Reflections on SERVE 2010
Sunday, January 16, 2011 by Ruth McDonnell

By: Sylvia Panczyk

Redeemer House and Our Place Community of Hope were the settings of growth for this self-proclaimed jittery cry-baby. During SERVE I experienced community, prayer, and service in the most wonderful way, although it brought with it many tears, fears, doubts and uncertainties. Living in community for three weeks and praying together every morning, afternoon and evening was an extremely moving time for someone like me who had felt they had become “rusty and lazy” in their prayer life and certainly had an introverted faith. When we met as a group for prayer or mass there was rarely a time when tears did not well up in my eyes. I had never before experienced that sort of companionship and unity in prayer, especially not among young people.

Volunteering with people with mental health issues at Our Place was a step into the unknown for me. In the mornings, my fellow Servite Shawn and I were to help do activities with high school students on retreat and lead them on walks through downtown Toronto. This was to share with them how our preconceptions as a society categorize and label the poor and people with mental health issues. We were to help them talk with people they might usually avoid and strengthen a sense of common dignity for all. With my lack of personal experience in this area I should have been among the students. Terrified of public speaking and wary of the dangers of downtown for those who cannot “read the signs” of street culture, I did not feel prepared for this kind of volunteering position. Father Santo and Sarah had said that the Holy Spirit had chosen our apostolates for us. On our first day I truly resented that decision as my fears of inadequacy overtook me and I broke down emotionally. Somehow Father Santo and Sarah calmed me down and convinced me that I should take the risk of volunteering at Our Place for a couple of days. I cannot begin to share how grateful I am of their concern, their gentle push for me to leave my comfort zone and the safety and acceptance expressed by my fellow Servites.

Life at Redeemer House and our apostolates inspired us to become instruments of God. With the words of St. Teresa of Avila in our minds, we were to realize that “Christ has no body now on earth” but ours. We were to become like “Beloved Bamboo” and respond to God’s call with “Master, I am ready, use me as you would”. As Barry from Our Place often said, we had to “let go, and let God”. By volunteering at Our Place I overcame many of my fears. With the help of the Holy Spirit I also became more self-aware. My tears and sensitivity were not the signs of fragility I had thought they were but instead a pull towards compassion and gentleness. SERVE opened me up from within and from without and faith was no longer a solitary experience. Just being present, having dialogue and creating relationships with the people I met had been enough to be of service. Working at the apostolate was meant to help others; in fact, the people I met through Our Place touched, helped, and changed me. The most heartfelt encouragement of my life I received from those I had considered to be less fortunate and the ones in need of luck. Time spent at SERVE in community, prayer, and service emboldened me and invigorated my faith. I have been very blessed.