Volunteers share in the very Spirit of God, reaching out to others to impart – and at the same time discover – that in the love of God, we are never truly alone.
The message was part of a homily delivered by Bishop Don Sproxton at St Mary’s Cathedral on Sunday at a special Mass to mark National Volunteer Week (16 – 22 May) – a Mass attended by volunteers from parishes and Catholic organisations throughout Perth.
The Church in Australia, Bishop Sproxton noted in his homily, employed 220,000 people, making it one of the largest employers in the country, but its true reach could only be measured by including the many people who gave of their time voluntarily to help their fellow humans in need.
“You can see what a mighty impact our people have on the life of this country,” Bishop Sproxton told the congregation.
“Today, in this Eucharist … we are honouring those who among us give of their time, and give in many, many ways to those in our society who are in need.
“And the need might not just be material – the need, many times, is that need of friendship.”
Bishop Sproxton recounted meeting a volunteer several years ago named Maria from Personal Advocacy Service (PAS), an archdiocesan agency that has been working with – and advocating for – people with intellectual disabilities since 1989.
In its groups throughout Perth, PAS pairs people with intellectual disabilities with their own special volunteer, leading to mutual sharing and lasting friendships.
Maria’s friend, someone Maria had been working with for over 30 years, had recently passed away.
“So, I asked her, ‘What will you do now?’ And she said because this person had become so much a part of her life, she was wanting to go through the service (again) to find somebody else to support for however many years she had left,” Bishop Sproxton recounted.
The Gospel of the day was drawn from the same section of John in which Jesus gave himself both in the Eucharist and in the washing of his disciples’ feet.
“In the context of that gift of the Eucharist, he did this extraordinary sign – he gave this extraordinary sign to us,” Bishop Sproxton said.
“This, I think, is a reminder to each of us, as we now come very close to the end of this season of Easter, that we, as disciples of the Lord, are called, in our own way with our own gifts, to make ourselves available for others …
“When he was lifted up on the cross, in St John’s mind this was the moment when Jesus was glorified by the Father, when he gave everything; he gave everything as a sign of love to us.
“When we come to the Eucharist, we are receiving that gift of Christ – that gift of him giving us everything that we need. When we hear that Jesus then gives us a commandment – and we learn that that commandment is to love – we wonder how it’s possible, that anyone can be commanded to love.
“It is by that gift of the Spirit that we are given the capacity to love, in the same way that Jesus himself shows his personal love, but he (also) shows the love of the Father,” Bishop Sproxton said.
“Jesus is teaching us that God loves us first. And then in order for us to live as disciples of that love, we are then given the Spirit that enables us to give ourselves totally in the way that he has given.”
Many of us had experienced the God-given power to love in our vocations, Bishop Sproxton said, but it was also – and perhaps especially – true when manifesting love to people who were not members of our families.
“For the one who isn’t that close to us – the one who isn’t part of our family – this is where this becomes a very powerful sign of that Spirit living in the hearts of people.”
Bishop Sproxton prayed a prayer of blessing for all volunteers at the conclusion of the liturgy.
Attendees also had the opportunity to pick up a copy of the ‘Volunteer Handbook’, published by Catholic Social Services Western Australia (CSSWA), detailing how someone might get involved in volunteering for a Catholic agency or outreach in Perth.
The booklet includes details of 24-member organisation whose volunteers are doing good works throughout the community – works around homelessness, migration, companionship, fighting human trafficking, and bettering human and environmental ecology, among many others.
The Mass was organised by Grace Kurniawan of CSSWA. Grace could not attend due to needing to isolate. Two volunteers stood in for her and were a large part of making the event a success.
Speaking to The Record in the week following the event, Grace said she got involved in volunteering through a youth group in Indonesia, where she grew up. She had wanted to make her faith incarnate in the world by getting involved in concrete action for others.
“Volunteering has been very rewarding for me,” Grace said.
“I’m a Catholic and loving your neighbour is a big thing for me. I felt it was giving action to my worship, and it’s given me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction in helping people in person.”
Grace tried volunteering at several archdiocesan agencies, including the homeless drop-in centre The Shopfront and a ministry to people experiencing crisis pregnancies, Pregnancy Assistance, before finding her current work.
“It’s mind blowing, the diversity of agencies and issues that Catholic volunteers are involved with.”
The CSSWA volunteer handbook is available from CSSWA at email@example.com or 9220 5950.