I was in Guatemala City, spending an overnight with the Daughters of Charity, who have served in Guatemala for the past 150 years. They have a huge, block square complex, operate two hospitals, a school (grades one through high school) and provide a wide range of social services.
Peeking into a room, I saw what looked like an empty cafeteria. I asked a few school girls walking by if I could buy a soda there. They said no, but pointed me in the direction of a tiny store opposite the school. After satisfying my thirst, I returned to the Daughters' complex and again inquired about the cafeteria. This facility, it turns out, is a "Cocina de Probres" - a soup kitchen for poor people which serves dinner everyday at.
From time-to-time, I visit Guatemala City with two young women who are postulants with the New York Sisters of Charity. I help with the three-and-a-half hour drive from Santa Cruz to the Capital, shop for supplies, etc. I thought it would be great to work in the kitchen while the postulants are attending classes.
I asked the Sister in charge if this might be possible. I told her I can cook, clean, chop vegetables, wash dishes, mop, anything; it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was that I wanted to be a part of their soup kitchen on those days when I was in the city. I was asked one question. Sister wanted to know if I would eat with the people who came to the kitchen. "Of course," I said. I had spent eight years eating with homeless men and women in New York City, why not Guatemala . . .
However, Sister's question continues to impact my daily activities and my prayer life. Will you honor the people you serve? Will you be present to them? Will you allow their presence to serve you? Are you willing to receive as well as to give? Is volunteering a job or a source of nourishment?
The Charity Charism of love of God through service to God's people, especially those who are poor and/or living on life's margins, is a principle that we - Daughters, Sisters and Charity Associates - seek to live in our daily lives and various ministries.
It is with gratitude and humility that we offer ourselves. We give because God has freely given to us. We give because sharing can be an act of justice as well as an act of charity. And St. Vincent de Paul, co-founder of the Daughters of Charity, would quickly add, "It is not enough to give bread. The rich can to that. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread that you give them."
So, here's a big "thumbs up" to all of you who regularly volunteer your time and talents - in soup kitchens and schools, hospitals, parks and playgrounds, in nursing facilities and on behalf of a wide range of not-for-profit organizations. Your care and concern helps fulfill a variety of social needs and is a sacred gift. It can turn a simple activity into an act of love.