Thursday, September 30, 2010

Service and Spirituality

I’m going to discuss an abstract sort of travel in relation to Fr. Kolvenbach’s address an internal experience: a travel through a year of working at a particular position. In 2009-2010, I held the position of Student Program Assistant (SPA) for Spirituality and Service at the Center for Community Service and Justice (CCSJ). My job was to encourage the fulltime staff, the student staff, and the volunteers to consider the relationship between their spritualities and their concrete service experiences. This manifested itself in reflection emails, meetings, events, and speakers. As you can see, Fr. Kolvenbach’s “service of faith and the promotion of justice” basically described my mission and paid position at CCSJ.  

This job seemed perfect. I wanted service to be the core of my being, to infiltrate my attitudes and treatment towards others. This desire for service was founded and dependent upon my faith. I felt, and still feel, that service is the best way to live the Gospel. I saw both community service and my position at CCSJ as a way to “propose Jesus and his message of God’s Kingdom in a spirit of love to everyone (26).”  Of course I wanted to do what I could to help others see this deep and interconnected relation between spirituality and service, faith and justice.

Yet though coming into this job seemed extraordinarily fitting for me, it proved to be a tremendous challenge. I wasn’t there solely because I tried to live this connection between faith and service, but rather because CCSJ trusted me to gently guide others to consider their own spiritual connections with their service. It was with this position that I had to learn to relate and discuss with others about their diverse beleifs and spiritualities, and relate those to service. Understandably, CCSJ maintained an extremely sensitive approach to all those who possibly wanted to engage in service but did not subscribe to the Christian/Catholic faith. For this reason, CCSJ is not the same office as Campus Ministry, and my position was specifically not named “SPA for Faith and Service,” because “faith” implied that I would only be encouraging a Christian/Catholic approach. I understood this, and of course I didn’t want to make others feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in doing service. Though I understood the concept of sensitivity to other people’s spiritualities, I struggled to find a way to still be true to my own beliefs without offending anyone. At the core of the reason I did service was the diakonia fidei – “Christ the suffering Servant carrying out his “diakonia” in total service of his Father by laying down his life for the salvation of all,” (26). How could I emulate and embody this truth but not express it through words? At that point in my life, I struggled to find the balance between being honest about this core part of myself and my service while still staying relatable for others who did not subscribe to this. I became timid, and this heightened sensitivity in turn worked the opposite effect: I felt uncomfortable and felt I could not speak about these beliefs. Of course, I knew that severing or ignoring my Christian faith’s inherent relation to service was not the mission of our Jesuit school, either.

I think Fr. Kolvenbach articulates this delicate balance between living the faith and making it accessible for others. As he said, the purpose of the Congregation was not to “proselytize, not to impose our religion on others (26) but to be careful not to separate the promotion of justice from the “wellspring of faith” (28). Reading this article, I found that my struggles were not uncommon, that many people emphasized “one aspect of this mission to the detriment of the other, treating faith and justice as alternative or even rival tracks of ministry,” (28). Kolvenbach describes the danger in either approach: for it is inadequate to leave the faith dimension implicit while it is also inadequate to focus entirely on the next life without a desire to promote equity and justice on earth. Kolvenbach challenges the Jesuits (and me) “to go beyond a disincarnate spiritualism or secular social activism,” (30) so as to live out faith and justice in a world of unbelief and unjustice.

Ultimately, I found that living out my faith did not necessarily mean speaking about it, and also that being accessible and open did not necessarily mean holding back my beliefs. If I was committed to living out the truth of the Gospel in service to my fellow man, my beliefs and honesty would speak for themselves. Though I cannot say that I have completely grasped this perfectly just yet, I try to stick to St. Ignatius’ advice of “actions over words,” because if I do believe the Gospel is truth, it will speak for itself.

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