January 2006 - Volume 10, Issue 6

The Spirit Of Service

By The Most Reverend William E. Lori, S.T.D., Bishop Of Bridgeport

Photo of Saint Augustine 2005 medal of service award

As I go from parish to parish, whether for Confirmations or just making a parish visit, almost invariably pastors will point out parishioners who serve with extraordinary devotion and effectiveness. It might be a parishioner who coordinates the ministry to the sick and the housebound. Or a member who, over many years, has volunteered to form young people in the practice of the faith. It could be someone who helps manage parish financial affairs or assists in the upkeep and improvement of the parish plant.

Sometimes I become acquainted with parishioners who do yeoman's service both in their parishes and as a member of a diocesan board, such as the Catholic Charities board. Often I am introduced to individuals who do hands-on service to the poor and needy as well as women and men who volunteer for service in one of our fine Catholic schools or at parish carnivals. And sometimes a pastor will point to a person and say, "I can count on her to do whatever is needed!" On more than a few occasions, pastors will help identify those who are ready, willing, and able to assist in some diocesan project such as chairing the Annual Bishop's Appeal or assisting Catholic Charities.

Together with my brother priests who serve on the Presbyteral Council, we thought it was high time that we began an annual practice of recognizing those who serve the Lord's Church so generously, giving to the Lord and to all of us the most precious gift of all, the gift of self!

So, on Saturday, December 10, at Saint Augustine Cathedral, we gathered for a prayer service during which the Saint Augustine Medal of Service was awarded to nearly a hundred deserving individuals. Since Saint Augustine is the Patron Saint of this Diocese and, through the centuries, has led to so many people to the faith, it seemed appropriate to place our honorees under the protection of this great witness to Christ and teacher of the faith.

Our celebration took place at the end of the second week of Advent, but to me it seemed as though Christmas had made an early arrival in Fairfield County. What joy we all experienced in recognizing the service our honorees have given to the Lord, to the Church, and to all of us. They came to Saint Augustine Cathedral as "those who serve." And the Cathedral was packed with their priests, family members, and fellow parishioners who came to honor them for their varying forms of service in witness to Christ, who came into the world "not to be served but to serve" - to give His life for us all.

We rejoiced to recognize not only an array of good works but also that spirit of service Jesus commends to us in the Gospels: a spirit of self-effacing service which seeks to glorify God, to strengthen the Church, and to help others in their need. This is what is praiseworthy in the Kingdom Jesus came to establish. This is what is truly great in the Kingdom of the Beatitudes! In this season when we pray for the coming of God's Kingdom, we did well to recognize the signs of its presence in our midst!

As noted already, the forms of service we recognized vary, but the spirit of service is uniformly generous and looks toward the good of the whole Church. In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul speaks about the gifts we have received. Our gifts differ and so our service to the Church differs - proclaiming the Gospel, teaching the faith, ministering to those in need, contributing to the Church's well being, engaging in works of mercy and love. But all these differing forms of service contribute, each in their own way, to the unity, beauty, strength, and vitality of this local Church, this portion of the Lord's vineyard, the Church in Fairfield County.

One of this year's honorees, Edward Karpinski, a member of Saint Michael the Archangel Parish in Bridgeport, went home to the Lord a little more than a week prior to this ceremony. His wife Jennie was present to receive a medal and to accept Ed's award. Of course, all of us prayed that Ed is already enjoying the ultimate reward of his goodness - life on high with God in the presence of all his saints and angels. A few honorees were unable to be present for the prayer service so their awards were accepted by proxies - family members or good friends. I hope they will read this column and know how much their work is appreciated.

In preparing for this event, more than a few pastors commented that they have many people in their parishes who deserve to be honored. In a sense, our first honorees represented deserving fellow parishioners from across Fairfield County. In any event, we will award the Medal of Service annually, so there will be many future opportunities to honor those who serve in the spirit of Jesus. And we do honor them in the spirit of Jesus. The Lord taught us the importance of giving thanks. In giving thanks for your service, we are praising the Lord whose grace accomplishes in us more than we could ever ask or imagine.

We think of Christmas as a season of giving, as we should. It is the season when we celebrate the gift of God the Father in sending his only Son into the world. It is a season when we give thanks for the Lord's gift of self on the Cross and in the sacraments of the Church, especially the Eucharist. And it is a season for us to give thanks for those who model their lives on Jesus' gift of self. Their gift has helped prepare our hearts for a very joyful Christmas.

Please count on a loving remembrance in my Christmas Masses and prayers!