In this week’s update, Deacon Jim Kasprzak, Director of Catholic Charities for Diocese of Lansing, recounts his personal experiences in living out the Realign Resources for Mission principle that parishes should “prioritizes spiritual and corporal works of mercy in local communities”. There’s also a video reflecting upon this theme by Deacon Devon Wolfe of Saint Mary Magdalen Parish in Brighton and a member of the Realign Resources for Mission Committee. Deacon Kasprzak writes:
For the last several years, before the pandemic restrictions, I volunteered in doing outreach ministry in the neighborhoods around Saint Mary Parish on the Eastside of Flint. Several deacons, a religious sister from the Servants of God’s Love, and lay volunteers have knocked on hundreds of doors on these once thriving neighborhood streets with the current residents often lost and wounded. We talk with the people we meet, each one of whom is wounded or struggling in some way. We explain the support at Saint Mary for food and clothing along with the spiritual support they can receive. Equally important, we listen to their personal stories and we offer to pray with them.
Photograph: Deacon Jim Kasprzak, Director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Lansing
One woman told us her husband abandoned her and their children to live with another woman. We prayed with her and told her about the support at Saint Mary where, she said, she had been a parishioner. She was so grateful that we showed personal interest in her.
Several times we visited and prayed with an unemployed man, a veteran with physical and emotional challenges, who was living alone and estranged from most of his family. He was raised Catholic but he hadn’t been to church in decades. With encouragement, he started participating in a Bible study group at Saint Mary led by Deacon Mike Martin.
On another day, a young woman with her 4-year-old son stopped Deacon David Zygmontowicz, “Deacon Ziggy”, and me across the street from Saint Mary, asking us to pray with her that she would find the help she needs to overcome her drug addiction. We prayed with her right there on the sidewalk, telling her how much God loves her and encouraging her to meet with Deacon. Mike. He later told us that she did seek help.
Image: Fritz Eichenberg, “Christ of the Breadlines,” woodcut, 1950.
This Principle 4 of the Realign Resources for Mission’s vision for a “healthy parish” is an essential charge to every disciple of Jesus Christ, and to our parish communities, in living out the Great Commandment that Jesus gave to a lawyer and also to us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself,” (Luke 10:27). In living as disciples of Jesus Christ and members of the Body of Christ in our parish communities, we are to love God with our entire being AND love our neighbor.
In answer to the lawyer’s follow-up question, “And who is my neighbor?”, Jesus replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Our neighbors include strangers who we don’t know and not only friends and relatives we do know. In short, all of whom God puts in our path. Many of these “neighbors” are lost or wounded or broken. These “neighbors” are in and around the neighborhoods and parish communities we are part of – not only in the Saint Mary, Flint, neighborhood. All of them need God’s love through each of us reaching out to them.
Photograph: Parishioners of Saint Thomas, East Lansing, preparing for outreach ministry in Flint
In Bishop Boyea’s Pastoral Letter of April 2012, Go and Announce The Gospel of the Lord, he asserts the role of our diocesan Catholic Charities agencies as witnesses in the Court of the Gentiles. In Paragraph 56 he writes:
“Our witness through the corporal (and the spiritual) works of mercy can be a most effective way to draw the unchurched into the Court of the Gentiles. When unbelievers come to our Catholic Charities agencies, …they should see the hand of God.”
“While our primary motive for any of these activities is to love as Christ loves, it is also clear that every one of these services provides a Court of the Gentiles, a place for them to encounter Christ serving them, even as we encounter Christ in the ones we serve.”
Bishop’s charge to our Catholic Charities agencies, who’s ministry is an extension of and supported by our parishes, also applies to each of us and our parish communities. There is a direct connection to this Principle 4: A healthy parish in the Diocese of Lansing seeks the lost and serves the poor by prioritizing spiritual and corporal works of mercy in local communities.
In striving to become and grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, and members of healthy parish communities, we do so in loving God totally and in loving our neighbor selflessly, giving away the love of God, because He loved us first (1 John 4:19).
Yours in Christ,
Deacon Jim Kasprzak,
Director of Catholic Charities,
Diocese of Lansing