Faith in Action
By Edward J. Lis

Recently, a group of 25 people gathered for a retreat to culminate their year-long graduate courses in pastoral counseling at Neumann University. The theme of the day was “We Break the Bread of Our Lives” and was grounded in St. Paul’s probing question in 1 Corinthians 10:16: “Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”

The retreat facilitators invited those present to consider Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s words: “There are many people in this world dying from a lack of bread, but even more dying from a lack of love.” Throughout the day, the students reflected upon their own work as a participation in Christ’s ongoing gift of self as bread for the world. They also shared their own personal stories of transformation experienced whenever they responded to God’s call to be channels of love and grace for others in need.

Such a gathering is truly inspiring given that the participants are staff members of Catholic Human Services in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. While some work in pastoral care, most are social workers, case managers, counselors, program administrators, nurses and recreational therapists. Why would people in those roles be interested in pastoral counseling courses? They are looking to integrate spirituality and a “pastoral approach” into their daily work, with a desire to facilitate life-giving transformations for those they serve.

“This enhances my ability to listen with the ears of Christ and to speak with the voice of Christ, with loving kindness and encouragement,” said Denise Santana of the Chester City Family Service Center.

Mary Ann Wall of the Homebound Outreach Program for the Elderly said her clients often “struggle with loss, end of life issues, isolation and anxiety.” She believes that “having a spiritual approach to the therapy I offer will guide me in helping them to seek answers that integrate with their spiritual life.”

Tom Wissert of St. Edmond’s Home for Children has a desire to “be an instrument of God’s mercy,” and sees his work as “a ministry of servant leadership in the in the spirit of Jesus.”

These inspaniduals reflect one of the core values of social services and health care ministries: compassion. Just as Jesus ministered to people’s material and spiritual needs, we too are concerned with the good of the whole person.

As our Holy Father has reminded us in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, “We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care … Those who work for the Church’s charitable institutions must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity.”

Compassion is that heartfelt concern for those who come our way and is what makes the difference between simply delivering quality services and “going the extra mile” of serving others as God’s children.

Catholic Human Services offers regular opportunities like these pastoral counseling courses for our staff to receive the ongoing “formation of heart” that Pope Benedict recommends, “to awaken our love and open our spirits to others.” In doing so, we strive to be faithful to our mission and Catholic identity as a “well-ordered love of neighbor” staffed by competent and compassionate professionals whose “sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of [their very selves].”

Edward J. Lis is the director of Catholic Mission Integration for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Secretariat for Catholic Human Services.