Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Challenge of Change

By: Caitlin Baummer, Recruitment Associate

Faith. Community. Social Justice. Simplicity. These are the values upon which Jesus tells us to live our lives. And since we’ve had two thousand years of practice, we should have them down by now, right? Hardly. We live in a culture that places value in consumerism, individualism and personal gain instead of the common good, solidarity and a belief in a higher power. The pillars are so difficult to integrate into our lives, because the world tells us not to. Each of these values presents its own unique set of challenges, but they also each gift us with their own set of joys. So Catholic Volunteer Network and its member programs adopt these pillars as their own, challenging volunteers to live them out in many different and beautiful ways.

Caitlin with CRA Megan and College of William and
Mary student, Rachel.

Before going to Nazareth Farm in spring of 2007, I practiced my Catholic faith, did volunteer work, tried to be mindful of my interactions with others and knew that I should turn off the lights behind me. However, I did not realize just how much more I could be doing to challenge myself in these areas and I certainly did not understand how these four core values were connected to each other. Over the years that followed, however, I learned that living simply helps us to be in solidarity with our local and global communities, that we find community with others when seeking social justice and that sustainable living has a direct connection with countless social justice issues around the world. However, what truly ties all four of these values together is faith. Our faith calls us to love, and it is love that compels us to be in community with others, to serve the poor and vulnerable, and to “live simply so that others may simply live.”

As former volunteers will tell you, these pillars are easiest to live out when you are surrounded and encouraged by like-minded people. However, I find that the more time I spend away from intentional community, the harder it becomes to hold myself accountable for living out the pillars. I know that I’ve thrown bottles in the trash that can be recycled, I’ve failed to put other’s needs before my own, I have neglected to educate myself on current social justice issues. As I talked with college students about how the pillars are lived out in each program, I began to question how well I’m living them out on my own.

So I decided that I would create mini-challenges for myself. Every two weeks I will choose a different pillar on which to reflect. I’ll make a commitment to a specific change in my day-to-day life and pay special attention to how I witness that pillar being lived out on the campuses and in the communities that I visit. Then, I’ll write about my experiences right here, on our blog.

Since faith is the thread that ties all of the pillars together, I felt that this was the best place to start. Over the past two weeks, I made a more concerted effort to journal each night (my go-to prayer method). While I was visiting schools in Virginia, I joined in prayer with students on multiple occasions. Furthermore, I was blessed to begin my recruitment week with retreat weekend at Bethlehem Farm. While there, I joined in prayer with friends, both new and old. I also took time to spend in the beautiful nature that cascades around Bethlehem Farm’s mountaintop log cabin. It was refreshing to get away from the hustle and bustle of Washington, DC and listen to God’s voice in the wind, see His face in the sunflowers, taste His goodness in the garden vegetables and feel His touch from the branches of the apple tree (perhaps even smell his scent in the cow manure?).

Over the course of the following week, I celebrated Mass with students at Virginia Tech, James Madison University, and the College of William and Mary. I attended Eucharistic adoration at James Madison, a chapel service at Eastern Mennonite University and wrapped up the week with faith sharing at Virginia Commonwealth University. I also got to join in conversation about faith at Roanoke University, Radford University, Bridgewater University and University of Virginia. But regardless of the activity, I saw the face of God in every student with whom I spoke. In ways, service has become such a huge part of my life that I just do it and sometimes I fail to think about why I do. But the students’ eagerness brought me back to when I was in their shoes, just beginning my journey with faith-based service. If that wasn’t enough, I was blessed to meet nine fantastic campus ministers who are the face of God to their students’ day in and day out.

What I learned at these colleges is that, much like in our programs, faith is lived out in so many different ways. I was encouraged and enlivened by the enthusiasm that the students and staff brought to their celebrations of faith and I know that these are not the only campus communities doing such things. So to all of you reading, thank you for the joy, the passion and the grace with which you live out your lives. Keep it with you always, and give it away to all those you meet in service and in every day life.

In my next post I’ll focus on the pillar of simplicity. I posted a poll on our facebook page to see how followers and friends wanted to see me simplify while on the road in Ohio and New York. Let’s see what they say.