Jesus replied, ‘For whoever is not against us is for us.’ (Mark 9:40)
I keep these words in the forefront of mind as I go about the job of pastoral ministry. It reminds me that I do not have to agree with everything an organization says or does in order to “love” them as Jesus taught us.
Though in my work, I find myself alongside many worthy Catholic organizations like Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul and Build the Faith, I am also engaged with non‑Catholic agencies like environmental groups, anti-death penalty organizations, and nonprofits which support victims of domestic violence. My ministry is obviously not a 9am-5pm career, so I view anytime spent supporting these organizations as part of my role as a parish leader. It is important that I identify myself as a Catholic minister in all my encounters and that I take to heart Jesus’ advice about accepting others who are doing good works even though they are not part of our faith community.
The following questions have been asked since the 2nd Vatican Council: Should the parish be a “public church,” an active participant in the wider society? Or should it be a prophetic community set apart from contemporary culture, offering an alternative vision and a distinctive way of life? Put another way: Should the Church dialogue with the world or proclaim Christ to it? Clearly both are possible. Cardinal Suhard, Archbishop of Paris in the 1940’s wrote: “To be a witness does not consist of engaging in propaganda or even stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would make no sense if God did not exist.”
So how do we apply Jesus’ words and the Church’s willingness to engage in the joy and hope, grief and anguish of men and women? At almost all Church sponsored events we begin with a prayer. At the beginning of community meetings with REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, participants are expected to share what gender pronouns they prefer. Though how we approach our goals may be different, working lovingly alongside people of all faiths or no faith is part of all Catholics’ experience in the world. Similarly ministers in the church can accommodate other viewpoints in order to support continued dialogue. This is not a dilution of our Catholic faith, rather it is an opportunity to share ourselves and our gifts as a person of faith. It is not necessary for me to agree with every person on every issue when our goal at REACH meetings is to end domestic violence. After all, many Catholic Christians join the Elks or Rotary Clubs or support their PTOs because they want to make the community and the world better. They may not use the language “Kingdom of God,” but if their Catholic upbringing and worldview informs their decision‑making then of course they are involved in building the Reign of God. Catholic organizations do tremendous work and deserve our support. There are also groups outside the Church who are similarly successful in their specific area of interest. When these interests align with the Church’s focus on justice and peace we can be an authentic witness both to the mission of the organization and the mission of Christ.
Colm had been a Catholic School teacher for 25 years before beginning as Pastoral and Youth Minister at St. Julia’s in Weston and Lincoln, MA. He is finishing his third year of Deacon Formation and hopes to be ordained in the Fall of 2022. He and his wife, Julie, have 4 adult children and recently became first-time grandparents.