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Beyond the Statistics

Wed, 06/22/2016 - 9:00am
Amor de Hermanas - Sisterly Love, Amanda and Diana*By Amanda Ceraldi, Franciscan Mission Service 

From the first day I met her, Diana* captured a piece of my heart. I’m not sure if it was her wide-eyed smile and precious dimples, her joyful belly laugh, or the way she called me “Miss” because she couldn’t properly pronounce my name, but she instantly captivated me. Diana brought a special light to my second grade English class. She was timid at first, but it didn’t take long until her excitement to learn took over.  There was something unique about Diana. I didn’t know what it was at first, but I was eager to understand and love her more to find out.  

Guatemala ranks fourth in the world among malnourished children. With 1 out of 2 children in Guatemala being chronically malnourished and nearly 3 out of 4 children in indigenous communities, it is hard not to be shocked by these statistics. When I first arrived in Guatemala these statistics didn’t really mean anything to me—they were overwhelming, but they were merely numbers. These numbers were a frustration with Guatemala’s infrastructure and they were a reminder of the work that needs to be done for the poor and marginalized.   

I had done research on malnutrition in Guatemala before my arrival. I had heard stories about how malnutrition effects childhood development.  I knew that lack of proper nutrition in the first few years of life has a great effect on a child’s ability to learn later in life. I understood how it would be more difficult for a child to advance in life, both mentally and emotionally, if they didn’t have access to the necessary nutrients to help their brains and bodies develop. But during my time at Orfanato Valle de los Angeles, a boarding school for poor and marginalized children who come from areas of Guatemala plagued with violence, abuse, and malnutrition, these numbers ceased to be a shock, a frustration, or a reminder. These numbers had a face. These numbers had a name. These numbers were my student, Diana. Suddenly, those statistics were directly impacting my call to mission.      

The more time I spent with Diana the more I began to notice what separated her from the other students in class. Diana would yell out answers, not unlike her classmates, but she would become angry and hit herself if she didn’t know the correct answer. She would pace back and forth in frustration if she colored outside of the lines during an activity. She would often punch or kick other students when they would laugh at her for talking to herself. I began to see the other kids in my class isolating themselves from Diana. She was often left without a partner during class activities, her classmates called her names, and it didn’t take much for her to storm away and cry in the corner.  

Like nearly 50% of the children born in Guatemala, Diana was born into such poverty that her family couldn’t properly take care of her. Because of this, and more reasons than I will ever know, Diana was abandoned and forced to overcome something way outside of her control in her young life. But upon her arrival at Valle de los Angeles, Diana was met with love and opportunity for her future. Like all of our 215 students, Diana was seen by our nurses, doctors, and nutritionists to ensure that she was growing, developing, and overcoming her malnourishment. She was given the opportunity to meet with our school psychologist to deal with the effects of her malnutrition. She was given a tutor to help her advance in her classes. But most of all, Diana was given love, care and hope.   

One of the greatest things I’m learning during my time on mission is the power of ministry of presence and accompaniment. Diana taught me how to love and accompany in new ways. I learned how to adjust my lesson plans and teaching style to meet Diana’s needs in my classroom. I learned what would cause Diana’s anger and frustration in my class and how to help her work through her emotions. I learned that loving can simply be the action of opening your arms for a hug. I learned that sometimes, in order to love and accompany another person, all you need to do is be there. Diana taught me that our capacity to grow and to love goes beyond the statistics.    

*Name Changed

Amanda is currently volunteering with Franciscan Mission Service. To find out more about this program, please click here.

Christ in Disguise: Bon Secours Volunteers Reflect on the Corporal Works of Mercy

Wed, 05/11/2016 - 9:00am
“The Corporal Works of Mercy are found in the teachings of Jesus and give us a model for how we should treat all others, as if they were Christ in disguise.”  ~United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
 The above description of the Corporal Works of Mercy reminds us that Christ lives within all of creation, unifying every living being. When we experience this sacred reality, we come to understand our actions as a means by which we may bring healing and wholeness to the Body of Christ. As our Bon Secours Ministry Volunteers practice the Corporal Works of Mercy through their service, they develop a deeper appreciation for the web of relationships which connects each of them in both an intimate and a personal way to all those they meet in their daily lives. In the reflections below, the BSVM volunteers share encounters which illustrate this growth. It is in the act of responding to their neighbor’s hunger and thirst for dignity through the Corporal Works of Mercy that our volunteers meet Christ in service.  ~ Olivia Steback, Program Manager, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry

