Monday, October 29, 2012

Scrapped Plans

By: Tracy Kemme, Affiliate with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, former Rostro de Cristo volunteer

In her poem entitled “Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asks, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  I love the power, audacity, and truth of that question, but her use of the word “plan” makes me chuckle.  I’m a planner by nature.  Nearing the end of college, I had a few different plans that I thought were pretty good.   Then, I felt this nudge to become a volunteer with a program called Rostro de Cristo.  I never could have known then what responding to that nudge would do to my trajectory.    As we open ourselves to the unique and precious dreams the God has for us, the plans we had for the future often become a thing of the past.  Among the many life-altering things I found in Ecuador, I stumbled upon a vocational discernment journey that I never wanted but that has come to shape my entire life.

It was on our initial Rostro de Cristo volunteer retreat in November of 2008 that the idea of becoming a Catholic Sister first popped into my head.  When it did, I thought I must be dreaming.  Despite my protests to God, a sense of call to the religious life somehow persisted and began to grow.  I talked with my house community of six about this alarming new development one night over dinner, and so began the road that leads to today.   Our sacred shared experience of God in that community compelled me to keep pressing into the question raised by Mary Oliver, even when it was scary.  Who has God created me to be in this one precious life?

Images of Ecuador flood my mind as I think back through my discernment process.  I remember hysterically emailing my mom and a few trusted friends about the crazy thoughts I was having from the teacher’s lounge at Nuevo Mundo, a school where I taught English to underprivileged children.  A few months later, I went to talk with Pat McTeague, the founder of Nuevo Mundo and a former Sister.  We sat on her couch as she calmed some of my anxiety in her wise and direct way, inviting me to take things slowly and “date” the idea of being a nun.  During my second year in Ecuador, which was something else I hadn’t originally planned for, I was watching the sunset over Playas Beach from a hammock as I resolved to find a spiritual director.  Sr. Macarena, an IBVM from Spain and specialist in spiritual direction, moved in down the street that same week.   Her gentle support helped my fears to melt away.  And then, of course, there were the thousands of conversations with community mates and Ecuadorian neighbors that drew me deeper into the heart of God and made abandoning this journey impossible.

Although I did not know it while it was happening, my experience as a volunteer is what showed me that becoming a Sister could be plausible and even wonderful.  I saw how a life of service, shared in a God-centered community, is fulfilling, impactful, and worth it.  I tasted the joy and strength that comes from living a shared mission.  I felt at home far from home and alive in a culture not my own.  I saw how relationships with those affected by poverty show us who Christ is and hold us accountable to the truths of our faith.  I saw how desperately our world needs us to be God’s hands and feet.  I realized that I wanted to live the pillars of Rostro de Cristo - spirituality, simplicity, service, hospitality, and community – way beyond Ecuador.

But I did NOT want to be a Sister.

I can’t tell you how many times people told me along the way, “If you’re called to this, you’ll be ready when the time is right.”  Four years later, I finally believe them.  Treasured friends from our dear Rostro family are those that guided me to respond to this God-given call.  It has not been an easy decision, but I feel a lingering joy at the thought of giving my entire life to the cause of Jesus’ Kingdom.  

In June, I made my commitment as an Affiliate (postulant) with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.  Next summer, I will move to the Motherhouse in my hometown, Cincinnati, to begin novitiate.   A sense of excitement and peace grows as I see ever more clearly what a gift it will be to live this vocation.  At a time of turmoil in our Church, the call to be a voice of extreme love, faith and justice echoes in my soul.  Gratitude overflows in my heart for all that my volunteer experience has been and will be to my life, especially for scrapped plans that made room for God’s wild dreams to take root.

Follow my continued vocational journey on my blog,

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Campus Minister at St. Edward's University Reflects on Service Experience

By Kate Flannery, CVN Communications

Lou Serna didn’t realize in 2000 that when he told his family he’d be gone for a year, he should have said three. The then senior at St. Edward’s University figured a year of being an associate in the Holy Cross Associates Program (closed in 2007) in Colorado Springs would be a good experience, not knowing that he’d stay for two more years through a fellowship and leave with a Masters from DePaul University. His parents probably wouldn’t have believed it either—let alone that their last son would also be the first of their children to move so far from their home in San Antonio, Texas. And though it was a great moment of change, Serna looks back on a lifelong volunteer journey that is still leading him to exciting places today.

Service started at a young age. Serna remembers spending time volunteering with his church while growing up in a Hispanic Catholic family. He was accustomed to the idea throughout childhood and adolescence, but hadn’t really considered dedicating a year of his life to service until graduation began to approach. His understanding of career paths before then had been relatively narrow: traditional jobs like becoming a doctor, teacher or lawyer. Serna knew he wanted to do something worthwhile, he just didn’t know at the time how to translate these desires.

