Monday, February 9, 2015

Return to "Ordinary Time" Not So Ordinary for Those in Need

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By Msgr. John Enzler
The Church returned to Ordinary Time after the Baptism of the Lord (January 11 this year). As you may know, the term “ordinary” is not meant to be a description of what we do liturgically, which is far from ordinary. Rather, it is based on the idea of “ordered” (or numbered) time – as in we celebrated the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time on February 1. From the beginning of Advent through the Baptism of the Lord, the Church celebrated special Liturgical seasons that help us prepare for and celebrate the wonder of Jesus’ birth and all that it means. It is a time of joy, celebration and charity.

During the months of November and December, we had an incredible outpouring of help from the community. We were able to give Christmas gifts to more than 1,200 children in the region with donated toys and clothing thanks to hundreds of generous donors who bought and delivered toys. We served both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to hundreds of our homeless neighbors. We had members of the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards deliver gifts to our families. Jim and Cece Koons purchased shoes for more than 130 of our guests to give them warm and dry feet during what has been a cold and wet winter so far.
Even so, many of us do get back to a more ordinary schedule and routine with work and school. We pack up the Christmas decorations, resolve to lose a few pounds, set the alarm to wake up at the usual time, and return to the regular rhythm of life.

As we do, it is easy to forget about those in need, because we become consumed by our regular routines and also because many of us have just donated our time and money during the holidays. Unfortunately, this creates a lull in response.

For the folks in our programs living with a developmental disability, most of whom are coming from less affluent families, their need for support, opportunity, and companionship is just as great today as it was during the Christmas season.

For our homeless neighbors, the air has only gotten colder even as the lights and decorations have come down and all of the gifts have been unwrapped. The struggle to find a permanent home, to eat regular meals and overcome many of the pressing causes of homelessness, remain.

For the men, women, and children who have immigrated here from around the world, often fleeing violence and poverty, the challenge to understand and fit into a new culture continue. I have met many doctors and lawyers from around the world whose credentials carry no weight here, and they fled anyway, for fear of losing their lives. Their need to learn a new trade, to work, and to survive does not end with the start of the new year.

My point is not to make you feel guilty. If you are reading this, it’s likely you are someone who has donated or volunteered already with Catholic Charities. I walk the difficult line in my job of needing to ask for more out of our supporters while making sure they know just how grateful I am for all they have done. But part of ordinary time is the chance to make new routines. Why not make it a routine to mentor or volunteer weekly? Why not make it a routine to bring canned goods to church every month? Why not see if your business could partner with one of our many employment programs to give someone a second (or first) chance at work? Or could you do more pro bono hours this year in a medical or dental office or in the legal field?

I ask only because, looking back at our incredible efforts at the end of the year, you all have shown just how much good you are capable of and how many lives you can change through donating and volunteering.

Like our church calendar, there’s nothing ordinary about that.

The writer is President and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, where he has served as a priest for more than 40 years.