“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” – James 2:14
Service is an extremely important part of my life and very influential on my vocation and where I’m headed. My choice to enter the Jesuits is based largely on my desire to do service. Service can be extremely gratifying; it has generated great joy, happiness and hope in my life. Working with kids at Jesuit Middle School and watching reading proficiency increase over six months is pretty awesome. But another Jesuit once pointed out that if you’re getting joy out of service, then you’re being selfish and not doing it for the right reason. That brought me to a pretty interesting conundrum—I did enjoy the service I did, but I don’t feel very selfish for doing it…
I think what this particular Jesuit was pointing out is that we shouldn’t do service simply because it makes us happy. We should do service because we must acknowledge that we are part of a universal human family. We have a responsibility to serve and be fully present to one another. If we approach service because it makes us happy, we create mentalities that further abuse the oppressed and keep them in “their place.” It does not challenge unjust structures. This makes it truly apparent that service must be two-fold—justice and charity.
“If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you recognize that your liberation and mine are bound up together, we can walk together.” -Lila Watson
The Catholic Church (both the people and the hierarchy) have made it very clear that we must have both, otherwise we are lost. Pope Benedict XVI clearly stated in Caritas in Veritate that as Catholics, we must be dedicated to both. If we are missing one, we cannot truly experience love or community. Without charity, we do not have the sense of truly giving ourselves to another person. Without justice, we simply congratulate ourselves on being nice.
With this in mind, I approached my service trip to Hedog Elementary at the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Throughout the trip, this view would consistently be challenged with in me—I would lean too heavily toward justice or toward charity. I struggled to find the balance of both that would make me a loving person, a person in Christ’s welcoming and open image.
I worked in the kitchen at the grade school, preparing and cleaning up after meals. During some of the downtime, I would help teach PE in the gymnasium/cafeteria attached to the kitchen. Some of the other people I was blessed to work with were the kids directly in the classroom. I do not particularly like children, even though they are the image of Christ and Jesus does call them to him. It might stem from coaching pee-wee wrestling and trying to get kids to pay attention to seven-part moves. I felt like half of my time in the classroom was spent telling kids to sit down, pay attention, do their work, stop poking their classmates, not to steal markers, to sit down again. I felt like I could not develop a relationship with the children because I had to stand there and tell them to behave.
What I realized later is that I was not approaching this situation appropriately. I was “mightier than thou.” I was the large male who could intimidate the kids into behaving. It had worked pretty well when I taught second grade for a month at St. Luke’s grade school in St. Louis, MO. I was frustrated that they simply wouldn’t listen to me and would not do their school work.
Prayer, however, brought me to a pretty important realization. I approached this in two ways I probably should not have—with the mentality of a large white, Christian, wealthy male; and with some prejudice I was not ready to admit. I tried to teach and work with the children like I would the kids back in St. Louis. They are both different and them same, though. They are the same in that they are kids who want attention and to know they’re doing the right thing. But they are different in that they come from a different environment than my own. For example, humor and teasing are fairly normative and show that people are comfortable with each other. I did not open myself up to this, nor did I truly open my heart to the kids. I did not get to experience that, which I greatly regret.
I also made the great mistake of comparing the kids at Hedog to the kids at St. Lukes. I at first convinced myself that the Hedog children didn’t behave as well. Really, I was the one not behaving properly. I came to their community and tried to impose myself. I was unwilling to learn. I sincerely regret that feeling of racism and know it was wrong. I have since worked harder on fixing that broken part of my spirit.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9
What this all essentially comes down to are the two bible quotes I have offered. They seem at odds but are actually quite complimentary. Bad theology and bad Greek translation (i.e. St. Jerome) tends to try to put them at odds. I display my faith by my acts and my faith supports me through them. Without acts or without faith, the other is meaningless, just the same as with charity and justice.
In summary, I hope you all do not repeat my mistakes. I approached my trip with a sense of self-righteousness, knowledge of the world, and knowing what was just; I approached it with a closed heart. I beg of you that you seek Christ, charity, justice and love on your trips—be the heart of Christ, willing to invite the children, the strange, the oppressed into your hearts, not only your minds. Be willing to change your heart and your mind; struggle with what you see and be uncomfortable. Do acts of goodness neither because you envision yourself saving the world or because they make you feel good about yourself; do them for liberation and freedom found only in service.