A Willing Heart: How to Serve When You Think You Can't
Marci Alborghetti herself seems to have plunged into a full realm of Christian service, including serving meals and leading a book discussion group at a church-sponsored homeless shelter, and visiting and advocating for prisoners. Her passionate activity lends an air of authority to her writing. And yet her stated and obvious purpose is not to drag readers into service that is full-steam ahead, but to encourage or maybe exhort us to take small steps in the direction of ministry among the marginalized, either in our own neighborhoods or worldwide --- ministry that acknowledges a person's humanity and addresses personal temporal and spiritual needs.
She repeatedly nudges readers toward the stance that doing something is better than doing nothing. And she similarly says that prayer is foundational to service. "Service starts with prayer, particularly when we are uncertain about how --- or whether --- to take action. By praying, we prepare ourselves for the journey ahead. We accept that first sliver of grace. Sincere prayer doesn't take the place of action; it nourishes us for action."
Alborghetti's anecdotes, many of them written in the first person, lighten the prose. In the first chapter, she describes the scenario of a thief breaking into her third-floor apartment, mysteriously through a window. (Was Spiderman the thief? she muses.) She describes this as a transformational "wake-up call" to action. She didn't move out of the questionable neighborhood. She began praying for the thief, even when she saw a young woman on the street wearing a necklace she recognized as hers. And she gave "a portion of the insurance payment" to my "church programs assisting the poor." It was a small but significant beginning that led her on a journey of ministry among the poor that she'd "never have had the courage to deliberately choose."
Subsequent chapters deal with teaching children the importance of generosity (charitable giving) and community service; with paying attention to and choosing venues of service, including intentional kindnesses; with opening oneself to fiscal generosity; with seeking out personal mentors and parish-wide models for action; with serving in a nonjudgmental mode; with persevering through discouragements and bureaucratic dysfunctions; with accepting grace for the journey. Most chapters include biblical reflection and a brief sketch of a saint, biblical or more recent, whose life story and ministry illustrate the text. Chapters end with a psalm selection, an insightful prayer, questions for reflection or discussion, and "service suggestions."
Alborghetti's Catholic faith is evident in her language, her examples, and her discussion of local parish ministries. But her message is by no means parochial; it is applicable to a much broader readership, as exemplified by a short, warm afterword by Senator Joseph Lieberman, who adds a Jewish reflection on service.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on May 12, 2011