The Gathering Room of The Cultural Center was a beautiful sight this past Monday, with lovingly-arranged Christmas centerpieces on the tables. In one corner of the room, handcrafted drinks looked as if they were pieces of art, flanked on the other corner with a dozen varieties of homemade sweet treats. The opposite side of the room had a beautiful display of items for sale, ranging from stylish scarves to sparkling jewelry to hand knit children’s clothing. Women milled about the room, looking at potential Christmas gifts, and sharing stories and laughs.
In spite of appearances, this was work. Really. By the time the evening was over, hundreds of dollars were on their way to offer a bit of financial security to women across the world and in our own neighborhoods, who all share one horrifying commonality: they are at risk of being victims of human trafficking. So yes, this was our church at work.
Our work doesn’t always look this calm and inviting. Almost two months ago to the day, that same Gathering Room was a flurry of activity as several dozen of our parishioners all took their part in an assembly line that brought delicious food straight from the pots and ovens of our kitchen and delivered them piping hot to the line of waiting cars that stretched all the way onto E. Paris Ave. Shouts of “Three dinners,” were heard over other shouts of “More meat pies coming out!” So this was also work, and it looked like it.
Last night, twenty of our parishioners met up downtown at the offices of Catholic Charities and transformed what looked like a mountain of boxes and shopping bags into a child’s dream-come-true Christmas store. As you read this, a few thousand kids in foster care in Grand Rapids are about to have some pretty big smiles on their faces—the very same ones that face the most difficult situations that no child should have to face. But before that could happen, we needed to work, and work we did.
So work is the common thread that runs through these three scenes. But if all we see is the work, we might think “Gee, when can I have some time to myself,” or “How much more am I going to be asked to do,” or “There’s just too much going on.” But what if we look beyond the work that it took to pull off these three events? What more do we see? Of the many things we’d see, let me mention just two.
First, in each of these situations, in spite of the work that needed to be done, there was a lot of FUN going on. Whether it was friends catching up at the women’s “Sip and Shop”, or the men in the back washing dishes at the Middle Eastern Dinner, or the fellow parishioners setting up toy displays while chatting it up when they normally don’t cross paths long enough for a conversation, fun was never far away. (We even had someone who drove through to pick up their dinner in October say they want to come back next year and help out, just to get in on the fun!) These times of work are also times for play, and what a blessing it is to enjoy each other’s company. The Prophet David proclaims in Psalm 133: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
There’s one more ingredient to each of these times of work that I have to mention. And that ingredient is love. The love for the Church that brings people together to bake for long hours. The love for the poor that brings us out on a cold winter night after a long day’s work. And the love for each other that makes doing all of this, well, fun.
So the next time you hear you’re needed to work for something for the Church, don’t pass up the opportunity too quickly, only seeing the work that needs to be done. Look further and you’ll see the fun and love that we all need to give—and receive—a bit more. We have such a good and loving God. Even when we work for Him—and there are sacrifices in that work, to be sure—He doesn’t just bless the recipients of our work. He blesses us as the workers—as His workers.