Monday, May 21, 2018

“Compartir”: The Mission of the Church

By Magdalene Van Roekel, Franciscan Mission Service

“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
Frequently in the bible, we read that we are all members of one body, making up the church in our world. We must work as one body, sharing as one large group, the church. Although I’ve heard and read this teaching several times, for most of my life I still saw the church as a building. Sadly, this imagery left me with gaps in my understanding which impacted my spiritual life.
In Spanish, the word “compartir” means “to share.” One of the biggest impacts that mission and life in Bolivia has had on my spiritual life is the “compartir” culture. Not only do people share with their friends and the people they know well, but they share with everyone.
I am currently serving as an overseas lay missioner at the Universidad Academica Campesina-Carmen Pampa (UAC). So far in my time here in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia, I have witnessed everyday acts of sharing. People don’t always have much, but they are always happy to share what they do have. On campus, students have shared their snacks with me. A student invited me to his home to share about Bolivian culture with me. Whenever students attend events and are asked why they chose to come, the resounding answer is simple: “compartir.” Their desire is to share.

I learned a great lesson on what it means to share while on a recent trip to a local town with a group of students in Pastoral, the campus ministry group at the UAC. It was a day full of activities to get to know one another: we played games, shared in music, celebrated mass, and ate wonderful food. I had a great time and really got to know some of the students better. I was amazed by the way that everyone shared their time and energy, even when it would have been easier to let someone else take charge.
Because I was so amazed by all of the sharing, I was caught off-guard by a conversation that occurred a few days later at our Pastoral group meeting. The group leader asked each person to share a reflection about the trip.The first student to speak shared that she thought the trip had been “mas o menos”, “more or less.” I was a bit confused. As we continued around the circle, many people voiced similar thoughts. I was shocked that the trip I thought was so beautiful had left others feeling disappointed.
Then someone started to go deeper: the reason many people had felt a little discouraged was because during most of the trip, people had been in separate groups—one group working on the cooking, one group singing, one group playing soccer. We hadn’t truly been sharing as one.

I thought back to what was the most powerful part of the trip to me, and I realized that it had been in mass. The church was small and made of cement. It had plain, cracked windows, and we sat in red plastic chairs. But during mass, we had all come together as one group to share in praise to God, to share in the word of God, and to share in the Eucharist. It had been so powerful because we were all there as one.
I want you to close your eyes now and come up with an image of church. I’ll admit that every once in awhile, I’m still going to picture a building. This building may have the most pristine stained glass windows, with beautiful mahogany pews, and a perfectly polished tabernacle. But no matter how beautiful the building may be, this image still leaves gaps. Because no matter how many people are packed in that church, there are still hollow spaces when it is just a building.
Like Jesus taught us, we are the church. As the church, it is our mission to act as the body of Christ here on earth. The truth is that we aren’t truly acting as the hands and feet of Christ until we use those limbs to reach out and share. And reaching out isn’t a task we were made to do on our own. Christ’s body was made to work as one unit. When we spread the gift of sharing as one people, we begin to  fill voids.
The desire of my students to share and to work together as one community and one body has been such a powerful experience. I am still learning what it means to truly “compartir” each and every day. I’m learning how to see myself as a part of a larger, complete body. In embracing this life of sharing, I have found myself more deeply appreciating my time with others, as a part of God’s church, and so becoming closer to Him and to His people.

To learn more about service opportunities through Franciscan Mission Service, please click here.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Supper with Sisters: Allison Reynolds - Good Shepherd Volunteers

Allie is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Allie and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year!

While living in Sucre, Bolivia I have adapted to a more closed-minded atmosphere than what I am used to, showing me how different parts of the world may think and act. However, Hermana Verónica (Sister Verónica) is a beautiful open-minded Bolivian soul who has allowed me to have someone to go to for guidance, advice, and faith, while working with oppressed communities in this culture. I appreciate her focus on life, and for that reason I chose to interview her about her ¨yes¨ to religious life and other aspects of becoming a Sister. 

