The message of Jesus’ three years of ministry was certainly one of justice and service. It is said that 1 in 10 lines in the New Testament is about service to others, and 1 in 6 in Luke’s Gospel.

A friend of mine always sums up the mission of the Church as, “We become what we receive, and our response is to wash feet.” We receive Jesus physically in the Eucharist, we receive Jesus spiritually through the community, and our natural response is to serve others. How else can we respond to such an amazing gift of love?

The ministry of Justice and Service is therefore a key component of what we need to instill into the hearts and minds of young people. It is through serving others that many young people have their first encounter with Christ. What often begins as a selfish approach (“I feel good for helping the poor”) can be molded into a greater Feet of Changeunderstanding of the message of Christ and the need for the Church.

The “Two Feet of Service” are often referred to in describing the difference between Social Justice (social change), and Charity (direct service). Both elements of service are necessary if we are to have an immediate and a lasting effect on those whom we serve. Youth Ministry programs should provide a balance between performing acts of charity, and working to bring about social change.

As with many things in our Catholic faith, we need to take care to place the proper emphasis on a specific teaching. I notice an overemphasis on the theme of Social Justice by many youth organizations within the Church that place a lesser emphasis on discovering Christ in prayer or in the sacraments. If we are not teaching young people to root their service in prayer, then we are missing the point -- and so are they! Our goal is not to transform young people into social workers…our goal is to teach young people that they can serve Christ by serving those in need.