Wednesday, March 30, 2016

To See Our Own Light

To See Ou  r   

Kay Samuelson currently serves as a Computer Literacy / Job Readiness ESL Instructor with The Opening Word Program on Long Island. She lives at St. Hugh’s Convent in Huntington Station, NY where she shares community with four Amityville Dominican Sisters and fellow volunteer Angela Chiappone.

Before I entered life as a Dominican Volunteer, my Catholic education was reduced to what I had learned in History of Christianity general requirements, been told by my Southern Baptist friends, and picked up in my readings of Saint Hildegard. Mystic, botanist, and all around empowered woman, Hildegard’s work called to me in my years as an undergrad. I found myself returning to her words in my first weeks as a volunteer. A single quote stood out to me as I contemplated my purpose in ministry: “We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a hope. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening. To use our own voice. To see our own light.”

The Opening Word Literacy Program aims to unlock the language ability of immigrant women, providing them the key to future empowerment. My ministry position is to travel between all three of The Opening Word schools (Amityville, Huntington Station, and Wyandanch) to provide the students computer, technology, and job readiness classes. As a mild perfectionist and Type A worker, I entered into this ministry with structured lesson plans, regimented worksheets, and sharpened pencils at the ready. By God, I was prepared to enrich and educate; my purpose was clear – gifting female empowerment. Little did I know, the women of The Opening Word, my 90 students hailing from El Salvador, Haiti, Turkey, Jordan, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and elsewhere, would be the ones to give me my voice, to show me my own light.

The education program at all three schools focuses on holistic approach: addressing the needs of the individual, so they may be at their very best, so they may reach their goals. This has privileged me to one-on-one time with the women and this is what broke down my strict barriers of what I thought it meant to be a teacher. I discovered that my students have become my ray of shining light. In our pedestrian encounters, those moments outside of lesson plans, with pencils down, is where the most profound education happens. My El Salvadorian mothers have taken me on as their own kin, asking about grad school applications and giving me relationship advice in broken English (“If he is good, be good to him. But know that you are good too”). I help conversationally with their sentence structure so they may communicate their stories of migration, loss, and growth. My young Turkish and Afghani students educate me on where to find the local mosque, Arabic cultural differences, and how to compliment the other women in their native tongue (“Shaista di mashallah!”). We scour job search engines and community college registrars during breaks to find their options for next year. The education is specialized and special to all who encounter these driven yet loving women.

The St. Hugh of Lincoln Community celebrates Halloween!
I was unaware, as a Mid-West redhead who had only ever heard Spanish on television, of the true realities of our immigrant sisters and brothers. I was unaware of the radical work being done by American Catholics to help those men and women who simply want to take part in this national dream, to earn a living for themselves and their children and to give back to the communities surrounding them. The women of The Opening Word truly embody Hildegard’s message and can act as an example for all of us: Catholic, black, American, straight, Korean, trans, Pagan, white… whatever!  You must first take back your own listening, open your heart and mind to the knowledge others have to give. Then, use your own voice to give compassion to others. Finally, see your own light - know that a small act, something as simple as a conversation between classes, can change a life.

For more information about The Opening Word Program, please visit our website;
 ~or follow us on FB ~

This post originally appeared on the Dominican Volunteers USA blog, Disputatio.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Abroad: Reflections from Peru

When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.John 20:1-9

Reflection by Stephanie Sanabria, Capuchin Franciscan Volunteer Corps Midwest Alumna

In this Gospel reading we are present with Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter as they visit Jesus’ tomb and shockingly discover that He is no longer there. After witnessing a horrifically painful death of their teacher and friend only a few days before, they are left worried and confused by His disappearance. Who could have taken Him? Where could He have gone? What does all of this mean? 

This past year, I had the honor and privilege to celebrate the Lenten and Easter seasons, among many other special occasions in Lima, Peru. The forty days of Lent led me into a wonderful time of reflection, repentance and renewal, where I spent more time reading the Gospel, praying and journaling. I watched “The Passion of Christ” for the first time and sobbed for a very long time. On Good Friday, I truly mourned Jesus’ death and spent time thinking about what His suffering means in my life. Then on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday I rejoiced, gave thanks and praise and truly celebrated His resurrection. I felt rejuvenated!

