Sometimes we wonder whether we can truly make a difference. The problems of the world seem so big and we are so insignificant.
I experienced a moment such as this as a pastoral associate some years ago. A young mother at our parish was distressed and pleaded for help with her seven-year-old daughter. The girl was severely disabled, with the gross motor skills of a seven-month-old child. The doctors recommended that her best hope lay in a rigorous regime of muscle manipulations, with legs and arms being exercised by two volunteers, three times a day, while one of the parents manipulated the head of the daughter.
I listened to her plea for volunteers, my heart sinking. I asked if she had tried any other avenue, but her own Greek Orthodox community was scattered and unable to assist. There was no funding to support as the trials were experimental.
For me, it had been one of those long and tiring days. It was tempting to offer my prayers and say there was nothing we could do. But I resisted the urge. Careful not to offer false hope, I asked her for the particulars of what the volunteers would be required to do.
That weekend at every parish Mass, I explained the young girl’s plight and appealed for volunteers to assist, explaining the time frame involved, and how the investment was for three times a day, seven days a week. I suggested we could try for some sort of roster if we managed to get a few people interested. Incredibly, over twenty people volunteered that weekend, and the following weekend more came forward after hearing the story. The roster was filled to overflowing and the parents were overwhelmed with gratitude.
Yet the story had only begun. Over the coming weeks, this beautiful group of volunteers formed an extended family around the little girl and her parents. One woman who was helping out approached me after a couple of weeks. “You don’t know what this has done for me,” she said. “I have terminal cancer and had given up on life. This has given me a reason to live, a new purpose.”
I often go back to that phone call.
It is so easy to say no, to believe it is all a bit too hard. While we want things to change, surely everyone is too busy or too tired. I risked acting in the role of gatekeeper of God’s mercy, not giving the community to respond, to offer them a chance to live out their discipleship.
Our parishes are amazing. May we always be prepared to risk going out into the deep, believing that with the Holy Spirit, we are capable of great things.
Richard McMahon is the Director of the Pastoral Planning and Implementation for the Diocese of Parramatta.