|Bill and Elaine Hale wrote this article in 1982.|
With the coming of our La Salette Lay Ministry Summit in Atlanta, GA, on July 20-23, 2011 (for more information, click here), I thought we could revisit an article by Bill and Elaine Hale, written almost thirty years ago for our publication, Our Lady’s Missionary. Although their young family of seven has now grown into several families with lots of grandchildren, their sharing remains a wonderful testament to how God blesses each of us with the gift of faith and how God wants us to share it within the family of the Church.
I am a man who has come to realize that God is not a distant concept, nor does heaven start when I die. I grew up in a traditional Catholic family. In many ways I always had a passive involvement in the Church and at worship. I did not actively participate and thought, quite frankly, that it made no difference whether I prayed, sang in Church, became involved in activities or donated money — the Church was unaffected. Furthermore, in my opinion, my life was so insignificant that surely God had little time for me. After all, he was light years away in heaven and I was light years away from meeting him.
Meeting Elaine changed my life in so many ways. Elaine seemed to have a different concept of God. She believed that God was dynamic, cared, and was involved in her life. I would like to be able to tell you that she showed me that God cared about me. As many of you know, however, it is easier to listen to other people than to your own wife! Even though she was right, I had to hear it from others before I too would have a different relationship with God.
Through an unusual set of events, I ended up on a weekend retreat. My life was never to be the same. It was on that weekend, for the first time in my life, that I met Jesus Christ — in prayer, in my fellow human beings, in the environment. I realized that Jesus Christ wanted to be my friend; that he cared about — in fact, loved — me. I also learned that he wanted to be a part of my daily life in an active way. I was not to wait for heaven in order to start “living.” I was to live and love now. This is what the Kingdom of God is all about.
I learned something else, too. The Catholic Church is not just another group of people but is a family of brothers and sisters. Jesus made us that. I cannot be a passive participant in the Church. If I am, there will be no Church! I am part of the Body of Christ, and if the Body is to be dynamic and alive, I must be active and involved. If I do not share my gifts, others will not be blessed to realize their own giftedness.
I now know that each day, each situation, is entered with Jesus. He wants to be part of my life – not out of some sense of obligation but out of love. He wants me to accept the invitation to be truly his friend and brother.
When Elaine and I look back upon our many years together, we realize how blessed we have been – not because we have been given a walk without pain but because we have been watched over so very closely by God. In fact, God has sent his Son to be our friend and brother, and Jesus walks with us each day of our lives. He has made our lives rich and full in so many ways.
We are no different from you who read this article for each of us has said “yes” to the invitation of Jesus
— to live the Gospel life. We go about our lives expecting Jesus to act in our lives just as the first disciples did.
Our life becomes hopeless and flat without that expectant faith. We are happy to share our walk with you in
hopes that you can see this same faith at work in your life, and so respond as only you can.
A sense of call and a feeling of belonging, plus the belief that service was a right and duty, were all a part of my growing up. My parents lived an involved faith and we were expected to do so as well. As a family, we saw ourselves as a real part of the Church and we worked to keep the Church as we knew it going.
In some ways, ministry has changed drastically in my eyes; yet in other ways it is very much the same. In a formal sense, participation has grown and expanded since Vatican II. There has been a real understanding that the call to serve is for everyone. But the not-so-normal ministry in the Church is still the same: the call to
love and reach out, bringing meals to the sick and the shut-ins, and the like.
My own involvement was a slow process – in former days we probably described it as a movement from the
“contemplative” to the “active.” A quote I read from St. Serapion says it best: “Acquire inner peace and a multitude of (people) will find their salvation near you.” All the activity I do is not the most important thing. Rather it's the fact that Jesus lives in me, and his presence makes a difference. All true Christian ministry seems really to be a matter of letting Jesus act through us, his people.
There did come a turning point in my life, when I came to see that my relationship with the Lord was not
simply a private affair, but was something meant to be shared. This was aided by the love of people who responded to what I shared.
This changed the way I looked at myself and at my own desire to be of service in the Church. I realized that
everyone does not need to go through formal training in order to be a vital part of the Church. On the other hand, I had been “training” all along the way – every time I tried to use my God-given talents and abilities for
The willingness to share in this way seems to open doors. I was meeting all kinds of people. More and more, however, it seemed natural that I especially share my faith with other women and be a part of a Christian community of support in that way. I also discovered that people don't necessarily want answers to problems – just ears, two of them listening to them!
Not having been formally trained for any specific ministry, I find that my ministry gets me involved in many areas. I have worked on children's programs and liturgical planning. I have given a renewal talk and planned prayer services (I even planned one for a friend at her Congregational Church . . .) and I have been involved in my parish's Sodality.
Involvement in the life of the Church means a real time commitment. I want to devote the time and energy I give and I pray my children will be as involved. But those choices also mean there is less time for other things. Ministry can mean hard choices.
My involvement in ministry has had some unsought-after side effects. For one, I have noticed a change in my own prayer. It has become freer, more conversational, perhaps more a way of life. From his monastery kitchen Brother Laurence wrote, “The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.”
I have also noticed that Bill and I have grown closer to one another and that we have grown closer to the children. It seems the more we are involved in the Church, the more involved we become as a family. We help renew each other. The kids are great instruments of the Lord – always quick to speak up and point out when we are sleeping. It also seems that we really cannot minister effectively to the wider Church, if we don't live out our faith in Jesus in our own home.
I have learned that ministry has to be done in response to the call to service and not out of some desire to satisfy my own ego. I have seen how using God for my own ego just kills the act of serving. This means that ministry is really different from other activities I have been involved in. There my motivation made no difference. In ministry it is the motivation that makes a difference and touches people's lives.
Our relationships with friends has also been affected. We feel a bond and a deeper concern. We also hurt a lot more as we become involved with others' pain – but sharing that pain is what it is all about.
Finally, we have also known the blessing of coming to know priests as human beings and as friends. It is reassuring to know that the clergy and we lay people need each other for love and support. It has meant a lot to be able to open our home and share our family. It is important to know that we are peers in responding to the call to service and are not relegated to being “Father's helpers.” It is encouraging to be looked to for insights and wisdom. It is good to have the children call priests “friends” and recognize their ordination as a particular call to service within the Church.
What I have come to realize is that it is Jesus who has shown us what ministering is all about. In the Gospels we see him visiting friends, joining them for supper, praying for the sick and lonely, sitting with sinners. He carried his love into everyday life, in everything that he did. That is what my life as a lay person ministering in the Church is all about — allowing Jesus to be present through me wherever I go, whatever I do. It is the Gospel becoming alive in the person of Jesus present among us today.
All this is summarized in St. Paul’s words: “To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (I Cor. 12:7)
(reprinted from Our Lady’s Missionary, June, 1982)