In the gospel reading today, two of Jesus’s disciples were traveling to Emmaus. It is good to stop for a moment and reflect on the fact that there were no solitary Christians in the readings for mass today, and there is a very good reason for that. Our faith is meant to be shared with one another in our every day lives with our family and friends, and at work, but also in the life of the church.
There are many people who volunteer their time in different ministries of service within the church or the communities that they live in. Many volunteers mainly see volunteering as a period of time they set aside to serve the Lord, by serving other people. For an example, many people serve at Mass each week, teach the children about the Catholic faith in religious education programs, or help out in a local soup kitchen or food bank. These ministries of service are very much needed, but there is a lot more to ministry than just the time we spend volunteering.
In the gospel reading today we read that the two disciples were traveling together to Emmaus. Jesus also sent his disciples out in pairs to preach the good news too. Jesus’s disciples were personally involved in one another’s life. They prayed together, served others together, traveled together and ate some of their meals with one another. In fact, when you think of Christ’s disciples, it is always in the plural sense.
People need one another. This is especially true in our church. Our fellow parishioners enjoy being of service to others and they are very generous with their time, money and resources. However, many Catholics seem like they are not aware that there is a secondary dimension to ministry, which is to form a sense of community within the church itself. In fact, people often volunteer their time hoping to make some new friends in the church. Single people, the elderly, widows, divorced parishioners, and empty-nesters whose adult children left home will often volunteer in the church, hoping to make a personal connection with others and perhaps make a new friend. Our circumstances in life do change over time and our parish community can be such a support during the entire span of our lives.
The next time you encounter someone new at church, it might be a good thing to invite them to volunteer in a ministry you are involved with, or another activity like praying the rosary with your small group. If you already participate in the life of the church, it is good not to just associate with those you have known a long time, but to reach out to new people as well. Ministries are not cohesive and thriving without the bond of friendships. It means the world to someone who is a bit lonely, if they are asked to go for a cup of coffee, or to eat lunch with you, or if they are invited to go to a retreat or conference that you are planning to attend. If we are too busy to take time for others in the ministries that we serve in, then we are just too busy. It would be better to spend less time volunteering, and spend more quality time with all those that we serve or volunteer with. In the long run it could do a lot more good for everyone involved and it is such a powerful, genuine witness to our Catholic faith.
When Jesus walked with his disciples on the trip to Emmaus and their conversation ended, he indicated that he was going further then they were. The disciples asked him to stay with them and have supper, so he changed his mind. If they had not invited him to dinner, they would not have never known him in the breaking of the bread.
Jesus knew that they needed him to stay with them just a little bit longer, after discussing the scriptures, so Jesus made time for them. He is a powerful role model for all of us to make time for others in our lives, including those that we volunteer with. The disciples are role models for us too, because they took the initiative to reach out to this “stranger” on the road and invite him to dinner.
We miss out on so many wonderful opportunities for friendship, a sense of community and a sense of belonging, if we think we are too busy to take time out for these things. Jesus took time out to be with his disciples, just because they asked him to. The next time you serve in your church or your community, it would be good to also notice the needs of those you serve with, as much as those whom you serve. Our small groups and ministries are actually a small church, within a church.
For many people, it is impossible to get to know everyone in a really large parish. That is why small groups are so important, because they form church communities, within the larger church itself. We are just one brick in the structure of the church and we might not be able to see the entire structure of the Body of Christ all at once that we are connected to, but we can see Jesus Christ reflected in the faces of all of those around us.