What does Flint need? Flint needs the same thing that every community needs – love! What, though, does this mean? At the most basic level, of course, we care for those in need as we care for ourselves, and as we would want others to care for us if we were in need. For example, there is nothing more basic than water. Jesus even told us: “And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Mt 10:42) The outpouring of support from all walks of life and faith, locally and nationally, to provide such a drink has been heart-warming. It is clearly an act of love.
Yet, once the pipes are fixed and the water is clear, what will this love look like? It still will be responding to needs, since the needs are so great and so many. Our Catholic Charities and the New Life Center, as well as the many youth groups and others who have gone to Flint to assist the elderly, the poor, the homeless and the hungry, are clearly exercising the virtue of love. This charity will remain an important part of our duty as Christians. For what we do for the least of the brothers and sisters of the Lord, we do for him. (Mt 25)
But even if all these physical needs were answered, Flint would still need another dose of love, the kind of love which we, as Church are best able to provide when we are at our best – the love of communion, of being sisters and brothers to one another.
A year ago, we united five parishes in Flint (St. Michael, St. Matthew, St. Mary, All Saints and St. John Vianney) under the leadership of Father Tom Firestone, with three (and now four) associate priests. They live together, minister together, pray together and enjoy one another’s company as they serve the people of Flint. They are demonstrating unity as a mark of the Catholic Church. They are challenging those attending these five parishes to work together and to work and pray for the good of the city.
There have been, and there still are, too many silos in Flint, silos built into the history of that great city. The Catholic Church in Flint cannot undo that history or fix it. We can only witness to how God wants us to be loving toward all through a genuine exchange of gifts, a sharing of equals from which we will all benefit.
The other task of this pastoral mission is to proclaim Jesus Christ. There are many faith-filled people in Flint; they, too, are witnessing to Christ. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbors calls upon us to share our faith with all those we encounter – with black and white and Hispanic, with young and old, and with rich and poor. Jesus told us that this kind of love is a new commandment (Jn 13:34), because it is a love in which we give our all, a love to the end, as Jesus said. (Jn 13:1)
This, then, is the great challenge before all of us – to love, even as we have first been loved by God. We are not slaves. We are not fearful. We are not mercenaries. We are sons and daughters of a loving God and we, in full freedom, want to respond in kind. St. Augustine summed it up so well:
“Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.”