The following is a homily preached by Deacon Matthew Skinner at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Greenhills, Ohio on Sept. 30, 2018. Glenmary Father Don Tranel was the celebrant at the Mass.
Outside our church is a yellow sign you see as you leave the parking lot. It reads, “You are now entering the mission field.”
I’ve always loved that sign. It was gone for a while, but now it’s back. And I’m glad as it’s a good reminder of who we are and what we are called to do. The definition of a missionary being is “a person sent by a church into an area to carry on evangelization or other activities”and that is indeed every one of us.
When I think of missionaries, I think of Father Don Tranel’s society – the Glenmary Home Missioners. I became acquainted with Glenmary about 10 years ago when I was introduced to their 12:05 pm daily Mass at their headquarters in Fairfield. Over the years, I learned a lot about Glenmary. They serve the spiritual and material needs of people living in mission counties here in the United States throughout Appalachia and the South. They serve the Catholic minority—establishing a Catholic presence in areas where frequently less than 1 percent of the total population are Catholic. They serve the unchurched—testifying to our faith in regions where a significant percentage of the people have no church affiliation. They serve the poor through their outreach and work for social justice in counties where the poverty levels are almost twice the national average.
So, I’ve known in my head what Glenmary did. It was Father Don, though, who told me that to understand in my heart, I’d have to visit the missions. Recently I took him up on his invitation to join a trip to the Glenmary missions in Macon and Clay counties in Tennessee.
Six of us departed for Tennessee just two weeks ago and visited for three days. We met Father Vic Subb, the pastor at Holy Family Mission in Lafayette and Divine Savior Mission in Celina, separated by about 40 miles of backroads. Father Vic introduced us to many parishioners at both missions and we listened to stories about their backgrounds and their faith. We heard their experiences of being in the minority as a Catholic, of their commitment to growing their parishes, and in the case of Holy Family, building a new church to accommodate their growing congregation.
I was amazed at what we witnessed. There was that definition again. “The actions of people sent to carry on evangelization and other activities.” It struck me that what we were witnessing were the corporal works of mercy in action.
We saw the hungry being fed at a soup kitchen in Clay County, the poorest county in Tennessee.
We saw strangers welcomed—those strangers being our group—but also a parish embracing a young family who had just arrived from out of town.
We saw the naked clothed as that same young family had only the clothes on their backs… and the children were barefoot. We saw the pastor, Glenmary employees, and parishioners spring into action to find the family clothing and bedding.
We saw caring for the sick and we visited the homebound. Father Vic regularly makes visits to them. And that’s not always easy for him as he has health issues and uses a cane to walk. He has long distances to travel, sometimes spending the better part of a day driving to visit one homebound person.
We heard of prisoners being visited as Fr. Vic shared his experiences in ministering to those in prison or jail.
The pastor and people of these mission parishes had such a spirit about them, a real devotion to their parishes and devotion to others. A devotion even to others who were different from them or others who may not even like them.
They could easily stay within their small Catholic community—inside their comfort zones—and frankly some wouldn’t blame them. After all they sometimes face discrimination and harsh treatment.
We heard of tacks placed on the gravel driveway at the church to flatten the tires of Catholics attending Mass and the Holy Family community being denied the purchase of property for a new church because the owner would not sell to Catholics. But they forge ahead performing these corporal works of mercy. And these are not one-time things, their charitable spirit is a way of life that is stitched into the fabric of their very beings. They are models for how we should treat all others—as if they were Christ in disguise.
The folks in these Glenmary missions bring Christ to others, and bring others to Christ and His Church. They preach through words when necessary but primarily preach through their actions. And of course, Jesus calls us to do the same. He calls us not in some far away place, no. Our mission field is right here; right outside the church doors in our own community. But do we do it? Or do we fall into a little bit of complacency?
Perhaps become a little too comfortable. Perhaps we think, “well, someone else can do that.” But that someone is you. That someone is me. That someone is all of us.
Pope Francis says, “The Lord will recognize us if we have recognized his face in the face of the hungry, the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the lonely. These are fundamental criteria for verifying our Christian life.”
So how do we do it?
We have the Interfaith Hospitality Network which extends Christ’s love and concern to homeless families by providing meals and overnight lodging in the rectory, for a one-week period, for several homeless families who are our guests.
We also have a local branch of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Members extend Christ’s love and concern to those in need of emergency assistance, food, or clothing. We also have a visitation ministry which visits the sick and the elderly to spend some time with them to express the love and concern of Christ and of our community.
These are just a few ways that we can change lives by showing others that someone cares. By looking into each person’s eyes and seeing Jesus.
Deacon Matthew Skinner is one of four deacons serving the Winton Wyoming Pastoral Region in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, a three parish cluster.