I deepened my faith in Peru within the Franciscan community, and now I truly understand why Jesus died, so that we could live. I learned that His life is a true testament of how we should live our lives today: giving, being kind, showing compassion, forgiving others, and loving without reservation. Jesus died but resurrected to new life in each of us and He ascended into heaven so that we could one day join Him. He gives us the hope we need to know that there is always joy in sorrow. 

O Holy and loving God, 

I give You thanks and praise for this day that You have 
made. Without You in my life, I don’t know where I would be.
 Thank You for giving us Your Son to be the perfect example 
of how to live, loving and forgiving all. Despite any difficulties 
that come my way, may I always continue to strive after You,
 Lord, and see the joy in the sorrow.  
In Your Holy name, I pray. 


Focus on: Simple Living

       During Lent, you may have decided to simplify your life a bit or to resist a temptation. Although the Lenten season is over, I challenge you to continue living simply by taking time to truly ask yourself (perhaps before you make a purchase): is this something I need or is this something I want?

Service Suggestion:

While in Peru, I worked at a comedor (parish soup kitchen) providing meals to families who were most in need and developing relationships with them. I encourage you to find your local soup kitchen and support them by serving, cleaning or greeting others. Most importantly truly engage and get to know your community through conversation and quality time!

This reflection is part of our Lenten Series - Download the Lenten Guide Here

Service Inspired by the Empty Tomb

When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.John 20:1-9

Reflection by Libby Riggs, Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ Volunteer Program

Coming to the end of my discernment and awaiting a new adventure in my upcoming year of volunteering, I ponder what is in store.  I ask myself if no matter how much I give or offer, will I feel selfish for all that will be given back to me by those I serve?  Having spent much time with the PHJC Sisters and their ministries since I was a youth, I have always found it hard to walk away not feeling that I gained more than I gave.  As I filled out the application, it asked if I could work with the poor.  I had worked beside them for a week at a time in differing ministries, but never lived, really lived among those less fortunate.  Then I recalled my service in the Peace Corps, and yes, I did serve among those less fortunate, but the spirit of the people blinded me. I only saw the smiles, the laughter, the community, the souls of the people which soon made me realize, that perhaps, I was the one who was poor, and they were in fact serving me and opening my own eyes.  

As I put myself into the words of the Gospel, I had to ask myself, am I not one in the crowd that shouts for His crucifixion when I turn a blind eye to an opportunity to serve someone in need. Though I may not shout those words, my actions may speak loudly at times when I deny the needs of others.  I pray that as I begin this year of service, that I may reach up to take Jesus down from the cross with every good deed or word done in His holy name. Let us embrace the needs of others as if He is embracing us beside the empty tomb.  


Thank You for the gift of faith, for whispering 
to my heart, for the strength to replace all my fears
 with faith.  Open my eyes to see Your face in the faces
 of those in need around me.  Speak to me so that I 
hear and recognize what You most desire of me. Help 
me to continue to live more simply so that I am not 
bogged down by worldly possessions.  As I leave behind 
the hectic, chaos of my former job, let me begin to
 quiet my heart so that I can live more fully for those 
I will be serving.  Above all, Thank you, O Lord, for 
the beauty and blessings that you surround me with,
 never let me forget to live with a grateful heart, for 

You, my most prized possession.  


Focus on: Spirituality 

Like Jesus, who often went away to pray alone, find a specific time of day to get away.  Make this a time to be alone with Him. Reflect on how and where He calls, be grateful, but sit in the quiet of his embrace and allow His spirit to fill you and regenerate.

Service Suggestion:

Rather than joining in the crowd that yelled to “crucify him!” look for ways to find your own voice to speak for those in need, to serve and represent those trampled by the crowd.

This reflection is part of our Lenten Series - Download the Lenten Guide Here

The Mystery of the Resurrection

When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place." John 20:1-9

Reflection by Hannah Abalos, Dominican Volunteers

Christ has risen! Truly, he has risen!

The Resurrection—the great triumph of Jesus Christ over sin and death. You’d think that John would depict such a momentous event in his Gospel, but no: mystery shrouds the Resurrection. We only glimpse the clues left behind: the heavy stone rolled away; the burial cloths left empty; the absence of a body.

