Volunteers offer witness of service that we so need to see, says Bishop Sproxton

22 Jun 2022

By The Record

Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton with Volunteers at St Mary's Cathedral.
Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton with Volunteers at St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Michelle Tan.

Love one another, as I love you.

It is in love that we most beautifully represent God to the world around us.

I’ve just returned from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in Sydney, and in the course of our meetings, we were reminded by one of the bishops, that the Catholic Church in Australia employs 220,000 people. This makes the church, one of the biggest employers of people in our country.

If you add to that number, that even greater number of people who volunteer in our parishes and in our agencies, and in fact, in many organisations, in our community at large, you can see what a mighty impact, our people have on the life of this country.

Today in this Eucharist, as we’ve already heard, 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. The need might not just be material, the need many times is that need of friendship.

There was a lady that I met some years ago who works for one of our agencies called Personal Advocacy Service. She works as a volunteer, supporting people with disabilities.

She was telling me that the person with whom she had been working with and serving for more than 30 years, had just passed away.

Personal Advocacy Service offers people the opportunity of walking with people who have disabilities, of being their advocates. Being able to help them come to know God, to know Jesus, through the companionship that they offer. In walking with people with disabilities, they are helping them to find their place in the Church, in their parishes, and also in the wider community.

I asked her, ‘What will you do now?’ and she said that because this person had become so much part of her life, she was wanting, through Personal Advocacy Service to find somebody else to support for however many more years was possible.

This was a great example of the power of our companionship, and of the work that we do as volunteers.

The Gospel that we’ve just heard proclaimed, is from John and its context is the Last Supper. It was at that moment when Jesus gave to the Church the Eucharist that we celebrate this morning. And in the context of that gift of the Eucharist, that he did this extraordinary sign, he gave this extraordinary sign to us, which we call the Mandatum, when he washed the feet of the disciples.

This is a reminder to each of us, as we come 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.

Jesus said that he was about to be glorified. And that glory that came to him was, as we see on this beautiful window that depicts the Last Supper, in that moment when Jesus gave this beautiful sign of the love of God, and the glorification was that to happen that next day, 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, as a sign of love to us.

So, when we come to the Eucharist, we are receiving that gift of Christ. That gift of him giving us everything 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.

That 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 shows the love of the Father.

Jesus is teaching us that God loves us first and then in order for us to live as disciples of that love, we then are given the Spirit that enables us to give ourselves totally in the way that he has given. Many of us, of course, have experienced that in our vocations. In the way in which we are able to offer that love to a family, how we’re able to be there for one another in the friendships that we have.

So it is through the work that we do in supporting the lives of others that we might not know so well, in the work that the volunteers show in their example, of offering themselves for the stranger. 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 those people. Living in the heart of that person who generously is offering love and service and accompaniment to those they seek to serve. We pray that strengthened by that spirit that is given to each of us and strengthened today by this Eucharist, that we too may find that freedom and that joy that comes in service of others.

We thank God for those who volunteer, for who offer so much of their time and energy to support those who have needs and we thank God for them. We pray that the Lord will continue knew to bless them and offer us then that witness of service that we so need to see.