More and more, I am finding that many parishes have numerous adults involved—under the radar, in many respects—in giving service to others. On a weekly basis, folks are visiting/staffing food pantries, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and so on. They are preparing sandwiches, folding clothing donations, and delivering meals to people. All of this is wonderful. However, we are not doing enough to help people see their efforts through the lens of faith.
There are numerous opportunities to participate in service that have nothing to do with the Catholic Church. Here’s the question: Is the service we provide any different?
I’m not suggesting that the service we do in the name of the Church is better, but we do service for a different reason. People do service for a number of reasons: to pay it forward, to feel good about themselves, out of a sense of compassion for others, because of a personal tie to a cause, and so on. These are all good. Followers of Jesus, however, serve others to make the Kingdom of God visible to those on the brink of despair. We do service to bring hope to others. We do service to bring glory to God. We do service to encounter Jesus. We do not perform good works in order to please or assuage God. We do not do good works in order to earn grace or salvation. We do good works because God is love and we yearn to live in God. By sharing love with others, we encounter the living God.
For that reason, I believe it is imperative that we help adults and children see their participation in service experiences within the context of faith. At Christ the King Parish in Chicago, the parish held its annual Service Day, which invited parishioners to sign up to go to one of four locations in the area to participate in a service experience. This year, I worked with the staff to locate these experiences within a context of faith. We provided all participants with a booklet that addresses why we do service as followers of Christ, provides background on the Works of Mercy and the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, incorporates an opening prayer experience, and invites participants to reflect and perhaps share their thoughts on four questions pertaining to their experience.
My hope is that you can use this PDF as a prototype for designing your own handout for service experiences to better help participants make the faith connection.