When Mary Magdalene encounters the empty tomb, even though she stands at the site of this great miracle in salvation history, she panics. She does not understand what she sees. How many times have we found ourselves in her shoes? Stunned, afraid, and at a loss for what to do? In my ministry, not a day goes by without some obstacle or challenge, big or small. Maybe a student’s family has just lost their home; maybe only one girl shows up for choir practice, again. Ministry can be frustrating, and sometimes it’s difficult to see meaning in the hard days. Am I even making a difference? 

In some ways, we are still like the apostles, who saw the empty tomb but did not understand its significance—did not realize that Christ had risen to bring us all to salvation. I don’t pretend to understand the many graces and “blessings in disguise” that God grants our school, but because I trust in His plan, I am filled with peace.

This Easter season, let us ponder how the Lord works in ways beyond our understanding, and let us pray that our eyes are opened to the extraordinary miracles that take place in our lives.

Loving God, 
You sent Your beloved Son into the world so that we
 might be able to share in the glory of His Resurrection. We
 ask that you give us faith, that we may trust in your mysterious 
plan; give us hope, that we may persevere through trials; 
and give us love, that we may be inspired to be your hands and
 your feet to the people whom we serve. Be with us today 
and every day, as we joyfully bring to the world the news of your 
glorious Resurrection. 


Focus on: Community

When Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb of Jesus, she ran to Simon Peter and “the other disciple” to tell them what she had found. When confronting the unknown and failing to find answers, we often seek comfort in the presence of others. In your family or community, how do you cultivate a culture of caring? If you or any member of your community were experiencing a difficult time, would your community be a nurturing environment of acceptance for them? Is your community compassionate? Respectful? Patient? Forgiving?

Service Suggestion:

Think of those who are lonely: the elderly; prison inmates; the sick in the hospital; or perhaps your next-door neighbor. During this season of Paschal joy, consider visiting someone who may not regularly have visitors, to bring the light of love into their life. Perhaps you can bake cookies, or bring other needed supplies. Even just bringing yourself and a smile could make that person’s day. Consider making this a regular act of service, perhaps monthly, or even weekly or daily.

This reflection is part of our Lenten Series - Download the Lenten Guide Here

Friday, March 25, 2016

From Death To Life

By Madeline Jarrett, Amate House Volunteer serving in Chicago, IL

 I would like to start this reflection with what, in my opinion, is one of the most important questions one could ever ask: What does it mean to love one another?

Luke 22:19 describes the Last Supper:
“And He took bread and giving thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given up for you; do this in memory of Me.’” 

“This is my Body which is given up for you.” This statement highlights the essence of Good Friday. Christ gives himself up, enduring intense physical, emotional, and even spiritual pain, for our salvation. This is the line we hear at Mass during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. As we remember Christ’s sacrifice when we take the Eucharist in Mass, it is also important that we His sacrifice and act upon it each and every day.

This line has played an interesting part in my service at St. Thomas of Canterbury Catholic School. While it is probably more politically correct to say that I don’t have favorite students, I am just going to admit that I have a bunch of favorites. There is one student in particular, a hilarious, energetic, and always-smiling fourth grader named Lang, of whom I am particularly fond. Lang is the kind of kid who will style his hair in a Mohawk and run laps around the cafeteria one minute, but the next will ask you to pray with him. Earlier this year, I noticed that Lang was acting uncharacteristically moody and that he was secluding himself and crying during the after school program. Day after day, I would ask him if everything was okay, and eventually he hinted that something was going on at home. I knew bits and pieces about his home life, but even with gentle questioning, Lang would not discuss the heart of the issue with anyone – not his friends, nor his teacher, nor me.  Knowing how detrimental it is to force kids to confide when they aren’t ready or don’t want to, I left the issue alone with a simple, “I am here for you if you ever would like to talk.”

But his visible emotional pain continued to torture me. I cried about his struggles and agonized over what more I could do to help him. After each interaction with Lang, I was left feeling both helpless and angry knowing that there was probably nothing I could do to help the situation.

So how does this relate to the death that Christ endured for us on Good Friday?
During our lifetimes, very few of us are asked to literally sacrifice our lives and die for our beliefs or loved ones. However, each and every one of us are asked to die to our egos and our desires. This year, part of this death to ego for me has been realizing that I cannot save the world, I cannot do it all. And necessarily enveloped in this has come a redefining of what justice means for my life. Going into this year, justice always meant big, dramatic life-changing acts or movements. But during my time as a Amate volunteer through CVN, and in particular my time at St. Thomas, I have realized that I have been wrong about what exactly this notion of justice entails. There has been a death to the idea that justice always means making huge sweeping actions or policy changes, and life has been given to the idea that justice can be much more nuanced. By no means do I mean to minimize the importance of life-changing social movements and grand fights for what is right. But I have realized that justice also thrives in quiet accompaniment, the grace of a compassionate smile, and the impartment of the knowledge that one is not alone.

