Recently I celebrated my 65th birthday. I awoke to a variety of emails, most wishing me a happy birthday, but a few offering condolences at being so old. I realize that I acted the old man as I prepared my coffee and orange juice.
About six weeks prior to my birthday, I got a call from a “Retirement Specialist.” She asked, “What do you hope to do in retirement?” I had no idea what to say. I hadn’t even thought about it as I continue ministering in the Church.
As a Redemptorist missionary priest, retirement is not really a known concept. Three years ago I went to Fresno to be director for Farm Worker Ministry – which meant to coordinate the outreach of the Church to 200,000 farm workers and their families in the Central Valley of California. I must say, I love the people, the religious heritage, the music, the fiestas and the food. The idea of retirement has never crossed my mind!
I remember my Dad telling about the first morning after he retired. He did not have to go to work that Monday morning. His custom each working day was to get on a bus that passed right in front of our house at 7 a.m. On that first Monday in retirement, he took his cup of coffee, walked out the door in his pajamas and raised his coffee cup as a salute as the regulars on his bus passed by.
The “Retirement Specialist” recommended that I take up a hobby or write a book – you know, to plan to do something special in retirement. I began to consider the meaning of “ministry” as opposed to work. I began recently to consider why “retirement” and “Catholic priesthood” are terms that seldom go together.
For most lay people who participate in a variety of ministries in their lives of faith, their ministry is not work. It is an intimate part of life that is enriching and creates an environment for good living. It is a “hobby” that enriches life.
Yet what happens when that “hobby” is your work? After a career threatening injury, professional baseball player Mariano Rivera insists that he will return to the game of baseball. For him, baseball is his work, but it is obvious that it is still for him a game, a “hobby” that enriches his experience of life.
Sometimes when I go to the Office of Ministries to “organize” the programs of Campesino Ministry, it appears to be just a job. Yet, when I go out to a dairy, a labor camp or an isolated community to offer Mass, hear confessions and celebrate moments of faith with people, I realize it more as my pasatiempo, my pastime of hobby. I am thoroughly enriched by the experience.
A few days before my birthday, I celebrated three Masses that were anything but work. In the morning I went to Chowchilla, Calif., to celebrate Mass in the Central California Women’s prison. I do this about once every two months. After Mass there I celebrated Mass for the First Communions of 50 children in Clovis. Again, what joy in seeing the children receiving the Eucharist with great awe and reverence. Then in the evening I celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Hispanic Catholic Student Club (EsTuDios) at Fresno State University. The group is made up of migrant youth or children of migrants at Fresno State. I have become their “go to” priest for special occasions.
I realize that these Masses are my life and ministry, my “hobby,” not my job. Retirement can never take me away from these moments in the life of faith. Yet I do look forward to getting away from the structures that inhibit the real celebration of our relationship with God and each other.
Ministry – A call to love
The story of the early Church immediately after Pentecost showed evangelization at its best. The crowd heard Peter speak and when they asked what they needed to do, he said, “Repent, and be baptized” and 3,000 entered the community of believers that day. Phillip met the Ethiopian eunuch on the road and after a little explaining of the Scripture, took the man to the water to be baptized.
Outreach to the homeless, to the undocumented, to the migrant and the poor is often seen as extraordinary, outside of the ordinary ministry of local parishes. Rather than extraordinary, it should be seen as the mission of the church. We are called to always “go out and make disciples of all nations.” The poor have a special place in the heart of Christ, as they call on us to love as Jesus loved.
As we form programs of evangelization we need to remind ourselves that evangelization is not a job, but it is our call as followers of Christ to extend his love to those who are most in need. It is a message of hope, of humility, of forgiveness and compassion. May we never retire from caring for God’s people.
Fr. McAndrew is the Director of Campesino Ministry for the Diocese of Fresno, Calif.