When service becomes mission

A French Jesuit once explained to my siblings and me that a fruitful grasp of Scripture requires an appreciation for paradox: for example, the cross being a symbol of shame and triumph, or self fulfillment for free-willed individuals being possible only on God’s terms.

Does truth manifest itself in paradox?  Surely the volunteers who enroll with the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) would reply affirmatively. As stated on its website – www.ivcusa.org – the mission of IVC is to provide mature lay men and women the opportunity to serve the poor and to grow deeper in their Christian faith. In the later decades of their lives, these individuals volunteer in order to “give back” the blessings they have enjoyed during their active careers. However, they also do it out of a desire to advance their personal sanctification during their few remaining years on earth. The paradox is that the more they serve, the longer they want to serve. It isn’t as though they want to postpone heaven. They’ve come to believe they’ve already arrived!

IVC was the inspiration of two Jesuits who began it in 1995 with eleven lay volunteers. Today it is empowered by 300 hundred volunteers who minister in several regional chapters comprising 16 cities across the country.

The Corps continues to expand principally for two reasons. One is the rising demand for the well known services it provides the poor. Two is the growing hunger mature men and women sense for deeper, Christ-centered spirituality. IVC addresses both needs by matching qualified volunteers who are over 50 years of age with “partnering” non-profit organizations involved in a wide array of social ministries. Expected to be ‘on the job’ twice weekly for a ten month commitment (most renew), the Ignatian volunteers are recognized as being experienced, committed, and reliable. While many volunteers serve in the same field from which they have retired, such as medical, accounting, teaching, etc., others discover previously unknown talents within them and help the poor in totally new ways. IVC provides this matching function and, more important, assures on-going assistance for the volunteers during the entire year.

Clearly, and critically, what distinguishes the Ignatian Volunteer Corps is its four-part spiritual reflection program which draws richly on the Ignatian tradition. In the program volunteers are expected to maintain a journal, meet monthly with a spiritual reflector, attend monthly meetings with other local Ignatian volunteers, and gather periodically for retreats. As one volunteer has written, it is this spiritual reflection, both private and communal, that enables the volunteers more and more to find the presence of Christ in the work they do.

Here’s a thought for readers fond of irony. When one finds God during the advance of the Kingdom does the urge to move forward lag?

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