In the situation with Lang, spreading Christ’s love and justice did not and could not involve radical endeavors, but rather it meant walking beside him in his struggles, letting him know that I cared, encouraging him to pray, and laughing with him. Helping him carry his cross did not mean getting to the bottom of what was going on, but it meant humbly realizing that what Lang needed was simply someone to be with him in both his sadness and his joy.

The answer to one of the most important questions we can ever ask: “What does it mean to love one another?” Is humbly found in Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper, “He broke it, and gave it to them saying ‘This is My Body which is given up for you. Do this in memory of me’.”

This year has helped me learn that to love one another means to take on the action of Christ. That is, to die to our egos, our needs, our desires, such that we are broken by and through both our own crosses and the crosses of others. And it is only in this painful brokenness of the Good Friday cross that we are raised up to eternal life in love.

To learn more about serving with Amate House, click here

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Application Tips from a Current Volunteer

By Sara Spittler

1. Make lists of what populations you feel called to serve, where you would consider serving, what you like to do, and what you are good at doing. Research where these lists overlap. This is similar advice to what my father had me do when applying to programs. His categories were what do I like, what am I good at, what can I make money doing… However that last category doesn’t really apply to volunteer work. More appropriate perhaps is to ask yourself who do you feel called to serve within the poor and vulnerable and where would you like to be serving. By naming four or five things on each list, you can begin to piece together where your answers overlap and research organizations that meet the qualities you have identified.

2. Consider what would be an absolute deal breaker for you.
Service is about sacrifice, but there are some sacrifices that may prevent us from serving to the best of our abilities. Be sure to take these into account when narrowing down your possible service organizations. For example, if living in community with local people will be distracting to you or take away from your service experience somehow, take that into account when considering where you would like to apply. If you happen to be accepted into a program that meets nearly all of your desired qualities but has one glaring downside (perhaps location or work placement), don’t be afraid to turn it down if you feel it will detract from your ability to serve.

3. Imagine getting accepted into every program you’ve applied to – which program would be the hardest to say no to?
After I had been accepted into one of my top two programs and was waiting to hear from the final interview results of the other, considering which would be the more challenging to turn down helped me make my decision in the end. I couldn’t imagine saying no to the program that not only offered me everything I was looking for, but also allowed me to give back in the ministry in which I was hoping to be involved. In the end, I imagined telling my parents and friends that I had accepted or rejected each option; I imagined their reactions when I told them I had turned down either of my top programs. By picturing them reacting, I was able to decipher where my heart was truly called based on my treatment toward each program in discussion with my closest companions.

Overall, discernment is your best friend! Pray about this decision. Discuss it with those who know you best and those who know the programs you are considering best. Remember, there is no need to feel guilty about turning down an offer in favor of something else.

Sara is a current Echo volunteer/student through the University of Notre Dame.To learn more about the Echo Program, please click here.

This post was made as an extension to our Application Tips From a Current Volunteer blog series. Please check out our first blog post here.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Witnessing Forgiveness

“Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom" Luke 22:14 - 23:56

   Reflection by Debbie Northern, Maryknoll Lay Missioners Staff

     Palm Sunday always seems like a roller coaster of emotions for me.  We wave palms and have a  procession after hearing how Jesus was given a hero’s welcome in Jerusalem and a few minutes later we are hearing about his death in the Gospel!  Serving in mission can also take us on that type of emotional roller coaster.  We celebrate with the people joyful moments such as births and graduations, as well as accompanying them through the sad times of death, and dealing with injustices.  

Serving in El Salvador for eight years, I was witness to the terrible violence and insecurity that the Salvadoran people face daily.  When the NGO for whom I was working did a survey, it was discovered that the teenagers and young adults in our programs feared death from the violence in the country, not contracting HIV or AIDS, which was our focus.  In fact, that fear was realized when one of the young adults who was involved in our theatre group was killed by a gang member.  At a memorial Mass at our office, his father prayed for the young man who had killed his son and forgave him.  I hope that if anything so horrible happened to me or a loved one, I could have the strength to forgive.  This act of forgiveness reminded me of Jesus´ forgiveness of those who crucified him and for his compassion for the other people being crucified with him.  

