The second one, for want of a better name, I have dubbed 'listening to the call'. The rest of them will be in later blog-posts.
This is the situation:
My parish has the most extraordinary cohort of parishioners well into their retirement years in their late 70s, 80s and 90s. They are wonderful people who constantly inspire me. My guess is that your parish is quite similar to mine.
However, most people don't get to that age without a regret or two. Of these the most serious would be not acting upon the persistent dreams and desires that God gave us. None of us wants to come face to face with the Lord at the time of our death knowing that we haven't done anything towards what He consistently asked of us.
There is a line from one of the Proclaim 2014 Conference workshops that stood out for me when I had to retype it earlier this week: 'Ask them what they would like to do. The answers may surprise you.'
The standard way parishes ask for help is to either a) plead in the parish bulletin or from the microphone near the end of Sunday Mass or b) to run a stewardship campaign with a survey form that lists a large number of parish ministries and asks parishioners to tick the boxes of those things they are interested in. Sadly those survey forms tend not to be acted upon fully – except for the one or two parish ministries that the parish administration most wanted to get people involved in. 'Ethel, go through those forms and bring me only the ones that ticked catechist or senior server'- that kind of thing.
What we don't do is find out what God has already placed on the hearts of His people. I'd like that to change.
Let's face it, most of us do nothing about the persistent dreams and desires God gives us because we haven't got a clue how to begin.
For example what if every time you heard stories about homeless children on the streets that you felt a strong desire to do something, so much so that you decided decades ago to pray for them on a daily basis. That alleviated some of that Godly-pull for a while, but it's still there and you don’t know how to act upon it. So you've done nothing.
What if your parish did something different, and asked you to write down on a postcard-sized piece of paper your name, some contact details, and that call in your life that you regret not acting upon – no matter how wacky it might sound?
For all you know there could be seven other people in the parish who have the exact same life regret. The parish could put you in contact with each other and arrange for a mini bus trip to visit an existing ministry to homeless street children. That might spark an idea you could all work on together locally. Or you could decide as a small group to go back and visit once a month and to each take an interest in one of the children and pray for them and write letters to them.
Perhaps that life regret was not getting to Nepal, and now your health is beyond it. But your parish might be able to put you in contact with missionaries in Nepal to whom you could give moral support and prayer support or there might be some Nepalese immigrants in your parish that you could befriend.
Perhaps that life regret was not learning Hebrew. For all you know there might be two others in the parish with the same life regret that you could get together with and form a friendship and easy stages study group with.
To make this work would require quite a lot of hours of co-ordination from parish admin or parish volunteers, but it would be joyful work because it would be helping people finally start acting upon some of the life-long calls that God has had upon their lives.
In just naming and writing down that life regret on the postcard, already grace would be active. To then talk with another parishioner about that life regret and brain-storm easy and simple ways of doing something about it, it would suddenly seem far more possible and achievable.
Can you imagine the joy and the relief that would be released by finally doing something concrete about that Godly pull in your life? I can. That's what I'd love to see happen for all my beloved parish friends, because it is never too late to do something about answering God's call. St Helen and St John XXIII did extraordinary good in their 80s.
I entrust this idea (which hasn't gone away in several weeks) to the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady Help of Christians that she may arrange for its implementation in the places where God wants it to happen.