Six months after my year with Christ the King Service Corps was completed, I met two of my former housemates at a parlor in downtown Detroit and got my first tattoo. Beneath a road map and skyline of Detroit, the artist inked into my skin the core values of our community: Faith, Service, and Simplicity. We walked over to Lafayette’s Coney Island when we were finished, full of adrenaline and hungry for some chili dogs, when we passed a man lying face down on the sidewalk. It was late evening and March in Michigan, so very cold.
“Sir?” I asked him, “Excuse me, are you OK?”
The man didn’t respond or even move. He wore layers of clothing and from my view he appeared to be homeless. My community mates and I wondered what to do. Was he hurt? Was he dead? Asleep? A small pack of young men were walking towards us on the sidewalk, likely headed to a nearby bar scene and saw us hunched over and cautiously trying to check this man.
“Don’t worry about that drunk,” they laughed at us, inviting us to join them instead. When we ignored their calls and crouched lower to the man on the ground, one of the passersby came up and nudged the sleeper with his foot, finally eliciting a response proving that the man was still alive. The crowd of friends continued on laughing to their night of revelry. After a few words and grunts and curses, the man communicated that he’d like us to leave him alone, and we, too, walked away into the cold night.
As we walked away I felt keenly aware of how the whole situation called into challenge the words I had just paid to have permanently etched on my skin.
Simplicity reminds us to value people over things, relationships over ownership. The guilt that comes with every meal out or new purchase (or new tattoo) is a recognition that my own excess is a privilege in a world of deadly inequality.
Service asks not only for our resources and a sacrifice of wealth but for our time, our hands, and our hearts. There is a removal of the “otherness” of the sick, the poor, and the uneducated when we get to know them by name and recognize a shared humanity.
Faith roots it all in place, since it informs us that all that we share is from God who makes all things new. The choice to partake in a volunteer year or a life of service is counter-cultural just as Christ was. Faith gives us strength to persevere, grace to love others, and hope that change will come.
Now several years have passed since I moved out of Christ the King Service Corps and I am grateful for the continued friendship of my 5 housemates from that year of my life. Our community no longer lives under one roof, and we have grown in number as new friends and significant others join our journey. Among my larger community of service corps alumni and lovers of service I have friends who work daily in service to the homeless, who teach in Detroit’s infamous public schools, people who visit seniors in their homes and who organize for better transit and tenant rights. I hope that the next time I encounter a person alone in the street in need, I’ll do more than make sure he is alive, and even more I am determined that my own actions and inaction will not contribute to the systems which allow poverty to flourish and create inequality.
There are more comfortable ways to live than in faith, service, and simplicity. It can be frightening to encounter people living in poverty or in need, and it is humbling to accept that there are limits to the change we can enact. It is in shedding our egos and our barriers and in encounter with each other, though, that we find ourselves and experience the joy which is so characteristic of Catholic Volunteer Network programs. We laugh and celebrate and grow in love in defiance of what marketing and advertising tell us. As Pope Emeritus Benedict reminds us, “the world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”
To learn more about service opportunities through Christ the King Service Corps, please click here.