Loving God, 

As we listen to the Gospel message today, give us the 
courage to confront unjust structures with words and 
actions.  Thank You for giving us brave witnesses such as 
Dorothy Day, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Dr. Martin Luther
 King, Jr., and, of course, Jesus, to teach us how to confront 
injustice without resorting to violence ourselves.  Also help us
 to forgive those who have hurt us; to see their pain and fear,
 too.  We thank you for the opportunity to share our joys and 
sorrows with others and to be part of a world community of 
sisters and brothers.  Let us not despair, but realize that 
you are with us always.  


Focus on: Social Justice

Also in today´s Gospel we hear about Pontius Pilate´s dilemma in trying to deal with an injustice.  He knew Jesus was innocent but bowed to political pressure.  How often do we do the same?  It is far easier to wash our hands of the consequences than take a stand against unjust structures.  What injustices do we witness and how can we work for justice?  Do we choose to remain ignorant of the root causes of injustice instead of listening to people’s experiences and finding out more about issues?

Service Suggestion:

There are many groups working around the world for justice and peace.  Find out if there is a Pax Christi, Amnesty International, or Bread for the World group near you.  What are the local organizations working for justice and peace?  Read more about issues that are impacting our world to hear the side of the story that is not in the mainstream media such as the book Enrique’s Journey that tells the story of a young man trying to get to the U.S. from Central America to find his mother.

This reflection is part of our Lenten Series - Download the Lenten Guide Here

Will You Follow?

“Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom" Luke 22:14 - 23:56

    Reflection by Cody Maynus, Visitation Internship Program Alumnus

       Palm Sunday is all about walking, isn’t it? We find ourselves walking alongside the massive crowd who gathered outside of Jerusalem, waving our palm fronds, and singing “All glory, laud, and honor to you, Redeemer King.” We find ourselves walking with the crowd as they bring Jesus, bound in chains like a criminal, to the authorities. We walk around—pacing in anxiety—as Pilate questions our Lord, probes him unnecessarily and makes fun of him. We walk behind Jesus, stripped and beaten, as he makes his way to Calvary, a massive wooden cross bearing down on his already bruised and broken body. And then, after all that walking, we are asked a question: Will you follow? That is, perhaps, the hardest question of the Christian life, because it carries so many implications. The Passion narrative is one of miscarried justice. An innocent man—declared innocent by the governor —is sentenced to brutalization, to humiliation, and to death on a cross. Make no mistake—our “yes” to Jesus’ question of “Will you follow?” will always lead to the cross. When we choose to turn away from injustice, from sin, violence, from racism, from homophobia, from any and all forms of oppression, we choose to walk alongside Jesus to the cross. But do not fear! For the whole Church in heaven and on earth joins with you, waving palms, and singing “Hosanna!”

O Jesus Christ, Redeemer King,

 Help us to walk in Your shadow as You begin Your long 
journey to the cross. Make us mindful of those who are beaten,
 humiliated, and executed daily around the world. Teach us to 
confront the evil and oppression in our own lives, in our own 
communities, and in our own country. Wrap us in your kind 
embrace when we become frightened or anxious. We ask this 
always in the name of the One who breaks chains
and sets all people free. 


Focus on: Community

If you are choosing to walk with Jesus to the cross, think for a moment about who is joining you? What does that community look like? How are your current (or previous) experiences of community shaping and guiding your Lenten journey toward the cross? What does it feel like knowing that a community—your own, your parish, the Church—joins you on this journey?

Service Suggestion:

Think about the people in your neighborhoods, parishes, service-sites, and faith communities who do a lot of walking? Who are these people? There are a lot of people in my neighborhood who have to get to and from work, the doctor, the grocery store, and church on foot. There is also an exercise facility for senior citizens, most of whom walk laps around the building by themselves or in small groups. Consider joining some of these people—getting to know them, talking with them, praying with them—as they walk from place to place or around the gym. Take this opportunity to build relationships.

