Presence and service that exemplify love, compassion, tolerance, understanding, and empathy
Ministry begins in the attitude of the heart as well as the mind. Some will call it servant-leadership. Others will call it presence among those who need help. Some will call it availability when emergencies arise. All of these are partial descriptions. The full story is the story of Jesus’ life. The Gospels tell us He reached out to those who had been excluded from participation in the decision-making level of society and/or synagogue.
Gregory Boyle addresses this in Tattoos on the Heart: Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It is a covenant between equals. The gift Jesus brought to his ministry was the covenant of equals. Richard Rohr says, Jesus’ truth claim was his person (John 14:6), his presence (John 6:35) and his ability to participate in God’s perfect love (John 17:21-22).
The way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) that Jesus shared with all he met was natural and undefended. He was vulnerable with friends and even with strangers. Rohr continues, Most of Jesus’ teaching is walking with people on the streets, out in the desert, and often into nature. His examples come from the things he sees around him: birds, flowers, landlords and tenants, little children, women baking and sweeping, farmers farming.
Servant-leadership is always specific and concrete, here and now – in the ordinary moment among those we encounter during the day. Ministry is best offered in the small events that happen without long planning and extended details. It is Mother Teresa who encouraged us to do small things with great love. This means all the moments that ask for our attention, not our distraction when interrupted nor our impatience when frustrated with the cell phone or the computer. Tilden Edwards, founder of Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, describes this as a quality of intuitive awareness … a sense of inclusive, compassionate, undefended, direct in-touch-ness.
As we discover the needs of our local community and society, we have the opportunity to develop service based on these ideas. With compassion, we recognize the basic human dignity of each one we seek to serve. We create situations so those in need can participate in the solutions to their dilemmas. When we empower individuals, neighborhoods, and local communities to learn how to provide for their needs, we restore their belief that they are capable and can be productive for the common good. In other words, the goal of the partnership should be to reduce and ultimately eliminate the need for outside help, except in cases of emergency, writes Kim Marie Lamberty in her article Toward a Spirituality of Accompaniment in Solidarity Partnerships.
Ministry is an activity of the heart as well as the mind to develop this intuitive awareness. Sometimes it involves providing the materials that invite small cottage industries to grow. At other times, it involves developing leadership skills, language, and awareness so that they can present their needs to government at the local level and beyond.
Boyle says, Just assume the answer to every question is compassion. Jesus pulled this off … He had room for everybody in his compassion. The beauty of this example is that Jesus did not judge others. When one made mistakes, Jesus simply said, Go, and sin no more. (John 8:11) There was no exclusion from the community. There was no prolonged punishment. Forgiveness was freely given. Mistakes were forgotten. The full story is the story of Jesus’ life.
As Jesus walked the perimeter of the Sea of Galilee, He was welcomed into homes for meals and healings, for dialogue and teaching moments. Our monthly meetings find us invited to share a meal in the home of a Theresian, to dialogue and to participate in the program as learners and interactive listeners. This is an opportunity to experience community. Sometimes it is right here among us that ministry is most effective. Between meetings, many of us are committed to various ministries. Some groups choose to do ministry as a community, happily diverse in the chosen expression of compassion.
Boyle says, All Jesus asks is, “Where are you standing? … With whom are you walking?” The question not asked is: How successful have you been in righting the wrongs around you? And after chilling defeat and soul-numbing failure, He asks again, “Are you still standing there?” This is the challenge: Can we be faithful to the effort to empower the excluded no matter what the outcome? Can we continue to stand with and walk with those seeking a better human experience?
The Theresian Litany of Solidarity (located in the back of this booklet) was written to help each of us individually and all of us in community to focus on the realities of so many women in the world. Do we embrace their situations? Do we pray for societal changes to address these issues? Do we pay attention to the reports of such real things as domestic abuse, human trafficking, and women denied the opportunity for an education? We may not be the instruments to bring about an end to such abuses. However, we can stand with and walk with them by increasing our awareness and our prayerful inclusion of them. As Women in Support of Women … Reaching Out with Gospel Values, are we not called to embrace the process?
- What examples of Jesus’ ministry inspire you? Stories, parables, surprises in His chosen action?
- What is the ministry that attracts your energy?
- In what ways do we minister to each other in community? How can we improve how we reach out to one another?
- How does your community use the Theresian Litany of Solidarity? In what new ways can you include these intentions in your monthly shared prayer?
- What local issues can you review with a new understanding? Immigration? Human trafficking? Refugees? The handicapped? Children in foster care? Teens who are pregnant?
- What global issues can you explore for deeper awareness and understanding? Girls who long to be educated? Girls forced to marry at very young ages? Women who have no physical care when pregnant? Women who live to old age and need assistance?
Boyle, S.J., Gregory. Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010, pp. 63, 77, 173.
Lamberty, Kim Marie, D.Min. “Toward a Spirituality of Accompaniment in Solidarity Partnerships.” Missiology: An International Review, Sage Publications, Vol. XL, no. 2, April 2012. Available on the Theresians International website/intranet.
Rohr, O.F.M., Richard. “Richard Rohr – Beyond Words: Wisdom’s Way of Knowing,” Jan. 15, 2015.
Rohr, O.F.M., Richard. “Undefended Knowing: A Conversation With Richard and Tilden Edwards,” Oct. 13, 2013. (cacradicalgrace.org)