One of the easiest things for me to forget to emphasize in my faith life is service to others. I’m usually good about serving others in small ways in my everyday life, like holding doors for other people, saying hello to people I pass on the street, and so on.
But I know that’s not all the Lord has called me to do for others.
Surely, all of these small acts are meaningful in some way—perhaps even more meaningful than I know. I highly doubt that God wants me or anyone else to stop our commitment to helping others at simple friendliness. After all, he called us not only to welcome strangers or love our neighbors without doing anything concrete for them, but to go out of our way to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and do much more.
What’s more, I’ve gotten so used to smiling at people and holding doors that, at least for me, these things are hardly even gifts of myself. It’s no longer as special for me to do these things—it’s almost as if I do them automatically.
This is good in a way, since forming good habits makes it easier for us to follow God’s call to love him and our neighbors. But God doesn’t want us to stop once we are able to serve others automatically. I believe that the Lord calls us to keep upping the ante, to intentionally go out and find ways to serve others in ways with which we are not comfortable.
I went to a Catholic school, so all students were required to complete a certain amount of service hours each year. It was there that I learned how important it is to serve others intentionally and regularly, not just every once in a while when I felt like it. In order to meet my requirements for school, I had to actively seek out different service opportunities rather than just participate when they came along. I found a lot of different ways to give of my time, from conservation projects with the Boy Scouts to events at my local parish.
One of the most fruitful activities I took part in, though, was helping out at a local homeless shelter. Every month, a group of 10 to 20 parishioners would go out to the shelter with snacks and drinks and pass them out to the people staying there. This was probably the farthest outside of my comfort zone I could’ve gotten at the time. Until that point, I had never had much direct contact with the homeless in my community. The experience was absolutely worth it, though.
I could tell by the way the shelter’s visitors responded to all of us that we really were helping them more than we knew. They were all very grateful for our service, but it wasn’t just because of the material goods we provided them. A lot of them were just happy that we bothered to come out and see them at all. Many others took not only food and drink, but also some rosaries and religious literature we had brought with us. We had shared with them both physical and spiritual sustenance, all because we had gone out of our way to give of our time.
While any kind of service, no matter how simple or ornate, does a lot of good for the people who benefit, it’s best to keep finding new ways to serve that challenge us to give more of ourselves, or to give in ways we have not given before. I know I’ll be on the lookout for new ways to serve other people intentionally, and I pray that everyone in the Church might commit to do the same.