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SERVING AT THE PARISH 101: Stories and Reflections

by Fr. Phillippe Angelo Garcia


Service is an act of love.


I’d like to share three points of reflection on service with real stories of my experiences in our parish community.


1. SERVE ACCORDING TO YOUR CHARISM

After celebrating Mass, a parishioner asked me, “Father, gusto ko pong magserve, pero hindi po ako magaling kumanta. Gusto ko pong magserve pero nauutal po ako ‘pag nagbabasa. Father, gusto ko pong magserve pero nanginginig po ang kamay ko. Baka hindi ako makapag-abot ng communion. Tinanong ko siya, Ano ba ang iyong talento? Saan ka ba magaling?” He answered, “Father, ako po ay nagtratrabaho sa carinderia. Tingin ko po ang kagalingan ko ay sa pagluluto. Sumagot ako bigla, Eh ‘di magluto ka! Magluto ka para sa mga kapuspalad na nagugutom! Magluto ka para sa simbahan!


(“Father, I want to serve, but I’m no good at singing. I want to serve but I stutter when I read. Father, I want to serve but my hands are shaky. I may not be able to distribute communion.” I asked him, “What is your talent? What are you good at?” He answered, “Father, I work at a small eatery. I think I have a talent for cooking.” I exclaimed, “Then cook! Cook for the poor and the hungry! Cook for the church!”)


Your first step in serving the Church, the body of Christ is utilizing your God-given talent, your charism in life. Serving in church is not limited to liturgical celebrations. It entails offering our charisms “for the building up of the Body of Christ” in our parish community. The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 798 (CCC 798) states that through the many special graces called charisms, “[God] makes the faithful fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church.” In the mind of St. Paul, with our unique charisms we are like the parts of a body (cf. 1 Cor 12) which, when working together with Jesus our head, make present the whole body of Christ - CHRISTUS TOTUS in the words of St. Augustine.


I remember when I opened a group chat of the Basic Ecclesial Communities in our parish, I was surprised to see a photo of someone being massaged inside our chapel. I immediately reacted. “Bakit po sa loob pa nang kapilya kayo nagpamasahe?” (“Why are you getting a massage inside the chapel, of all places?”) My chapel volunteer replied, “Father, sorry po, wala na po kasing ibang lugar. Mayroon po kasi tayong parishioner na physical therapist. Gusto daw po niyang maglingkod sa mga maysakit ayon sa kanyang kakayanan.” (‘Sorry Father, there was no other place. Our parishioner is a physical therapist and she wanted to serve the sick in the way she could.”) My indignation turned into a profound respect for my parishioner who was using her charism to serve others.


Like conductors in an orchestra, we priests are tasked with harmonizing the charisms of our parishioners for a more integral manner of serving the Church. The task of discerning charisms and harmonizing them with each other falls on the clergy.


What is your charism? Saan ka ba magaling? (What are you good at?). The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) describes us with the term “equality in dignity”. Our dignity is rooted in our being created in God’s image and likeness. Although we have different functions, we are equal in dignity and we have our own charisms to use for service to the Church.


2. SERVE WHERE THERE IS A NEED

We can paraphrase the motto of the Maginhawa Community Pantry (“Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan. Kumuha batay sa pangangailangan”) to help direct our service: MAGLINGKOD AYON SA KAKAYAHAN AT PANGANGAILANGAN NG SIMBAHAN.


When our deacon was assisting at a Holy Mass in a mission station, naihian siya ng aso. (A dog peed on him). Perhaps he was standing like a tree. There were dogs in that area but also lay servers acting as marshalls. In order to avoid another incident, the religious sisters in charge of the mission station assigned people to shoo away the dogs whenever they went near the altar. This is an example of serving according to the needs of the Church.


Before the pandemic, many parishes in the Philippines were enjoying an influx of altar servers, other liturgical servers, and members of the youth ministry. When the pandemic hit, many of the servers turned into parish social action volunteers. Some of them became very active in the social media ministry. Others volunteered at community pantries and the like. They served in this manner because they saw the need. They drew my admiration.