Feed the Hungry and Give Drink to the ThirstyBy Gerard Ondrey
When I bring a patient a container of apple juice or a pack of graham crackers, it often doesn’t register in my mind as a significant action.  After all, most patients get three meals a day while in the hospital, something many of them do not receive outside the care of Bon Secours Baltimore Hospital.  However, during my year of service I have come to realize the importance of these gestures lies not in their magnitude, but in the greater recognition of the human dignity these acts symbolize.
The patients I encounter, many of whom struggle with poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, and other afflictions which contribute to their marginalization from mainstream society, are not used to being waited on or served. On the other hand, I am accustomed to going out to restaurants with family or friends, people taking my order, cooking my food, filling up my drink glass, and removing my dishes when I am done.  When offering a patient a snack, I don’t quite have the selection of a five-star restaurant to choose from, but when I am asking a question as simple as, “Would you prefer apple, cranberry, or orange juice?”  I feel I am embodying the ways in which I have been served. “Waiting” on patients, taking their “orders”, bringing them food, and clearing things away when they are done, feel like true acts of mercy. I am showing them that I find them important by honoring their requests and responding in a full and prompt manner.
In my mind, this is what it means to live out the Corporal Works of Mercy of feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. In the above scenarios, the acts are not important because the people I am serving are in danger of starving to death in that moment, but because of the dynamic they represent; seeing and honoring Christ’s presence in all people elicits the desire to serve. 
Shelter the HomelessBy Alex Yeo
Through my ministry in the emergency room I have been able to work with many of the homeless men and women who reside in our community. These individuals come to the hospital seeking medical care and assistance with their social problems. My role, when I first meet them, is to ensure that their non-medical needs are addressed. One of the main organizations the hospital partners with is Healthcare for the Homeless, a nonprofit that provides medical care and social service assistance. With their aid, I have been able to provide patients the support and resources needed to help them transition out of homelessness. 

Visit the SickBy Mackenzie Buss
Our volunteer community has been fortunate enough to avoid sickness so far (thank you Lord!) but, every day at the hospital, we work with those from the greater West Baltimore community who are ill. In my experience, it is often the sickest patients who are the most difficult to 'be present to'. All of our renal patients have a lot going on in their lives, from physical ailments, comorbidities, and actual disability to the myriad social problems that living in an impoverished neighborhood presents. In spite of the massive obstacles that all our patients face, there is still a huge range in energy levels and general overall health. The chipper, friendly, energetic patients are often the easiest to build relationships with. At first, I was daunted by the prospect of talking to the older, quieter, sicker renal patients. As I have grown and learned with Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry this year, I have come to understand that our service isn't necessarily about entertaining patients, solving little problems, or even listening to them. It's about being there for them with your whole soul.
That is the mentality that empowered me to smile a bit and sit down next to one of our elderly, quiet, very sick nursing home patients. Sometimes, I'll hold her hand or say something that I am thinking of, but mostly I just sit there beside her. It's really a silent visit, a moment of being present to one of my sisters in Christ in the only way I know how - to just be together. I don't have much else to offer her, but something about those tiny moments, no matter how small and simple, just feels right. It's like a little slice of the Holy Spirit is there in right relationship with us as we sit and simply betogether. 

Visit Prisoners By Elizabeth Modde
It is not unusual to pass a man or woman walking down the hallway in handcuffs, flanked by two security guards. Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore ministers to patients from the Department of Corrections. In fact, some patients admitted to St. Martin's Hall Inpatient Unit will be discharged to the police. Seeing these patients, shackled to their beds, I find myself trying to imagine what they must be feeling. Some are visibly anxious. With a small idea of the dehumanization that can be experienced in prison, I feel privileged to extend warmth and kindness to our prisoners at the hospital. Recognizing basic humanity and dignity, of both patients and the guards in their rooms, can be as simple as smiling and offering a cup of water. 

