Michael Carlson

Site: Christian Brothers Spiritual Center – Philadelphia, PA

College: Loyola University Chicago

What do you do?

I work at Christian Brothers Spiritual Center, a ministry for young adults in their twenties and thirties. We create, promote, and host programs that enrich the spiritual lives of those who attend. Our offerings include speaker presentations, reflective prayer sessions and volunteer opportunities. Thursday afternoons I volunteer in a dementia/adult day care ward and on Fridays I teach RCIA classes at West Catholic High School.

What have you discovered about poverty from your work?

It may seem as though I have no right to talk about working with the disenfranchised when so many of my fellow volunteers are spending their lives with the impoverished in the truest tradition of the Christian Brothers. And I admit that I was skeptical of the Spiritual Center’s claim to serve “spiritual poverty.” But I discovered one of Mother Teresa’s convictions: “Loneliness is the most terrible poverty.” This truth moved me to have faith in my work. My work is anti-empirical in many ways and it has often been frustrating to see so few results. But those who come here desire inner-peace, which seems to mean different things to different people, and we try to make a place where they can look for it. I believe that each person needs a reason to exist and that we are all truly walking side by side along our lifetime path to give each other such a reason. Poverty is undoubtedly multi-faceted and recognizing the extent of those facets is perhaps a defining characteristic of our humanity. But I also believe, as the other LVs clearly do, that all forms of poverty are surmountable.

How has your involvement with the Brothers affected you?

I had never heard of the Christian Brothers before I looked into the program and definitely could not understand why someone would choose a religious life without becoming a priest. But the Brothers have taught me the importance of serving others as brother and not father. Br. Bud and Br. Leo continue to teach me simply by living and being themselves. I am affected by their interest and optimism, and I am indelibly impressed with their faith. In some ways, their deep love of God seems blissfully childlike though certainly not childish. At the same time, however, they continue to mature in their faith in God to better serve others. The Brothers I have met during my time as an LV are of course as human and faulted as anyone else. However, they have dedicated and continue to dedicate themselves to pursuing goodness in themselves and all others and I see such dedication as the foundation of all truly great faith.

If you could project ahead a few years and look back to now, how do you think your experiences with those you serve and with the Brothers will have changed you?

I know that I will continue to think on the experience of community and how it brought out the best in us. It is a humbling gift to live in community with such talented and caring men and women. I must say, though, that it is very doubtful that I would have been friends with any of them had I not become a Volunteer. Six unique cultural backgrounds, sensibilities, senses of humor and faiths, we are disparate in so many ways. Yet knowing and living with my community members will change me the most because we thrive not despite our differences, but because of them. Ultimately, those differences are subsumed by our shared journey to service through faith. Because of Bud, I’ll know how important it is to be at home with myself, and Leo’s trenchant faith will always inspire me to hope. I will look back and be encouraged by Mari’s dedication and ingenuity, Denis’ honest unpretentiousness, and Thais’ buoyant cheerfulness; they are well-respected, professionally successful, and ever-considerate. I will look back on these community members as a template for treating everyone, regardless of superficial differences, as brother and sister.

What would you say to a friend from home who questioned why you chose to live with the Brothers?

Living in a house full of strangers with little money and a challenging job may not immediately appeal to college graduates. But working for those in great need and living intentionally in a community that cares for you is an inimitable life-changing experience. Life is too short to not recognize yourself and the needs in our world.

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