The Next Level to Service

When volunteering isn't enough

Santa Clara University upholds the Jesuit value of "being a man for others." But Father Boyle, a Jesuit and author of Tattoos on the Heart, challenges whether service is the ultimate goal, or merely the means to an end.

             For so many of us at Santa Clara, high school extracurricular activity revolved around community service.  "Being a man for others" was one of the values that drew us to this campus, and SCU has certainly delivered on that expectation. In my time here, I've found a multitude of volunteering opportunities to disrupt the daily cycle of college, and each one teaches me something new, introduces me to different people, and makes my day better. Anyone who has had an experience helping the less fortunate knows that, at its core, service is joyful and sustaining. But while I used to think service was all I needed to spiritually navigate an unjust world, I have been proven wrong again and again. The happy bubble surrounding me, formed by a few hours sorting food or teaching ESL, lasted less and less time before being popped by the outside world.

            I would ride my bike into San Jose, through St. James' Park, and see all the people living on benches and in grocery carts. I would pedal beneath the overpass near the Guadalupe River and watch desperate faces flashing past. I was an outsider. Not a man for others but a man from elsewhere.

            Last Friday, I got the chance to hear Father Greg Boyle speak at a convention in Santa Clara. For those who don't know, Fr. Greg is a Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles based non-profit that helps gang members get off the streets and into the work force. His best-seller, Tattoos on the Heart, demonstrates first-hand the power of compassionate service. But service, he said on Friday, is not the end goal, only the means to an end. Fr. Greg's message was about community and kinship.

                 “Kinship," he writes, "not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not 'a man for others;' he was one with them. There is a world of difference in that.” In his talk, Fr. Greg emphasized that we serve not simply to help those who need it, not simply to achieve peace with ourselves, but in hopes that our service can erase the lines between us and them.

            His words struck a chord. My volunteering had begun to feel one-dimensional because I had not taken it to the next level. God calls us to serve, but also to move past the mindset of a helper. The challenge, posed by a Jesuit, is to transcend our Jesuit philosophy of being a man for others. To broaden our sense of community at Santa Clara to include those desperate faces that flash past from a bicycle.