Bury the DeadBy Alex Yeo
In the ER, you rarely get the opportunity to develop a lasting relationship with a patient. There is a very specific process: triage, treat, and either discharge or admit to the inpatient floor. The focus is on efficiency not casual conversation. Regardless, many of the patients that come to the ER frequently are often too intoxicated or incapacitated to engage in conversation. This year, however, I had the privilege of meeting a patient, let us call him David, who had developed a lasting relationship with the ER staff.
David, admittedly, was not the most pleasant patient to work with; a homeless alcoholic he had been cycling through the ER for over twenty years. I was always impressed that despite how frustrating it was for the staff to see him constantly return to the hospital, they were able to retain hope for his future. He was always given a place to rest out of the cold, a warm meal, and often times new clothes. The ER staff was his family. Their relationship may have begun begrudgingly but was now one of love and concern.  When David passed away this winter, the mood in the ER was one of sadness and relief. Knowing that he had moved on to a better place brought solace to those who had worked with him.
Being one of the last people to work with him, I was given the task of organizing his memorial service. Visiting the different departments of the hospital to raise publicity about the service, I was amazed at how many people in the hospital knew of him or had stories about caring for him. The hospital staff had given him many resources and much love, but he also gave back to us. During those difficult and frustrating moments of caring for him, he taught us how to love and to be patient; how to look past one’s impulsive judgments and tap into a deeper desire to care for one another as members of God’s creation. For those lessons we are eternally grateful and his presence will be greatly missed. 
Give Alms to the PoorBy Nicole Odlum
Through my ministry, I had the privilege to deliver Christmas gift bags to the many seniors I visit every month for blood pressure screenings. Around Christmastime each year, women from local Baltimore churches donate gift bags filled with simple personal hygiene products, laundry and dish detergent, and hand-knit scarves. For many of the residents, this may be the only Christmas present they receive. When I told them they could keep the entire bag of gifts, the look on their faces was humbling. The gratitude and appreciation they expressed was inspiring; this simple, unexpected gift bag brought them so much joy. One woman actually came back down from her apartment after leaving with her gift bag to thank us again for the things we gave her. That was an extremely powerful moment for me, because I realized how much these simple items, items most people consider a necessity, meant to the seniors. 
Pope Francis writes that, “Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”  Please continue to remember our volunteers in your prayers as they take Pope Francis’ words to heart and strive to courageously live lives of mercy and hope. 

To learn more about Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry, please click here

Justice in Education

Mon, 05/02/2016 - 12:18pm
By Mary Arczynski, Colorado Vincentian Volunteer

In school I discovered my passion for improving our societal structures, but by my senior year, I felt dissatisfied with pure discussion and felt a pull to act, to “do” something about all of the societal injustices that I was learning about. Especially in my economics courses, many discussions on the right policies for social safety nets, for Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, etc. seemed so overwhelming in terms of my inability to help everyone. So many of these programs feel like putting a Band-Aid on a deep wound that needs stitches, stitches that no one is willing or able to pay for. Learning about injustice, and not knowing how to help the marginalized, many times left me with a deep feeling of despair. This study led me to my passion for education equality. The more I studied economics, the more I realized the self-agency that improving the education or “worker’s skill” of a person that knowledge and experience provides.
There are many factors that play into the education of a child outside of the public institution of school—to include supportive parents or guardians, presence or lack-thereof of traumatic events in childhood, safety, nutrition, the amount of education received by a child’s parents, etc, and arguably those are factors that society does not have to “pay for” in terms of education. But, when you really think about it, education is everything when it comes to preventing a deep wound from ever forming so that a Band-Aid never has to be used in the first place, and school systems are not equal in terms of funding, nor are they equitable. Education is supposed to give everyone a chance and in addition, when done correctly, it gives people the awareness to advocate for themselves. A beneficial education allows the marginalized to improve their situations and to become contributing members of society who can interact with pride and mutual self-respect.
Education is what turns anger, violence and despair towards a situation into a burning hope for something better. Truly, think of the first time you learned to read a word, your first book and your first scholarly essay that opened a portal into an entirely new perspective on life. An education allows an individual to do that many times over during the course of ONE day. Imagine the impact of a successful countrywide educational structure on our country. One in which each student and school had adequate staffing, textbooks, technology and opportunity.