“Now, I’d say I was discerning,” Serna says, looking back. “I wanted to do something more that wasn’t just a job, but I didn’t know what that meant at the time.”

Serna’s story echoes that of many of our past volunteers. During his search while still an undergrad studying Communications at St. Edward's, he stumbled upon Catholic Volunteer Network’s Response Directory in the Campus Ministry office—using it as a resource to help him gather his information and narrow down his list of options. He ended up choosing and being accepted to the Holy Cross Associates program, where he worked as a job program assistant for a year.
“I felt Holy Cross was a big connection to who I was spiritually,” Serna explains. He also liked the more intimate community formed by the program’s size and the location in Colorado.

When the year ended, Serna did a two-year fellowship focused on leadership and service—helping the program develop and learning the inner-workings of the non-profit sector along the way. At the same time his fellowship started, Serna was also able to begin his Masters in Leadership and Public Service through a program through DePaul University.

Now, as a campus minister for nearly a decade at St. Edward’s in Austin, Serna is not only closer to his family in San Antonio but also getting to work with students who are discerning much of the same questions he was at their age. A top resource? Catholic Volunteer Network’s Response Directory.

“Most of the time I send [students] to CVN and give them the Response book,” he explained. “I show them the index. I think that’s the best part of it.”

The Response Directory, however, is just a tool to get students further along their discernment process. What Serna also wishes to express to his students is the power of volunteerism.
“Volunteering is about others, but it’s also about finding out what’s right for you,” he explained.
Throughout his own service commitment, Serna learned that the relationships created are reciprocal. You are impacting others as much as they are impacting you.

 “Every person we interact with is going to transform us,” he continued. As a result, post-graduate service showed Serna the bigger picture in the sense of his place in the world—leaving him with a more global perspective. One of his favorite phrases: “Think globally, act locally.”

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Serna passes what he’s learned through his own experience to his students at St. Edwards. He’s also incorporating it into Voluntology, a nonprofit he co-created that helps clients strengthen volunteer engagement by providing trainings, tools and solutions. Because he’s been in and surrounded by the volunteer world for most of his life, Serna understands that volunteers are a powerful force in our local communities that can make a lot of change happen. What’s crucial is supporting them in fun ways.

“Only about 26 percent of the U.S. population volunteers,” he said. How do we increase this number? How do we keep volunteers supported and engaged? How do we change the notion of volunteering as a temporary thing? Serna and his team hope to work on these questions in the upcoming years. But as Voluntology grows, he can still be found answering questions, sharing his experiences and showing students how post-graduate service is good professionally in terms of networking, developing work skills and gaining life experience.

Serna’s motto is “transformation through service.” He realized his place in a global world, made lifelong connections, gained developed work skills and discerned his career vocation as a result of the time spent serving with Holy Cross Associates. His life attests to his tagline—service transforms those serving, those being served and the world at large.

“Everything we do has a larger effect,” he notes. “Even if we don’t see it.”

Monday, October 22, 2012

Real Life: Merging Worlds

By Catherine Scallen, CVN Recruiter

To be honest, I didn’t think too much beyond completing my year of service. I was going to do this year of post-graduate service with Good Shepherd Volunteers in New York City, it was going to be fabulous, and then I’d return back to my regular life. It was to be just that: a year-long exploration and adventure, learning about myself, the bigger picture, and how the two coincided. I didn’t think I’d be a traveling nomad in the months following the end of my time in New York, and I certainly didn’t think I would find myself enthusiastically dancing the Irish reel with a group of recruiters in a small pub in Dayton, Ohio on a Wednesday evening in October. Which is all to say—I (naively) didn’t anticipate exactly what everyone tells you about a year of service: it changes the course of your life. How I didn’t put that together earlier is beyond me, because it seems so obvious now.

             Chatting with my friend Sissy over dinner in Nashville two nights ago, it struck me that my previous mentality isn’t unique to post-grad service. Sissy spoke of how she couldn’t believe a year and a half had already passed, and how she had come into her grad school experience in Nashville with exactly the same mindset: go to school in Tennessee for two years, get her Masters, and head back home to her real life in Chicago. Now all of a sudden here we both were, laughing about how silly we had been to think that our year (or two) of “adventure” wasn’t going to affect or alter us, wasn’t going to present opportunities that led us further away from “regular life” and closer towards our real lives. Our real lives being made up of the things we choose to do on a daily basis. For her, that’s staying in Nashville longer than expected because her interests have shifted, and she feels called to further and more detailed study. For me, that’s bopping around the U.S, spreading the good word about service. 

