This week, as we celebrate the dignity of work post-Labor Day, we hear about one man’s journey who gave and received in his vocation as a volunteer through Catholic Charities’ Christians Are Networking.
By: Terence Smith, Christians Are Networking volunteer
When I first heard about Christians Are Networking through Catholic Charities at Saint Philip in Falls Church, it was almost like being touched by God. Ever since I was facing the possibility of long-term unemployment, I had been reaching out to a colleague of mine (we worked for the same company and shared an office) by offering words of hope. Even after I had found a job, with George (I had only known him for 6 months and we shared an office together) working through his struggles after being laid off at 62, I felt that CAN – or something like it – would be the next logical step along my spiritual journey.
So when the ministry of CAN was announced in November 2013 at Saint Philip, I realized through God’s grace that I should become a CAN volunteer, and in doing so give the encouragement I’d already been giving to a larger parish context. Since November 2013, when CAN came to Saint Philip, I have had the opportunity to reach out to a wide range of people, some of whom find themselves in a situation far more difficult than what I went through. What is really important here was that I reached out not with a sense of superiority, but that I learned how to listen to people and to give people an opportunity to develop or discover a sense of worth and value.
What makes CAN different from a temporary employment agency is our ability to reach out and touch someone’s soul. This means we offer them an opportunity for help, while inspiring reflection on their situation. In turn, this helps them understand that there is someone who is willing to listen in a non-judgmental way. Perhaps, too, they are given some hope and encouragement in what is always a trying and difficult situation. They come to know: In spite of the trying circumstances in which they find themselves, Jesus still loves them and will help carry their burden.
Back to my story, later on, in what could only be described as a reminder from above, I found myself reflecting more deeply on what I had experienced and asking God to help me take the ultimate step: to leave a company where I had been a loyal employee for nearly 30 years. It was a tremendous leap, but I could not have done it without a lot of soul-searching and prayer. Likewise my counseling at CAN helped me prepare for that leap; so when the time came, I was ready. Unfortunately, my hoped-for career with that new company did not last as long as I had spent wanting it. On the other hand, perhaps it was just a transition that God had arranged in order to prepare me for the future. Overall, while I have been blessed by God with some interesting experiences, working in CAN has given me a new perspective and a new outlook on how tenuous our work life can be, and that I should never take anything for granted.
As a professional, and in a field I never contemplated when I was in college, I am grateful to Jesus for what he has shown to me, and grateful, too, that he has given me the grace to reach out to those less fortunate than myself. CAN is not a professional placement firm, but we do offer an opportunity for individuals to come in and share their deepest fears and uncertainties. This is what makes us unique.
If a person comes to us, I can only hope and pray that I have the opportunity to listen to them, to offer some solace and to give them a spiritual uplift they have not experienced before. There have been some difficult situations where there was little, if anything, we could actually provide in the way of opportunities, but as professionals we were able to reach out and be there.
Over the past two years, I have had an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be unemployed. I look forward to going to CAN, and see it not as a chore, but as an opportunity to help those in need. Every session is different from the last, and working with a group of like-minded, dedicated volunteers is truly amazing. Sometimes I wish we could do more than just offer words of encouragement, but perhaps that is what our clients are really looking for: not clichés, not an attitude of “I am better than you,” but a spirit of compassion and listening in this hectic environment we have adopted in metropolitan Washington.
I often find myself saying a brief prayer of thanks heading home after a CAN meeting: Thanks for the opportunity to work and to enable others to find the healing power of God.
As our ministry becomes more experienced, perhaps in a small way we can touch our clients so they, too, will become volunteers for the ministry. Until then, though, we move on, and never let an opportunity to reach out go wasted.
Learn more about a CAN program near you.
Terence Smith graduated with a B.A. in History from Duquesne University in 1977, and earned a M.A. in African Affairs also from Duquesne University. He came to Northern Virginia and the Arlington Diocese in 1983 from West Springfield, Massachusetts. Smith has a background in government, quality assurance and software testing, and since March of 2016 has been with AF Associates in Alexandria as their Senior Quality Assurance manager. Married with two adult children, his family members are parishioners at Saint Philip, in Falls Church. In addition to being a lector and Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, he is a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus, and has served as an officer of Saint Luke Council 11122 in McLean since the council’s inception in 1993, including three times as a Grand Knight. He has been a member of the John Carroll Society of Washington since 2009.