Proclaiming God’s love through volunteerism
Sister Joyce Lehman • President, Sisters of the Precious Blood
A volunteer, according to the dictionary, is one who gives his or her time, expertise or energy to some work or cause without expecting recompense. When we come across a cause close to our heart we find ourselves drawn to be part of the enterprise and to engage generously in its work. These causes can arise from our connections to a church, our place of employment, an experience, or information that comes from a friend or appears in our mailbox or on television.
There has been a revival of volunteerism in the last ten years or so, often led by the young. Serving on a soup line, planting community gardens, collecting clothes or other items for refugees or victims of disasters, or working with disadvantaged children are a few ways people give of time, talent and treasure.
I guess that by virtue of our vow of poverty Sisters have always been, in a very real way, true volunteers. The fact is, whatever might have been received as a salary for a Sister’s work in reality goes directly to the Congregation for the care of the members and of the sick and elderly, for costs related to education or training, for general administration and for others in need. Consequently, the natural sense of reward or of worth that is often associated with a salary received is not a part of the equation. Rather than a consumer economy, religious strive to live in a gift economy. By that I mean that we try to recognize that all we have is gift, pure and simple, no strings attached, and we try to live as though whatever we have or use is not ours by any right of our own but rather by the generosity of a good God. The reward or “payment” of ministering to others comes in knowing that we are contributing to the building up of the reign of God.
Our Sisters see their service as being “in mission,” that is, participating in the mission of Jesus and in that particular mission that flows from our charism as Sisters of the Precious Blood. Consequently the ministry they do is not about wealth or success, but rather about the proclamation of God’s love to those least recognized or excluded, those who suffer most, those for whom life is filled with drudgery, pain or hopelessness.
So it is no surprise that “retirement” for our Sisters means something other than not being remunerated for full or part time work. Rather it is a time of being able to be of service with more freedom than before. For many it means not having to deal with organization, administration, supervision or punching the proverbial time clock. It means following the heart’s vision and God’s call by being involved where one’s passion lies, be that cradling a newborn, heroin-addicted baby, teaching adults so they can read a Bible story to a grandchild, serving on boards of non-profits that feed the hungry and shelter the homeless, tutoring school children, visiting the lonely elderly in nursing homes, holding prayer or Scripture study groups in their living rooms, or making sandwiches for the local soup kitchen. In addition there is the pearl of great price: prayer for a world waiting for compassion, forgiveness, mercy, hope and joy.
Even those Sisters still in full time ministry find time to give of themselves in the evenings or on weekends, in parishes, schools, with social service entities, at environmental or peace and justice events.
As you read about our Sisters in this issue may you be challenged to find your “volunteer niche” for now or later. May your willingness be a generous response to a good God who knows only how to give to beloved daughters and sons without cost.