26 Ordinary September 29, 2013 – St Vincent’s on a Mission!
The spiritual and political prophet Mohandas Ghandi once said. “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Our parish is known for finding ways to advance and expand the ministry of our patron Saint Vincent de Paul in many ways. “St. Vincent’s on a Mission” is a terrific example involving over 200 adults and youths ever since June when Betsy Rowe-Manning who pastors this faith community announced the initiative.
Volunteerism is the backbone of this country. If not for volunteers many adults and children would be denied basic human rights. In 2011 according to the Federal Agency for Service and Volunteering 34.4% of all Americans and 26.5% of New York State citizens were involved in some form of volunteer program in their religious institutions.
Some might say that volunteerism only provides temporary relief to a larger problem; that more drastic solutions are required to provide better services for people in need. The United States is a country of abundance but the distribution of our riches is out of balance; the amount of food and other resources wasted is embarrassing.
Last week in church we heard the fiery prophet Amos speak against those who took advantage of others. Today we read how he denounced privatized luxury, a criticism echoed in Psalm 146. The prophecy of Amos serves as a preface to today’s gospel. 
According to the story ascribed to Luke, Lazarus is down and out. He is weak, poor, homeless and hungry. The rich man on the other hand is impervious to the needs of Lazarus. He is more concerned about his own good fortune.  Pope Francis recently decried such apathy in our period of history as the “globalization of indifference.” The Pope said, “ We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business.”
Volunteerism is a way of recognizing and responding to the needs of others. It is to acknowledge that when laws or customs are not working they need to be fixed. One does not have to be religious to have this awareness. However for those of us who do practice a religion volunteering can take on another layer of meaning — we become ministers with others. We are all in need of others who will minister to us.
This gospel story is about reversal of fortune, a frequent literary device, but it is not intended to scare us or make us feel guilty. It is, nonetheless, a clear reminder that all baptized members of the churches, clergy and laity, are called to ministry. The liturgy is a good example of this principle. The Mass is not the private prayer of the priests; something the laity watch. It is the work of the whole church.
Active, conscious participation during liturgy means more than singing and praying together or training to serve in a liturgical ministry. It is about identifying with the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. We see in ourselves how God continues to act in the world, how the message of Jesus is still a compelling one and how a holy Spirit guides us. During the liturgy we practice a way of living, connecting all of our actions here in this church with what we do out in the community.
I asked Angela Warner who organized this weekend what happens after St. Vincent’s on a Mission is over. Angela said in so many words: Our Mission doesn’t end with the parish-wide weekend of service. Service is integral to living our faith as Catholics – we live the mission; we do not just participate in it every once in a while.
Yesterday when we finished our work at the Regional Food Bank we gathered in a circle. Different parishioners spoke of what serving others meant to them. Some talked about the transformations taking place in their lives because of ministry. Others approaching retirement said they now know how to spend some of their time. Still others indicated they wanted to continue to work at the Food Bank.
St Vincent de Paul once wrote: “Let us love God, my dear friends, let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.”
1 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984) Revised Edition, 507-508.
2 Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 1995, 142-144.