MISSION MATTERS: Making "Make A Difference Day" Make a Real Difference
by Fr. Paul Stark, S.J.
Vice president for Mission and Ministry
A couple of weeks ago, some 3,000 students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and friends of Saint Louis University, joined "millions of Americans united in a common mission to improve the lives of others" for the annual Make a Difference Day. These thousands of people donated thousands of hours of digging, painting, raking, cleaning and general labor on that day, all to "make a difference" in the lives of people around us. This is a noble mission and one of which we as the Saint Louis University community can--and should--be proud.
Our mission, though, inspired for us by St. Ignatius, challenges and invites us to go beyond the "warm and fuzzy" feelings these efforts give us. We can use these opportunities as first steps, or as further steps, expanding what we individually, or collectively, already do. We can use Make a Difference Day as our entrance into additional opportunities to volunteer, as opportunities to work in service for justice. We are called to learn from our experiences of that day. We are called to reflect on how we can use the lessons of the day to change our world, and our own lives. We are called to step beyond the wonderful feelings of accomplishment to meet the other we are trying to serve. We are called to meet the other.
Our SLU mission, invites us--no, obliges us--to encounter the complexities and messiness of human life, face to face--what Fr. Kolvenbach, former Superior General of the Society of Jesus, called the gritty reality of our globalizing world. We cannot approach real life and our real experiences in the superficial ways with which our contemporary present culture seems content. "Reality TV" isn't. We need to ask the hard questions of ourselves and the world around us, all of which, as we develop and integrate the answers, will change our way of seeing others--each other, the other, all others.
Ignatius tells us, in his words and his deeds, that God wants us to Make a Difference every day. Our mission is not to talk about theories and concepts, or to just serve others from time to time, but to enter into contact with real people, to operate from the service of faith and the promotion of justice.
He calls each of us to transform the culture around us, and for each of us to be transformed, slowly and substantially, by our experiences, and the lessons we learn in those encounters with others, into people who have seen God in the face of others.