Volunteerism: Neighbor Helping Neighbor
8th Knights of Columbus Convention
Cebu Waterfront Hotel, April 18, 2010
Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo's Speech
I would like to start with an example. A group of friends decided to pitch in to buy a coffee-maker for their office. It was a collective decision. And everybody was happy: each one can make coffee anytime he wants. They all contributed to buy the coffee-maker. It belonged to everybody; it belonged to no one in particular. After a while the coffee-maker was left unclean in the corner; it soon started to break down. The questions were asked: who is going to wash it? Who is going to have it repaired? Every one was saying: “Not I, it’s not mine!...whoever used it last!” What started to be a good project sooner ceased to be one, because no one in particular owned it. Everybody owned it! The problem was not in the ownership of the coffee-maker. The problem was a simple one: nobody volunteered to clean it and to take care of it.
A Theology of Volunteerism
The theme which you gave for this convention already contains your understanding and definition of volunteerism. “Volunteerism: Neighbor Helping Neighbor.: There is a theology contained in the subject of volunteerism. We have been created by God not only to live in the world that God created for us, but also to make this world progressively and dynamically livable not selfishly for ourselves but generously for others, for our innumerable neighbors. Hence, the Creator has equipped every one of us in various degrees with valuable gifts, talents and treasures. The Creator has also given everyone a mission in the world the he/she alone can perform and achieve.
Many traditions, customs and practices that we find in the Church, in societies and associations have started from the initiatives and imaginativeness of their first leaders and members. In the Church, for example, the first disciples and generation of Christians were given no precise instruction on how to grow as church. But they moved on in the power of the Lord’s commission: “Go and make disciples’ of all nations, teach them everything I have commanded you. Behold, I am with you always to the very end of the age” (Mt. 2819-20). Trusting in the full authority and mysterious\s presence of the Lord, the Church developed into what we know her today. With no precise instructions on many burning issues that were cropping up in their individual and group life, the community of Christians learned to volunteers themselves, their talents and treasures for the sake the Church.
We read in the Acts of the Apostles: “They were united by their voluntary gathering for the Eucharist, the breaking of the Bread and the payers. They shared all things in common. They divided everything on the basis of each one’s need. The believers were of one heart and mind. No one of them ever claimed anything as his own, rather everything was held in common. There was no one needy among them” (cf. 2/42-47; 4/32-35).
We keep returning to this original and genuine story of volunteerism, of “neighbor helping neighbor”, so that no one was in need. In the circumstances we are in, Christ even today relies on the initiative, voluntary contributions and volunteerism of “neighbor helping neighbors.”
Volunteerism and Stewardship
The spirit and virtue of volunteerism can be gleaned in some of the parables of our Lord. In the Parable of the Treasure and the Pearl (Mt. 13/44-46), we reflect on how the men who discovered the treasure and the pearl were each willing to sell all if necessary in order not to lose the unique chance of possessing their find. The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaid (Mt. 25/1-13) shows the need of extra preparedness by doing more than what was obligatory. The preparation of any event, like a wedding, may include numerous details which appear disconnected or disorganized. But when the time for the celebration arrives, the numerous details become harmoniously beautiful and memorable.
The Parable of the Talents (Mt. 25/14-30) shows that reward and profit go to the steward-servant who takes the prudent risk of investing the entrusted talent. God rewards or punishes every steward-servant according to his wise use of the talents. The Steward who is charged with supervision for his master’s possession is not dependent on precise instructions only but also on doing extra things arising from the need of the moment (cf. Lk. 12/41-46). The parable of the friend who is wakened up at midnight (Lk. 11/5-8) on account of his friend’s request for bread is another good example of trust even n inconvenient times. The Parable of the Watchful Steward (Lk. 12/35-38) shows the advantage of faithfulness and alertness: the master upon his return will wait on him.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10/30-37) is a classic example of “neighbor helping neighbor.” To the question “Who was neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?” Christ gives a radically new interpretation of neighbor. Everyone in need, even if he is a stranger or an enemy, is a neighbor. Christ identifies himself with every neighbor. “As of the as you did if for one of my least brothers, you did it to me” (Mt. 25/40: Apostolicam Actuositatem, 8).
Volunteerism: Impact on Life and Relationships
If we took away the opportunity for volunteerism, what would life and relationship be like in families and associations, in society and church? Everything has to be done strictly according to what the law says. Everybody would simply say ”What do I care? … It’s not mine! … It’s not my duty? … Whose duty or work s it? … I have my own work to do!” (Remember our story of the uncleaned coffee-maker.) As a result many good, necessary and useful or be disadvantage. Survival in almost everything depends on the voluntary, on volunteerism.
The life and subsistence of organizations and institutions depend in many respects on volunteerism, beyond what their written constitutions and by-laws demand. Even constitutions and laws started from volunteerism. The life of churches, of civic and cultural groups, of health care organizations, educational institutions as well as political organizations are, de facto, inviting and attracting al kinds of volunteers to achieve some project vision. Volunteerism makes the organization or institution more alive, competent, effective and attractive. The universal law is “love one another, as I have loved you” (Jo. 15/12).
All vocations and professions have some element of volunteerism, which would answer questions and problems, that their respective canons, constitutions and by-laws man not directly or immediately answer. We connect volunteerism with stewardship. Stewardship s characterized also by the element of servant hood. The steward-servant does not have absolute independence and possessiveness in relation to performance an office; but he is expected at the same time to apply his business acumen, personal discipline and resourcefulness, accountability and responsibility to the office and to the people.
In healthy organizations and institutions, we can identify three kinds of motivators and volunteers: First, the “achievers” who are best at organizing new programs and solving problems; goal-oriented they are ever ready for new challenges. Second, the “affiliators” who are task-oriented enjoying whatever they can do with other people. And third, the “social power people” who move, shake and build up the confidence of the people they lead, not for their selfish aggrandizement or status, but for the common good. [cf. Marlene Wilson, How to Mobilize Church Volunteers.]
Spirituality of Volunteerism
Volunteerism is a sign of life in the church and in society. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. Many surprising and unexpected things happen in our lie because the Spirit of Christ inspires people to volunteer, to be co-involved and to be co-participants in projects that otherwise would be very difficult or impossible to do. It is true that many things have no happened because people did not volunteer to offer themselves to put them into existence, but instead hindered or placed obstacles to their existence. Volunteerism is a spirituality of gospel-love combined with wisdom, trustworthiness, co-dependability and reliability.
Each of us can confess with full certainty, that we are what we are today because of the voluntary role that numberless individuals and groups have taken in our lives. That being a fact is a call for us to welcome and develop the spirituality o volunteerism.