by Jack Gonsalves, ISP Orange County Coordinator
I became a volunteer with ISP about seven years ago. I was a little intimidated by the whole idea, but inside the Lord had been inviting me for years to get to know those who are or have been homeless.
Many years ago, I was asked by my daughter to join her in the service work she was doing through her high school. I soon found myself driving a mobile soup kitchen for the Missionaries of Charity. We would bring hot meals to those living under the bridges in Los Angeles. In the beginning I felt nervous about assisting with the dishing out of the hot soup to the men and women on the streets. I felt very vulnerable and didn’t know what to expect. I was a little afraid. In time, I became more familiar with the people I encountered. I had conversations with them and heard their stories, how they got there on the street and how hard it is to get off the street.
On one occasion a man on the street, thinking I was a doctor, told me he had a rash that needed some attention. I told him I wasn’t a doctor, but would try to gather some things up that might be helpful. I came back to the place later that day with some supplies I thought might help. Whether or not they were of any help at all, I’ll never know. But, I will never forget the sincere gratitude he expressed to me that day. His eyes were full of gratitude and love for what I had done for him. I felt it in my heart and it moved me deeply with a compassion I had never felt before. I encountered Christ in this man and my heart melted. Heart spoke to heart and I found that whatever fear I had felt before had melted away and became love and compassion. The memory of this experience and many others would remain with me always.
Many years passed before I would begin to volunteer with ISP. Again, I didn’t know what to expect. This time it was to accompany those in recovery by sharing with them Ignatian spirituality, a way of helping them grow in their relationship with God, as they know God, not to convert them. What I didn’t expect was to find the retreats healing and liberating for me.
As a volunteer with ISP over the past several years I have discovered that sharing our stories helps us face our fears, find that we are not alone and that our stories often converge with one another. This place of convergence is a place where God opens us to communion with God’s self and each other, and the fruit of this encounter is healing, love, tenderness, compassion, acceptance, hopefulness and kinship.
We start off our retreats as strangers and by the end of our retreats we know things about ourselves and each other that many of our family members and closest friends may be unaware. Something sacred has happened. A hopefulness has blossomed. And, where we entered the retreat with some trepidation and fear we left in peace and in a better place than when we had first arrived. ISP has been a blessing to me in my life, as have the volunteers and brothers and sisters I have met on retreats and in facilitating soul care. They have changed me and deepened God’s life in me by their stories, their honesty and goodness, and their love. For this I will always be grateful.
For further reflection:
-When has fear kept me from reaching out to another? When have I been moved by love to connect, heart to heart?
-Is there a story on my heart I’d like to share with a loved one this Christmas?