This reflection is part of our Lenten Series - Download the Lenten Guide Here

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Look Again

Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw" John 8:1-11

    Reflection by Anna Dourgarian, Visitation Internship Program

       For the first time in reading this passage, I was disappointed. It is one of the most famous passages of the entire Bible; everybody knows the line “He who has never sinned shall cast the first stone.” What a line for the world to know about Christianity! What was Jesus telling us? It sounds like he was saying that the woman’s life was valued to the extent of everyone else’s depravity. It sounds like he was saying that we should not hold others accountable for their misdeeds. It sounds like he was saying that pure morality grants the privilege to kill. 

       Perhaps that is what Jesus said in order to calm a rowdy crowd, in order to save a life. However, we are not a rowdy crowd. We are volunteers who want to nurture life through our service. What would Jesus say to us today if we presented to Him a neighbor who had done wrong? 

       He would say that this person is a treasure. He would say that, even though the wrongdoing is so noticeable, the person’s hidden goodness far exceeds the bad. We would be doing ourselves a disservice by ridding our community of such potential for excellence. 

       When I reread this passage, I see everything that is hidden: the woman’s hidden goodness and Jesus’ hidden message. It has taught me something very quiet but very powerful: it says look again.

Ours is a stunning world with beautiful people. 
We are all a balance of the good and the bad, 
and we have the power to strive for more good. 
I accept responsibility for encouraging more good. 
I love this world, and I commit to treating it with love. 
I give thanks for it. I hold it as precious to my heart. 


Focus on: Community

Making judgments is a natural and powerful function of the human brain, but it is important to acknowledge that sometimes our judgments are wrong or outdated. Take this Lenten season to recognize and reassess judgments you have made of your loved ones and not-so-loved ones. Remember to reassess the judgments you have made about yourself, too.

Service Suggestion:

The adulteress in John 8 faced death by stoning for her wrongdoing. Was this just? What are the injustices in our justice system today? Research and articulate your opinion on the privatization of prisons, the national incarceration rate, and the power gap between guards and inmates. Engage others in conversation about these important topics. Visit a jail. In preparation for the day that you have to condemn a neighbor, make sure you know what your community’s sentence for criminals is.

This reflection is part of our Lenten Series - Download the Lenten Guide Here

Dropping the Stones

Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw" John 8:1-11

    Reflection by Sarah Ceponis, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry Alumna

       Back in the days of high school drama and cafeteria gossip, I remember hearing of a classmate who had supposedly cheated on his girlfriend. My friends and I, of course, had to discuss it, dissect it, debate it. “It’s so wrong!” I recall declaring. “I’d break up with him.” Back then, and for a long time, my world was full of moral absolutes: black or white, right or wrong, yes or no. 

         This memory, and my attitude at the time, is what first came to mind when reading today’s Gospel. I would have fit right in with the crowd, trying to persuade Jesus that the adulterous woman had clearly sinned. I can picture my teenage self, hand on my hip and a challenge in my voice: “Now what do you have to say, Jesus?” 

       Of course, Jesus is a step ahead of the crowds and me. He asks us to move beyond our moral absolutes, our hasty judgments, and our hardened hearts. He quietly suggests turning our gaze inward, and considering all the times we ourselves have fallen short, tripped up, did something wrong. “Who here has never made a mistake?” is what we hear from Jesus, and our indignation disappears in an instant. We drop the stones from our hands, and contemplate forgiveness instead.

Forgiving God,

 Help me to remember that though we live in a world 
quick to point fingers, to blame, to condemn, I can choose to 
have mercy. Guide me to step away from the crowd, and to 
realize that it often takes more strength to simply let a stone 
drop, than to throw it. Give me the courage to go against the 
grain, and always find a way to forgive. 


Focus on: Social Justice

  In working for a few years with men recently released from incarceration, I was thrust into a much deeper understanding of this Gospel. As friendships formed with these men, and their stories began to unfold, I found my “black and white, right and wrong” grasp on the world begin to fade away. The true meaning of social justice came alive in listening and learning about their pasts, drug deals and carjackings and robberies and all. I realized that criminal justice lets mistakes define a man, but social justice lets mercy do the defining. Justice can just as easily mean punishment, or forgiveness. Jesus makes clear, in this   Gospel, which definition we should adopt.

Service Suggestion:

If you would like to more deeply consider forgiveness this Lenten season, I suggest reading Bryan Stevenson’s powerful book Just Mercy.  He shares his journey as a lawyer advocating for prisoners on death row, and introduces the beautiful concept of not just not throwing stones, but of catching them. Choose to be a stone catcher by reading Stevenson’s story, and perhaps, supporting or getting involved in his quest for fair and just treatment for all in the legal system.

