then I’d like to introduce you to the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service. They are fantabulous (that’s a combo of fantastic and fabulous)! I go to a lot of conferences and I’m pretty hard to impress, but from the quality of the speakers, to the dedication that they all collectively have in working for the needs of the poor, to the resolve they have in connecting young people to the many organizations they work alongside…it is all amazing.
I was honored to be asked by them to be a keynote speaker on the last day of their national gathering, mostly because a good deal of the people there represent organizations that I greatly admire. From the acclaimed Jesuit Volunteer Corps, to Vincentian Volunteers, to Catholics on Call…I was somewhat intimidated and wondered if anything I could say to them would be valuable. I think I succeeded simply by sharing with them the stories of many people who have been part of service experiences that I’ve met over my years in ministry and then highlighting the spiritual longing that they hoped providing service would awaken or embolden. “After all,” I said at one point, “Young people are choosing to do service with a religious organization rather than Americorps or the Peace Corps because of that spiritual element.” So my message was to build their organizations to be more particularly spiritual in nature, as much as possible–to point them to Jesus and to tradition and to Catholic Social Teaching.
I got the biggest laugh I’ve gotten in awhile when we discussed the ecumenical and interfaith aspects of young people participating in service–which was a great question posed by the Rev. Michael Wilker of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps who was also gracious enough to join me for lunch later. My response was varied but I wanted to express that most often people aren’t even choosing between denominations anymore–rather they choose between spiritual and atheism, mostly because they become ‘spiritual tinkerers” as Robert Wuthnow of Princeton notes in his acclaimed book After the Baby Boomers.
The laugh came when I offered the following: “And look, we Catholics have all we can do to not argue with one another! Never mind a bunch of other denominations. Heck, if the Franciscans could just stick together and stop breaking themselves up into little groups, they’d probably rule the world!”
Note to self: Tell that one again.
So I’d like to encourage anyone who is considering doing a year long service program or who’s thinking about doing some kind of service experience to do so–but to be aware of where Jesus is showing himself to you in that experience and to talk about that and to let the fine people from these amazing organizations mentor you spiritually.
You can check out all of the service organizations that there are to choose from on the CNVS website.
And be sure you tell them that you heard about them from me. A special word of thanks to Jim Lindsay, CNVS’ Executive Director, Nikki Rohlng the Associate Director and to Alyssa Sickle their events coordinator for all their hospitality and for the invitation. Keep up the good work!