Monday, November 24, 2014

Loving with an Open Hand

By Ariana Rangel
AmeriCorps Member at Maggie's Place

There is a beautiful image of Mary and Eve that I really love in which Mary is comforting Eve. The colors are vibrant and the message it conveys is a comfort to me. As Mary crushes the serpent that is wrapped around Eve’s leg, she holds Eve’s hand to her rounded belly, sharing with her the hope of redemption in Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, clothed in her own hair, Eve clutches a small, red apple to her chest.

Two months ago, I came to Maggie’s Place – a home for pregnant and parenting women in need – with a mission to be like Mary, bringing comfort to the women I’d be serving along with a simple yet resounding message of love and hope. I thought I could be the Mary and they could be the Eve. I thought I would be the strong one, the one that rides in and casts the darkness from their lives with a sweep of my hand. I thought I could crush their serpents with my little foot.

But when I’ve looked in the mirror these past two months, it is I who am consistently clutching that little red apple to my chest. In this story, the real story, our moms are the heroes, God is their strength, and I’m just along for the ride.

My first contact mom at Maggie’s Place was one of the most beautiful women I had ever met. At 38, she was the oldest mom in the house and the grooves in her face told the story of a hard and sorrowful life. On that same face, her smile beamed joy at her newborn son whenever she held him. She was the living image of my definition of Maggie’s Place: a place where joy and sorrow go hand in hand. She was so motivated to leave her old destructive life behind and start fresh with her son, and I was going to do everything I could to help her. Together, we would change her life!

In my head it was inevitable; it was basically a done deal. She would be a classic Maggie’s Place success story and her picture would flash across the Maggie’s Place website for years to come.

 Then one evening, just as things were looking promising for her, she didn’t come home. I waited and waited past curfew, staring down the front door, praying that she would walk in. Any minute now. Any minute. But she didn’t. And she never came home the next day, or the next. And she never answered her phone.

I was angry and hurt for her. How could she do that? How could she just disappear from our lives without even a memo or a goodbye? It didn’t seem fair. I may never know the reason why she never came home that night and I could stay upset about it forever, or, I could let go of that apple that I was holding onto so tightly and trust that God was in control of the situation. I wanted so badly to love her the way I knew how, the way I thought was best, but God was asking me to love in a greater way. God was asking me to love with an open hand.

 In his book “Community and Growth,” Jean Vanier explains that, “A community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thanksgiving as it sets.”

Here at Maggie’s Place we get the chance to witness moments of great wonder and beauty, moments of deep sorrow and hurt, joy and cheer, fear and confusion, and we thank God for all of it. For whatever our sorrows, whatever our joys, whatever our current situation, we must trust that God is giving us our greatest chance for holiness. He is carrying every mother and her child down a winding, unique, and sometimes bumpy path and all we can do is walk alongside each other and live in that wonderment each day. God is asking us to let go of the apple and simply love with an open hand because it is then that we can truly witness the way he is giving us our greatest chance for holiness.

Like the first time a mother invited me to feel her child kicking inside of her, Mary invites Eve to feel her Son. I can only extend my hand to that invitation if I have nothing clutched within it. I can only be a witness to God’s wonderful work in her life if I’m not clinging to my own agenda. He calls us to love with an open hand because no matter what our situation may look like, He is there to give us our greatest chance at holiness.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Discernment story: Be a human being, not a human doing

By Mallorie Gerwitz
Former Colorado Vincentian Volunteers member
From Service to Sisterhood Vocation Story

My senior year of high school was when I first felt that I heard the call to professed life. 

I spoke to Sister Jean, FSSJ at my high school but I wasn’t ready to truly make that kind of life decision. It was difficult enough choosing a college and program of study for the following year. So I started my freshman year of college at Niagara University. I was overly involved in many activities that first year, trying to do it all, when it came to me that life is not about quantity but quality of work. I realized I needed to step back and really look at what I wanted to do with my time and how I wanted to make an impact on the world. 

I stepped down from positions and out of clubs to really take time to analyze what direction to take. After my first year of college ended, I was hired at The Preschool Learning Center in Springville, NY, as an aide for the summer.  This preschool works with kids with varying levels of disability. I was placed in a classroom of children with severe autism who were all non-verbal. I remember seeing the Speech Pathologist work with the kids and thought "This is what I want to do!"

I transferred to Nazareth College of Rochester in the Communication Sciences Disorders Program. I studied so hard to earn the grades that I felt were necessary, all in an effort to get to the future, always with that graduate program in mind, never focused on the present.

I did volunteer which helped to keep me grounded. I volunteered with a program on campus called Learn and Serve and I also lived my Junior year on the Service Learning Floor, a community of individuals committed to volunteering 30 hours per month of community outreach and service. 

 The one thing that stayed with me was a thread of Catholic Social teaching: respect for the dignity of every person, especially those who are poor. I realized many of the individuals I was reaching out to were on the margins and I was learning more while serving others than what I was actually giving to them.