Anyone working in a profession that directly advocates for the marginalized knows that many social justice issues are intertwined. One cannot talk about education injustice without talking about poverty, and one cannot talk about poverty without talking about racial injustice. But, I truly believe that the first pragmatic step to long-term positive improvement of the many social justice issues in our country begins with providing equitable education to children. 

Mary Arczynski is a graduate of James Madison University with a dual degree in English and Economics. She is currently volunteering with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers. 

This post is part of our new Justice Matters series, in which volunteers reflect on the social justice issues that have become an important part of their service experience. 

Holy Ground: A Volunteer and Graduate Student's Experiences of Unexpected Grace

Tue, 04/19/2016 - 9:00am
By Laura Shrode, former Colorado Vincentian Volunteer

“As others allow you into the most tender places in their lives, you will know you are standing on holy ground, and you will find yourself touched, humbled, and gladdened by unexpected grace.” –Sharyl Peterson

On one particular busy afternoon at my service site, Denver Urban Ministries, I met Cynthia (not her real name). My job was to sit with her, ask her some standard questions, fill out paperwork and then assist her to our food pantry. That is the bare minimum. One of the best things about Denver Urban Ministries is their emphasis on quality over quantity. Though the lobby was bursting with people and we were short-staffed, the organizational leadership taught me to be present to the person in front of me. And so it was that I heard Cynthia’s story. Through tears and mumbles, she shared her struggles and fears.  I sat and listened.  I tried to acknowledge her struggles and let her vocalize the pain and the fear she had been feeling, but had been afraid to speak. It appeared as if this were the first time she had been able to mention these struggles aloud. 

Three years later, I do not remember the specifics of our conversation, but I have not forgotten what it felt like to be standing on Holy Ground. What a beautifully, powerful place to be! This conversation with Cynthia was one of the crucial moments that led me on my journey to Saint John’s School of Theology to pursue a Master of Divinity degree. My journey at Saint John’s has allowed me to travel many paths filled with unexpected grace. Many of these moments have come from my time as an intern and a chaplain at a local hospital.

My learning experience so far as a hospital chaplain has taught me to expect the unexpected.  When I enter a patient’s room or respond to a trauma, I have only the slightest idea of what I am getting myself into.  In some cases, the patient is alone sitting in his chair watching The Price is Right. Other times, several family members are present, with remnants of snacks and blankets from the one who stayed overnight with their loved one sprawled across the small space. At another moment, in a moment of trauma, I may enter a sea of organized chaos. The lights are bright, a few white coats are in the room and several other medical staff members dance around the patient in the hospital bed. I am always impressed by how the medical staff have mastered the dance of chaos. So many beeps from different machines, so many bodies trying to do chest compressions, trying to bring in the right medications, trying to do whatever they can to keep the patient alive and comfortable. Most times the dance is beautiful. Somehow the medical team knows their roles and where they need to be to not get in the way of one another. I try to stand near the head of the patient, to let her know that she is not alone. Or I will be directed to where the family is waiting. There we will sit and pray, pace, and share stories.

I am learning to appreciate the many surprises. Sometimes I am surprised by the medical situation - the biology degree in me is constantly fascinated with some of the crazy things I have witnessed. Sometimes I am surprised by the stories I hear - stories of pain, grief, loneliness, joy, hope and love. Many older patients have given me advice on how to live a good life, how to have a happy marriage, and how to keep the faith.

I value these stories because I recognize that in listening to them, I am standing (or sitting usually) on Holy Ground. The patients or family members are allowing me to enter into their lives, even if just for a few brief moments. I am able to share in the joys and blessings of a new birth or the sadness and confusion when someone hears difficult news. I find “unexpected grace” in seeing Christ in the hospital bed before me. How lucky am I that I get to encounter the many faces of Christ on a daily basis? I truly am humbled by these experiences.

My time at Saint John’s School of Theology has led me to other ministry work as well.  I am the new Recruitment Coordinator for the Benedictine Women Service Corps volunteer program. I now have the opportunity to encourage others to seek out ways to encounter that “unexpected grace.” This position allows me to connect with female college students interested in service and help them discern where their path is taking them.  I anticipate, with excitement, that they will have their own experiences of unexpected grace on holy ground.

