Chris Chan attended St. Aloysius College in Sydney, graduating in 2009. He is about to start his third year of a Bachelor of Medical Science degree at Sydney University. He works as a swim instructor, as well as a counsellor at a kid's holiday camp, and he has a keen interest in swimming. He is a volunteer on the St Vincent de Paul Society’s ‘Night Patrol’ feeding program for the homeless on the streets of Sydney. While at St Aloysius College he participated in the Philippines Immersion Program and has since been back to the Philippines to do volunteer work.
Chris’ question: What advice would you give to a young person trying to discern their career or occupational path, who has an interest in serving the poor, but does not necessarily want to dedicate their entire life to this service?
This is a very good question, and I guess it's quite common. Many people who want to do something meaningful with the poor are called to them, and yet they don't see themselves as involved for life in this kind of service.
I would say I don't think I have an answer to these people, a definite answer, but I would say let the Spirit guide you. Let the Spirit guide you, and do not anticipate too much.
I told myself when I was elected General – and General is for life in the Society - I said, ‘Let's live it one day at a time’. And it works. So one day at a time is always possible.
In the early Church the poor were called the vicars of Christ. Before they called the Pope Vicar of Christ they called the poor Vicars of Christ, and the Pope was Vicar of Peter. The poor are always there for us, inviting us.
If we come in touch with the poor we should come in touch deeply. Make friends with them, not use them for our own growth, or not use them for our own - let's say - moral sense of, say, ‘I'm doing something,’ but truly make friends with them. Enter into their lives, give them the dignity of feeling that they are lovable and they are worth all the attention that we give them, and then decide in the middle of that. Because making friends with the poor changes very much our relationship, and that gives us new elements for the sermon.
Ask, how is the Spirit guiding you? And the key question would be, what is it that touches your heart? Because where you feel that your heart has been touched there is an invitation to do something about it.
I think if we go to the poor because we have to go, if I were poor I would not be very happy. But if we go to the poor because we have made friends and there is something in my heart that leads me there then I have the energy and I have the joy and I have the spirit to communicate with them. I would say it is a question of allowing yourself to be led by the Spirit. This is one aspect.
The other aspect, I would say if you have a real concern for the poor but you have a professional career, make sure that your profession is open to the poor. So find space, room, emotional and professional, so that the poor are part of your work. Then it's not just one time a week where you go and volunteer because otherwise you feel less, but it's your whole orientation that includes the poor, therefore you are doing something for society where the poor need attention.
I know people - psychologists, lawyers - who have a percentage of their clients who are poor, whom they will serve pro bono, without charging, or others who charge only according to the capability of the person. They always charge something because that helps to appreciate the service being done. If it's totally gratis people think that there's no value. But they adapt it to the capability of the other person.There are many ways to include the poor among the beneficiaries of your professional service, and find different initiatives.
Even among Jesuits, there is a tendency to divide ministries into sectors. It makes sense but it's not totally adequate, and now we are discovering that there are areas of our mission that are dimensions of us, that no matter what we do they have to be there. Service of the poor is one of them, or promotion of justice, or the service of faith, defending of faith, or cooperation with others. These are dimensions that no matter where we are, no matter what we do, we have to incorporate.
So if we think like this, that the poor are not just one section of society that I can look at or avoid looking, but that they are part of my society, and if I want to serve this society I have to include that, otherwise our society will not be a healthy society, if this is the perspective with which we incorporate our service of the poor then many things can be done, and the profession itself gets a new colour. This time we can paint it red.
Fr General fielded questions from six people at his address on 25 January. In this edition of Province Express, we feature the first three questions. The other three questions will be featured in the next edition.