OK, I admit: I went grudgingly. The leader of our School of Community proposed we do a work of charity for the parish monthly. The pastor suggested visiting a local nursing home within our parish boundaries and where he celebrates Mass once a month. And so today seven of us met at the entrance of the nursing home. I kept thinking: I have papers to grade and laundry to do and a kitchen to clean and a garden to plant. And I also thought: I never have been inside a nursing home.
At the door we were greeted by the director of volunteers, a cheery woman who peppered her tour with humor and with practical and wise suggestions. She showed us the cupboard that holds the sign-in sheets and our name tags, the chapel where we’ll spend some time in prayer before spending time with residents, and the rooms where we will play board games with residents. The facility was full of light and plants and a fat cat and older people in wheelchairs and using walkers.
As I walked around, I began to see this work could be enjoyable to me. Yes, I am busy but I do have an hour once a month to enrich my life by becoming part of someone else’s. M, who leads our School of Community, reminded us that when we say we are “volunteering” we are helping someone else. When we understand that we are reaching out in charity, we are acknowledging our own needs, as much as someone else’s.
Father Luigi Giussani, who founded Communion and Liberation, described charity this way:
Life must be total sharing, but disattention, fear, love of comfort, obstacles in the environment, malice, all empty life of the value of charity. To create a mentality of charity, the most humble and effective way is to begin to live some remnant of free time expressly, purposely as a sharing in the life of others. Commitment involving physical sacrifice, moreover, is essential for it to influence our mentality.
Who loved us first? Charity helps us to return that love. This work is a small gesture of my need and my gratitude.
Our catechism teaches: “When charity animates his moral life, the Christian is free from servile fear and lives as a son responding to God who “first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). “If we obey out of love for him who commands, we are in the position of his children” (St. Augustine).