A little over a month ago, the pastor of St. Gertrude Parish in Madeira announced that “required” community service hours would no longer be imposed on students preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation.  He explained:

As Catholics there is nothing we can do to obtain grace.  Grace is a free gift given to us by Almighty God.  God is always willing to shower his love and grace upon all who ask for it.  All we can do is pray and learn about the teachings of the Church, and beg God to bestow his grace upon us.  I bring this to your attention because I read bulletin notices making reference to getting “service hours” through various volunteer opportunities.  Although we certainly want our young people to respond to works of charity, we will no longer speak about a certain amount of hours of service as a “requirement” for the reception of Confirmation.

This is exactly the right thing to do for both theological and practical reasons.  When “community service” is required, it inevitably becomes a burden, a rote task, another item on our endless checklist of “things to do,” instead of the act of love it should be.  This is the case even when the motives of those requiring the “community service” are good.  My own experience–with both required “community service hours” and real acts of service–has shown this to be true time and again.

A better approach is to teach young Catholics solid doctrine, to explain the dignity of the human person, and to explain that true charity can be expressed in a variety of forms.  This approach is far more likely to encourage young Catholics to act charitably–whether through years of devoted, selfless care for children or for sick family members, through financial support of deserving charitable organizations, or, yes, even through acts of “community service”–than imposing an arbitrary numerical requirement.

In other words, there is a reason that Christ and his Church call us to works of charity, not to the mere accumulation of “service hours.”