One of the projects Mary Ellen Barringer has been working out in her time coordinating the Religious Education program is reshaping the service requirement for young people preparing for Confirmation. This has raised my awareness of the number of “service requirements” that people face, in their schools and in their other associations. I even read yesterday that somebody had been convicted of a crime and sentenced to 80 hours of community service.
At the same time, to distribute the workload more evenly among parents, our school requires that each family earn a certain amount of “tier credit” for service there. The result seems to have been a diminishing willingness to volunteer or just help out, unless tier credit is both offered for the work, and needed by the worker.
It has become a commonplace understanding that we live in a service economy, which means that what is bought and sold is more likely to be an action than a thing. Our society has grown proficient at identifying, marketing, and putting prices on services that people will pay for. This has become a source of innovation and economic strength.
It does not mean that our economy encourages service. Folks have confused the type of service that characterizes our economy (doing a useful activity for a price) with the type of service that characterizes our human nature (doing something for the good of another, rather than one’s own good). True service is accomplished at a cost to the one who serves. This cost cannot be repaid or reimbursed. It can be recognized, and responded to with gratitude.
This has also resulted in a loss of understanding of and appreciation for the service that cannot be marketed, and which is in fact priceless. In a healthy human economy, the response to service freely offered is … service. For example, those who have fought our wars are (or should be) cared for in their injury or age.
To His bewildered Apostles, Jesus explained the divine economy: I came not to be served, but to serve. His is the supreme and perfect work of service, which results in liberation from selfishness (sin) and its wages (death). To recognize service of this order, the proper response is not recompense, but reverence. This is the currency not of the service economy, but the economy of salvation.
As human beings in the image and likeness of God, we are free to serve. When we freely offer ourselves in the service of another, we participate in the life of Jesus, and give life to the world. But as our economy has become more effective at setting a value and a price on service of every sort, and as our country has become more affluent in this “service economy,” it seems increasingly rare to find people willing to dedicate themselves to careers or relationships of service.
Because our parish and most of our families enjoy this increase in affluence, we need to ask: are we teaching our children the proper attitude toward service? For example, is it our hope that there will be enough people of their generation who will be willing to serve them, or are we hoping that they themselves will serve? Yes, it would be a sacrifice for them. But we have seen that this is precisely what God wanted for His Son!
The Son of the living God is at work in our midst in all who cooperate with Him in serving their brothers and sisters. If we resolve to render due worship to Him, and gratitude and praise to those who offer service to us and for us, then not only will our children be more eager to offer themselves in service, but we too will become true servants, in Christ Jesus. And more than any service project or even career of service, this is what will change – indeed, it is what will save – the world.