“Real life” is coming to the realization that plans will inevitably shift and shimmy around, and rolling with that is what living a real life means. Everyone has a different name for this: grace, sitting with open hands, the classic saying: ‘If you want to make God laugh, make plans.’ But it all boils down to the same thing: living your real life means pursuing your current path fully and enthusiastically, with the full and complete understanding that at any given moment it could shift shapes. The next thing you know, you’re sitting in a diner in Cincinatti, discussing Eskimo Olympics, traveling rubber ducks, and ancient mountain-top Greek monasteries with a group of people you hadn’t met before yesterday. Then you just smile, take a deep breath, and realize: this is real life!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Returning Home

By Erica Stewart, CVN Recruiter

When we start a new phase in life, whether it is high school, college, parenthood, or for me, a year of service, we know that someday, it will come to a close. Knowing this typically does not make the transition any less painful when the day comes. An endless supply of tissues, for example, could not have prepared me enough for my college graduation day. I still have vivid memories of sitting on the floor of my friend’s empty dorm room sobbing with her. What I learned a few weeks ago, however, was that sometimes it hurts more to return home than it is to leave.

When you devote time and energy to anything, it leaves a lasting impact on your heart. For me, San Francisco became my home last year during my year of service with Dominican Volunteers USA. The excitement I had about returning there for a visit was insurmountable. I couldn’t wait to see my students at Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA), observe how they had grown over the summer, hear about their new classes, visit with my colleagues, and return to the city I learned to call home last year. Of course, with the excitement also came nerves: what if my students didn’t remember me? What if people weren’t as excited to see me? And, worst of all, what if I regretted leaving in the first place? 

My first time seeing the convent and school was extremely emotional. I was walking up 24th Street with one of this year’s volunteers after a night out, joking with her about how I would cry when I saw the convent. The joke lost its humor when this actually happened. Maybe it was the darkness, maybe it was the excitement of traveling back to San Francisco or maybe it was watching Katy (the current volunteer) walk through the gate to my old home and the fleeting thought of “hey, that was me last year…but it’s not me now” that occurred as a result. Whatever it was, I cried. So many emotional memories poured out: happiness, fellowship, struggle, challenge, success, the occasional failure. It made me truly realize how much that year has made a lasting impact on my heart that I will carry with me forever. But these tears were not tears of sadness or even longing. Rather, they were the same type of tears that fell from my face during school assemblies at ICA when I saw the true side of my students:  real, wacky, fun teenagers. These tears cannot even be called tears of happiness, but pure joy—what James Martin, S.J. explains as “not simply a fleeting feeling or an evanescent emotion; [but] a deep-seated result of one’s connection to God” in his book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Humor and Joy are at the Heart of Spirituality.
Now don’t worry, the whole visit was not full of tears. The next day, I made my visit to ICA. Every hint of anxiety that I had about my return was immediately shattered upon reconnecting with students and staff. I sat down and had wonderful talks with the principal and president, both of whom I had developed strong relationships with during my year. Then, of course, there were my girls, who I will always feel some type of permanent ownership for. I brilliantly decided to visit during lunchtime so that I would be able to see a lot of the girls while eating lunch. It was almost like out of a movie: one student would see me, do a double take, yell out “MS. STEWART?!,” all her friends would turn, shriek, and then run towards me in a huge group bear hug. This, for me, is the pure joy Martin talks about. I realized in those moments that my goal of making an impression on someone else’s life had been reached.

That night, I was also able to attend dinner and prayers with the sisters. Entering the chapel, I immediately felt as if I had never left. I was amazed at how easily the prayers came back. The fact that we sang my favorite canticle (Ephesians 1:3-10) didn’t hurt either. I experienced joy here once more, welcoming the warm embraces of the sisters as we shared our meal together.  Now that my year of service has ended, I realize how I rely on the memories I shared with these communities to get me through times of loneliness or struggle. As I was crying on the floor of my friend’s dorm room because of graduation over a year ago, I hadn’t yet realized that we develop many different homes throughout our lives. Home is a place where you are always greeted with open arms, happy smiles, and warm memories. And even if I never again live in San Francisco, it will always be another home for me. Sometimes, beginnings and ends are more fluid than at first we may perceive.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Snooze Button Meets its End: Year of Faith Resources (Part 2)
By Kate Flannery, Communications Department

On September 30, 2012, I sat among hundreds of people for the John Carroll Society-sponsored brunch after the annual Red Mass at St. Matthews Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and listened attentively to Archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl. He was funny, and I couldn’t help but lean over my chair, my chin resting on my arms, as he told us stories about some of his recent experiences with fallen-away Catholics and why the new evangelization of our faith comes at a crucial moment in time.   

