The things you do for love

I’ve always wondered about why things are the way they are and why people do the things they do. I think that’s what made me study philosophy in college. Unsurprisingly, this penchant for pondering has followed me into the convent. Most recently, I have been asking myself a few “whys”, the heart of which is this set of questions: why do I work in downtown Steubenville? Why do I serve others, “the poor”? Why do I spend my days sorting through used (and often dirty) clothes and shoes, knick-knacks and cookware? Why do I listen to story after heartbreaking story of loss, disappointment, crime, tragedy, abuse, and vice? Why do I risk exposure to bedbugs, lice, and heaven-only-knows what else? Why do I do it? Why am I so happy doing it?

When I bracket out the obvious motive (religious obedience!), I find some motives that are surprising or embarrassing, and others that are certainly the work of grace. Part of my work is tied up in a compulsive need to help people and try to fix their problems (Messiah complex? You bet!). There’s a strain of needing-to-be-needed still active in my heart. This is old news for me – these motives have stained most of the apparently generous actions in my life. I also want to do good, to be good, and I know that doing the works of mercy is a straightforward way of “being good”. Jesus also indicated that we would be judged on our actions to those in need (see Matthew 25), so it seems prudent to help others as I can.

But I am becoming aware of another, more lasting motive for my work and service: the love of Christ compels me! Paul writes about this in 2 Corinthians 5, where he explains the reason for his ministry:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view […]if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us (2 Cor 5:16-20).

I used to think about this passage only in terms of myself: I am a new creation in Christ. But there’s more to it than that! As Christ makes me new, I come awake to the potential for newness present in everything and everyone else. Everything is colored by Christ, and “the love of Christ controls me” – which doesn’t mean that my love for the Eucharistic Christ or Christ enthroned in heaven enables me to tolerate or put up with my brothers and sisters. No! In the new world I enter by my membership in Christ, each person is a member of Christ’s body, and is loveable.

We walk around in the society of hundreds and thousands of “little Christs” – shouldn’t we be in love with each of them? As Christ’s ambassadors, we really must be! How else will we communicate to others his spousal love for the human race? How can we be a part of his ministry of reconciliation if we do not desperately desire that reconciliation ourselves? The things we do for “service projects”, “volunteering”, and whatnot really must be “the things we do for love.”

Otherwise, we risk doing them, ultimately, for ourselves. Let us allow ourselves to be captivated by the Christs we serve in the daily grind, and extend his love and the offer of reconciliation to all.

-Sr. Agnes Thérèse Davis, TOR

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