I had to chuckle recently when I read a quotation from Pope Francis that said, “If your first name is ‘Christian,’ your last name is ‘Body of Christ’.” There are no “free agents.” Our pontiff loves and leads and doesn’t mince words. In this case, he knows that being an invested part of something larger than ourselves can have a tremendous impact on our lives and the world around us. How can it not, when we are so intimately connected to Christ?
I think we take for granted the beauty that comes with being a member of our church, especially as we celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy. In the last few years, I have been especially aware of “the good and holy work” of Catholic Charities. My office is in the same building as Catholic Charities and their staff is part of the diocesan Curia, so we have the opportunity to see each other at larger staff events. I would like you to know, they are amazing men and women and the work they do is beyond what we could imagine. You and I have the privilege of supporting their work and calling them brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.
As I arrive at work and as I leave, there are Catholic Charities clients coming and going during the day and often in the evening. Sometimes we encounter each other and I am able to chat briefly about the weather as we enter the building. I often say a little prayer of thanks that our church is providing them with a place to take their cares that day. I also think of our staff members and ask God to help them carry the worries and find resolutions to the problems that come to them each day. I’m always hoping that we have given them the necessary resources to do their work effectively.
My relationship with some members of the Catholic Charities staff became more personal when I was asked last year to be a once or twice a month mentor in a Teen Parent Group they were piloting at the diocesan office. Our role is to be present at their gatherings to support the social workers by providing mini-life skill workshops from cooking and parenting to organizational and finance tips. When I received the invitation, my thoughts were: I love teens! I love babies! I love teaching! I love doing creative things! I want to support life! Sign me up!
The experience has been more than I could have imagined. The beautiful young women who attend the group are strong and persevere in the midst of challenges. They are delightful and knowledgeable about things beyond their years and are in love with their children. Many are in need of a healthy support system and someone to assist them in these early years. They are the “Beloved of God” spoken of in Scripture and will succeed with a little help.
I have also had a closer look at the work of some of the Catholic Charities staff and their interns. Their ability to build relationships while providing much-needed guidance and support is amazing. It is humbling and wonderful at the same time. I have learned a lot about patience, love, dedication and the presence of Jesus in the world today just by observing them in action.
The Teen Parent Group is only one small aspect of the work being done. The caseload of our staff is tremendous and I see them often getting in and out of their cars going to and from homes and schools. They also work together as a staff to plan and execute the Catholic Charities Gala which helps to raise money to fund their important efforts.
Work with Catholic Charities as a mentor once or twice a month has been a wonderful opportunity for me that I probably would not have had if I wasn’t connected to this Body of Christ. When you really look closely, opportunities for you and me abound in our church!
It is difficult for me to consider my involvement with the Teen Parent Program as stewardship of my talents in service because of the joy I have received. It is also my pleasure to give to the Bishop’s Appeal because I know my gift supports, not only the Green Bay office, but also the tremendous work being done in other Catholic Charities offices in our diocese. It is stewardship, love, mercy and compassion at its best.
Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.