When I was an OCFer at Texas A&M University, my friends and I all attended a local mission parish. And I mean, this was a small parish—small as in we met in the back room of the priest’s house and a typical Sunday Liturgy consisted of less than 15 people, most of whom were college students. Now, there is a lot to be said about the ups and downs of a tiny parish like this, but today there’s really just one thing I want to share with you. In a parish that small, everyone lives by an unspoken rule: everyone does everything. Ok, I don’t literally mean that everyone did everything, but when you only have 30 hands to bake prosfora, host coffee hour, keep the church clean, organize Bible studies, serve the surrounding community, sing in the choir, read the Psalms, teach the children, support the parish financially, and welcome newcomers, no one has the opportunity to only come to liturgy, have a cup of coffee and go home. It’s just not possible. If we didn’t all pitch in, well, things just didn’t happen. All 30 hands (and the hearts that led them) had to be willing to take on a little bit of the ministry God had set upon our tiny mission parish. No one could “opt out”—no one could come only to be fed without also feeding his or her brothers and sisters in some small way.
Now, I know the parish in your area is likely not a mission parish and if it is, it likely has a few more regular members than we did. But I think the principle should be still the same: everyone does everything. Or maybe we should say: together, we do everything. If each of us commits our hearts and hands to the ministry of a parish, God will gather together all of our little efforts, bless them, and multiply them just as he does with the bread and wine that become his body and blood in every liturgy.
You might be thinking, “I get what you’re saying, but the parish I attend with my OCF when I’m at school is not my ‘home parish’—it’s not the place where I grew up, where everybody knows me, and where I feel comfortable to do these sorts of things. And besides, what could I possibly offer a parish as a college student?” Well, to you I say, it’s great that you have a parish at home that you love dearly and feel at ease attending; this is a blessing the Lord has given you for many years. And now, I believe, He has given you a new challenge, a new blessing (though it may seem hidden at first). It’s the blessing of discomfort. That’s right, you heard me. Discomfort. Remember Abraham? God called Him out of his home, away from the comfort of everything familiar to him in order to sanctify him and bless him. Abraham couldn’t see the blessings right away and even doubted that they might come at all (think, Hagar and Ishmael), but when he put his trust in God, and allowed himself to serve God in his discomfort, in a land far from his home, God made him the father of us all! You, too, are being called into discomfort to serve the Lord in a foreign place and trust that blessings will flow from your faithfulness to God’s plan.
And what you can offer a parish as a college student? Well, first, start in prayer offering yourself to Christ, and He will show you the way. Secondly, be bold! Don’t be timid in your attempts to get involved. Many parishes have well-established ways of doing things and these are to be respected, but that doesn’t mean new ideas shouldn’t be brought forward. I love when Paul tells a young Timothy, “Let no man despise your youth; but be an example of the believers, in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (I Tm 4:12). You are called to be an example to those around you, even those who are older—this means living out the commandments in real ways every day and serving in your parish with joy and love. Third, be creative and be persistent! You know your talents. If you’re good with computers, offer to help with the parish website. If you’re good with kids, host a mother’s day out event. If you’re a good cook, start a community meal for the parish or for the poor in the area. There are a million and one things that every parish could be doing to better live out the call to love God with all our hearts, souls, and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves. But, like my little mission parish, if we don’t all pitch in, then things just don’t happen. Finally, never discredit even the smallest offering. Maybe you can’t offer tons of hours to baking cookies for bake sales and teaching first grade Sunday School right now, but you can put in five dollars every week when the tray is passed or you can chat with an older parishioner who comes to church alone on Sundays or you can just help throw out the trash people leave behind after coffee hour. Every little bit counts and is seen by God. Think about the widow’s mite—the tiny offering she gave while others around her gave huge amounts of money. The difference was that she gave everything she had with the penny. As long as your offering is an offering from the heart, that is enough. The goal is to express our love for God through our actions not to overwork ourselves or build up some kind of resume of church activities in which we are involved.
All this is just to say, go do something! No, really. Call your parish priest and ask him how you can get involved or ask what the parish needs or offer up the talent you think could benefit the parish. Gather up your OCF chapter and do something together—you’ll have more hands to serve if you serve together. This semester, make some commitment—great or small—to give back to the parish that has been caring for you while you are at school. This semester, go to church not only to be fed, but to feed your brothers and sisters, as well.
Christina Andresen is the North American Chapter Relations Coordinator. For more ideas on how to get involved in your local parish, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.