Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference


An invitation from the Ignatian Volunteer Corps of Northeastern Pennsylvania to be “ruined for life” – but in the best possible way

As a former Jesuit Volunteer, and recently hired regional director for the newly founded Ignatian Volunteer Corps of Northeastern Pennsylvania (“IVC NEPA”), I invite you to consider joining the IVC NEPA family. WARNING: the decision to join our core community may create an environment conducive to hearing God directly communicate with you and, potentially, “ruin you for life”-but in the best possible way.

What is the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (“IVC”)?

IVC is a national non-profit organization that seeks to better communities through matching men and women, age 50 and better, with meaningful opportunities to serve the needs of people who are poor, to work for a more just society, and to grow deeper in their faith.

Ignatian Volunteers commit to working one or two days per week (generally eight to sixteen hours) for a period of ten months.

We partner with Service Agencies that directly serve the poor or address poverty-related issues.

IVC’s communal and spiritual aspects set IVC apart from other volunteer opportunities. Transformation occurs for Ignatian Volunteers when they minister to the poor, and then take time to intentionally reflect on their ministry. Stated differently, the decision to be of service to our friends in the community and then reflecting how this service touches your heart may “ruin you for life.”

This invitation to be “ruined for life” arises from my formative experiences as a Jesuit Volunteer in Anchorage, Alaska from 1999-2000 and Nashville, Tennessee from 2003-2004.[1] Jesuit Volunteers (“JVs”) live in community and serve from August through the following July at organizations dedicated to social or environmental justice.

Moreover, JVs seek to integrate the Jesuit Volunteer Corps’ (“JVC”) four core values of community, simple living, social justice, and spirituality, into their everyday lives, which I define as follow:

Community. Freedom and support provide the framework for JV communities. As a JV, I felt free to be who I thought I needed to be. Further, I felt free to abandon this plan when my housemates gently indicated that my self-discovery quest did not include acting like a self-righteous jerk. JVs also receive support from each other, an assigned support couple, former JVs, and agency coworkers. Freedom and support nurture a JVC community.

Simple living. Simple living provided the opportunity to value relationships over material desires and possessions. To demonstrate simple living, we wrote old fashioned letters, watched a little less television, and established a “needs versus wants” shopping mentality. Ever spend ten minutes in the grocery aisle debating the merits of purchasing the peanut butter today or spending money on gas to drive back to the grocery store tomorrow to buy the peanut butter when it is on sale? To value people over material desires and possessions is to live simply.

Social Justice. JVC’s social justice core value seeks involves viewing the world through our heart’s lens, not the mind’s eye. For example, Mother Theresa stated that the world’s most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved. As a JV, I understood the need to quiet my desire to judge and fix individuals, especially the poor and marginalized. Instead, I heard the call to journey with these individuals through a challenging time. To understand that we all are a reflection of the Divine and to uphold the inherent human dignity of the human person is to experience JVC social justice.

Spirituality. JVC’s spirituality core value enlightened my understanding of gratitude[2] and thanksgiving.[3] As a JV, experiences of gratitude provided an opportunity to transition my life from a state of being (gratitude) to a state of doing (thanksgiving). These gratitude experiences also inflamed my instinctive desire to help and to be of service to my family, coworkers, clients, and our friends in the community. As such, these gratitude experiences enhanced my capacity to do. That is, my doing is more focused, intense, and concise. Stated differently, Jesus’s first commandment, to love God with our heart, mind, body and soul creates experiences of gratitude. Jesus’s second commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves, is an invitation to provide thanksgiving—acts of love—towards our neighbors. The desire to do better things to become a better person and to become a better person to do better things is JVC spirituality.

Combined, these four core values may provide an opportunity to hear God’s gentle voice reveal a small picture of what our lives are truly about. Moreover, this small picture pertaining to our lives will likely be different from what we would like our lives to be about.

In short, JVC’s four core values quiet our desire to reach out and touch God.

Instead, the four core values create an environment conducive to God touching us-to be “ruined for life.”

To demonstrate how JVC’s four core values provided an opportunity for God to touch my heart, I share the following two experiences from my Anchorage JV year.

