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Fifth Sunday of Lent Reflection by Kate Fowler

Fri, 03/16/2018 - 9:00am

Lenten Reflections to support your spiritual journey over these forty days - brought to you by Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Fifth Sunday of Lent Reflectionby Kate Fowler, former volunteer with Catholic Volunteer Network, Blog Editor at Catholic Apostolate Center
"Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” (John 12:20-33)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus prepares his followers for his impending Passion and reminds them of the type of discipleship they are called to: one of service and sacrifice. 

We meet Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem days before the Passover. Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead and has been welcomed into the city with palm branches and praise—what we celebrate as Palm Sunday. “Whoever serves me must follow me,” Jesus says solemnly. What does it mean to follow Jesus? In this context, a lot. He is about to fulfill his mission on earth through his Passion, death, and resurrection. He knows what lies before him: torture, mockery, exhaustion, and death itself. If we are to follow Christ, he is asking us to do so in a way that involves carrying our crosses. The path to resurrection is filled with opportunities to grow in love and service of one another. Jesus reminds us, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” 

This Lenten season, as we journey towards the celebration of Easter and Christ’s resurrection, let us ponder what it means to follow Jesus and what role the cross plays in our discipleship. Are there certain things in our life that need to die in order to produce much fruit? Is Jesus asking us to give something up or work on something more deeply in order to better follow him?

Focus on: Simplicity
Simplicity is fundamental to deepening our lives of service. A commitment to detachment, whether physical or spiritual, frees us in order to better hear the promptings of God and be better disposed to the needs of others. Jesus himself lived a life of complete detachment to the will of the Father and one committed to simplicity. How can you practice a spirit of detachment and commit to a life of simplicity this Lenten season?

Lord Jesus, you said that a grain of wheat must die in order to produce much fruit. 

Help us as we prepare to celebrate your Passion, death, and resurrection to die to ourselves in order to live more fully for you and for others. 

Help us to practice a spirit of detachment and simplicity as we seek to serve and follow you more closely. 

May we carry our crosses each day joyfully with your grace so that we too may experience the beauty of resurrection. 


Service Suggestion:
Are there things in your life that God is calling you to give up or be detached to? Go through your material goods this Lenten season and see if there’s anything that can benefit others, be donated, or recycled. Take this spirit of detachment deeper by decluttering your mental and spiritual lives. Are you over-committed or always on the go? Try to slow down this season and focus on bringing the notion of simplicity into your prayer life by doing a daily spiritual practice and doing it well.

About the Author:
Kate Fowler is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center. She received her M.A. in Leadership for the New Evangelization from the Augustine Institute. Kate did a year of service with the Catholic Volunteer Network as their Communications Intern from 2012-2013 and currently resides outside of Washington, D.C.

Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Lenten Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Lenten resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

Searching for Charism: Melissa Feito - Loretto Volunteers, Washington DC

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 2:31pm
“What does the world ‘charism’ even mean?!”
In this podcast, Serving with Sisters Ambassador Melissa Feito takes us on a moving, surprising, and oftentimes comical journey to define the charism of Loretto Volunteers. From conversations with former volunteers in DC to interviews with Sisters of Loretto in Kentucky, what she discovers can inspire us all. Enjoy this podcast, and stay tuned to hear more from Melissa and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

Melissa, a current Loretto Volunteer, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Sisters in Service: Sr. Connie Bach - PHJC Volunteer Program

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 5:26pm

In honor of National Catholic Sisters Week, Catholic Volunteer Network will share the perspective of sisters who started volunteer programs through CVN's From Service to Sisterhood initiative. Sisters will share a little more about how they discerned their vocation, why they felt called to create a volunteer program, and what they've learned from living and working alongside volunteers.Today we meet Sr. Connie Bach of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ and Executive Director of PHJC Volunteer Program 
My name is Sr. Connie Bach, Poor Handmaid of Jesus Christ from Indiana. I direct the PHJC Volunteer Program, which offers volunteer opportunities anywhere from a week to a year in northwest Indiana and Chicago, as well as limited opportunities in Mexico and Kenya.
I was taught by PHJC sisters as a child and was impressed by their joy, simplicity, fun, prayerfulness and down to earth-ness! I also was inspired by the simplicity with which they live, their community life, the dignity and respect they show for each person and for their listening and openness to the Spirit in their lives. Lastly, I was deeply moved by their preferential option for the poor and marginalized as well as their great respect and care for Earth.
After nearly twenty years in education as a teacher and principal, I then ministered as a music therapist with persons living with special needs ranging in age from 5-95. But I wanted to share my joy and love of the poor with young people. I currently direct our volunteer program which offers single women 18 and older (and sometimes men) unique opportunities in a faith-based context to live out their Baptismal call to share God’s presence in our world.

