William was lost. When he was only seven years old, his father left home with another woman. Devastated, William cried himself to sleep for three years. Over and over again, he would ask, “Why did my dad leave us? Did I do something wrong?”
William had a rough life growing up. He was always getting into fights, and he ended up being expelled from high school because of his troublesome behavior. It wasn’t long before he fell into drug addiction and ran away from home. From then on, he could be found either at the local jail, the rehab center, or on the street. He did whatever he could—beg, steal, or borrow—in order to get money for his habit.
One Saturday morning, William was at a downtown park when he saw a couple of men handing out sandwiches, bottles of water, and Bibles to the homeless people who would congregate there. William went up to one of them, Mike, and asked for some money. “I don’t have any money, but I promise to pray for you” Mike replied. Then he placed a sandwich in William’s hand and gave him a card with his phone number on it. “Here,” he said. “If you ever want to talk, give me a call.”
Touched by the kindness in Mike’s voice, William called him the next day. They arranged to meet in that same park on Saturday. Mike brought a couple more sandwiches, more bottled water . . . and his Bible. They got together every Saturday for the next few weeks. Mike spent time getting to know William and sharing his own story. He told William about how Jesus had changed his life. He told him that Jesus could do the same for him. Jesus didn’t judge or condemn him for his past; he only wanted to heal him and help him.
Send Me! That was five years ago. Today, William is off the streets and holding down a regular job. He returned to the Church a couple of years ago and is now spending his free time at the park with Mike, reaching out to the homeless. His life isn’t perfect, and sometimes he falls back into his old habits. But he is getting stronger. “I owe it all to Jesus,” he says, “well, Jesus and Mike.”
Scripture says, “Grace was given to each of us. . . . to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7, 12). Jesus wants to give us his grace so that we can become ministers of his love to the people around us—in our homes, our neighborhoods, our parishes, or wherever we are. But this grace won’t make much of a difference if we don’t make ourselves available to God. Jesus can’t use people who are too busy or too distracted or too caught up in themselves. But he can and will use people who echo the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Here I am . . . send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).
Missed Opportunities. Many of us are loving, kind, and merciful. Many of us are conscientious; we want to do good. We suffer over the troubles in the world, and we have a genuine desire to serve the needy. We want the world to be a better place, with more peace and less conflict, with more love and less division, with more help for the lost and less poverty. But all too often, our good intentions fail to translate into action.
Some of us are afraid to try. We fear failure, the unknown, or being hurt. We focus our attention on the risks of stepping out to help, and so we try to play it safe. Others of us are just plain too busy. Our job, our kids, our homes, and all of our responsibilities and commitments seem to eat up all of our time. How in the world can we ever find the time to make ourselves available to the Lord? And then there are the procrastinators. We have the time, but we find ways to put off until tomorrow what we know we should be doing today.
Jesus is aware of these tendencies in us. He encountered them when he walked the earth long ago. St. Luke included some of these stories in his Gospel (Luke 9:57-62). The people in these stories actually wanted to follow Jesus. Their hearts were stirred by his preaching, but then when it came time to make a change, they made excuses. “Let me bury my father.” “Let me say good-bye to my family.” “I can’t live the life of a wanderer.”
These stories are not saying that Jesus has a problem with burying the dead or with taking care of our families. They are telling us that it’s not hard to find excuses, even good excuses, when we come face-to-face with the challenges of building the kingdom of God.
So are your fears or life’s demands or your own comfort holding you back? The truth is, we all have at least some time that we can devote to the Lord. In the end, it’s rarely about time; it’s about our willingness to try. It’s about making ourselves available to the Lord.
Aware, Alert, Available. Now, you don’t have to go downtown to make yourself available. Every day, God sends people to you. He even causes strangers to cross your path. One night Theresa and Dawn were out for a walk when they came upon a woman sitting on a park bench crying. Without a moment’s hesitation, Theresa went over to the woman, sat down next to her, and listened to her story for a few minutes. She then gave the woman a hug and offered her some kind words. After praying the Lord’s Prayer with her, she left, promising that she would continue to pray.
Dawn was moved by what she saw. “I don’t think that way at all,” she thought. “I felt bad for the woman, but it didn’t even occur to me that I should go over and help her.” From that moment on, Dawn decided to make a change. Now when she sees someone who is clearly in need, she asks herself whether it would be right to stop and talk with that person. She puts aside her agenda and makes herself available.
At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus told Simon and Andrew, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Today, two thousand years later, he is inviting us to do the same thing. He is asking us to make ourselves available so that he can work through us. He is asking us to try to adjust our schedules, our plans, and our priorities so that we are more free to serve his priorities—especially when it comes to reaching out to other people. And he’s not asking us to do this all by ourselves. He has given us the Holy Spirit, who can help us become more alert to the needs around us.
Rebuild My House. Around the year 520 BC, the prophet Haggai addressed the issue of availability as well. The people of Israel were finally resettling in Jerusalem after a seventy-year banishment to Babylon. They had started rebuilding their Temple, but the project stalled for various reasons, and the people focused instead on improving their own homes and fields. “Is it time for you to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies in ruins?” the prophet asked (Haggai 1:4). He called them to look at their situation: “You have sown much, but have brought in little; you have eaten, but have not been satisfied” (1:6).
It took a few weeks for the message to set in, but eventually the people responded. They figured out how to devote themselves to the Temple and still fulfill their own responsibilities. So the Temple was rebuilt, and the people finally had a place to worship the Lord again.
May we all—every person and every parish—take the prophet Haggai’s words to heart. As beautiful as the Church is, it is still in need of repair. As the Fathers of Vatican II have told us, the Church is “at the same time holy and always in need of being purified” (On the Church, 8). We can see this need for purification all around us. So many people have stopped practicing their faith. So much of the world lives in loneliness without hope or love. So many are bound in guilt, shame, resentment, or bitterness.
God wants to send us out into these situations. He wants us to offer his love and mercy to those who are hurting. He wants us to make ourselves available to them. He wants all of us to rebuild his Church. Together, let’s answer the call.