Laura Shrode was a full-time volunteer with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers in Denver, Colorado 2012-2013. She now is a full-time graduate student at Saint John’s School of Theology (Collegeville, MN) working towards a Master of Divinity with plans for hospital chaplaincy. She also works as the Recruitment Coordinator for the Benedictine Women Service Corps.

To learn more about St. John's School of Theology and their scholarships for volunteers, please click here

Don't Forget About the Soil

Fri, 04/15/2016 - 4:11pm
By Carley Knapp, Bethlehem Farm Volunteer

One of my favorite aspects of being on the volunteer staff of Bethlehem Farm in Pence Springs, West Virginia, is the opportunity to lead crews of high school and college students in our gardens.  We have two large gardens and several smaller ones where we cultivate many of the vegetables and herbs that we serve year-round during our service retreats.  We host volunteers from schools, parishes, and universities around the Northeast, Midwest, and Central United States, and most of the young adults have not spent much time growing any of their own food.  A transformation happens frequently that fills me with hope and joy: Students who at the beginning of the week seem tentative and uncomfortable with garden work by the end of the week are outside with wheelbarrows and pitchforks, big grins and dirty gloves, weeding, seeding, or layering on compost like they’ve been farming their whole lives. I know when I get my hands dirty in the garden, it’s happy work that makes me feel a sense of connectedness.  After all, I am connected to the soil if my food is growing there, not in an abstract kind of way but as a micro-biological reality.  The adage, “You are what you eat,” links us through plants to the soil.  We can only be as healthy as the food that we eat, and the plants that become our food can only be as healthy as the soil that feeds them.  Just as humans enjoy a variety of foods and have individual culinary preferences, plants thrive in environments with a variety of bacteria and fungi and have unique nutritional needs.  The problem is that most of the world’s soil today is eroded and degraded.  A 2006 study in the Journal of the Environment, Development and Sustainability found that soil is being washed and swept away 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replenished. Our industrial society has not found a way to replace what it takes from the soil.Pope Francis sums up this issue in Laudato Si when he writes,It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants.  But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and byproducts.  We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations. (Paragraph 22)Nourishing our soils is one way to correct the wasteful patterns we have inherited in our society.  If you have a garden, give it love in the form of lots of mulch and compost.  If you don’t have a garden, give your food waste to someone who composts and gardens.  Or start a garden!  Worm bins are a great way to get quick compost from small amounts of food waste. At Bethlehem Farm, we even have a “humanure” system where we use sawdust and buckets to compost our own – you guessed it. Do what makes sense for you, just don’t forget about the soil.

Carley Knapp earned her Bachelor's degree from Indiana University, and a Master's in Theology from St. Meinrad Archabby. She now serves as a volunteer caretaker at Bethlehem Farm, located in Pence Springs, West Virginia. 

This post is part of our new Justice Matters series, in which volunteers reflect on the social justice issues that have become an important part of their service experience. 

Where Are They Now? Former Volunteers in Engineering

Tue, 04/05/2016 - 9:00am
Here is another exciting installment of our popular feature, “Where Are They Now?” This series highlights volunteer alumni who carry out the spirit of service in different professions and ministries. In this edition we are getting to know some alumni who have chosen professions in engineering.

Hello! I'm Angela Medlock, and I served with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers (CVV) in Denver, CO from 2010-2011. I studied civil engineering, and am now a Bridge Inspection Engineer with AECOM.What inspired you to serve?  After attending both the career fair and the volunteer fair at my college, I knew volunteering was what I wanted to do. Spending a year living in community with a group of strangers, working to help those in poverty, and learning the importance of simple living seemed like the perfect way to kick off adulthood.

What is one memory from your time of service that has stuck with you, and why?  I worked at a homeless day-shelter, and many days I was part of the staff that opened the doors in the morning at 6am. As the guests entered, we would greet and check them in. These short interactions were always my favorite part of the day. It amazed me how cheerful so many of the people were despite having slept on the streets or in shelters the night before. It reminded me that having a positive attitude will help get you through a lot in life. I have never enjoyed going to work as much as I did those days I was opening the shelter.