Q: How was your childhood? Was it religious? How was your family?
A: Hermana Verónica took her vows at the young age of 26; however, she explained to me that she felt spiritual, religious and the presence of God from the young age of 6. She knew she had this feeling, but could not completely understand it. When she received communion, there was no preparation and no schooling. Her church did offer preparations, but they felt the children did not want to understand or would not understand. So, she simply learned how to receive the Eucharist without any knowledge of why. As a little girl, however, Sr. Verónica felt God was speaking to her and could feel Him explaining to her why this sacrament was important. The story continues to her Confirmation, when she also did not feel prepared, but knew it was the right thing for her because God was telling her.
She explained her purpose in life was to work for the love and strength of God - she felt she was put on this earth to fulfill His work. This became difficult for her because she grew up in a family which did not value religion, and they were not the ones influencing this value she had discovered on her own.
Then, when Sr. Verónica was in high school, one of her cousins entered a convent. This particular convent would not let the women leave the building in which they stayed, only to pray all day. This knowledge of the convent life actually turned Sr. Verónica away from thinking that would be the life she wanted to live forever. However, because she had this idea of vocation in her mind and the lifestyle of prayer interested her, she was determined to discover more about religious life.
Hermana Verónica pointing herself out in a photo of an old Good Shepherd Sisters reunion. 
Q: Did you ever date or have thoughts of marriage and children?
A: After high school, Sr. Verónica became a first grade teacher. She met a friend there who she connected with, and her friend also felt the same strong religious experience she felt. One day she met a boy named Alberto, and she felt a strong connection to him. Her friend, however, warned her and told her if she went to parties with him until late at night, she would not be respecting her religious call. Sr. Verónica explained how she loved dancing (but never drinking), and felt a curiosity towards Alberto. She needed to discover for herself if a relationship with him was the right thing for the rest of her life. She and Alberto were together for three years before they had to move away from each other due to family reasons. They continued to write to each other, until their distance had grown strong and he started seeing another woman. At this moment Sr. Verónica said she needed to discover herself and continue discovering her religious journey.

Hermana Verónica with her community of Good Shepherd Sisters renewing her vows. 
Q: What did your parents and friends say when you decided to enter religious life? Were they proud? Worried?
A: Since Sr. Verónica’s family was not as religious as she was, it came as a shock to them. When she explained to them that she would be leaving Alberto, they did not understand why. In their minds, he had been the perfect gentleman, provider, and was strong, loving, and caring towards her. Her mom, dad, and siblings could not understand how she would be leaving to discover religious life when she had, what they perceived as, a perfect future as a wife with Alberto. Sr. Verónica quickly became stern with them and explained how she felt this was right for her, even though it pained her to see how little support they offered her at the beginning and how sad they were to see her go.
Hermana Verónica (right) with her community member Hermana Victoria, enjoying a United States Thanksgiving meal!
Q: How were you first years in community life? What types of jobs did you have?
A: Sr. Verónica described that, just like any community, there would always be differences in opinion while living with other people. I could resonate with this statement because living in community life as a volunteer, I understand what it feels like to have differences in opinion and having to compromise on how something should be done. She explained how their strong love towards God has always kept her and her community members close, and how beautiful it is to see each individual person create their own relationship with God. I believe this statement also relates to volunteer life because each individual volunteer is finding and creating their own journey through their volunteer experience. Watching your community member(s) grow spiritually, mentally, and physically, is one of the benefits of this experience.
One of Sr. Verónica’s first jobs as a sister was working in a group home for adolescent girls who had recently been incarcerated. She was a supervisor of the Project, and helped the girls learn responsibility and life skills before they were immersed back into society. She continued this path by working with others in need throughout her life as a sister.


Hermana Verónica is a shining example of how to love all of God´s children. Her love for God is so strong, and she shows it in many different ways. She is always making me and my community member, Andrea Gaitan, laugh, smile, learn, and appreciate the little things in life worth having. She loves to dance and have fun, and whenever she gets the chance, she insists on giving us Bible Study lessons. Living and working with Sr. Verónica and the Sisters of The Good Shepherd has given me life long lessons and skills I will never forget. 

Allie, a current Good Shepherd Volunteer, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Ascension and Stepping into Service

By Janice Smullen, Franciscan Mission Service

Dear future volunteer,

Each time I revisit the Ascension stories in the Gospels, I find numerous points that relate to mission and service. Throughout my own time on mission in Jamaica, I see similarities between these verses and my challenges and blessings in a daily life of service. I hope to offer encouragement to you, future volunteer, as you research and discern the many opportunities for service available to you.

