said “yes!” Though their work is challenging and at times frustrating, I see the Holy Spirit present in their prayers, questions, conversations and perseverance. No doubt, they are stewards of their gifts in service to our parishes.

Sometimes I wonder how those of us who might be less invested in the life of our parishes view our brothers and sisters who have answered a call to parish leadership. Are we grateful?  Are we supportive? Do we prayerfully consider invitations from them to use our gifts in service or to participate more fully in the life of our parish? If we do say “yes,” do we bring an enthusiastic spirit to the opportunity?

As followers of Jesus Christ and Christian stewards, we are aware of the many benefits of sharing our unique talents in our parishes and in the world. One unexpected reward of giving is a deeper understanding and unexplainable joy.

Pope Francis states in his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel:” The Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane, but with no less intensity. “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most, are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others” (9).

I am particularly fond of this passage because it reminds me that service does not always lead to a more comfortable life but to a richer and more meaningful life. Our culture often tells us that our comfort should be one of our highest held values. The message of the Gospel found in the life of Jesus tells us otherwise.

In addition, the passage is especially beautiful when we consider how our lives of service might transmit the love of Jesus to others. As you and I serve, we have the potential to grow in our relationship with Jesus and allow others to do the same. The fruits of service are innumerable, to say the least.

Just think, when we are invited by parish leadership to prayerfully serve as a care minister, greeter, lector, catechist, hospitality minister, council or committee member, volunteer in the many areas of social concerns, family ministry or fellowship, it is not only an invitation to serve. It is an invitation a richer and more meaningful life in Christ.

Many parishes in our diocese celebrate annual “stewardship of service” weekends. Oftentimes, parishioners are offered a chance to investigate and celebrate all the wonderful ministries that their community provides by attending a ministry fair. Booths are set up and individuals who are currently involved in that ministry are present to answer questions.

In addition, maybe we are offered a booklet on current ministries and will hear lay witness talks about personal experiences of involvement. Maybe we receive a personal invitation by phone. We may also be invited to discern our gifts and talents and increase the time we spend in service on a recommitment card. Thank you to those who make this all possible!

The invitation of the Holy Spirit to serve comes to us in a variety of ways throughout our lives. It would be interesting if we could do an instant replay and collate all those moments. I’m sure we would be surprised! For those of us who love statistics, I wonder if most of us would have at least a 10 percent “yes” response level. I wonder how seriously we took the invitations. Perhaps one day we might know.

As I begin 2014, I want to express my appreciation to all parish leadership for their faith-filled service to their parishioners. I want to thank you for coming out of your comfort zone and working to invite all of us to build the kingdom of God in our communities through service. I want you to know of my gratitude for allowing the Holy Spirit to use you so that we might “give our life away and live on a higher plane.”  Bless you and may this year bring more joyful “yesses” to the invitation!

Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.

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