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What Does It Mean to Serve the People?

In my last article, “Hopes and Dreams”, I spoke of helping people and leading people to Jesus. In my past article, “What Sort of Church Should We Be?”, I spoke of serving the people. Today I would like to write about what it means to “serve” the people.

In serving the people, what we need to ask ourselves what help do their need? Service it is not about catering to what people want. For instance, many people have their favorite time to go to Mass. In the past, when there was both more people attending Mass and more priests, there were more Masses, not simply for the convenience of people but because that more Masses were needed to have room for everyone. Today, with fewer people attending, we don’t need so many Masses. Yet, people get upset if “their” Mass is the one eliminated. It is not an easy decision to reduce the number of Masses. We must consider factors that start with priest availability but go beyond that. For instance, some people like the Saturday night Mass to begin as early as possible so they can get to the restaurant for dinner afterwards before everyone else. That is a want. However, I know of people who work both Saturday and Sunday during the day. They only opportunity to attend Mass is Saturday night. If Mass is at 4 pm, they can’t get there in time. So, a later Mass time is a need for them.

When considering the needs of the people, we must ask ourselves do people always realize what they are asking for. In Luke 11:9-13, Jesus speaks of giving a snake when one asks for a fish. In Jesus’ days on Earth, there was a deadly snake that looked like a fish. A person might ask for it thinking it was something good when it was not. We might ask for something today, thinking it was something good, only to find out it was bad for us.

We should listen to what the people have to say. If they ask for something bad, then we need to help them understand why it is bad. At the heart of this is Truth. Many people do not like to be told what to do. However, if we truly love the people and want the best for them, we must be truthful about what God teaches us. We must not judge but we need to help them understand God’s teaching. For us to do this for them, we must pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit who has guided the Church for 2,000 years to know what to say.

We must also remember that to serve others, we must be willing to make sacrifices. Jesus was willing to sacrifice his life for us. A parent makes sacrifices for their child. Spouses make sacrifices for each other. In faith, we can be called to make sacrifices for people we don’t even know. For example, during the Coronavirus, we make a sacrifice in wearing a facemask and practicing social distancing for the health of not just ourselves but for others. In fact, when we wear our own facemask, it is more effective in protecting the other person than ourselves.

In seeking to help others, we also need to realize that helping others does not necessarily mean doing everything for them. If we are helping an elderly neighbor mow their lawn, we might need to mow the whole lawn for them. However, if our neighbor is young and health but cannot afford a lawnmower, we might best help them by helping them get their own lawnmower rather than mowing their lawn for them.

In my previous article, “Hopes and Dreams”, I said money and buildings are not the most important thing. The people must come first. This doesn’t mean money and buildings aren’t important. In fact, part of serving the people is to use what resources, whether it be money or buildings wisely to enable us to do the greatest good. If we do not use our resources wisely, we will not be able to help as many people. To serve the people and serve God we need to be good stewards with the time, talent, and treasure that people give to the church. Here, I would like to mention a comment by Rick Warren included by Fr. James Mallon, “Don’t use people to raise up your church; rather, use your church to raise up people” (Divine Renovation Beyond the Parish. Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press. 2020, page 241).

In closing, I would like to refer to what Fr. James Mallon says about “accommodation” (42-43). He tells of a conversation he had with a man who had stopped coming to church. The man spoke to him of how the church needed to change. Fr. Mallon responded by asking the man if the church did change its stance on the issues they discussed, would he come back to church. The man thought about it and said no. We need to adapt where appropriate to the needs of the people but we do not serve them best by simply accommodating, giving them what they ask for. We serve best when we do God’s will.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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