It is not enough to serve only when we are good at something or are comfortable with it. We must also respond to needs where we find them. Volunteering where there is a need is a mark of a Catholic who is leveling up their relationship with God.


3. SERVE AS AN EXPRESSION OF YOUR LOVE FOR GOD

A week into our San Roque Cathedral Community Pantry, I was dead tired and so were my volunteers. (I know because they told me). When evaluation day came, I was expecting them to request that we stop the operation. But I was wrong. One volunteer told me, “Father, hindi ba kapag umiibig, napapagod, pero hindi sumusuko? Magpapahinga lang, pero iibig parin. Hindi susuko.” (“Father, don’t we also get tired when we love, but we don’t give up? We only take a breather, then continue to love. We will not give up.”)


I was surprised. I was again reminded that we were serving because this was an expression of our love for God. Loving God may not be easy, but difficulty is the test of genuine love. Mother Teresa says that loving truly hurts… because it hurts Jesus to love us.


One time I was approached by a different parishioner who opened up her experiences to me. She told me, “Father, ayaw ko na magserve. Kasi simbahan pa naman tayo, server pa naman kami, eh kung sino pa ang malalapit sa Diyos, sila pa ang gumagawa ng hindi magandang chismisan. Father, ayaw ko na magserve kasi puro chismisan na lang ang naririnig ko.” (Father, I’m through serving. We are church people and servers at that, but it’s ironic that those who are supposed to be close to God are the biggest gossips. Father, I’ve had it with serving because all I hear is gossiping.”)


I told this parishioner that chismisan (gossiping) is indeed wrong and that it was a sin, but I asked her, “Bakit mo naman iiwan ang pagseserve mo sa simbahan dahil sa chismisan? (“Why would you stop serving in church because of gossiping?) Are you serving because of chismisan or are you serving because you love God?” She cried and recounted her story. I left her with the same question.


After a week, I saw her again. I was not planning to remind her about our recent conversation but she approached me and told me this: “Father, ok na ako. Maglilingkod ako dahil mahal ko ang Diyos. Hindi ko po iiwanan ang simbahan dahil lang sa chismisan.” (“Father, I’m better now. I will serve because I love God. I will not leave the Church because of mere gossiping.”) This consoled me because it reminded this parishioner and me that we were serving God because we loved the Church.


There was a time when I accepted an interview from a non-Catholic student concerning the social action initiatives of our parish. She asked me, “Father, magkano po ba ang kinikita ninyo kapag nagpapamigay kayo ng ayuda sa mga kapuspalad? Father, magkano po ang sweldo ng mga tauhan ninyo?” (“Father, how much do you earn when you dole out aid to the poor? Father, how much do your staff earn?”)


I was about to answer this student but my volunteer immediately answered for me. She said, “Wala po. (None.) We do this because we love God.”


The student went on, “You mean to say, Father, they work under the sun, pero wala po silang sweldo? (but they do not receive remuneration?)


My volunteer again answered for me, “Wala po. (No, we do not.) We do this because we love God.”


I saw the face of the student. She appeared confused so I explained things to her. But she still appeared confused after my explanation, so we just moved on to the next topic.


After the interview, my volunteer returned to the topic of love for God. She told me, “Father, ganoon po talaga minsan. Hindi mo maiintidihan kapag hindi ka nagmamahal. Pero kapag nagmamahal ka, maiintindihan mo. Kapag nagmamahal ka, willing kang maghirap para sa mahal mo.” (“Father, that is just how it is sometimes. You will not get it if you do not love. But if you do love, you will understand. If you love someone, you will endure anything for them.”)


Only those who love God will serve his Church despite the struggles and difficulties. If you love God, you will serve the Church. As Bishop Bacani would say, the primary expression of love is our presence through loving service.


If you don’t know how to serve, you don’t know how to love.


Are you serving at your parish? If yes, continue serving. It makes you a better Catholic.


Cardinal Sin’s motto reminds us that we should always have a SERVIAM disposition, which in Latin means “I WILL SERVE.” Because the opposite disposition, NON SERVIAM - “I WILL NOT SERVE” - is that of the devil.


Choose your side. Choose to love like Jesus. Serve his Church.
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