Discovering Essential

Guest column from Sacred Heart’s Chairman of the Parish Advisory Counsel, Mr. James Rossman.

In this space last week, Fr. George discussed the stunning changes that have impacted us during the last few months. Those changes certainly include a litany of hardships, sacrifice and disruptions of the norm, but they also created an opportunity for reflection, for examination of the emptiness of some parts of our pre-pandemic lives and for imagining a new and better world on the other side of “Safer at Home.” He ended his column with: “What will we do with the time given us?”

Each of us will have a very personal response to this “invitation.” While I never seem to lack for things to do during these stay-at-home days, there are regular periods for reflection on all the activities that just yesterday seemed terribly important. Of course, I miss the constant flow of activity — restaurants, shopping, entertainment, sports, work and the myriad of social events that make up a typical, busy day. When all of these activities are suddenly unavailable, it’s a lot easier to put them in perspective and decide which parts of our busy days need to be kept and which to discard. I believe for all of us, what we miss most is community; the spontaneous hugs, handshakes and warm greetings of friends. I miss my church family and my pew community. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is urging us to consider how we view our community and how we can open our arms to include others.

The first stage of reflection calls us to inventory what is really most important to us: our family, friends and community. What comes next is the reordering of our priorities as we listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and decide how we will make time for what’s really important as we begin to return to the “new normal” of life after “Safer at Home”. We have heard the phrase “We’re in this together!” repeated endlessly over the last weeks. This is a call to action; a gathering of community; strength in numbers as we address our common challenges. But, how do we respond; how can we begin to pull together as community; how do I do my part? A good place to start would be our own Outreach Ministries at Sacred Heart, which are already providing a broad continuum of support across the Tampa community. Love INC (In the Name of Christ), Knights of Columbus, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Hands of Hope, Council of Catholic Women, Hillsborough Hope, our new call ministry, and many more need your hands and hearts, your energy and passion, your prayerful leadership to shape and expand our Catholic response to the needs of our neighbors.

If nothing else, this pandemic has revealed what is most important in our lives. In a shocking way, it also reveals who, beyond family and friends, are most essential.  They are the health-care workers, grocery store clerks, restaurant employees, delivery people, farmers and farm workers, care takers for the elderly and for children, and so many others. They are so familiar to us and their functions are so seamless that we’ve learned to take them for granted. In our society, these are the people who receive the lowest level of wages, benefits, health care and job security — creating persistent insecurity for them in food, health care, education and housing. Scripture calls us to acknowledge these inequities and to respond, especially in these times of economic chaos. It can’t be enough to acknowledge the unfairness of the job market that has created this disparity and simply hope “someone” will fix it.

We can easily identify the homeless who occupy one end of the continuum of support, but it is the “silent majority” of essential workers who are barely holding on at the other end who most need our compassion and our helping hands. Will the new normal for members of Sacred Heart Parish include new found respect for and recognition of the “essential workers” in our lives? Will we truly be disciples of Jesus who seek to bring about change by volunteering with and supporting our Outreach Ministries — where we seek not to simply hand out food and clothing but to help people change their lives. Our mission is to engage our neighbors respectfully and to help them resolve problems that prevent them from living productive, stable lives.

During these weeks of prolonged social distancing, we discover how strongly we yearn for our community of faith; how important it is to be together in prayer; and how much we’ve missed the Eucharist. While we desperately want to return to the familiar, we also know that the Holy Spirit is calling us to do so much more. In the quiet of these weeks and months, we have been given the gift of time to visualize a new church — a church that is calling us to action and service — to do more — to make the time given to us “matter.” What will you do with the time given you?

If you’re prepared to do more, be more intentional and make a difference by following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, you will find contacts for the Ministries on our Parish website, or you can reach me through the parish office.

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