When I Stand Before God at the End of My Life…
My husband Kenneth and I and our five children have been parishioners at St. Matthews for over 20 years. We live in Northern Virginia, but chose St. Matthews as our parish because of the beauty of the Cathedral, the solemnity of its Masses and music, and most importantly, its strong commitment to community and outreach to those less fortunate.
When we first joined, I was a busy mom with a full-time career in the Federal Government and my husband traveled the world as an international lawyer. Although we attended Mass regularly, we were not involved in any of the Cathedral’s many ministries. Kenneth was the first to get involved by serving as a Minister of Hospitality. Later he joined the Stewardship Committee effort where parishioners would offer lay witnesses to their experiences with the various ministries offered at the Cathedral.
I was most touched by a woman who spoke about the Homeless Ministry Program, which serves 60 to 70 homeless men and women with a warm breakfast and a bagged lunch every Monday morning in the West Conference Room followed with readings and prayers. She finished her talk with a quote from Erma Bombeck who said: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I hope I can say I used everything you gave me.”
Every Sunday I pray to God to help me become the best person I can be. That Sunday he answered my prayers. I immediately contacted Jim Walsh who oversees the Homeless Ministry Program. I first began participating by making 20 lunches every other Monday. When I dropped them off at the West Conference Room, I would see many volunteers serving homeless men and women with a hardy breakfast. It was not long before I became a regular volunteer. For several years, I made scrambled eggs, hash browns, and sausages – enough to serve all. It was the beginning of a journey towards greater selflessness and awareness of those less fortunate.
A few years later, I began to get involved with another critical social justice program — the Adopt-A-Family Christmas Program, which provides Christmas joy for needy families, the homeless, the L’Arche community, and children from the D.C. Homeless Shelter. In the beginning my involvement included adopting a family, helping with wrapping presents, and delivering gifts to families without transportation. It became my family’s favorite part of the Christmas Season, and opened our children’s eyes to their blessings and the needs of others.
As I neared retirement, I agreed to Chair the Adopt-A-Family Christmas Program working side-by-side with Norma Canedo, Coordinator for Social Ministries, and other wonderful parishioners, such as Jeff and Lilliam Coleman, and Nancy Lutz. Over the past decade, we have grown the program from 25 families to 70 plus, and where we once adopted 25 children from the homeless shelter the number has increased to over 65.
Several years ago, we added an outreach to sponsors from the parish and local businesses. These sponsors adopt an entire family and in many cases multiple families. One of the sponsors adopts all of the children from the homeless shelter. Through their generosity, these sponsors bring smiles to many faces while receiving joy from giving. They are a true testament to the words of our Lord Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
In late 2019, I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. Following extensive chemotherapy and radiation, I was then diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and given 6 months to live. The Cathedral community, Msgr. Jameson and staff, and the Adopt-A-Family team raised me up in prayer for healing. My dear family and friends prayed for a miracle. During some of my darkest hours, I received a large package. It contained cards and messages of hope from those same men and women I had the privilege to serve long ago through the Homeless Ministry Program.
Last year’s Adopt-A-Family Program ran during the worst rounds of my radiation and chemotherapy. I wondered if I would be able to serve. With a renewed energy from so many prayers, I did find the strength to chair the program last year and again this year. Also through prayer, the grace of God, and immunotherapy my cancer has receded and I have been given additional time. I now more fully believe in the power of prayer and miracles.
I share this journey with you not for sympathy or kudos, but to be another lay witness to the power of prayer, the glory of God, and the rewards of becoming active in the Cathedral’s ministries. Participating in the Homeless Ministry Program and Adopt-A-Family Christmas Program has brought me closer to my faith and made me a better person. I no longer walk past a homeless person without acknowledging him or her. Whether it is with a Starbucks gift card, a few dollars for a warm meal, or just a smile and a “God bless you.” I now hold the words of St. Matthew close to my heart: “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”
Hopefully, I will not stand before God anytime soon as I plan to continue my journey. But when I do, I hope to be able to say I used everything you gave me.
Pamela Quinn has been a parishioner at St. Matthews since 1993. She began serving on the homeless outreach program in 1998, and has been Chair of the Christmas Adopt-A-Family Program for the past 10 years. She and her husband have five children. One of their daughters had a lovely wedding at the Cathedral celebrated by Msgr. Jameson. She shares these thoughts with you hoping you too will become active in the many outreach programs offered by St. Matthews.
Pamela invites you to join St. Matthew's Adopt-a-Family Program, please contact Norma Canedo and Fr. John Benson, or 202-347-3215. To learn more about the Christmas Program contact Pam Quinn. Visit the Adopt-a-Family page for more information.