Confirmation programs often require them. Some school systems also insist upon them. They are service hours and quite often we find ourselves counting service hours rather than accounting for the worth of them.
In a previous posting regarding Confirmation, we looked at “Why Confirmation anyway?” So, let is examine a similar question: Are we making Confirmation service requirements count? After all, “mandatory volunteerism” does seem to be a contradiction, does it not?
Why do we do service? In the simplest of language, I think it breaks down into two complimentary answers: 1) We do service because we, as disciples of Jesus, are attempting to follow the model of the Master who brought healing to a broken world. 2) We do service because it how each of us contributes to the mission of the Church.
This, of course, can easily get confused when we attach various incentives to service work, such as the post-event pool party, pizza party or even with the mandatory requirement in anticipation of the Sacrament. Do we mute our invitation to a lifetime of Christian service and discipleship when the make the prize anything other than sharing in the Lord’s work of redemption and reconciliation?
Therefore, service is more than just another hoop for teens to jump through on their way to Confirmation. It is another opportunity to convey the truth of the Gospel. We need to take greater care to help young people (and perhaps some adults as well) uncover our real motivations. We can no longer allow the act of service be a stand-alone component of our programming.
Service experiences related to Confirmation should include the following components:
- The “Briefing”. Participants should be provided with the knowledge and skills necessary for their service. This should help them connect their service as a response to the needs of the community.
- The Mission. Participants should also be able to make connections between their anticipated service and the Gospel message and the mission of the Church. This should assist them in understanding how their service is a meaningful response in living out their own call to holiness.
- Prayer. Participants should be encouraged to place themselves in a spirit of humility, reminding them that “their work” is in collaboration with the Spirit. Their prayer should include the needs of those with whom they will serve as well, placing them in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Service can take different forms. Direct Service places participants into face-to-face contact with the service recipients. (tutoring; serving meals at a homeless shelter; working with the elderly in a nursing home, etc.) Indirect Service finds participants organizing resources to help alleviate a problem without necessarily having face-to-face contact. (food & clothing drives; thons or fundraisers; environmental projects, etc.) In Advocacy, participants serve by educating others about a particular issue with the goal being to eliminate the cause of a particular problem. (writing letters to legislators or editors; preparing and displaying posters, plays, or other educational materials for others, etc.)
Even with indirect service and advocacy, the service experience becomes more concrete if participants can attach a human face or a story to their efforts. Participants should be encouraged to place themselves in that other person’s place, attempting to gain a sense of what they feel, and understand their feelings to a degree.
- The “Debrief”. Participants should have the opportunity to discuss and process the experience of their action. Not only should they identify their own feelings during the action, but also share what it was that they learned or “relearned’ during their service. They should consider what worked well and what could be changed to make the project better.
- The Commission. Participants should once again consider the connections between their service and the Gospel message and the mission of the Church. They should spend time in further discernment regarding the impact that their service experience might have upon their lives in the future.
- Prayer. Again, in humility, participants should be encouraged to place their efforts at the foot of the Cross and seek God’s blessings upon their endeavors as well as those who have been impacted by their service.
When we encourage young people to serve, we have an obligation to share with them the truths of our faith. “A Christianity without truth,” reminds Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate, “would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance.” Let us make service truly count.