The PHJC Volunteer Program building community while impacting mission.I do not have a “typical day!” That is what I love about what I do. Each day brings new opportunities to answer God’s call and to live the gospel responding to whatever needs present themselves to me. Often I am on the road meeting young people at fairs and campuses, participating in vocation events, planning for future outreach and service, and working for my community in whatever way is needed. 

PHJC volunteers in action - changing lives with personal attention.The volunteers with whom I have worked have drastically changed my view of the world and how they respond to God’s call to serve. I have witnessed profound prayer and contemplation, observed meaningful and inspiring service, and witnessed deep-seated compassion, and tenderness in a broken world. I’ve seen the eyes of those served glimmer with new hope, heard billowing belly laughs, celebrated with warm,  life-giving hugs and reverenced both joyful and sorrowful tears – all because a volunteer took the time to offer a hand, listen, comfort or assist another in need. Volunteers literally become angels for others!

Connecting souls with stillness, silence and listening.I encourage those discerning volunteering or perhaps a vocation in the church to set aside time each day for SILENCE, to just BE STILL in God’s presence and LISTEN deeply to the voice within. In this chaotic, fast-moving and ever-changing world of ours, God gets pushed to the back burner and yet offers a safe harbor where desires are known, prayers are heard, new paths are shown and peace is cultivated. I also encourage having an objective, mature mentor or spiritual guide to assist in contemplating God’s call to a life of service, whether as single, married, vowed religious clergy or in lay ecclesial ministry.
Most of all, I encourage people to follow what it is they are passionate about and to live with great passion, fully giving themselves in service to something of significance, something greater than themselves that builds the kingdom here among us! “For it is in giving that we receive!” (St. Francis of Assisi).

For more discernment resources, we also encourage you to visit the "Explore Your Vocation" section on Catholic Volunteer Network's website. 

The Weight of Waiting

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 6:00am
By Allison Dethlefs, Franciscan Mission Service

The darkness pressed in on me as I fumbled to shut off my alarm. I used to be a morning person, I thought groggily, checking my watch to make sure it was still before 5:00 a.m. But over a year of living in Cochabamba, Bolivia had softened me, and it is no longer my norm to wake up before the sunrise. I slipped out of bed, dressed, grabbed an apple, and checked to make sure I had everything: photocopies of the IDs, money, and the small, yellow card with a girl’s name and birth date stamped on it.It wasn’t a far walk—maybe fifteen minutes—but it seemed much longer strolling down empty streets than in the bustle of daytime. The glow of the streetlights revealed my only company: a taxi, a wandering dog, and a few people sleeping huddled in the shadows. I quickened my pace; I should already have been there. When I finally arrived at the pediatric and maternity ward of the public hospital, the line winding towards the front door was already about fifty people long. I wondered how many families had arrived the night before and slept there to reserve their spots. It was barely after five, and the doors wouldn’t open until at least seven, which meant that the line was only going to increase in length. I thanked my lucky stars I had gotten there as early as I had. We waited as light slowly ate its way into the sky, nibbling at the earthbound edges and whisking the moon away. “Is this the line to get a ficha (a spot to see a doctor)?” newcomers would ask. “Sí.”“For pediatría (pediatrics)?”“For everything.”The little girl I was waiting in line for was almost five years old, yet she was unable to move her limbs, sit up, talk, or eat solid foods. She was terribly malnourished, weighing only about eleven pounds, her bones clearly visible beneath tautly-stretched skin. We were visiting a pediatric neurosurgeon today to see if there was anything to be done about her condition. But the family, like so many I accompanied, lived hours away from the public hospital. Had I not been able to go early to save a place in line for them, they would have had to spend the night in line as well. The minutes dragged by. “I’m in front of you, okay?” said the woman ahead of me. She left to get some breakfast from the vendors selling hot beverages to the early hospital crowd. I had come to learn of the unspoken accord between people in hospital lines in Bolivia: You save my place, I’ll save yours. She returned with a plastic cup of steaming tojorí (a thick, corn-based beverage), the baby slung across her back still asleep.

