Sunday, March 1, 2015

Second Sunday of Lent Reflection - Forty Days with the Four Pillars

"This is my beloved Son. Listen to him."
Mark 9-2-10

By Julie McElmurry, Director of Franciscan Passages and Former Jesuit Volunteer

Jesus invites Peter, James and John to witness something so indescribable that words fail them and words fail even the Gospel writer himself.  Of the Transfiguration, the writer can only tell us that Jesus’ clothes became the brightest white imaginable. In the shock of seeing Moses and Elijah there with Jesus, our three astonished heroes could only think of offering housing to them. On top of all of this excitement, the actual voice of God booms onto the scene, telling our guys to listen to Jesus. Peter “hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.”

An encounter with God dumbfounds us too. We scramble to make sense of what just happened and then we scramble to articulate it for ourselves. At times, we try to articulate it to others, at other times we are too afraid to talk about such deep things. Words are inadequate since they are merely symbols, pointing beyond themselves to a greater reality. Words can never fully capture that feeling, that vision, that moment when, in my heart and mind, I know God just saved me, comforted me, or guided me.  My descriptions will not sufficiently paint the whole 3-D picture of such an encounter, but I’m obligated to try to share it anyhow.

Focus on the Four Pillars:

 

Spirituality: Ask God to dumbfound you this week. Be open to what comes next.

Social Justice: A rough-looking guy came up to her truck as we sat waiting. When asked, my boss from the homeless shelter gave him a few dollars out of her purse. “How can you do that, knowing what you know?” I asked, to which she responded “How can you sit there and not do that, knowing what you know?” During a lull tomorrow, ask your boss to explain their perspective on something you disagree on. Listen and consider what she has to say.

Simple Living: They thought I was nuts. I didn’t know how to describe this “year of service” concept to my co-workers at the homeless shelter. Do your colleagues understand it? Do they ask you about it? Choose a co-worker and sit down with them, recounting in a simple way, the journey from deciding to apply to accepting the offer which brought you here today.

Community: In his terror, at least Peter managed to come up with an offer of hospitality (providing a tent) for Moses, Elijah and Jesus.  On Facebook today, tell the story of a time you made a feeble yet sincere offer to others in response to an astonishing incident. Ask others to share their stories.

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This reflection is a part of our Lenten series - download the entire reflection guide here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sheild of Privilege

By Matt Whalen
Current volunteer with Cap Corps Midwest

Protest march in Washington, DC, December 13, 2014

From 4-6pm at the Maria Kaupas Center (MKC), my ministry site for Cap Corps, there are on average 60 kids ages 9-18 inside the center at once. As we can all imagine, some days there seems to be complete chaos and others days there is relative calm. On most days though there is a mixture of both. A little bit of singing, dancing, arguing, studying, breaking tables (on accident of course), and just being, all happen in this two our window. In this “just being” phase of the day is when I get to know the teens better, in particular the older guys.

One day though, after reflection ended and we were all making our way out of the chapel, I noticed three guys that stayed back and gathered in a pew. While this is not a rare occasion, this time I felt the need to go over to them and just check to see how their days were going. After a few minutes of casual talk, one of the guys told me he saw me walking around the neighborhood on the weekend and was surprised to see me around outside of school hours. He then continued to ask where I shopped for clothes, because according to him “my style doesn’t match the stores around here.” We both laughed and I told him I mainly shop at thrift stores.

This little spark of interest led a handful of others guys, about 5, to come into the chapel, which led to a two hour conversation. In the conversation I shared more about why I was volunteering, that I live in their neighborhood, and other parts of my life. All the guys graciously shared much about their past and I am grateful they did. They were surprised that I don’t get paid, that I walk home, and that out of the whole country I chose to live in Southside Chicago when all they want to do is leave it. They shared with me the realities of living in Southside and the daily struggles they face. Some of them even opened up about things I could not imagine going through.

Matt and youth at Maria Kaupas Center
Toward the end of our conversation, the same guy who called out my wardrobe choice said this: “Life is hard out here Matt. But no matter how long you live here you will never experience it because you have a shield on and it’s called being white.”

With the recent Eric Garner and Mike Brown incidents and protests, we as a center have openly discussed race relations and the teens have been so open in sharing their feelings. The guy who told me “life is hard” is one of the most vocal and his statement could not be truer. What I have realized more than anything else in the past few months at MKC and in Cap Corps is that I wear this “shield of privilege” that protects from the realities people of color face. This shield of privilege is something that I cannot take off because it is engrained in my skin tone and in the middle class suburban upbringing I had. When I tell people I live in Southside Chicago, most people cringe and apologize that my safety is at risk.