 During my last semester of college I lost a few close relatives. My mom’s cousin, my great grandmother, a great uncle and a great aunt, all within three months time. I also was filling out graduate application forms and doing my final student teaching placement to earn the last part of my long awaited Bachelors of Science with Initial Teachers Certification Degree. I felt like even with the deaths and all of this that I was for sure going to be accepted into graduate school and all would be well. 

God works in mysterious ways. I was wait-listed and told that 350 applicants had applied for 35 graduate positions. I knew that this was not working the way I had planned.

Jamie, Catholic Chaplin at Nazareth College of Rochester, helped me see that I had other options. He handed me Thomas Merton's book Seeds. I read that so quickly! In our next encounter, Jamie gave me a copy of the RESPONSE book and told me to check out doing a year of service. I found a few programs that spoke to me, applied to a few and ultimately felt I was being directed to Denver, Colorado, to do a year of service with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers.

The Colorado Vincentian Volunteer program changed my life.  I started to think of service in terms of a life choice, a vocation/ministry and not just a week service trip or a year service trip.

I met the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth at my Volunteer site, Mount Saint Vincent Home of Denver, CO, a  residential and therapeutic facility for children who have experienced neglect or abuse. I remember walking into my volunteer site and seeing this quote from Mother Xavier: “Look forward to the Good that is yet to be” (Mother Xavier is the foundress of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth).

 When I think of my life stretched out in a line I think of what I have done, who I am, and what I hope to be and I ponder St. Vincent and St. Louise’ life. I think of the root word for Compassion, which means to suffer with. I would like to say that the threads of my life have offered me many moments of compassion.

As Rainer Maria Rilke once said, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves...” At this time in my life I feel that I do not have all the answers but I am willing to take that next step in inviting the questions. I find I am at a depth of acceptance and peace in moving on to at least being able to ponder God’s call. I think a lot of that work came about when I started accepting my true self, as Thomas Merton talks about at length, and placing emphasis on myself as a Human being, Not a Human Doing.

For more resources on discerning your vocation through service, click here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Discernment story: “You could be happy like that”

By Sr. Meg Kymes
Former Vincentian Service Corps volunteer in St. Louis, MO
From Service to Sisterhood Vocation Story

From the moment I met them I felt drawn to their joyful spirit. I heard this little voice inside of me say, “You could be happy like that.” At first I was shocked and a little scared. I tried to push the little voice away and say NO! But, the voice got more and more insistent and I had to at least see what was drawing me to the Daughters of Charity.

That was almost 8 years ago, and today I still feel as called as I was then. Now, I am ministering as teacher’s assistant at Mother Seton School in Emmitsburg, MD. Looking back, it was not just the Daughters' joyful spirit that kept me coming back to them during my discernment, but other aspects as well.

There is a saying in the community that says, “If you’ve seen one Daughter of Charity you have seen one Daughter of Charity.” I have found this to be true. Among us you will find we dress the same and many do similar works, but underneath the works and blue and white habits you will find many different personalities, interests, and backgrounds which makes life much more interesting! There is truly room for everyone at the table of Vincent, Louise, and Elizabeth Ann!

I also saw a great openness and flexibility in them; my vocation directress told me over and over, “A Daughter of Charity, if nothing else, is flexible.” Vincent would call this obedience; he told the first Daughters they would go where they don’t want to go and do what they don’t want to do not because of themselves but because of God’s will. While going where we don’t want to go and doing what we don’t want to do seems like a bad thing, it isn’t always. I used to visit a sister at our retirement home in Evansville, IN, who went from growing up on the streets of Chicago to spending 55 years in Japan. She told me she wanted to go to China, but God had other plans for her. She stayed in Japan all that time happy to follow God’s will for her. 

I to have found myself in places I never imagined doing things beyond my wildest dreams because of being open to God’s will. I’ve lived in Indiana and New Orleans and now in a small town in Maryland. Now, I was born in raised in St. Louis and until meeting the Daughters had no intentions of ever leaving St. Louis. However, I would have never found New Orleans which has become one of my favorite places on earth!  I fell in love with the city, the culture, and the people. If I was not flexible and open I would have never had that experience like the retired sister who had the opportunity to serve the poor in Japan for 55 years.

Most of all, I was continually drawn back to the Daughters of Charity because their love for the poor. Louise implored us in her Spiritual Testament, “…above all take good care of service of the poor.” Vincent told us, “Let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arm and the sweat of our brow.” 

While a relationship with Jesus is central to a Daughter’s life, all of our prayers, daily Mass attendances, spiritual readings, and Rosaries are done to give us the spiritual energy to go out to those living in poverty. Most of the Daughters I have met say what makes a true Daughter of Charity is love for the poor. Their eyes light up when they speak about their current ministries or their past experiences of serving those living in poverty. 

So, why am I drawn to the Daughters of Charity? I fell in love with the poor and decided to follow Christ’s call to by being given to God, in community for, their service.

For more resources on discerning your vocation through service, click here.