Give back. Volunteer. Serve the poor. But why?
Many at Catholic University answer the call to serve their neighbors in need — particularly this year as the University celebrates its 125th anniversary. In the Cardinal Service Campaign, students, alumni, faculty, and staff are striving to perform 125,000 hours of charitable service by next Founders Day, April 10, 2012.
But in homeless shelters and soup kitchens off campus, an elemental question about service sometimes goes unasked and unanswered: Why?
It’s a divine imperative for everyone, answers Rev. Jude DeAngelo, O.F.M. Conv., Catholic University’s chaplain and director of Campus Ministry.
“This is not a negotiable. This is in fact part of the Gospel.”
The command to care for those in need is described in the Beatitudes, the great commandment to love one’s neighbor, and the parable of the Good Samaritan.
“Christ says our responsibility is to address their needs, physical, spiritual, to acknowledge them, to see their dignity as a son or daughter of God,” explains Father Jude.
“I think each of us has a deep intuition that there’s something unique and special in the other person,” adds Rev. Gary Selin, who earned ecclesiastical degrees at Catholic University in 2006 and 2011. He is now a formation adviser and theology professor at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, Colo.
The fact that “the human person is made in the image and likeness of God” is known in some way but is not always explicitly understood, he says.
So Campus Ministry is seeking to make the connection to Christ clearer, notes Father Jude.
“What we hope to do this year is to connect community service and this goal of 125,000 hours with reflection on the teaching of Christ and the Church’s marvelous teaching on Catholic social justice, which is part and parcel of these past 125 years of Catholic life,” explains Father Jude.
He says Campus Ministry will encourage volunteers who feed the homeless to ask themselves: “Who is that person?…Have you engaged that person in conversation? Have you acknowledged they’re a person worthy of your time, not just your charity?”
One doesn’t have to go far to serve. “We are responsible to those closest to us first,” says Father Selin – which means one’s family, then people at work and school and on the street.
“It’s like a concentric circle, starting with who’s around us.”
Serving can be challenging, adds Father Jude, especially when those in need are sick or disagreeable.
“But Christ is not asking us whether we think the person is worthy…It’s not about whether a person can appreciate it, can say, ‘Thank you,’ can change their ways that have gotten them to this point, if that’s an issue.”
And when the needs are numerous, it’s important to remember “we are not called to be successful, but to be faithful,” Father Selin observes, quoting Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
The critical part of service is a desire to please God, he says.
“It’s that divine love, the effort we put in that brings God a lot of joy in those around us…If each one of us would just do the little things with great love, as St. Therese, the Little Flower, used to say so much, that’s the most reasonable, humble, and ultimately successful way of service.
“And along the way, we become happy and make those around us happy as well, infectiously happy.”
In thanksgiving for more than a century of God’s blessings at Catholic University, students, alumni, faculty, and staff are striving to perform 125,000 hours of service by next Founders Day, April 10, 2012. For more information, click here.
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