Our beloved, Saint John Paul II, left us with a great command, "Duc in altum." which means "Into the Deep" (Luke 5:4) He has spoken these words in several addresses, but it occurs most prominently in his Apostolic Letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte" (issued in 2000, at the close of the great Jubilee Year).
In the Gospel of Luke, you will find verse 2-6 of Chapter 5: "While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch." Simon said in reply, "Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets." When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing."
"Put out into the deep," tells us, that with God's help, anything and everything can be accomplished, as it did when He told Simon "to lower his nets for a catch." The Holy Father also used these words, "Duc in altum", when he approved the General Constitutions of the Secular Franciscan Order on the 8th of December, 2000. It is necessary to look to the future and to set out: Duc in altum! (Source: Koinonia, 2003:1)
Set out into the deep! ... Together, and led by the H. Spirit, we will deepen the true foundations of the world-wide fraternity, a community of love, and in building the Kingdom of God. To accomplish this, we Secular Franciscans need to look beyond our Fraternity, into the world and see what we can do to help other people. We help other people as individuals, as a local fraternity, and as a Regional or National Fraternity, through policy, far-reaching projects, and local apostolates. And as individual Franciscans, we pray and do good Christian works. "Duc in altum" is a rallying cry, the way Pope John Paul II meant it to be a departure from the status quo. Basically it means, look beyond yourself, and put into active motion Jesus' very words, "... You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." (Lk. 10:27) When is it the right time to love our sisters and brothers (e.g. everyone we come into contact with, everyone!) in words and deed? The answer is "Duc in altum" = Now! Just as Jesus told Simon to lower his net for a catch - we are to be fishermen of hearts, and give of ourselves to other people. How do we do that?
I will tell you how I do it, and then you can apply these small examples to your own situation. Once or twice a month, I visit prisoners in a local jail, to listen to them, make some suggestions if I am asked, and most of all, to pray with them (For 10 plus years). These inmates are suggested to me by the Prison Chaplain, and I see them on a one-to-one basis. I spend anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour with them, depending how many people are on the lists provided to us. Several other men and women participate in this ministry that we do on behalf of our parish.
The "Corporal Works of Mercy" consist of:
· Feed the hungry and Give drink to the thirsty. Volunteer at soup kitchens or contribute to area food banks.
· Clothe the naked. Volunteer to help out at your parish's outreach, or a local St. Vincent the Paul facility. This is where they make available clothing, household wares donated by other people who are trying to help, baby things. Very important for us is to treat those coming into these facilities with dignity and respect.
· Shelter the Homeless. Volunteer at, or contribute to, homeless shelters, or volunteer to help build homes in a "Habitat for Humanity" program. If you're a carpenter - your skills are in demand.
· Visit the sick and imprisoned. Join your parish's program to visit the sick, possibly as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, or, join an ongoing Prison Ministry team.
· Bury the dead. Assist your Parish Choir that sings at Funerals or Masses of Christian Burial. Volunteer your assistance with Bereavement services, and/or similar ministries dealing with Funerals. Many parishes also have ministries that help people who have been recently widowed. Bring comfort and understanding to people who have lost a close relative.
There are also other ways to help our neighbor. A few come to mind:
· If you know languages other than English, volunteer to teach immigrants the English language. You can do this without accepting payment.
· If you are aware of a student who is not doing so well, try to help that person.
· The blind will be very grateful if you could read to them.
In helping other people, keep in mind that a positive attitude is vital. Use common sense, knowing the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. A big one: Be non-judgmental - be able to take an objective view of a person’s problems – even if they’re of their own making. Be aware that people you are trying to help may not be able to express their need easily. Set a definite schedule for helping each person.
St. Francis, whose example we try to follow, was always compassionate. He had empathy with the plight of each person or situation. He was totally committed to each person he was involved with.
If your town has a local hospital, there are many volunteer positions that are looking for someone to fill them. If you are energetic, have some free time, volunteering is just as important as visiting the sick - you will be trained for a specific duty that will be very helpful to the regular staff at a hospital.
I am sure, if you put your minds together, in your fraternities, you can come up with a whole slate of ideas where your Franciscan sisters and brothers can be of assistance. In my own experience with this, I have found that when fraternities try to volunteer as a fraternity, as a group, you will have a much harder time finding a suitable thing to do, and then interest wanes. It is better to set off two by two, and just ask an institution or church, if you can help. In our parish there is a "Neighborhood Apostolate" and they know pretty much what is needed and where. Go see them and tell them you want to volunteer. They'll help you find a willing recipient.
Let us follow the advice of Saint John Paul II and Put out into deep and lower your nets for a catch. Do it now!
Let us often spend time with God and listen to His voice as He speaks to us in our hearts!
Peace and Good,
Fred S. Schaeffer, OFS
May 1, 2014 (rev. from 09/22/2008)