Early in my JV year, I became fast friends with an HIV client. We laughed at our office’s weekly client lunch, and I enjoyed entertaining his two-year old son with magic tricks. Eight months into my JV year, this client contracted pneumocystis pneumonia—an opportunistic infection arising from the client’s weakened immune system. One morning the lead case manager visited the client at the hospital. When she returned to the office, she explained that we needed to clean the client’s apartment. Thus, we packed her car with cleaning supplies and drove to the client’s apartment.

We entered the client’s apartment, and I quickly determined that the hundreds of hours of cleaning experience garnered with my siblings on Saturday mornings growing up in Minnesota would be put to the test. Additionally, I remembered my dad’s words of encouragement as I haphazardly cleaned with my siblings, “If you’re not going to do it right, then don’t do it at all.” Thus, I rolled up my sleeves, rediscovered my Saturday morning elbow grease, and cleaned just as hard as if my dad were standing over me grading my “if you’re not going to do it right, don’t do it all” level of effort.

Remembering my dad’s words and the Saturday morning cleaning sessions with my siblings helped my spirit feel light. Moreover, I failed to feel frustrated, tired, or discouraged moving from one cleaning task to the next. Most important, this simple family value of doing your best always, regardless of the task, created an opportunity to provide love for a friend dying in the hospital. A love the client reciprocated the next day at the hospital when he grabbed my hand, and said, “God Bless you, Teddy. Thank you. God Bless you.”

The second experience demonstrating how the four core values “ruined me for life” occurred a few weeks later. For the first eight months of my Anchorage JV year, I attended a nondenominational church.[4] Once a month, the church allowed a member to offer a testimonial. One Sunday, the pastor asked if I’d like to provide a testimonial the following weekend.

When the following weekend arrived, I walked to the front of the congregation. I stood in silence for a few seconds and began to share my faith journey, culminating in a ten-minute self-righteous barrage against the Catholic Church. As I walked off the stage I heard a quiet and gentle voice in my head state, “How did it come to this? How did you forget to be grateful and thankful?” Immediately I saw images of my parents and grandparents. And I started to remember.

I remembered my mom, in the middle of caring for my five siblings and me, preparing and delivering meals to neighbors when a friend or neighbor died. I remembered reading the encouraging notes my mom left in my desk the day after parent teacher conferences. I remembered my mom, with one or two of my younger siblings in tow, working the lunch line to say “hello” and provide a dollar to buy an extra treat.

I also remembered how I wanted to be just like my dad growing up and to make him happy and proud. I remembered driving to 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning hockey practice with my dad, and the cup of hot chocolate always waiting for me after practice. I remembered notes my dad left on the driver’s seat of the car that I discovered the morning before a big high school football game.

Finally, I remembered sitting in church with my grandparents. I remembered my grandmother patting my hand and smiling as my siblings and I argued to see who could sit closest to grandma. Moreover, I remembered feeling a little more peaceful and a little happier exiting church after mass.

In short, this experience of deep remembering and the experience with my dying HIV friend, grounded in the slow convergence of JVC’s four core values over eight months, allowed God to speak directly to my heart. And after God touched my heart, I began to see others, and my family, in a different light. That is, I had been “ruined for life.”

For the above-stated reasons, I invite you to consider the Ignatian Volunteer Corps of Northeastern Pennsylvania. IVC NEPA incorporates JVC’s four core values of community, simple living, social justice, and spirituality into our service experience.

These four core values may allow God to speak directly to your heart. Just be careful . . . the journey with IVC NEPA may “ruin you for life” . . . but in the best possible way!

[1] The Jesuit Volunteer Corps (“JVC”) is a value-centered service program grounded in the Jesuit Catholic Tradition for individuals age 21 and older.

[2] Webster’s defines gratitude as “the state of being [or feeling] grateful.

[3] Webster’s defines thanksgiving as the “act of providing thanks.” “Thanks” is defined as “kindness”, and the root of “kindness” is affection. Because love is defined as a “strong affection”, then thanksgiving is simply the act of providing love.

[4] As a late teenager, I took and extended sabbatical from the Catholic Church. In short, I felt sick and tired of individuals telling me what to do, when to do it, and how I should feel.