According to his eminence Donald Wuerl, new evangelization has three steps:

1.      Renew your Faith
a.       Study, watch, read, learn, discuss. We come from a several thousand old tradition and are rich in resources. Use them!
b.      Receive the sacraments, pray, read scripture, spend some quiet time with God, watch a movie on the saints (Restless Heart, anyone?).
c.       Go deeper than your head, let your faith penetrate your heart.
                                                              i.      "The longest journey a man must take is the eighteen inches from his head to his heart." – Unknown
d.      Other Resources to renew your faith:
                                                              i.     The Catholicism series by Fr. Robert Barron,
                                                            ii.      The Year of Faith: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics by Fr. Mitch Pacwa
                                                          iii.      Eternal Word Television Network
                                                          iv.      Youth Catechism
                                                            v.      Catholic Apostolate Center
                                                          vi.      Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization
                                                        vii.      United States Conference of CatholicBishops page
                                                      viii.      Laudate smartphone app (I especially recommend the pray-as-you-go meditation podcasts!)
                                                          ix.      Know of other resources you find helpful? Let us know!

2.      Stand in the Truth/Have Confidence
a.       Learning why you believe what you do, understanding the history of our tradition and really taking it on as your own allows you to be firm in your faith. Be confident. Have answers to questions you have asked yourself or others have asked you. Stand in your re-discovered truth—stand boldly, confidently and straightly. 

3.      Share this Truth with others
a.       Live your faith—your actions have so much more weight than your words. Your life, your decisions, your words—everything should reflect your faith. This prayer excerpt by Pedro Arrupe, SJ explains this concept quite well:
Nothing is more practical than finding God,
Than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything…Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

How are you getting ready for the Year of Faith?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Snooze Button Meets its End: Year of Faith (Part 1)

By: Kate Flannery, Communications Department

Hebrews 11: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

How do I integrate my service with my faith? Does having a stronger faith mean I need to go to church more? What’s the Year of Faith all about, anyway?

If you have questions about the Year of Faith and what your own faith is all about, you’re not alone. Thousands of self-professed Catholics might be caught scratching their heads in response to the Church’s proclamation, having fuzzy ideas about what the year really is all about, asking similar questions themselves...or not asking anything at all. And this group of Catholics are exactly who Pope Benedict XVI is looking at when proclaiming this the Year of Faith. Starting October 11, 2012 and lasting until November 24, 2013, the Year of Faith will correspond with the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Through it, the Pope and the Church invite Catholics--whether priests, religious, lay men and women or volunteers–to explore what their faith means to them and how to best share it with their communities.

Though never on vacation, faith has seemed to be hibernating from many Catholics hearts in the past decade or so. Throughout the world, we seem to repeatedly be hitting the snooze button on the faith alarm—getting up five minutes before mass, sleeping through the sacraments or silencing prayer in our personal lives altogether.

"All around us are people who should truly be with us at Mass, who should be with us at church, who should be with us in the parish," his eminence Donald Wuerl said while speaking at the John Carroll Society's annual brunch after the Red Mass in Washington, D.C. last Sunday.

He echoes the sentiments of the Pope and the Church, who proposed the Year of Faith as a means to re-sound the alarm many Catholics have been ignoring at a volume that aims to jolt us out of bed.

But faith is more than a Catholic school education, having a Confirmation name, weekly mass or grace before meals. It’s more than a checklist of “Catholic things to do” every week. It is a constant journey involving a continual affirmation in our belief in God, His Son, Jesus, and His message, spread by the Church. Precisely because it is a continual affirmation, and precisely because it involves our own effort, faith can be hard. Like a foreign language—it must be practiced in order to be strengthened. And considering that sometimes it relies on more than just your own effort (Read: God’s grace), you may be wondering how to even go about having this faith that seems so elusive.

The Pope and the Church have taken it upon themselves to simply remind us of this commitment to our faith and the joy it brings while also providing resources to help you get there. "What the world is in particular need of today," Benedict XVI wrote, "is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end" (Porta Fidei n. 14).

In his homily at the Red Mass, Timothy P. Broglio, archbishop for members of the U.S. military, elaborated by explaining the need to “rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ."

Enthusiasm is a crucial word here. Our faith is something we should be excited about…not simply cramming into our busy schedule. We all have individual and special relationships with God, we all express our faith differently, but we come together in community for the sacraments and to celebrate mass as a means of committing ourselves not only to a loving God but to one another. We should be tired of looking around mass and seeing glazed eyes, hearing robotic replies or noticing vacant seats, not tired of the mass itself. Let’s allow ourselves to fall in love with God, to fall in love with our faith and to stay in love in order to share Christ’s joy and abundant life with our brothers and sisters.

Can I get an Amen?

Matthew 17:20 “Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Stay tuned to hear about some resources for the Year of Faith!