Has your service experience impacted your career path? If so, how?A large component of our service year was focused on reflection and discussion. Taking the time to reflect on how I’m serving my clients and co-workers has made me a stronger leader and manager. Another piece of our service year was learning to live in community with others, even people we didn’t see eye to eye with. We would always be encouraged to face problems directly, and have the difficult conversations that we often want to shy away from. This skill set has come in handy both in my personal and professional life after CVV.

Why did you choose to work in engineering?Growing up, I was always enthralled by bridges. This passion, along with a very engaging Physics teacher in high school, led me to pursue a career in civil engineering.

Did your service experience change your perspective as an engineer? How?As a bridge inspector we deal with people who are homeless on a regular basis. They often take shelter beneath bridges, and when we come to do our inspection they will offer helpful information they have noticed about the bridge (i.e. leaking joints, heavy water flows, etc.). Some inspectors refer to these people as “vagrants” and “bums” in our reports. My volunteer year comes out at these moments, and I advocate for the people living under the bridge even if it just means changing the language we use to reference them in our reports.

My work brings me joy because … I am able to combine my love for bridges with my love for the outdoors while protecting the traveling public!

How do you stay connected to your program or service site?Since my volunteer year, I have had the privilege to sit on the board for CVV and help start an alumni association for the volunteers who have gone through the year of service. My closest friends are still the people from my CVV community, and one of the program directors is my spiritual director!

Questions for fun:What engineering class did you complain about most in college, and why?Statistics. My professor, despite his engaging British accent, was extremely tough.

Will computers eventually outsmart humans?Unless they can teach computers compassion, I don’t think so!

Hey! I'm Dan Frank, and I served with the Mercy Volunteer Corps at a Catholic middle school located on the heart of the Navajo Nation. I taught mathematics, coached soccer, and started an after school engineering club during the 2010-2011 school year. Now, I am a Ph.D student in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Florida.

What inspired you to serve? As an undergrad, I had a truly inspiring adviser. He was a former NASA astronaut that had a passion for engineering outreach. He encouraged me to engage with local inner-city students in engineering activities. Through these outreach efforts, I began to appreciate just how many opportunities that I’ve been given in life and recognized that I had a responsibility to do what I could to extend these opportunities to the next generation.

What is one memory from your time of service that has stuck with you, and why? One time I was giving a presentation on robotics to the first grade. I showed them a video of a robot that was trying to climb a jungle gym when it slipped, fell, and broke. When I asked the class, “What do you do when something breaks?” One of the students responded, “You cry!” I was completely caught by surprise. That was not the answer that I was expecting. So I gently responded, “You could cry, but wouldn’t it be even better if you fixed it instead?” The class cheered as I then showed them a video of the repaired robot, climbing once again. At the end of the presentation I asked the same question, “What do you do when something breaks?” The class shouted out, “You fix it!”

Has your service experience impacted your career path? If so, how?Absolutely, because of my service experience, I realized just how important having opportunities to learn about engineering can be for students. It inspired me to go back to the Navajo Nation every year to run workshops on engineering topics as well as to start a couple Lego robotics teams. I even helped one of those teams to organize and host a STEM conference for the Navajo Nation where people traveled a combined total of over 12,000 miles to attend. As a graduate student, I was spending so much time on engineering outreach with the Navajo Nation and other sites around the country, that I finally recognized it as my true passion, causing me to shift the focus of my research from robotics to engineering education.

Why did you choose to work in engineering? For as long as I can remember, I loved building robots. I remember my first robot was an upside-down bucket strapped to an RC car that had a couple wrenches taped onto it for arms. Being able to make something is cool. Making something that moves is even better. Being able to make something that moves and can think for itself, well what’s cooler than that?

Did your service experience change your perspective as an engineer? How?It was experiences like the one I had working with the first graders that helped me to learn that engineering is more than just a profession. It’s a perspective - a way of viewing the world, not as one full of obstacles, but as one filled with endless opportunities. Engineers use a number of skills to solve problems that can be used by anyone. For example, how do you approach a problem when there may be thousands of possible solutions? How do you take a large problem and break it down into a bunch of smaller ones? When I work with a class to help them to develop these engineering skills, I don’t do it because I think it is important that everyone becomes an engineer. I do it because I believe that these are skills that anyone can benefit from, regardless of the profession that they choose. Learning about engineering is empowering. It means that a lot less tears are going to be shed when something breaks in the first grade classroom.

