Sunday, May 23, 2010

Compulsory Christian Service in Chicago

A thank you to the Archdiocese of Chicago, the sole respondent to our plea for help...

Fr. Richard Hynes, Director
Department of Evangelization, Catechesis, and Worship
Archdiocese of Chicago

I wish to commend you to our Lord for help in time of trouble. I wrote to ten archdioceses and ten dioceses, including my own. Only Chicago responded, and two gentlemen from your diocese each contributed valuable insights.

First I'd like to single out M. Paul McCaughey, who hasn't really needed compulsory Christian service except when merging single gender schools, so I'd like to propose that we all follow his leadership. Anything he chooses to send me will become part of our Roundtable on Service.

Second I'd like to mention Nicholas Lund-Molfese, who recalled for me a great Peter Maurin story about honoring the volunteer spirit: Our co-founder was removing boulders from a roadway while his companions observed his labors while laying about. Peter said nothing, understanding that turning the other cheek meant silence. Mr. Lund-Molfese also pointed out quite correctly that much of modern education is compulsory, and must be.

Since in education we are dealing with those, however temporarily, who know not what they do, nor their proper motive in learning, compulsion seems appropriate. To me this would tend to indicate a need for a review of the catechesis surrounding confirmation. If we assume that as yet unformed Catholics need to be compelled to learn to behave in accord with the Greatest Commandment, should I not wonder aloud if their experience with compulsion has resulted in the ongoing need for compulsion on the part of all but a few adults.

Why don't most confirmed Catholics serve either the Church or the poor?

If, like Peter Maurin, we do the work ourselves, so as not to deny others the opportunity to volunteer, we will obviously have few companions. The companions we lack will be dissuaded by the arduous nature of the work or from a refusal of Grace, but the constitution of the human person and the efficacy of grace are for Him to modify.

Peter, in his exquisite sensitivity and tremendous compassion, eschewed even a simple plea for help. How much does ignorance on the part of the student require us to resort to compulsion? Are adult Catholics uneducated about the primacy of our only commandment and the meaning of the Good Samaritan? Couldn't compulsion actually be part of the way the normal person learns to ignore Christ because of an adolescent recalcitrance to be ordered about? It is a busy and conflicted time for human children, a time where maturity comes in part from refusing to follow certain leads.

How often do we tell students that Christ, and not the educational institution requires this service? Are we not then acting in the stead of the bank guard who puts the non-Christmas Club patrons in the long line for deposits? The Bank is Christ and the interest is Heaven - how could the intervention of the well-intentioned guard not sully the waters of salvation?

Father, I know full well that the Church begun by Christ is no bank guard; moreover I trust that the Deposit of Faith that I received from her is utterly trustworthy. I love the Christmas club!

I question, however, whether that Deposit includes compulsory service hours. Perhaps we should err on the side of caution, and not ourselves narrow the path to Christ.

I am, however, persuaded to move to Chicago!

God love you and keep you all.

Dwight Smith,
Catholic Worker

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