This reflection is part of our Lenten Series - Download the Lenten Guide Here

Friday, March 11, 2016

Serving with Sisters: Natalie Brown serving with Benedictine Volunteers

Throughout National Catholic Sisters Week, Catholic Volunteer Network will share interviews with volunteers currently serving alongside sisters. In each post you will hear a little more about how the volunteers found their program and what they’ve learned from the sisters they work with. Today we feature Natalie Brown from Lisbon Falls, Maine, a graduate of St. Joseph’s College of Maine and serving with Benedictine Volunteers.
Benedictine volunteer, Natalie Brown, gazes in amazement at ‘God’s cathedral’ in the Badlands of South Dakota while on a Discernment Weekend at St. Martin Monastery in Rapid City, South Dakota.

1. How did you find your volunteer program? What appealed to you about it?   
I filled out the search form on the Catholic Volunteer Network website, and results were plentiful! What really hooked me on the idea of Benedictine Volunteers was living and experiencing community life with the Sisters. Also, my decision was influenced so much by discernment program. I feel so blessed and safe living in a supportive environment where I am encouraged towards becoming what make me feel fulfilled and at the same time, filling a unique role needed in the community.

2. What does an average day look like for you?   
I get to start every day in community prayer with the Sisters. We participate in the Liturgy of the Hours and study the Psalms in the chapel, followed by breakfast with the community. We take turns making breakfast for the community -- everyone has their specialty! Then it’s off to my work placement at Ministry on the Margins where I work with Sister Kathleen Atkinson, OSB, who created the program for people on the margins on society, struggling to get basic help, such as… “I just got out of prison and I have only the clothes on my back and no money and no phone and no transportation and I’m hungry and cold”….We have a “coffee house” morning and welcome the homeless into our building for a warm breakfast of biscuits and gravy, coffee, pastries from the overflow supply at Starbucks, etc. It is a hospitality house and I spend the morning serving the people Jesus served. Then it’s midday prayer and lunch at the monastery, followed by other work placement, time for lectio divina, art/creative prayer time, and a walk outdoors. At the end of the day, we celebrate Mass, have dinner, evening prayer, and card, puzzles, games, and faith sharing community time. I wake up every day and I’m still amazed at how God loves me so much to let me live this incredible life experience!

 Benedictine volunteer, Natalie Brown (right) and Sister Aurelia Palm, OSB (left) have fun harvesting fall pumpkins and squash for the community of Mother of God Monastery in Watertown, South Dakota. 
3. How has service strengthened your faith and your understanding of vocation?   
I feel so lucky to be learning that God’s will and my will can happily exist together and make incredible things happen in the world. I only have to be myself, listening to the Holy Spirit that is inside me, craving to become the woman God sees when he looks at me. I originally thought I knew everything there was to know hearing God’s call. You just have to be open and you will hear it. Well, I was ready to hear it and waiting and waiting. But then I found it written on my heart. Slowly, I have discovered that those true deep desires and loves that are deep within and unshakable and undeniably yours -- they are written by God especially for you and your gifts. God is Love. He wants us to do what will bring us closer to Him and then, by doing what fulfills us we will bring others closer to Him. It all works out - you don’t have to know how - you just have to have faith and trust in the God who made you that it will all work out.

4. What have you learned from living and working with the sisters?
I feel at the same time that it has broken me and yet also sewn me back together with golden thread of peace and the divine presence. I have lost myself amidst this atmosphere of self-sacrifice and service. I have met myself-- the person that I am, my true self, the young woman who has welcomed the path less taken.  Willingly stepping onto the road of lifelong transformation in being redeemed by Christ -- who loves me just as I am, without having to do anything in order to earn or deserve his unfailing love.

 5. What advice would you give to someone interested in full-time volunteer service?
Stay as long as you can. See as much as you can. Experience as much as you can. Be open and welcoming to everything that comes across your path, the good and the bad, as it is all being used by God to shape you into a vessel and tool that He can use in His design for His kingdom. Stay in the present moment and live fully with the One who created you and also created everything around you. 

To learn more about CVN's From Service to Sisterhood initiative and discernment resources for volunteers, please click here.

For more information about National Catholic Sisters Week, including details about events taking place all over the U.S. please click here