At last it was 7:00 a.m. I shook myself out of my stupor to see a man emerge from inside and unlock the front doors. Instead of opening them, he came outside and taped up a sign. Everyone crowded around to hear as he turned around to speak. “Buenos días,” he said. I strained to hear and moved closer. “I’m sorry, but we won’t be offering attention today. There will be no doctors seeing patients for the morning or afternoon shifts.” There was an uproar from the waiting crowd. “Come back again tomorrow,” the man said simply.Several people tried to argue or ask questions, but the man went back inside, leaving the exhausted families to slowly disperse. Shaking my head, I trudged away with the rest, knowing this meant I would have to be up again at 4:30 a.m. tomorrow, knowing that many of these parents and children would spend another sleepless night, and knowing that there was nothing we could do about it.This was merely one of the many frustrating mornings I’ve spent waiting at the public hospital here in Cochabamba. Some days there are hours of waiting in lines just so a mother and child can get a five minute appointment with a doctor who tells them there is nothing to be done. Sometimes, it means three days of going from one building to another to get this lab test done, these forms signed, and those questions answered—all in preparation for a quick check-up where we’re told to get five more tests and then come back. And all of this to provide necessary care for a sick child, a pregnant mother, a disabled young girl. I am under no impression that the healthcare system in the U.S. is perfect. It is equally unjust to vastly overcharge hundreds of thousands of dollars for a needed surgery, to let the people in the most need slip through the cracks, to deny people with chronic or severe health problems coverage. In both of these systems, it is the poor and marginalized that receive the least comprehensive care. Some days, I am swept up in the hopeless complexities of it all and the fact that I have no easy fixes for the tangled systems at work.So, instead of trying to right the wrongs, I have simply allowed myself to walk alongside these marginalized patients for solidarity’s sake, entering into their fatigue, frustration, and confusion. For in bearing witness, I have seen that in the darkness, no one should have to stand alone.
To learn more about service opportunities through Franciscan Mission Service, please click here.

Sisters in Service: Sr. Janet Gildea, SC - AVE: After Volunteer Experience

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 2:59pm

In honor of National Catholic Sisters Week, Catholic Volunteer Network will share the perspective of sisters who started volunteer programs through CVN's From Service to Sisterhood initiative. Sisters will share a little more about how they discerned their vocation, why they felt called to create a volunteer program, and what they've learned from living and working alongside volunteers.Today we meet Sr. Janet Gildea, SC of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati and the Executive Director of AVE: After Volunteer Experience in Anthony, New Mexico. 

Sister/Doctor Janet examines a child on a mission project in Ecuador.My first awareness of “a call” came as a desire to serve as a family physician. I felt that if I was actually accepted to medical school then that was a sign that the desire came from God and I wanted to serve those who most lacked access to healthcare.  I didn’t think that you could be a Catholic sister AND a doctor- until I read about one while I was in college. That was it! I found that dual calling was the perfect path for me. My congregation’s formation process was flexible and could accommodate the demands of my medical ministry preparation. We also had some pioneer Sister-doctors so that made the call to be a Sister of Charity clear for me.
Emma Littmann, an AVE participant, reading with a child at Proyecto Santo Niño, a Sisters of Charity
ministry to children with special needs and their mothers across the border in Mexico. Our program, AVE: After Volunteer Experience, was inspired by the newest members of our congregation who had given years of post-graduate volunteer service. They shared the challenges they experienced in the transition after volunteering. They missed the intentional community life, spiritual support, action for justice and opportunity for meaningful service. It was also the time that the question of vocational discernment became significant. We did some exploring and discovered that no one was offering a post-volunteer service transition experience, and so AVE was born!  Women can spend from one to three months living with us in southern New Mexico.  They choose the components of their AVE program with opportunities for spiritual direction, mental health counseling, a directed retreat, service, vocational counseling, and a From Mission to Mission re-entry workshop.

Sisters Carol, Peggy and Janet on the way
 to Mexico with a big donation of diapers.We Sisters who form the nucleus of the AVE community have had somewhat similar experiences to the returning volunteers.  It is challenging to convey the transformational encounters of our life on the margins to our families, friends and community. We understand the experience of transition, of being neither “here” nor “there” which returning volunteers often encounter. We have a ministry to children with special needs and their mothers across the border in Mexico, called Proyecto Santo Niño.  AVE participants come with us several times a week to help them tap into their volunteer ministry experiences and to discover the meaning of their volunteer time in the larger context of their lives.
From left to right: Sisters of Charity Andrea Koverman,
Annie Klapheke (who served with JVC-NW) and
Tracy Kemme (who served with Rostro de Cristo).AVE is not a “recruitment program” but it offers an opportunity to live in community with active women religious without any expectation or obligation. For those who think they might be feeling the call to religious life or those ready to seriously discern, AVE offers a place to come and wonder. I invite you to visit our website and learn more. 