My work brings me joy because … I am able to use my skills and talents to bring positive change to the communities that need it the most.

Questions for fun:What engineering class did you complain about most in college, and why?Probably thermodynamics, I just never warmed up to it.

Will computers eventually outsmart humans?Are you sure that it hasn’t happened already?
In the next installment of "Where Are They Now?" we will feature former volunteers working in campus ministry! Do you know someone we should feature in this article? Send your submissions to Katie Mulembe at

To See Our Own Light

Wed, 03/30/2016 - 2:05pm
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.

Easter Abroad: Reflections from Peru

Sun, 03/27/2016 - 2:00pm
“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. 

PrayerO 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

Sun, 03/27/2016 - 12:00pm
“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

Sun, 03/27/2016 - 9:00am
“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.

PrayerLoving 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

From Death To Life

Fri, 03/25/2016 - 3:00pm
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

Application Tips from a Current Volunteer

Wed, 03/23/2016 - 1:59pm
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.

Witnessing Forgiveness

Sun, 03/20/2016 - 2:00pm
“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.  

PrayerLoving 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?

Sun, 03/20/2016 - 9:00am
“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!”
PrayerO 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 chainsand 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

Look Again

Sun, 03/13/2016 - 2:00pm
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.

PrayerOurs 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

Sun, 03/13/2016 - 9:00am
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.

PrayerForgiving 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

Serving with Sisters: Natalie Brown serving with Benedictine Volunteers

Fri, 03/11/2016 - 10:00am
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

Serving With Sisters: Sr. Kathryn Press, former volunteer with the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 10:00am
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 Sr. Kathryn Press, ASCJ, from Atlanta Georgia, a graduate from St. Mary's College, and Aquinas Institute of Theology. Sr. Kathryn served with the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Sacred Heart Villa Preschool (St. Louis, MO) as a catechist for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd before discerning her own vocation.
THEN: Katie Press with Sr. Maria Battaglia, ASCJ in the Sacred Heart Villa Atrium (Spring 2009)NOW: Sr. Kathryn Press working in an atrium as an Apostle. Photo credit to Rebecca V. Tower. 1.  How did you find your volunteer program? What appealed to you about it? I met "my" sisters quite by accident when a sister enrolled in graduate school with me and we had class together. From there a friendship blossomed and I learned about the sisters' ministries in St. Louis. When the opportunity arose to teach with the sisters, I was  excited to serve alongside women who were so passionate and caring.
2. What did an average day look like for you?I worked as a part-time catechist but came to school every day. The school uses the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd approach to faith formation. The atrium, or religion classroom, is prepared with the young child in mind. Along with a sister as an aide, I proclaimed the beauty of our faith to 3 year-olds and kindergarten students. 
3. How has service strengthened your faith and your understanding of vocation?The year I taught with the sisters, I started my application to join the community. The time spent with the students (even the littlest ones!), teachers, and sisters brought me so much joy! I knew I wanted to give my life away to help others, but I didn't want to do it alone. I wanted to do it in community--together with others, working toward a common purpose. Only later could I articulate that I was discovering our charism--to share the love of the Heart of Christ!
4. What have you learned from living and working with the sisters?I knew the sisters were dedicated to their ministry. They were waiting at the door for early morning drop-off and at the end of the day too. But teaching with them helped me see a different side. I learned how much they cared for their students, praying for the families and their needs. They lived with integrity. When they said to someone, "I'll pray for you" I knew they meant it.
5. What advice would you give to someone interested in full-time volunteer service?Ask questions! Observe everything! The sisters I taught with weren't "young" chronologically. Yet they were full of life, vigor and passion. They didn't live life
with superficial zeal, but instead it was something much deeper. Pray to the Holy Spirit and ask to be open to being sustained by God and not by your own efforts. He will do great things through 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

Serving with Sisters: Candice Punzalan, serving with the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart

Wed, 03/09/2016 - 3:00am
Throughout National Catholic Sisters Week, Catholic Volunteer Network will share interviews and reflections from 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 Candice Punzalan from Fullerton, California, a graduate of California State University, and Serving with the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles.
     “Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25: 37-40).

