Teaching faith and values to students, caring for the sick, and serving meals to the hungry — these are just a few of the activities that occur daily at Catholic institutions. Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said that “faith in action is love — and love in action is service.” In the spirit of St. Teresa, the outreach and education found at Catholic facilities is offered by compassionate souls who walk through life guided by faith and a desire to serve others. Whether providing an education in a Catholic school, offering care in a Catholic health center, or delivering social services in a Catholic charitable organization, those who dedicate their professional or volunteer lives to service are on the front lines of meeting people’s needs and uplifting their dignity.
At the end of February, Michigan Catholic Conference began a statewide advertising project with the theme Freedom to Serve. The effort focuses on serving others in three critical areas: education, health care and charity. To promote the teaching that faith informs service, MCC produced three short films that illustrate in a powerful and practical way how people of faith are living a life of service to others. These films also express the necessity for the work to be carried out without limitations or burdensome mandates from the government. Within the three films a series of television commercials have been created that will run on cable and network television over the next couple months.
It is clear that those who desire to serve others in the Catholic tradition maintain a strong presence in communities across the state, from Marquette to Adrian, from Lake St. Claire, where I grew up, over to Lake Michigan. Today, the Catholic Church is the largest provider of education, health care, and social services, outside of the government. In fact, a number of Michigan’s Catholic agencies have been present in our state for well over one hundred years — serving people of all backgrounds and faith traditions, without regard for one’s ability to pay. These entities are administered and staffed by persons who do not leave their religious beliefs at the doorstep. It is who they are from morning until night. Their beliefs drive their work. As Catholics, we know that faith is a part of our identity, not just an hour-long activity on Sunday. We understand that Catholic institutions, too, cannot separate their faith from their service, as they help individuals find their voice, heal wounds, and offer God’s loving arms of mercy and support.
Public support for faith-based organizations is widespread in today’s increasingly secular culture. While ideological and antagonistic organizations attempt to diminish the contributions of religious agencies and reduce their place in the public realm, the Freedom to Serve project places a spotlight on the humble work Catholic agencies do on behalf of our vulnerable brothers and sisters. Religious institutions serve as inclusive and diverse components of the state’s communities, motivated by faith in the spirit of “loving thy neighbor.” They are among the best in their fields, and society as a whole benefits greatly from their service, primarily to those most in need.
During this Lenten season, Catholics and others of goodwill have increased their almsgiving, their prayer life, and their daily sacrifices. I would also encourage everyone to watch the short films and television commercials produced for the Freedom to Serve effort at www.CatholicsServe.com. Share the videos with family. Send them to coworkers who may have an interest. Post the videos on your Facebook page and invite friends to watch. Perhaps the project will motivate others to volunteer at a local soup kitchen, donate their time to a homeless shelter, or contribute to the needs of others in a unique way.
Ideally the project will remind residents of this great state that the Catholic Church is comprised of a body of believers who transform their faith into action for the good of others. Their selfless actions and desire to serve remind us that the Church is a selfless and prayerful community, one that values human dignity and seeks to serve those in need. Isn’t this worth sharing and protecting for future generations?