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Franciscan Friday: Service through Faith: the Ultimate Act of Hope

    To honor National Volunteer Month and highlight the service component of the Nonprofit Leadership Program, the next several Fridays will feature reflections from program associates about their experiences with weekly direct service. 

    In today’s post, communications associate Michael Carlson writes about his weekly service experience as a Reading Partner at DC Prep Elementary, a grade school in the neighborhood of Edgewood in Washington, D.C.
    Service through faith is the ultimate act of hope. Every Wednesday afternoon, I participate in the Reading Partner program at DC Prep Elementary school, helping first graders develop literacy and reading comprehension skills. After several years as a high school classroom teacher, it is edifying to work with younger students who are less cynical and existentially questioning than adolescents.

    Don’t get me wrong; engaging teenagers’ natural angst is a great starting point to teach my favorite subjects: literature and religion. However, one student I currently tutor every week (whom I’ll call Charles) is such a positive and enthusiastic young man that it is very easy to find beauty in service. It is quite humbling, actually, for me to see how easily Charles receives guidance, instruction, and correction. 

    I thought about Charles during the Triduum. I always enjoy the Holy Thursday Mass when the priest assumes the role of servant and washes the feet of others. Every year, however, I recall a powerful Holy Thursday service I attended a long time ago at a large Norbertine abbey when the Norbertine priests and lay women and men literally washed everyone’s feet. Hundreds of people received this humbling service. 
    Washing of Feet on Holy Thursday in Wrexham, England (photograph by Brian Roberts)
    I’d never had my feet washed during a Holy Thursday service before, and the smile on the face of the priest who washed my feet was very moving for a couple of reasons.

    One reason was that at the time I worked in a high school where I rarely smiled in the classroom out of a desire to maintain a semblance of authority and classroom management. I missed smiling. Another reason was because I was very uncomfortable letting my feet be washed, but his smile helped me realize that I had not been open to receiving the gifts of service, not open to receiving the grace and joy of serving others for no reason (especially since I was a Lasallian Volunteer at the time) except a desire to live my faith. My strict controlling demand that my students adhere to classroom rules had overtaken the need to be present to my students.

    I had received Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist every Sunday, but I hadn’t received my students’ presence the rest of the week. By recognizing those faults, I was able to see the gifts and joys that awaited me. It was truly a “happy fault” that brought me closer to the redemption Jesus offers. It brought me closer to Easter.

    Because of that experience, I am more open to sharing the simple joy Charles offers me every week during my time as an associate in the Nonprofit Leadership Program. I am more open to thanksgiving for the privilege of service. I am more open to hope.    

    Michael Carlson serves Franciscan Mission Service as a communications associate in the Nonprofit Leadership Program.

    Michael Carlson hails from Illinois. A graduate of Loyola University Chicago, he has been a Lasallian Volunteer, high school English teacher, and a Jesuit novice. He served as a Communications Associate at FMS from 2013 to 2014 and is currently a master’s candidate in religion and literature at Yale Divinity School.