For more discernment resources, we also encourage you to visit the "Explore Your Vocation" section on Catholic Volunteer Network's website. 

Fourth Sunday of Lent Reflection by Jacqueline Martilla

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 10:00am

Lenten Reflections to support your spiritual journey over these forty days - brought to you by Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Fourth Sunday of Lent Reflectionby Jacqueline Martilla, volunteer with SOME (So Others Might Eat)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:14-21) 
Today’s Gospel includes some of the most well-known lines in the bible. John 3:16 states, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.” I view this as God giving his Son to help the rest of humanity so they do not have to perish and will have eternal life. He loves us so much and wants the best for us. Another verse states “But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” I believe this verse is telling us that we should practice our faith and show God’s love by helping others. I do my best to live out this Gospel as I volunteer with low-income senior citizens at the SOME Senior Center. I get to plan enjoyable activities and interact with the seniors – talking to them about wellness, playing bingo with them, ensuring they get a healthy meal, and just spending time talking with them and getting to know them. I want to bring some light into their lives. I also learn from the seniors – they have so much to share.

Focus on: Spirituality
To me, Spirituality means faith. This Gospel tells us that we should whole-heartedly place our faith in God. If we have faith in him, we will have eternal life. If we practice our faith by living the way God wants us to live, including serving others, he will be pleased with us. We need to believe that he sent us to this Earth for a purpose, whether it is to volunteer, or to pray for another or just to share his word.

My prayer for you all today is to reflect on what God has done for you and what you can do for God and for your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, “But who ever lives the truth comes to the light so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” Pray to God that you can be the light to someone who may be in the darkness.

Service Suggestion:
I encourage everyone to volunteer. Find a program that speaks to your heart. Look to groups like CVN for lists of opportunities. Pray about it – ask God to guide your service and to give you strength when things get challenging. If you can’t commit to a long-term program, volunteer for a day. Volunteering not only impact others but can change the course of your life.

About the Author:Jacqueline Martilla is originally from Long Island, NY. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Marywood University in 2016. She is currently a year-long volunteer with SOME (So Others Might Eat) Volunteer Corps.
Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Lenten Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Lenten resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

God Works in Mysterious Ways

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 7:00am
By Katherine Hayes, Colorado Vincentian Volunteers

    Anxiety runs deep in our generation. We are always being told that perfection is what we should be striving towards. It’s said the only way to achieve that is to work harder and longer than anyone else and to have control over everything we do. But I believe that God does not want our lives to be full of this anxiety and emptiness. He wants us to be happy in Him instead of trying to find that fullness of perfection in the world.
    My life has been far from perfect and full of anxiety. Anxiety really showed its face when I left college; not because I graduated but because I dropped out. This act of admitting to myself that I was not in love with what I was doing was filled with fear; fear that others would look down on me because of my lack of education and fear that I would never be able to pick up my life and move on from that. I allowed the world to take away my peace because I was listening to the expectations that people put upon us from made-up standards.
    I worked for about 2 years doing jobs here and there, making enough money to pay back my student loans, but I was not fulfilled and I was still seeking something else in my life. Throughout those years of working, I looked at many different programs which offered full time volunteer work. Nothing came of this looking until a year later when I got a call while I was in a grocery store from a man named RJ. He said he was with this program called “Colorado Vincentian Volunteers” and they wanted to know if I was still interested in applying. Someone had just dropped out and they had an open spot for their program that started in August (it was July 15th at the time). I said “Why not? Send me an application.” And the rest is history. In that moment I witnessed God working in mysterious ways. Through this simple call, God allowed me to clearly see that we plan and work so hard to control our lives and make sure everything goes according to our plan, that we push aside the One who wants the best for us.  Through surrendering ourselves to Him we can grow into the best version of our selves without anxiety. 

    Being in a community has opened me up to so many different people and different experiences that enable my anxiety and stress about what lies ahead to melt down.   Now I can freely say, “God, you got me, right?” Coming to Denver last August was the best decision I’ve made since deciding to drop out of college. My community and my worksite have made me realize that no one has their life totally together, but through trust in God and those around you, you can start living your life to the fullest.
To learn more about service opportunities through Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, please click here.

