By Marcus Ashlock
For some time, we have explored the diocesan vision for all of us to become Lifelong Catholic Missionary Disciples Through God’s Love. But let’s be honest, some of you reading this may be wondering how to begin as a missionary disciple.
It sounds a little scary and you may be asking yourself, where do I start? I pray, but do I pray enough to be a missionary disciple? I want to help in my parish, but how do I begin to get involved? I’m an introvert, what if they ask me to talk to large groups?
The Bishop’s Bulletin has featured many personal stories of parishioners in the Sioux Falls diocese living this vision long before the vision was revealed by the Lord to Bishop DeGrood in prayer. Those examples have offered inspiration and hope to those of us who have yet to start our own journey to reach others through local missionary discipleship and acts of charity.
The answer to those questions you’re asking is to reach out, not to wait for someone to approach you. What are your hobbies and interests? Look for ways to assist that suit your personality or gifts. Missionary discipleship is a walk of faith, a journey over time giving yourself to God in your daily life and to your parish as a resource to help it grow and flourish.
They started by saying yes
Doug and Cheryl Austreim, parishioners at St. Thomas More in Brookings, describe how they did not start out to be missionary disciples in their parish. They simply wanted to build a stronger relationship with Jesus Christ in their daily lives and assist their parish in any way needed. It seemed to build over time.
“I think as we became more involved, it led to other things,” Doug said regarding what came first, a strong relationship with God or volunteering in the parish. “It’s almost like a chicken and an egg thing because some of the things the parish did led us farther into our faith journey, while some of the things Cheryl and I did let us become more active in the parish.”
“Many different times, various priests would ask me would I do this or would I do that? And I guess I never thought about saying no; I always said yes,” Cheryl said. “Over time, more and more opportunities arose.”
Starting each day by praying that the Holy Spirit will guide you and place you in situations to help others is a good place to start. It puts God first and can help in developing a more devout prayer life. Volunteering in your parish may also lead you further down the path of charitable work for those in need. We just need to make sure we’re ready to say yes to new opportunities to serve.
“I think as we got involved with some of the Bible studies and things like that, the contexts with different people sometimes lead you into different ways that you can help out,” Doug said. “As we became more involved, it then led to other opportunities.”
Cheryl combined her love of sewing into charitable work by making quilts for the Sleep in Heavenly Peace Quilts program for the Catholic Daughters organization in which she is involved. Cheryl and Doug pray the Rosary together each day, attend daily Mass, and weekly adoration together. However, she describes how a person needs to not give in to the temptation of breaking those faithful habits.
“Daily Mass has become a habit and sometimes I get busy with things and I think, it’s easier just to stay home and keep going with my sewing,” Cheryl said. “Then I remind myself going to daily Mass is the most important thing I could do that day.”
Look for inspiration
Being open to inspiration from the Holy Spirit allows one to see needs where none have been previously considered. Doug describes a new program he championed in his own parish after a hospital stay. He was a patient in a small hospital in a nearby town when a local parishioner came by his room each day of the two weeks of his care. He realized there was no formal program at his own parish and decided to act.
“Our parish wasn’t very involved with hospital ministry,” Doug said. “When I got back home, I thought, this is something that we need here that we don’t have. So I started a hospital ministry where every week somebody is on call and determines if we have parishioners in the hospital. That was a case where I saw something and I’m sure the Holy Spirit was part of influencing it.”
Both Doug and Cheryl maintain their daily prayer life, and the conscious choice they make to encourage one another’s daily walk with Jesus is what makes the difference at home, as well as their parish work. The choice to be involved in the simple things, such as attending weekly Mass, also leads to greater opportunities to serve the Lord.
“Once people become involved by being there on Sundays, they’re going to feel more like they belong to the parish and then, hopefully, branch out into some of the ministries that they could participate in,” Cheryl said.
Cheryl related a story of when she and Doug were younger with small children, and Doug was hurt in an accident and couldn’t work. Their local parish organized a food drive to help provide for them during this rough situation. They have never forgotten the feeling of charity, and now as they have retired, each week when they purchase groceries, extra items are bought for donation.
“We’ve had success in our careers and everything, but now we’re involved with the food pantry here in town,” Cheryl said. “As we do our weekly shopping, we pick up extras of whatever’s on sale, and then we make a special effort to drop off food each week. We feel like it’s a way that we can help others because we know there’s such a need. There are so many people that don’t know how they’re going to feed their families.”
“Our need many years ago probably made us more aware of what it feels like to not know where or how you’re going to make ends meet,” Doug said. “So that’s a way we feel now we can help others.”
Don’t forget to ask
Parishes should ask their parishioners for help if there is a need for assistance. If parishes are finding a lack of involvement, it could mean people need encouragement to volunteer, because in reality some people are simply waiting to be asked.
“Sometimes it’s real easy to just keep asking the same people to do things because you know they’ll say yes and you don’t have to worry about being turned down,” Doug said. “What we really need to do is ask a broader group of people and maybe you will get turned down, but you’re going to find a few that will say yes. After the first time, all of a sudden people are more willing to be involved.”
Are you willing to put God first each day with prayer? Are you willing to open yourself up to God and say “yes” when the Holy Spirit is prompting you to serve him? This is your invitation to start your walk of faith of missionary discipleship.