The theme for Lent in 2020 is “Renewed by the Spirit.” Perhaps this theme could be a call to all of us to encounter God and allow Him to guide us.
That can feel difficult, allowing ourselves to be guided with an open heart. There are so many influences trying to guide our lives now, and they do it in so many ways. Some are yelling at us through the TV, and others are pushing our buttons secretly through social media. We are being pushed in many ways that I do not think are right. So, this month, as I prepare for Lent, I am seeking to clean out the silos and barriers of my preconceptions and open my heart. It is going to be challenging, but I am fortunate to have the examples of so many who I meet in our work at Catholic Social Services, who work with us, and open their heart, and stave off judgment and bias, to listen and serve.
I have to start this by saying we all need the service of others – of each other. No matter my income or my class, I rely on and am better every day because of generous people in this community, who through their daily work or their weekly volunteering or even their extra minutes, make our world better. Maybe they are employed at a hospital or nursing home or Catholic Social Services, and their job every day is to provide service to others. Maybe they dedicate time out of their workday to help in the community or take care of a sick family member. So many wonderful people volunteer at CSS and are truly inspiring. Maybe they do small things, like put extra time on someone else’s meter or hold the door for the whole family of seven, even the straggling 5-year-old, three minutes behind everyone else. Service to others is the best way I know to keep my heart open and to hear or see God in the world around us.
In that light, I want to share a service story from our Catholic Social Services (CSS) offices. At CSS, we have a position at the front desk of our Main Building. They answer our phones, greet people as they come in, and direct people to services. They answer questions, sometimes from people who are having really bad days and don’t know where else to turn. This is a tough position, as you might imagine.
At our building, when that front desk person is sick, or the position is empty for any amount of time, we ask staff in the building to fill shifts, so the front desk is staffed. That is a tough ask. Everyone is busy with their day-job, and stopping to answer phones and direct at the front will inevitably put you behind. I have been so impressed though lately, as whenever we have an absence, I see one of our staff people, sitting behind the desk, cheerfully answering phones, compassionately helping people to communicate their questions and direct them to services, and listening and seeing.
I asked one manager who was temporarily filling the seat at the front why they volunteered because they did not have to because of their level in the organization. They told me, “I like to; this is how I can connect with everyone in the community.” Then they reminded me that sometimes hearing the first reasons that bring people to us, helps them to remember how challenging it is to ask for help, and how basic and straightforward their stated needs are. People are hungry, they need some help to turn on the oven in their apartment, they need the phone number of Social Security, or they just want to talk.
Often these first asks for help are just the beginning or perhaps are covering much greater need. Maybe in those moments, we can open our hearts, because we share those basic questions. We all know the feeling of not knowing exactly where to turn or wanting to talk. Although we have not all experienced true food deprivation, we all know what it is like to be hungry.
I will be working to open my heart this Lent and invite you to join me. If you would like to know more about what Catholic Social Services does and how you can get involved, please reach out. Let us keep those we provide service to at Catholic Social Services in our intentions, regardless of where they come from or what they may have walked away from to be with us and seeking help. They are guided by God.