Create Your Charism: Catherine Nguyen - St. Joseph Worker Program, Orange, CA

Fri, 03/02/2018 - 12:42pm
Catherine is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Catherine and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year!

Here is the SJW program, along with a few volunteers who serve alongside Katie (one of my fellow St. Joseph workers) at Mary’s Kitchen, a local soup kitchen that serves a great number of people in the community. We had an opportunity to serve together the day after Thanksgiving. I think this photo captures the essence of how the Sisters of St. Joseph collaborate with others to care for our dear neighbor, uniting us all together.
The Call
In the months leading up to the start of my service year as a St. Joseph Worker, I could never imagine the many graces God had in store for me.  The St. Joseph Worker Program (SJWP) has cultivated my awareness of God’s Presence in my daily experiences, those I encounter at my service site, within my community, and especially within myself.  Coming to appreciate the gifts and talents that God has entrusted to me, the SJWP has given me a chance to channel these gifts and talents to the greater purpose of serving God and my dear neighbor. 
Empowerment is not just a mere privilege, but a responsibility - a responsibility to respond to God’s call.  The charism of the SJWP – “to empower women to respond to the needs of the time in the tradition of the Sisters of St. Joseph,” embodies the many gifts and invitations that God has given to each unique person.  The program allows each St. Joseph Worker to serve and love, while cultivating the gifts that God has given her.  Just as the needs of the time are constantly changing, so too are the ways we can respond to them.  Growth continues as she is called to explore, and to go beyond personal comforts and conveniences to meet the needs of her dear neighbors.  Though the responses are many, each one makes up the one mission of Jesus Christ, and that of the Sisters of St. Joseph – “to bring all people into union with God and with one another. The Sisters strive to be mindful of the diverse and unmet needs of the dear neighbor. They work together with people living in the neighborhoods they serve to help improve the well-being of the local community.”
The SJWP has empowered me to see past my own needs, and to be open to the needs of others in our local community here in Santa Ana, CA.  Awareness presents invitations.  Being aware of the growth in poverty and homelessness in this area, or even the presence of domestic abuse and drug use within my students’ families, I experience God’s invitation to be His extended Body - to see with His loving eyes, to touch with His healing hands, to walk into unknown territory with His swift feet, and to simply love…to love as He loves.  I am no savior; I learned that during a mission trip to Vietnam three years ago.  Thus, I have, and am still, learning to embrace my limitations as a human being.  I can only cultivate and use the gifts that God has given me to fulfill the unique mission that He invites me to.  This may mean being with and listening to a student who is crying or upset.  Other times, it may mean a simple hug and prayer for a person who does not have a home.  A “good morning” and cup of coffee, combined with a smile and eye contact, may be enough for another a person to experience God’s Loving Presence.  Doing all that is within the power God gives me, I can rest knowing He will bring works to fruition according to His own goodness and providence.  I am simply His instrument, and He is the grand Musician. 
The human family is just that, a family.  We are all beloved children of God.  Though easy to say and compose into words, this truth is often overlooked in the midst of division or sense of individualism.  I am indeed my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.  Yet, I have often experienced the inclination to prioritize myself over others.  In the midst of the typical business of a service year, I sometimes find myself exhausted from exerting so much energy towards being with and for others.  After spending seven hours with my students, all I want to do when I go home is take a nice nap or relax with some Netflix.  As such, there may be a lack of motivation to go to events that may be available for enrichment or learning more about social justice needs.  In the same way, there are times when I am more concerned with taking care of myself, that I may miss opportunities to be present to my fellow SJWs and their needs, either spoken or unspoken. Time and time again though, the SJWP’s charism, as well as that of the Sisters of St. Joseph, invites me to be more mindful of my experiences and those I am with.  It may just be that in the uncomfortable and inconvenient moments I am called to grow in a deeper love and solidarity with others.  Moments as such call for my willingness to live this service year fully, to be present and mindful of the needs around me, and to respond accordingly.  While moderation and balance are essential to holistic growth, the Gospel presents an invitation to us all:  “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). 
Imitating Christ Crucified, we are all called to give our very lives, to die to ourselves and our inordinate desires.  This spiritual and internal sacrifice looks different for each person.  I find that it is often easier for me to give of my material and external possessions. Still, gently and patiently, Christ calls me to give the greatest gift He gave me – my life.  It is in this giving, or rather, returning, that I have been able to receive the fullness of life of the Risen Christ.  
The term vocation derives from the Latin “vocare," to call.  Vocation is not about doing.  In fact, it has little to do with ministry.  Vocation is essential the call to be.  It is the core identity of who one is, of who God creates us to be in every moment.  It is so easy for me to get carried away with the habitual movements of each day, be it at home with my community or at my service site with my students.  Losing sight of service, my ministry becomes more of a job that I am required to fulfill.  Burn-out and stress soon follow, which have been indicators of my need to re-center myself on the charism of the SJWP and the purpose of my presence in the SJWP.  Reminded that the work I do using the gifts I have, is not authored by me, but by God alone, I try not to be so focused on doing the work - God’s work.  Rather, entrusting all I do to God’s providence, I am grounded in Him and what He asks of me in each moment.    Furthering my discernment of God’s vocation for me, the SJWP and the Sisters of St. Joseph have helped me to deepen my relationship with God and prayer through the ministry of unifying reconciliation.  My ministry, education, can only be fruitful if I allow it to be guided by God’s Spirit and if it is done for the greater glory of God.  Likewise, my prayer life cannot be merely the spewing of word after word.  Prayer is being aware of God’s Presence and simply being with Him, even if it is in silence.  It all goes back to the simple call to be in relationship with God.  Without this foundational relationship, lived through a life of prayer, I am unable to discern, to ask and listen to God’s will for me.  My ministry and all that I do should be reflections of my relationship with God.  As one of the core values of the SJWP is spirituality, I have been presented with many opportunities to go on retreats, have weekly communal “Sharing of the Heart,” and learn about different aspects of spirituality and prayer.  In Orange, CA, the SJWP has also been graced with a beautiful campus where I find refreshing moments to simply sit in nature and be with God.  It is in the stillness that I renew not only my energy, but also my desire to respond to what God calls me to in my day-to-day service.    
To be honest, at this point in time, I do not know with 100% certainty whether I am called to the single, married, or religious life.  Just as with each experience I have had in the SJWP, my vocation is a grace.  Vocation is a gift that can only be received and freely responded to.  Discovering the gifts that God has already given me, I am called to cultivate and be empowered by them to do His unique will for me.  Thankfully, in the words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, “I have found my vocation. My vocation is love!”

