Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

Amid dark times, power of loving encouragement changes lives

Published: August 31, 2019

By Deacon Mike Cumnock
St. Mary Church, Batesville / St. Cecilia Church, Newport

The Church has been under siege in recent times. Unfortunately, many of the wounds are self-inflicted. Some Church people who were supposed to love and support, in fact, used, took advantage of and abused those in their care.

I have a special appreciation for this problem for a variety of reasons. I spent the bulk of my professional career working with marginalized youth — children who through no fault of their own, had been thrown out, abused, neglected, left behind or otherwise victimized by the very people who were supposed to love, care for and protect them.

In times like these, this body needs caregivers who recognize, love, support and encourage one another. We are called to be the new sons and daughters of encouragement.

They came with all the signs one would expect from those suffering severe trauma. They were anxious, angry and depressed. They had every right to those feelings, and we told them so. Once the children came into care and were around folks who acknowledged their pain, took the time to understand their circumstances, worked to reduce their feelings of self-blame and shame, they began to bloom.

Some of the children pointed out the example of an elderly woman on the staff, who could take a plant that appeared dead and “cause it to bloom.” Her encouragement was indeed contagious. She had a way of making everyone feel special. It was not unusual when a child left to go to college or out on their own, they would take one of Miss Faye’s plants with them.

We were a very successful ministry. Credit goes to a staff of caregivers, who built a community of love and support for all the members young and old alike (and a lot of animals too!) This exemplifies the power of encouragement.

I recently completed a Scripture study on Barnabas, one of the Little Rock Scripture Study’s “Alive in the Word” series. The name “Barnabas” was actually an Aramaic nickname meaning “son of encouragement” given him by the apostles. His given name was Joseph. He was an upstanding member of the new, growing Christian community.

When Paul arrived in Jerusalem, intending to join the disciples, he was rejected because the apostles were afraid of him. That is understandable given his involvement in the persecution of the Church including the stoning of Stephen. It was Barnabas who vouched for him and his conversion “on the road.” Barnabas was a pivotal encourager to the community and Paul. When the time was right, he stepped aside as Paul grew in prominence. However, without Barnabas’ encouragement there may have been no Paul. See, one person can make a huge difference. Our history as a Church is full of known and unsung heroes.

In the weekday readings (21st week in Ordinary Time) we hear from the first letter to the Thessalonians. It is clear Paul and his companions love, appreciate, support and encourage this community. As a result, this group of people was transformed, turned to God and became community. The children in my ministry were the beneficiaries of lots of love, support and encouragement from a large number of folks. In my own journey, I can name people who supported and encouraged me. I chose to pay it forward. I would not have been as successful on my own.

Today, in the Church, we need to take literally the fact that we are part of a larger whole, a world-wide community that we refer to as the communion of saints. All of us who are baptized into the body of Christ are one body. In times like these, this body needs caregivers who recognize, love, support and encourage one another. We are called to be the new sons and daughters of encouragement.

Understanding Our Church