Is Volunteering in Church better than in Civic Orgs?

18 October 2009 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 53, 10-11; Psalm 33; Hebrews 4, 14-16; Mark 10, 35-45

I have only one main point today: we are all called to be missionaries in all aspects of our lives and at various levels. Before I scare you away, let me explain what we mean by missionary. When we encounter the word, mission, we usually refer to an important assignment that is given to us, for political, religious, or commercial purposes. But it has an angle that involves going to another place, a travel, a being “sent away” such as a mission to China or Africa.

In history, missionaries went to far-flung and exotic countries to conquer the land not just by the sword but also by the cross. The Philippines was one of them. Since then, we have always understood “missions” as pertinent to those type of missionaries. Around the 16th century, the word, mission, was understood as denoting the Holy Spirit sending people into the world; to proclaim the Gospel in new territories. One can imagine the church like a seed being transplanted to another place.

Thus, missionary activity means the conversion of non-Christians, performed only by a select few. Missionaries plant the seeds of the Gospel until the local church is adequately organized, possessing their own strength and maturity with sufficient means (with its own hierarchy & faithful) to live a full Christian life. Missionary activity will have a certain time frame: missionary activity terminates in pastoral ministry once the “mission area” has been permanently converted and settled. Once people are already in the Church, mission work turns into pastoral activity meaning the care of the faithful already in the Church.

But the Church continued to reflect on its mission and has now improved on its basic understanding of itself. The old understanding focused too much on the church. The document Ad Gentes said that the focus is not what the Church does, but what the Father does (Missio Dei). Patterned on the nature of God, the Church exists primarily because of its mission, to evangelize. It is the nature and identity of the Church to be missionary. Thus, it is not anymore a work of only a selected few, but a work of all.

There is no distinction between the sending church and the receiving church. As we are sent to serve, we also receive something. Not as a form of payment (“serve first and God will grant your wishes”) but as we are, at the same time. When we volunteer to help victims of the flood, we receive the grace of generosity at the same time. When we give love, we receive the grace of love itself. And thus, when we do mission work, our focus is the building of the Kingdom of God, not the promotion of our religion or our churches. It is in communion with all other churches. What is the difference? The Our Father tells us what we mean by the Kingdom of God: the Kingdom comes when God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. The building of the Kingdom of God is in a permanent state of mission, not a time frame. We are on mission all the time, every single moment of our lives. Because we should do God’s will all the time.

And thus, when we evangelize, we bring the Good News into all strata of humanity, and through its influence, transforming humanity from within and making it new (Dupois). The end therefore is a renewed humanity, a transformed world. Thus the Gospel is intended to be destined to all strata, all sectors, all aspects of culture, and all peoples.

And thus, the answer to the question, “Which is better: volunteering in the church or in a secular institution?” is simple: it does not matter. Volunteer wherever you are; do whatever you can; choose which is more efficient and effective. In either a church-based center or a civic organization, we can be missionaries for the Kingdom. Service do not have distinctions. We serve because it is what God does. We give to all because God loves all. We care because God cares. And we become what we are as God’s children, when mission becomes who we are. Why? Because it is what God is.

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