Catherine, a current St. Joseph Worker, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Third Sunday of Lent Reflection by Anthony Butler

Fri, 03/02/2018 - 10:00am

Lenten Reflections to support your spiritual journey over these forty days - brought to you by Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Third Sunday of Lent Reflectionby Anthony Butlerformer volunteer with Dominican Volunteers USA
“Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”(John 2:13-25)
“But he was speaking about the temple of his body.” Is the Gospel telling us our bodies are temples? Did this happen or is this a fable meant to convey our value is God-given and not bought or exchanged? Our bodies are temples that deserve care and attention, and are not to be subjected to consumerist tendencies, but safeguarded from potential evil.Am I trying to guilt trip us here? No. I think we all fail to measure up from time to time. We try other avenues and other stuff to get closer to God. We fill up our bodies and our minds with clutter and forget the simplicity of being a follower of Christ. We forget our bodies, our lives, are for a purpose.
This Gospel passage and the season of Lent calls us to be vigilant. Our lives become cluttered when we fail to eschew the lures of the world. Whenever we complicate our faith, we end up inadvertently distancing ourselves from one another and therefore from God. May we take a good, hard look at the temples—our bodies, our lives—with which God has gifted us. What needs cleansed? Are we bold enough to allow Jesus to enter in and cleanse us? Do we allow others who recognize our gifts to help us declutter and refocus on what really matters? Our bodies are temples where the Holy Spirit dwells, and from there urges us to fulfill the purpose to which we are called.
Focus on: CommunityOne of the best aspects the volunteer year was having a community with whom to share my experience. We learned from the collective wisdom that was present among us, and we were fortunate that some members of the community—the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa—just happened to have a bit more seasoned wisdom. We kept one another true to the purpose for which God called us. Community was often an exercise in recognizing God in one another; it served as a means for going back to our ministry sites and engaging people who were different from ourselves but seeing they all reflected God’s image.
Prayer:We pray,Merciful Lord,We thank you that we are imprinted with your image.Help us to admit when we are complicating our faithAnd may we always allow you to cleanse us.Surround us with loving people who reflect your imageAnd let us know when we need to simplify our lives.This we ask through the holy name of Jesus.Amen
Service Suggestion:My suggestion is that we seek out those who need to declutter their homes. Maybe there is someone you know who needs help cleaning out their attic or basement. As we help others remove their clutter, we can consider the detritus in our own lives that needs attention. We are a community of faith; when we help others we always help ourselves in the process.
About the Author: Anthony Butler served with Dominican Volunteers USA in 2005-2006 as an assistant teacher at Visitation Catholic School in Chicago. He has since served on staff with the program, and completed his MA in Theology at Catholic Theological Union. He has taught high school theology and was campus minister at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. Tony is currently the DRE at St. Augustine Parish in Rensselaer. He is married to another former volunteer, Brenda, and they have two young children.
Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Lenten Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Lenten resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