Sharing a roof and a common mission of serving others with eight other young ladies under the guidance of the Carmelite Sisters taught me that service rendered to others – while not always easy – is always service done directly for the Lord. The two weeks I lived with the Sisters unfortunately coincided with an emotionally tumultuous time in my life at home, so it was difficult for me to think of giving myself as a gift to others when I personally felt heavyhearted, insecure, and out of place. I yearned for the scheduled moments of silent prayer when I could sit still in His consoling presence. 

Thanks be to God, I started noticing His presence outside of the church walls during the hours of apostolic activity. He was in the elderly people whose wheelchairs we pushed. He was in the young schoolchildren whose lives at home were less than ideal. He was in the women I was living with. I started seeing the face of the wounded Christ in those who were suffering. What I learned during my experience of living and serving with the Carmelite Sisters is that when I see the Lord upon His throne in glory, it won’t be my first time seeing Him. I will have seen Christ in every wounded individual I feed, clothe, or visit during this earthly life.

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

More information about the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles and their volunteer opportunities can be found here
                                                   For more information about National Catholic Sisters Week, including details about events taking place all over the U.S. please click here

Serving with Sisters: Molly Trainor of Benedictine Volunteers

Tue, 03/08/2016 - 4:34pm

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 Molly Trainor from Pataskala, Ohio, a graduate from Franciscan University of Steubenville, volunteering with the Benedictine Volunteers. 
1. How did you find your volunteer program? What appealed to you about it?
The Catholic Volunteer Network website ( led me Benedictine Volunteers. The discernment program of Benedictine Volunteers was an aspect that strongly influenced my decision to volunteer. I knew that I wanted a service experience that also helped me discern my vocation, and Benedictine Volunteers’ focus on discernment was very appealing
Benedictine, Molly Trainor works hand-in-hand with Sister Aurelia Palm, OSB, master gardener of Mother of God Monastery  in Watertown, South Dakota. Molly and Sister Aurelia harvest rhubarb together with the monastery companion, Abbey.
2. What does an average day look like for you?
In my average day, I wake up early because I like the time to prepare for the day before morning prayer at eight. After morning prayer, I might help Sister Aurelia in the monastery gardens or assist the director of Habitat for Humanity Greater Watertown Region. After, it’s time for Mass in the chapel, catching up with the Sisters over lunch, and then a short midday prayer. Depending on my schedule, I then head to the Benedictine Multicultural Center to help with English as a Second Language classes or to Benet Place Independent and Assisted Senior Living where I visit with residents. Afterward, I return to the monastery for my favorite part of the day: evening prayer and supper with the Sisters, followed by community recreation.

3. How has service strengthened your faith and your understanding of vocation?
By showing me the value of serving my brothers and sisters in Christ, service reinforced for me that we are all in solidarity in the Universal Church. Service allowed me to step out of myself and my own desires, drawing me closer to the Lord.  It also strengthened my understanding of vocation by showing me that my call is largely where my skills, my interests, and the needs of the world intersect. Service helped me see that, while I have to be open to all the paths God may choose for me, whatever the path, it will be one to which I am uniquely suited.
Benedictine volunteer, Molly Trainor helps Sister Charles Palm, OSB with a Native American Children’s Summer Camp in Fort Thompson, South Dakota.
4. What have you learned from living and working with the sisters?
Living and working with the Sisters gave me the chance to experience a life ordered toward God. Through my time of service, I learned from the Sisters the joys of living a life focused on God and His will. Their courage and dedication in following their vocations taught me to place my trust in God and know that whatever my calling, God will provide.  
5. What advice would you give to someone interested in full-time volunteer service?
I would recommend full-time volunteer service because it’s a wonderful opportunity to let God guide your life. It was a great experience for me, one that I wouldn’t have thought I could handle before I immersed myself in it. If someone is truly interested in full-time service, that is probably a good indication that they would navigate it successfully 
and grow from the experience.
Sister Adrienne Kaufmann, OSB (right) and Patricia Nguyen, Director of Benedictine Volunteers (left) say ‘thank you’ to Benedictine volunteer, Molly Trainor (center) for her 3-months of service at Mother of God Monastery in Watertown, South Dakota

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.