Pastoral Associate Helps Parishioners Seek God

By God’s grace, I am what I am.  Rule of Benedict

Ask Benedictine Sister Rachel Berschneider what she loves about her job as pastoral associate at St. Thomas Moore Church in Peoria, Illinois, and she doesn’t hesitate.

“The people,” she answers. “I love the whole experience of helping people seek and uncover God in their lives. That’s the passion behind what I’m doing. That’s my mission statement.”

It’s also sometimes a tall order. When parishoners suffer untimely deaths of loved ones, bitter divorces and catastrophic losses, they don’t always see God.

“One of our families has a high school son with cancer,” Sr. Rachel says. “He’s been through surgeries and chemotherapy. Their wait has been so hard. They’ve faced tremendous fear. It’s natural to question God, absolutely. I try to help people work through the feeling that God’s not there, or doesn’t care. God is really with them. It’s been proven in my life repeatedly. God is faithful to us.”

Although admittedly, sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. Sr. Rachel still remembers being called to the hospital for the sudden death of a newborn baby.

“When I got to the room, the mom was still holding the baby, crying,” Sr. Rachel remembers. “Her husband and parents were with her. I walked in and hugged them and grieved with them. I let them talk when they needed to. They were stricken by the loss. In this case, they didn’t lose faith, but they struggled to accept the death for some time.

“Since then, they have welcomed a new, healthy baby,” Sr. Rachel says. “That’s life. Life is not just gorgeous and beautiful and star-studded. Sooner or later, every one of us will bear a cross. As Christians, we commit to follow Christ, and out of that comes new life. We must learn to accept, or be at peace, with our cross, which can take years. It’s the process of faith.”

Sr. Rachel is quick to point out that much of her experience in parish ministry is joyful. Good friends get married, have children, celebrate anniversaries. “Joy and sorrow together create growth,” she notes. “They’re both really important.”

Sr. Rachel says she tries to pass on what she has learned about uncovering God in her own life.

“Prayer is the daily practice of opening oneself to God,” she explains. “God is always available to us. The question is, are we available to God? Prayer helps us develop a habit of openness to the divine. The outgrowth of that openness to God is mindfulness of God. That creates a sense of hope, a sense that we can get through this.”