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The Catholic New World
Volunteering . to be holy

By Michelle Martin

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." -Mk 12:30-31

When Jesus gave his followers the great commandment, he forever bound believers to the community of people around them, and required them to do what they could to help.

"Why do we have to serve our neighbor?" said Father Michael Fuller, an instructor in Christian life at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary. "The short answer is because Jesus told us to."

Jesus said so over and over again, both in words (eg., "Truly, I tell you just as you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me." Mt 25:40) and in deeds (eg., the feeding of the 5,000).

The idea of service to others was carried forward throughout the history of the church, starting with the exhortations in the epistles ("Faith without works is dead." James 2:26) and with the traditional corporal and spiritual works of mercy, from feeding the hungry to praying for the living and the dead, said Fuller, a priest of the diocese of Rockford.

"We can't approach the Lord without our neighbor being part of the equation," he said.

But for those who would become holy, even the works are not enough, he said. "I always call those the mission statement of the church," he said. "Those are what we are required to do, if we have the opportunity. To be a volunteer-it goes back to doing something of your own free will."

For example, he said, no one can clothe the naked unless there is a naked person there to clothe. But people who volunteer, who come forward to serve, take the extra step of going to find someone who needs their help.

"It's kind of educating your heart and your will and your desire to serve," Fuller said.

"The source isn't really the works of mercy. It's the image of God, the 'imago Dei.' God is love, and love always has to go outward."

Volunteering to serve-whether offering meals to the hungry or giving a blind person a chance to feel the exhilaration of swooshing downhill on skis in God's creation-expands hearts, Fuller said.

"It opens our hearts up to love more, and that's the definition of holiness: to become perfect in charity, to become perfect in love," he said.

The irony is that people who follow the secular world's imperative of "self-love" find their hearts constricted and shrinking. "Self-love never produces happiness, because it is not genuine," he said. "Joy comes from using the heart the way it was designed to be used."


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