By Marilyn Jackson, Director of Ministry Services, Roman Catholic Diocese of Sasatoon
The theme of our recent Planning Day at the Catholic Pastoral Centre in Saskatoon was “Let’s Get Radical!” This time of year can be challenging for ministries as we wrap up one ministry year and start to plan for the next one while this one is not even over yet. Planning Day is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the beautiful things God has done through us in the past ten months and then dream big for the coming ministry year!
Our theme was inspired by our desire to become more like Jesus. All through His ministry, Jesus did what others would consider radical. He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, surprising even the disciples. In the Gospel of Luke, He forgives an immoral woman, touches a leper and enters into the house of Zacchaeus to dine with him. In Matthew 9, He goes to Matthew’s home and sits down to eat with sinners.
We can learn two important lessons from this scripture. First, the purpose of evangelization is to reach the lost, and the only way we can do that is to hang out with them. Secondly, Jesus was not condoning the sins of the people he was spending time with, but showing them that He was the only way to forgiveness and redemption. He was showing them the true face of God, through love and compassion.
Pope Francis tells us: “Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all…In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.” (A Big Heart Open to God, Pope Francis)
What comes to mind when we talk about “seeking the lost”? For me, my thoughts go to the people who live on the street and struggle daily just to eat. or our adult children who have left the Church. I think about those who we don’t see at Mass. Yes – they need to see the true face of God through our love and compassion. What about those who sit among us every week at Church, who are suffering in silence because they don’t know where to go for help?
Grief is complicated. Sometimes, we choose not to “hang out” with those experiencing loss because it’s too painful. Grief is part of life but none of us want to go there. It just hurts too much. Those who accompany the sorrowful are special gifts to our faith community and there are many in our diocese.
Dianne Anderson, the diocesan coordinator of Prison Ministry (Restorative Ministry) sits among the sinners daily in her work. She regularly facilitates grief workshops for the inmates. It is grueling work and when she comes back to the office after a four day workshop, you would expect to see sadness on her face. But no, there are usually tears of exhaustion but also tears of joy, for she gets to witness healing taking place before her very eyes. She understands grief and she uses it to accompany others through the process.
Dianna Knaus is a volunteer facilitator for the diocesan program called “From Mourning to Dawn.” It is a grief support group for widows and widowers presented by facilitators, who have themselves also experienced the death of a marriage partner, that journey with participants on an eight- week journey of transformation and healing. Offering support and encouragement for bereaved spouses, the program’s sessions are held at the Catholic Pastoral Centre in the Cathedral of the Holy Family, as well as at St. Anne Parish in Saskatoon and St. Augustine Parish in Humboldt.
Loss is not only experienced through the death of a loved one. Sharon Powell has served the diocese for many years, ministering to those who are going through the painful experience of separation or divorce. Transitions is a diocesan 12-week program that offers peer support through weekly sessions to discuss and reflect on topics such as grieving the death of a relationship, loneliness and growth after divorce. Individuals have the opportunity, if they wish, to share their story with others.
A participant said this: “My experience here has been helpful and has given me strength to keep moving forward. It has shown me that I’m not alone and others have been through this and have been okay. I would recommend this program to others. Thank you to all the facilitators for your guidance and support during this time in my life.”
Post-abortion grief is a very complicated grief and there are so many women among us, suffering in silence because they don’t feel they have a right to grieve. Help is available at the Saskatoon Pregnancy Options & Support Centre, where every woman is welcomed with love and compassion.
One of the big dreams that came out of listening to the people of our diocese is a program we are hoping to introduce this fall. Red Bird Ministries (RBM) is a non-profit, pro-life, and pro-family, Catholic grief support ministry serving individuals and couples who have experienced the loss of a child from pregnancy through adulthood. They help ordinary families who have been given an extraordinary cross to carry. Stay tuned for details coming in September.
[Editor’s Note: This article is part of a regular “Fuel Up Friday” series in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon – to subscribe, contact diocesan Director of Ministry Services Marilyn Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org]