Third Sunday of Lent Reflection by Ben Bear

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 10:00am

Lenten Reflections to support your spiritual journey over these forty days - brought to you by Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Third Sunday of Lent Reflectionby Ben Bear, former volunteer with Brethren Volunteer Service
"Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”(John 2:13-25)
As I perused the reading for today in Exodus, I was struck by the differences in how the ten commandments were presented. A commandment as powerful as “You shall not kill” is presented using a whopping four words. Yet with a quick skim of the page, it is clear that significant focus has been placed upon the importance of keeping the Sabbath holy. Nearly as many words were used in order to explain “Why?” and “How?” regarding resting on the seventh day as there were for the presentation of the other nine commandments combined. Clearly this was a commandment that was meant to be fully understood.
Despite the care taken to educate us about keeping our seventh day restful and holy, it is oftentimes one of the easiest commandments to overlook. Myriad household chores, social events, grocery runs, rehearsals, and scrimmages spill over from weekdays and Saturday into our beloved Sabbath. After all, if we can’t follow all of the commandments, this is probably a decent one to break, right?

I can recall facing a similar struggle as a new volunteer at my first project in southern Colorado. My house was next door to the homeless shelter where I spent part of my workweek which made it easy to stop in and lend a hand when I had a free moment. It was sometimes too easy. I would find myself jumping right back into work on my days off and feeling burned out at various times during my scheduled hours. Thankfully, a friend noticed and called me out. She suggested that, if I felt drawn to spend time in the shelter on my days off, that was fine. But instead of being at work, perhaps I should simply try being present. I needed the reprieve from being “on” all the time. She was right.

Focus on: Community
What a gift it was to allow myself to have time to see this space for people in need as not simply a list of chores and meetings to be completed, but a gathering place for the battered, the broken, and yearning – the neighbors I never really knew. Those weekend days when I crossed the threshold of the shelter, I entered as a part of the community that I hadn’t recognized already surrounded me. As a friend with no agenda, stories and smiles poured forth from these people, strangers no more.

Creator of heaven and earth, thank you for the gift of rest. In a world that begs for our time and attention, may we be ever aware of our call to care for ourselves and others by stepping away from the hustle and bustle and simply re energizing through basic human connections. Give us the strength to rest, just as you have called us to do, and allow us to embrace the still, small voice within us that rejoices in our varied ways we experience the holiness of our Sabbath day.

Service Suggestion:
Take some time on your Sabbath to be with someone you do not normally encounter casually. Visit a nursing home, Skype your college roommate, FaceTime your niece, or strike up conversation with those whose eyes beg for someone to hear their story. There is always someone out there who has a story to tell or would like someone to simply listen and remind them that their voice is being heard in this cacophonous world.

About the Author:
Ben Bear is a native of Nokesville, Va., and has served at Brethren Volunteer Service placements in Colorado, Ohio, Oregon, and Illinois. He is passionate about sustainability, community, and desserts, though not necessarily in that order. Ben currently works as an Adult Protective Services social worker in Harrisonburg, Va.

Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Lenten Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Lenten resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

Second Sunday of Lent Reflection by Justin Hoch

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 6:17pm

Lenten Reflections to support your spiritual journey over these forty days - brought to you by Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Second Sunday of Lent Reflectionby Justin Hoch, former volunteer with Notre Dame Mission Volunteers
"This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.(Mark 9:2-10)
Working with highschoolers is difficult, to say the least. For the first few months of my service year at Cristo Rey Boston High School, I struggled to connect with the students. I was ignored, yelled at, pushed away. I felt defeated and emotionally drained. In some ways, I think I felt a lot like the disciples in today’s Gospel. I felt called to serve these students, but at the same time, I was unaware of the distress and trouble I would have to go through. Following Jesus’ proclamation of his death and resurrection, Peter, James, and John are perplexed and dismayed, for they expected their mission to be one of comfort, ease, and glory, not one of suffering, agony, and ultimately Christ’s death.