“He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart…”  (Mark 16:14)

My strongest prompt to mission came as I reflected on a painting of St. Francis gazing at the cross and being told to rebuild the church. The question written with the painting asked, “Am I willing to do God’s will?” For many years, I have read, heard, and tried to practice in small ways, the example of Jesus doing the “will of my Father,” and loving others as God loves me. Now I felt that God had put the nudge toward mission into my heart. Two years of overseas mission service seemed like a very big step into the unknown but I had the stories of Francis and many others as examples, and I felt that if I said “Yes,” God would enable me to shed my worries and, thus, soften my heart and make more room for his Grace! Future volunteer, God will do the same for you.

Mission has taught me to expect the unexpected and to trust in God’s plan. Though I was open to other ministries, there was a pretty high expectation at my future mission site that I would be helping in schools, and that is exactly where I found myself. My first classroom was noisy, chaotic, cramped, and undersupplied, but I found that I had the most difficulty countering the common teaching approaches, which I perceived as overly physical and sometimes belligerent. During the first days and weeks, it was very easy for me to get caught up in the prevalent practice of shouting, derision, and physically putting someone into their chair or the corner. I didn’t like myself doing that. Continually, readings in the Franciscan prayer book kept telling me that Peace IS the path. One time, a student told me that he didn’t like me putting him into his seat. The next day, I got down to his eye level and apologized to him. He listened, we hugged, and I felt that I was on my way toward a better practice. Future volunteer, are you ready to be stretched and molded according to God’s will?  

“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.”  (Matthew 28:16)

I always notice the number eleven here; it is a particular mention to the fact that someone is missing. Dear future volunteer, are you worried about leaving your loved ones to do service? There are times when I am missing someone familiar from my table. It is different people at different times and my heart misses them. The last phrase—”to which Jesus had ordered them”—strikes me as being particularly relevant to mission and service. What are Jesus’ orders? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, go and make disciples of all nations. Mission is an opportunity to do just that. My heart believes that God does and will take care of me while on mission, and the Almighty and Universal God is also able to care for my loved ones even when they are on a different continent!

“He led them out to Bethany...They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy and they were continually in the temple praising God.” (Luke 24:50-53)  

Dear future volunteer, as you discern your service, there is great help to be found in being “continually in the temple praising God.” I couldn’t have made my decision for mission without some serious prayer and reflection. The question of “Is this really God’s will?” was a focus for my Lenten prayer before I began my time of service. Contemplative silence and guidance from trusted friends helped me to find peace in the answer to that prayer. This ending of Luke’s Gospel account shows the disciples returning to the Temple, and I have reflected on how this seems to be the strength they needed before departing to their ministries that are recounted in Acts.

“Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:19; 21:22)  

Ahhh, my prayers were voiced and answered; my heart found peace, and my decision for mission was made. In John’s Gospel, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. In the next chapter, I see another of my tendencies:  my desire to get a quick summation of God’s plan.  Peter wants to know about the future for the Beloved disciple…(nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and he is gently reminded by Jesus, “What concern is it of yours? You follow me.”  

The disciples encounter the resurrected Jesus in their everyday lives while fishing, walking, eating, and interacting with others. As my mission time unfolds, I also see Jesus in everyday life.

I see him in the faith voiced in the locals that I meet and in new forms of singing and praise. I feel discouragement at the discrepancy of incomes and lack of faith just as Jesus felt while gazing at Jerusalem. I marvel to see God’s hand in creation as I walk by household gardens or explore the hills. And, like the disciples, I see Jesus working through me, giving me a stronger dependence on prayer as I realize that I will not be able to fix systemic problems, and a stronger sense of humility as I realize that I am an outsider here, but I truly have been sent by God.  

Jesus ascended and asked his disciples to go and teach all nations. Mission service makes us a viable part of that eternal and mystical plan. Jesus may have disappeared into the clouds, but we are able to make his presence real today.

I really think that He was having a good chuckle as He ascended. He knew how much mission would change us!

Dear future volunteer, are you ready to be changed?

To learn more about service opportunities through Franciscan Mission Service, please click here.