During a fundraiser at my parish last year, a group of volunteers spent an entire day rolling 2,000 lumpias (Filipino eggrolls). If you’ve ever had lumpia, then you know that it is a hit at parties and eating one roll only takes about 10 seconds. If you’ve ever made lumpia, then you know that making one roll is a lot of work and could take up to about 10 minutes. Try making 2,000. But according to these volunteers, that day they spent rolling, wrapping, and repeat was, for them, an “amazing experience.” They talked about the fun they had, the social bonding they made, and the difference the funds will make for the parish community when they sell those lumpias.

The Backbone of the Church

For many dedicated servants who often give up their off-days serving, these feelings of happiness, fulfillment, and amazement are not uncommon. Volunteers are the backbone of the Church. They make the parish vibrant. They come from different backgrounds serving as altar servers, musicians, catechists, lectors, kitchen servers, etc. They are the ones who open the door for their fellow parishioners, greeting them and making them feel welcomed and honored. They are the ones who hand out the flyers at the end of Mass to make sure that every parishioner feels connected to the happenings at the parish. They are the ones who visit the sick. They are the ones who go out to feed the poor and the homeless. They are the hands and feet of Christ in the world. They could just easily hand out their monetary donation during the offertory and go back home but instead, they offer cash and then some. They offer their time and service as volunteers. Cash goes a long way but there is something of immeasurable value in the act of serving.

Doing the work of the Lord as God’s servant is often not easy. Mother Teresa of Calcutta often said to her fellow servants to “give until it hurts.” And many of the volunteers I know don’t have to give at all but they choose to give and they give even when it hurts. I often ask these volunteers why they serve. Why do they choose to give of their time and energy for free? Their why’s are inspiring. Many are driven by their personal values and have a strong sense of mission and vocation. They are driven by compassion for others and they see Christ in the other. Martin Luther King, Jr said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘what are you doing for others?’” These volunteers are responding to that question and making a difference in other people’s lives. They have a genuine sense of simply giving even when there is no materialistic, tangible reward. Many of these volunteers are truly altruistic, seeking nothing in return, and are giving out of the goodness of their hearts. They know that their reward awaits them in heaven. But little do they know that they are starting to get rewarded for their good deeds even here on earth.

By Giving We Receive

In the journal Annual Review of Sociology, volunteering is defined as “any activity given freely to benefit another person, group, or cause.” And many volunteers I know give without expecting anything in return. The benefits of volunteering, however, benefits the volunteers themselves in profound ways. Something in our natural biological process lets us know that, for the services we voluntarily offer to the Church, we are starting to reap all kinds of rewards even here on earth. Blessings abound and the flow of benefits go in multiple directions, outward, inward, and all around. Our volunteer services benefit both the Church and us, whether we recognize it or not. Social science, in the last few decades, has been finding scientific evidence that seems to prove that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) and that our selfless acts of volunteering actually do more good not just for others but for ourselves as well.

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” – 2 Corinthians 9:8-10

Serving or giving is a gift that keeps on giving. As volunteers share their blessings with others with their services, the blessings bounce back to them in many profound ways. Some might be gaining or developing new skills. Volunteering could be a source of self-development helping them grow as persons, as Christians, or even as professionals in their field.

Some might be gaining the social network and support that they need. We have an innate need to make connections and in a time of increased social isolation and loneliness, being able to network with fellow dedicated volunteers can be rewarding and fun.

Service can be a source of pride, confidence, fulfillment, and life satisfaction. There is something about volunteering that is personally rewarding, gratifying, and even energizing. Especially in this hectic world we live in, our service can be a source of renewal. Even when we are tired from a long hectic day, volunteer work can give us a fresh source of energy. According to a 2017 study, volunteering is good for our own personal health. There is evidence that shows that volunteering is good for cognitive functioning like memory and processing.

“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

The Hands of Christ

Let us reflect on what Saint Teresa of Avila prayed:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

People have questioned whether our act of selflessness is really an act of selfishness because it feels good to give. It’s not my intention to address the distinction nor do I wish to dichotomize it that way. God has blessed us with plenty and so let us share those blessings with others. The more we draw from this well of blessings to share with others, the more it seems to get continually filled and refilled with God’s infinite bounty. There’s plenty of blessings to go around.

“May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you…Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.” –Saint Teresa of Avila