One of St Paul’s letters that I really like is his letter to Philemon. He is writing this letter from prison, and the letter has a little over 300 words. Philemon was wealthy, and one of his slaves, Onesimus, took money from him and ran away. Onesimus must have been arrested as he developed a relationship with Paul. A conversion to Christianity happens to Onesimus. Paul would like him to stay with him but he feels he needs to return to Philemon. In the letter he encourages Philemon to receive
him as a brother. The name Onesimus means useful, and Paul uses language that encourages Philemon to see Onesimus as useful.
The reason I like this reading is that many times I encounter parishioners and others who sometimes arrive to the decision in their lives that they are no longer useful, or worse, that they have never been useful to the community or to other important groups. There can be many reasons that people can feel “useless” or no longer useful: maybe when people reach a certain age, health becomes a serious issue; maybe being told that they lack real knowledge or experience; maybe being afraid to make a mistake and feeling people will respond with ridicule. It is sad when parishioners decide that they really are not useful to anyone or for any cause.
This letter should help us reflect that we are all Onesimus, useful in doing the Lord’s work. One way that I would invite parishioners to consider being useful is in supporting our youth ministry. If you have ever had children you know it can be a challenge raising them in the practice of the faith. Parents cannot do this alone. They need support of other parents, community members and leaders to inspire and serve our young people of all ages.
Financial support to the parish is vital for all ages. Even if we are grateful we do not have children at home anymore we should be encouraging parents and youth to participate in formation in the parish. This can be done by simply listening and being interested in what news pertains to youth and families. There are parishioners who really get this. They have been ministering to other people’s children long after their own children have grown up. They really do not need to, and really why should they? It is so easy to check out or think we are no longer useful because we really are not in tune with youth thinking and ways of living. Yet, they do serve and they give their most precious time to other family’s children.
All parishioners are “useful” to the life of the parish. In whatever way you choose to support young people through giving, serving or praying, it is needed and necessary. We cannot allow any parishioner to check out of serving and supporting, for no one is useless, but all are Onesimus….useful.
Peace in Christ,