Anita, a financially comfortable widow in her 80s, has done volunteer work for almost two decades at Helping Hands, a social ministry on the east side of Toledo, originally established in 1982 by St. Louis Catholic parish under the leadership of Fr. Robert Armstrong. It now provides a soup kitchen, food pantry and clothing center for persons in the area in need of assistance. After recovering from a difficult time in her own life, Anita was moved to help less fortunate persons served by Helping Hands. Encouraged by the open, respectful, non-judgmental approach of the staff there, Anita started out by organizing piles of donated shoes so that those in need could more easily find a suitable pair. Next, she took on the task of organizing the many piles of clothing donated to the center. By 2011, she succeeded in establishing a clothing center in the now unused church building, where donated clothing was marked and hung on racks for easy, dignified shopping for the more than 500 individuals who come each month. Even with the diminishments of age and the challenges of the Covid crisis, Anita, who is very modest about her achievements, kept working at Helping Hands a couple days a week for about 5 hours a day, continuing to add to the over 10,000 volunteer hours she has already logged.
About 25% of Americans spend at least 50 hours a year doing volunteer work, which enables many faith-based non-profits to maintain their extensive charitable work. Some studies indicate the Covid pandemic produced an increase in volunteer work, as good people came together to help people suffering from the common health threat.
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church makes the crucial distinction between an “objective sense of work,” which concentrates on what is done or accomplished and a “subjective sense,” which emphasizes how work impacts workers themselves (n270-273). As humans made in the image of God, we are capable of directing our lives and actualizing our potential. The worth of work is based primarily not on the type of work done but on the essential dignity of the persons doing the work. Since the human person is the “measure of the dignity of work,” all work has an “ethical voice of its own,” even if it is considered “the merest service“ (n273). Furthermore, work has an “intrinsic social dimension” since it involves “doing something for someone else” which offers occasions for “exchanges, relationships and encounters” (n273).
On a number of occasions, Pope Francis has praised volunteers, calling them “precious resources of the Church” who “silently and unassumingly give shape and visibility to mercy.” He has also called volunteers the “strength of the Church” who function as a “shocking force” that challenges the selfish ways of the world. They are a “dimension of the Church’s mission,” giving concrete expression to Christ’s command to care for his brothers and sisters in need. The pope views volunteerism as a “grace from God” and urges volunteers to carry on their important work with courage and perseverance. Finally, Pope Francis reminds us to express gratitude for the generous service of volunteer workers.
How do I feel about volunteering my time and energy to serve others?
About the Author
Fr. James J. Bacik has served as a priest of the Diocese of Toledo since his ordination in 1962. He is a widely regarded theologian, writer, lecturer and pastor who served as campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years. Fr. Bacik is an AUSCP member. Visit his website at frjimbacik.org.