Quite the opposite though, I am probably one of the safest in my neighborhood. For example, I can walk through different gang territory and am never mistaken as a part of the other gang. When I walk into a store or church, the clerk or clergy does not follow me around. I don’t have to worry about looking suspicious if I wear my hoodie up and even where I lived is surrounded by an iron gate. This shield of privilege has layers upon layers and not matter how hard I try to strip down to the core, there will always be another layer that either protects me or propels me into the stream of easy living.

It is complex and institutional, stereotypical, and exclusive. I can do things to help dirty the shield, like protest, live in the neighborhood I work in, give up some of the non-essentials, but my past already gives me a one up. I have a college education and I actively chose not to make money this year! Plus, I would be lying if I say the privilege I have is not beneficial, I just wish it wasn’t for a select few.

Protest march in Washington, DC, December 13, 2014
So as the year continues, the best thing I can do is recognize that this shield is always with me. From there I can start using it to protect people of colors’ rights, maybe swing the shield to the left to be exposed for a while, or a least get it dirty through activism, expanding my perspective, inviting more diverse people into my life, and having more conversations with the kids I work with. For people of privilege, the first step is to recognize our privilege. Not to try to hide from it and say history is behind us and everything is hunky-dory, as we can see in Ferguson, New York, Sanford, the education system, and so on. What I can do is be a voice, an educator and more importantly a learner of my privilege and fight for equal rights of all my brothers and sisters through firm resilient love.

See the original post here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Sunday of Lent Reflection - Forty Days with the Four Pillars


“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.”
Mark 1:12-15
By Jim Lindsay, Catholic Volunteer Network Staff


Have you ever experienced times in the wilderness --- you know, those occasions when we are in the desert --- feeling lost?  Those times can be great opportunities to find out more about ourselves, about God’s plan for us and about what is most important in our lives.

In today’s gospel, we venture into the wilderness with Jesus. Times in the wilderness can be challenging.  The questions we might ask are these:  How do we deal with these challenges?  Are these challenges the same as temptations?  What is the difference between temptations and the challenges they cause?

Temptation is a very real part of life and is especially challenging in our times in the wilderness.  We are down, disheartened, afraid, and isolated.  But every temptation we encounter brings with it a consequent challenge.  Meeting those trials head on is how we rise above the inducement to sin.

Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted.  Jesus knows what it is like to be challenged.  Jesus knows what it is like to be in the wilderness.  And it was in this wasteland, following his Baptism, that Jesus struggled, mourned, questioned and endured great temptations.  

Jesus teaches us that we encounter the challenges of the wilderness by meeting God daily.  Jesus was prepared to meet the challenges in the wilderness because he was in contact every one of those forty days with God.  This is how Jesus knew God’s will for his life.  It is also the way we learn God’s will for OUR lives.

Focus on the Four Pillars:

Spirituality: The wilderness is the place of devastation and danger, of being tempted off one's path and also of meeting God. Jesus finds God's path for him in the wilderness. Prayer is a wilderness time. It can be perilous for it brings us in touch with the evil as well as with the good in ourselves. With practice, it makes known to us the peace of God in Christ - the harmony that can be found in the desert. It is also the place of recommitment to God and of finding the strength that God offers us.

Reflection: What spirit motivates me in the things I do? Is my heart a home for the Spirit? Could the Holy Spirit be inviting me to take more quiet space? In the scriptures, the ‘wilderness’ is a place of disclosure and of intimacy with God. I need to put secondary things aside to meet God. God is found in emptiness as well as in fullness.

Social Justice: As Lent begins, I might promise God that I will be faithful to the quiet space and time that sacred space offers me. I want the reign of God to come near me. I want to believe more deeply in the good news and to seek to bring about God’s justice on the earth.

Reflection: What difference do I make to other people’s lives? What do I do, within my limitations, to help remove the abuses which are part of our society?  These are just some of the questions I can ask myself during these six weeks.

Simple Living: In our wilderness times we are seduced to listen to the voices that lead us away from God. These voices tell us that the good in our lives is represented by money, power, security, and fame. All of these can be good things.  But good things turn evil when we become persuaded that we don’t need God in our lives.  We get confused about what is truly meaningful in our lives and what gives our lives genuine purpose.  The challenge in all of this is to live our lives knowing that God will provide everything we need.

Reflection: As I enter this Lenten journey, I will examine the areas of temptations, misdirected desires and loyalties in my life. “Repent and believe” involves a process of re-focusing on what is really of value in my life.

Community: Only God could be so human as to withstand temptation. Mark’s Gospel depicts Jesus as divine but also deeply human. He enters the wilderness for one reason only: to find God, to seek God and to belong to him completely. Only then does he go to Galilee and proclaim good news to others.

Reflection: What type of person am I in relation to my family, friends, work colleagues and other people with whom I come in contact? How involved am I as a member of my Christian community, e.g., my parish?



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This reflection is part of our Lenten Series - download the entire reflection guide here.