Today’s readings clearly point to the importance of serving others as an essential part of Christian life. In my homily at Children’s Liturgy of the Word this morning, I shared two personal experiences of serving. The first took place when I was a young adult, in my early 20s. A friend invited me to join her in serving a meal to the homeless on Thanksgiving Day in downtown Cincinnati. This seemed like a virtuous activity, so I agreed. In reality, when we arrived there were lots of volunteers, so there wasn’t much to do. Because of the holiday, TV news crews were on hand, interviewing patrons and volunteers. One man, shaking his head, even commented on the presence of so many people watching them eat. I felt very uncomfortable the entire time and was relieved to depart.
The second experience began over this past summer when I began volunteering at a food pantry in an urban neighborhood not too far from where I live. My involvement came about serendipitously when a friend at a parish gathering mentioned the need for volunteers at this pantry. It was a daytime, weekday commitment, which worked for my schedule, so without thinking too hard or long, I signed up. I serve as a “personal shopper,” escorting clients through the process of selecting items from the various food groups — vegetables, grains, etc. The amounts vary with the family size. Now Wednesday afternoons at the pantry are an anchor of my week. The friendly, caring, respectful tone set by the leaders creates a single community encompassing volunteers and clients both. Many regulars are known by name; there is a lot of laughter and teasing. One client recently got married, and the pantry coordinator attended the wedding. Sometimes people hug me when we’re finished shopping. The racially diverse group of volunteers is made up of youth through senior citizens. While the pantry is located at a Catholic parish, a steady corps of volunteers comes from a Church of Christ. The depth of their Christian witness is inspiring, and it just feels good to join together for a common purpose. I do not kid myself that the bags of groceries that are distributed are solving hunger or poverty, but as I consider today’s readings, I wonder if the reason Jesus insists on the importance of serving others is more for our own benefit than theirs.
Photo by erskinelibrary, via Flickr under a Creative Commons license