How can the heart not be touched?

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This blog post comes from Ignatian Volunteer Mark Wong of Baltimore, who presented these remarks to the IVC National Board at their meeting in February.

Good morning. I’m Mark.

First, I would like to express my gratitude to you for your sacrifice and all the work that you do on our behalf. Your perseverance enables us: (1) to grow in our spiritual life, (2) to be in and with community; and, to serve others. This is pure gift.  For your selfless effort for the greater good, we thank you.

I had a great 35 year career in federal service – mostly with the EEOC, an agency responsible for handling employment discrimination charges across the country – held a variety of positions, including special assistant to the chair/vice chair of the Commission for policy and operations; also served on staff at HUD and the Department of Education- and served as an advisor with the white house initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

When I retired – I was searching for a volunteer organization that offered spiritual growth, community and service. I found the IVC through St. Ignatius Church and the IVC has been a Godsend. As I reflect on my experience, IVC is truly unique, in that one can do volunteer work anywhere, but these elements are not always present.

My assignment for the past four years has been at the Franciscan Center, a multi-service center founded by the Franciscan sisters – located in West Baltimore where the awful riots recently took place The Center serves 500 hot meals a day; has a full computer center, clothing center, one of the largest food pantries in the state of Maryland and programs include assistance for dental, prescriptions, IDs, and gas and electric bills, just to name a few. – I work directly with clients – counseling, providing assistance –serving primarily a poor, low/fixed income African American demographic.

How can the heart not be touched and not gain a greater awareness of His grace and love when:

-A 60 year old woman who had just lost her mother, was in grief, and could not afford her prescriptions. It was a choice between food or medications, she said. Then while sobbing, she said, you treat me here with such dignity. When I go to other places for help, they want to get rid of me; they want to sweep me under the rug. They don’t want to help, but you treat me like a human being. Thank you for helping me.

-A young man who had recently been released from prison for drugs; who had no ID, no employment, no place to stay, no money, said, I never want to go back to prison, I made bad choices and now I want to choose a different life. We were able to help him and at the end of our rather long conversation, he said with amazement, you really do care about me.

-A 60 year old man was shot eight times in an alley way – several times pointblank – was given up for dead at least three times while in the ER – he knew who had shot him –he reported the young man and said the shooting was a gang “rite of passage.” But he said he held no grudges and said we need to do better with our young people.

-A homeless man who had been homeless on the streets of Baltimore for seven (7) years – cheerfully, told me that he had finally found his own place to live – I congratulated him. He thanked me, but then he said, I won’t be happy until all my friends on the street get their own places and I will work for that.

-A middle aged woman told me she liked to write but felt inadequate because she did not have a high school diploma. We encouraged her to continue her writing. She did and was eventually published. She then said that she was not in it for the money and that she was going to take whatever money that came from book sales, not for herself, but to help others — because she got help when she needed it.

They have taught me much about faith. And, it is often said that the Lord works in mysterious ways. Blessings come in many forms, but as Fr. Albright, a scholar, teacher and former chaplain at Towson State University said, the more you learn, the more you experience, the deeper you want to go to understand and to be closer. And, so it is, with the IVC experience, which envelops at its core, spiritual growth, community and service to others, it makes me want to go deeper.

Thank you.

16 Responses to “How can the heart not be touched?”

  1. Joanie Coolidge

    Mark,

    So wonderful to read your reflections. Thank you for taking the time share your thoughts and the stories and insights of others. It makes me want to go deeper too!

    Joanie

    Reply
    • Mark

      Thank you so much for your kind affirming words. It is so wonderful to be with you and so many others on this incredible journey. Peace be with you.

      Reply
  2. Jeanie Sweeney

    Thanks for your sharing, Mark. I love when we see
    The face of Christ in those we serve,
    Spirit blessings!

    Reply
    • Mark

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. It is such a privilege that we have to serve others and to be an instrument of His grace and peace. It is “miraculous” that we feel and “see” His presence when we are with others, especially the poor. Peace be with you.

      Reply
  3. Mary Ann Burke

    Thanks Mark,

    Your comments are really moving and exactly what we want to be about. Taking the time to be present and listening to others. All you have written describes why I am grateful to be a member of the IVC volunteers.

    Reply
    • Mark

      Thank you so much for your kind and affirming words. We are blessed to be part of a loving community where spiritual growth and service to others are core tenets. The IVC has been a godsend – pure gift. Peace be with you.

      Reply
  4. Louise Sandberg

    Your insights are right on. It is not what I do but how God is shining through me and those I serve. I love the mutuality of service and love. The heart is constantly being touched, sovI am glad you were able to receive thr touch and share it, touching us.

    Reply
    • Mark

      To be an instrument of His grace and peace in service to others – bringing light in and with a loving community – is pure gift and mystery. What a journey and what a privilege it is to feel and “see” His presence while serving others, especially “the poor.” My faith has been enriched through service and we’ll never know how each has been “touched” in the encounter. Peace!

      Reply
  5. Louise Wright

    Mark, thank you for sharing and caring. You were always an inspiration to me at the Franciscan Center. Your patience and presence reflect the love of Christ for those in need.

    Reply
    • Mark

      Thank you so much for your kind and affirming words. What a privilege it is to serve others at the Franciscan Center. In service, my faith has been enriched. It is such a joy to be an instrument of His grace and peace – in and with community.

      Reply
  6. Ann Johnson

    Mark, it was a wonderful presentation that you made. It is always good to read about the experiences of other IVCers. I look forward to seeing you at the retreat!

    Reply
    • Mark

      Thank you so much for your very kind and affirming words. What a godsend IVC has been for me. To be part of a loving community, where ongoing spiritual growth and service are central tenets – is pure gift. I look forward to more sharing at our retreat. Peace be with you.

      Reply
  7. Emilie Gillanders

    Well said,Mark. As a former board member, I am quite sure they found your remarks inspiring. They must also have felt proud and thankful to see in such an intimate way the fruits of their work May God continue to guide you and the board members in all that you do!

    Reply
    • Mark

      Thank you so much for sharing your kind and affirming words. You and many others who have served or who are serving on the board deserve much thanks and gratitude. For it is through your hard work and sacrifice that we have been given the chance to be part of a loving community, where ongoing spiritual growth and service to others, especially, “the poor.” are core tenets. You (and others) have given us a wonderful gift. Peace be with you.

      Reply
  8. Paula Soper

    Mark, this post reminded me why I chose to do a year of volunteer service with the Archdiocese of Hartford when I graduate from Trinity. I also wanted an experience to be in service and in community with others seeking spiritual growth. It so challenging to do either when work – and commutes – leave so little time. Your example has always inspired me, and still does.

    Reply
  9. Mark

    Thank you so much for sharing your very kind and affirming words. Contemplative action in community can be interwoven and integral to daily life. How one may “touch” others and how one may affect others in service, especially “the poor,” are joyful mysteries – if we are present and aware. Peace!

    Reply

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