This week’s Gospel and readings center on the idea of thankfulness and gratitude. In my 24 years of ministry, I have never experienced a time where there is less gratitude or thankfulness in our world.
So many people look for the fault in others, the things they can complain about, and the opportunities to pick apart organizations and people. They don’t care whether the information they have is true or even based in reality, instead they assume that what they read or hear must be true. They work so hard to find something wrong with those working hard to help others that they fail to see all the good work being done by those individuals and organizations.
I am routinely told that I am a fraud, that I am only working to grift people out of their money to help myself, and that I do nothing to help my community or the world. Ministers (Deacons, Priests, and Bishops) are seen as the enemy of all things good and holy because of all the scandals out there caused by the Southern Baptist Church and the Roman Catholic Church. People assume that all Catholics are the same and all ministers are by their very nature criminals and abusers.
No one in our jurisdiction (the Old Catholic Churches International) has ever committed sexual abuse of any kind. No one in our jurisdiction has ever scammed anyone for personal gain. In fact, we all live a life helping others to the detriment of our families, ourselves, and our financial well-being. I spend every waking moment helping others. And in my case, I give so much to my ministry to help others that I even do it to the detriment of my own mental and physical health.
Yet, there are those who would rather paint me, Saint Francis Parish and Outreach, and the Old Catholic Churches International as frauds, abusers, and scammers. This is not only false, it is very hurtful and abusive.
Our parish in Flourtown, PA helps the homeless in ways that I wish Saint Francis Parish could. They give out thousands of Blessing Bags full of food and toiletry items to the homeless every week. They have a Safe Car Park on the parish grounds for those who are functionally homeless and living out of their cars so they have a safe place to park for the night. They have worked for several years as a Code Blue sight for the homeless and those without proper heating so that they have a safe and warm place to stay. They provide hundreds of warm meals to the homeless and poor in Kensington PA twice a week. They operate the only Franciscan STEAMM school in the area and provide education and safe childcare to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it. Nearly 90% of the students in the school receive financial assistance in order to attend the school. They do all this while maintaining a historic parish and cemetery. And they do all this without expecting people to be perfect. They do this with love, kindness and hearts full of gratitude. The staff, ministry team, and Monsignor St. George receive very little in the way of thankful and gratitude for all they do, yet they continue to do it!
Saint Francis Parish and Outreach has given hundreds of Blessing Bags out a month to the homeless in Augusta, GA. In the last couple of months, we have been unable to help them because of a lack of donations and a lack of supplies. Yet, Fr. Matt and I still give meals as we are able to the homeless we encounter everyday. We maintain the parish out of our pockets. We do all this to the point of putting ourselves without money for groceries at the friary. We do everything we can to avoid asking for help and just continue to do the work God his given us to do with thankfulness and gratefulness in our hearts for the ability to serve others.
We work hard to show that thankfulness and gratitude to all those around us. None of our clergy in Augusta or Flourtown question whether someone is worthy enough to receive help. We never question if they are good enough to serve others. We don’t demand that they be perfect to come to church or to receive assistance. We just help everyone. We know that every human being has their issues and is broken is some way. And we know from Matthew chapter 7 that is not our place to judge their brokenness. That is the message our parishes are founded on and that our jurisdiction is founded on.
As you read this message today, I ask you to think about all the good things in your life. Think about all the good people who have stood by you and helped you without asking if you were worthy enough. And if you sadly don’t have anyone like that in your life, we are here to be that person for you. Our parishes are here to be a Safe Space for you to find healing, support, and yes, love.
This October is Clergy Appreciation Month. And given that so many clergy in America suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues (75% according to a 2015 Pew Research poll) it is time we all show them a little thankfulness and gratitude for being there in the our darkest moments. We need to remember that they are human beings too. And while we are not perfect, we continue to strive to do the best we can to help others day in and day out.
Pax et Bonum,