MISSION MATTERS: Who Are The Others We Serve?
By Paul Stark S.J.
Vice President of Mission and Ministry
In nearly every Jesuit institution, in this country and across the world, we often hear that we are, or we are becoming, men and women for others. Seldom, if ever, though, are those others specifically named, or ever really identified, or ever really understood.
When we think of serving this often nameless other, we are drawn to those experiences when perhaps we travelled some distance physically and mentally to find them, often far from our sense of here and now, away from our immediate experience--physically and psychologically. In our experience, those elusive others are often outside our normal lives, outside the ordinary paths we take; they are at a comfortable distance from our world, really, so we can visit them, and then safely retreat, then, perhaps, but we do not necessarily have to live with them, to accompany them in their lives, to find any solidarity with their experience.
Maybe this is not the true meaning of other... maybe the true ideal of serving others, or the service of humanity, really calls us to look at ourselves and each other and our worlds from a more challenging point of view and attitude. Maybe we are called to see the other in those around us in our daily lives, next to us, near us, our family members, our co-workers, in class, on the road. Maybe, more challenging, they are around us all the time and we must serve them. Sometimes, maybe, we are our own others, the good parts of us we try to enhance, the not-so-good aspects we work hard to improve--the wise and the other-wise parts of each of us.
The Bible, and all other sacred texts, tells us that the others are not just those at a comfortable distance from us, but, in fact, they are the least among us, the people with whom we regularly live, and work, and interact. They are other students having hard times and needing someone to talk to; the co-worker who needs a little--or a lot--of our time. They are the people on the other side of our counter or desk who come at an inconvenient time, with a problem that will call us to give some--or a lot--of our time and effort. They are members of our families, or our group of friends, who need some attention from us when we have had not the best of days. The others can have the faces we see each day, all part of our real, daily, here-and-now lives.
Jesus tells us and his disciples, in many ways, in word and in deed, that we are to serve the other; not just the others at a distance, but, maybe even more, the others who may be easy to name, and difficult to deal with, the others whose faces we already see and know, the others we see every day.
Ignatius calls us to seek God in all things, and all people. So we know, then, that the service of others is not something we do far away, or just for special events, but the real way we're called to live our lives, every day, in communion with every person around us. We can work to see all things in God, in all things.