In a similar way, I was dismayed by my first few months at Cristo Rey. Yet, I remained open, willing to hear the stories of my students. I reached out to kids in the hallway, coached soccer, and chaperoned extracurricular events. Moments outside of the classroom eased the tension between me and the students. I do not know if I can point to one specific moment, but over time, I witnessed the transfiguration. I began to see the students differently. As I grew in relationship with my students, I saw God in them. The students transfigured before me and I recognized the imago dei within each one.

In the Transfiguration of the Lord, we are challenged to risk suffering out of love. We are reminded to listen to Christ, even if we are afraid. We are all called to be disciples that carry the cross in anticipation of the resurrection.
Focus on: Social JusticeThe Transfiguration calls us to be touched and moved by experiences outside of ourselves. In our own lives, moments of encounter with the other shake us, move us, stun us to see the other as loved and worthy of dignity. However, in this witness, we can often become paralyzed and unaware of how to respond. Nonetheless, the encounter requires action. We must use our moments of encounter to be fully transfigured, to come down from the mountain and be agents of social change. 
Prayer:Loving, all-embracing God, we thank you for the gift this Lenten season to ponder on the mystery of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Help us to listen and become aware of your call to be transfigured into disciples of love, compassion, and empathy. Offer us the grace to trust in you in times of suffering, the courage to risk suffering out of love, and the patience to sit in the mystery of your promise. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Service Suggestion:During this Lenten season, consider reaching out to someone who is different than you. Perhaps it is a person experiencing homelessness, a person of a different faith tradition, or a person new to your faith community. Challenge yourself to be uncomfortable, disturbed, and moved. Take the time to hear their story in all their joys and sorrows. Often we think of service as a means of providing something for someone; however, accompaniment and listening are just as meaningful forms of service. 
About the Author:Originally from Indiana, Justin Hoch graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in Theology. After graduation, Justin worked in campus ministry at St. Joseph’s University, and then, spent a year of service at Cristo Rey Boston High School working as a teacher’s assistant. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.
Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Lenten Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Lenten resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

Where Is God?

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 7:00am
By Brian Igel, Colorado Vincentian Volunteers

In the last 8 months of my experience of Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, my heart and spirit have often been left restless and waiting for hope of God’s love and healing in our world. During these short months we have seen firsthand the effects of injustice, whether it be as a group in masse or within the communities where we work.  I have experienced new questions with the new administration that seems to foster a culture that devalues those who are marginalized. Here in Denver I have experienced firsthand the marginalization of those experiencing homelessness, as I work at a resource center, Denver Urban Matters. And on our border trip I was able to witness the inequality and fear surrounding immigration at the El Paso - Juarez border. It left me wondering and searching within my own heart for God’s love and salvation.   Where is God in a world full of such pain and suffering? I also experienced that same search in my community members as we often come home burnt out or despairing that our work seems like an uphill battle where suffering often triumphs over love and hope.

But I am realizing that in the midst of uncertainty and anxiety that come from being Christian companions with those we serve, we can be transformative prophets of hope in our work through prayer and community. In community houses we share meals throughout the week – meals that are a source of spiritual healing and physical nourishment. We come to the table where we are and bring with us what we carry. Sometimes it is fun and lighthearted, but many times we bring with us the weight of a hard day or a difficult current event. But we come to be nourished and to share in the healing power of a meal. We leave our worries and anxieties where they are and then simply just be with one another. This is a source of strength and hope for our community but also for the future of the kingdom of God. Within this prayerful and intentional time of a dinner, the burdens and anxieties of work seem easier to bear and can even be transformed into acts of hope and salvation. Through the spiritual support of my community I become less focused on waiting for an impossible achievement of justice and begin to be a prophet of God’s love and healing.  Community and human connection sustain me to trust in God; the support of the CVV community urges me to be an active agent of salvation that breaks the bonds of anxiety and fear dominating much of our world. The love and prayers of community make the present moment a continual process of renewal and active grace to heal hearts and minds towards an unconditional love of God and one another.
To learn more about service opportunities through Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, please click here.

First Sunday of Lent Reflection by Amy Krach

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 10:00am

Lenten Reflections to support your spiritual journey over these forty days - brought to you by Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.
First Sunday of Lent Reflectionby Amy Krach, former volunteer with Rostro de Cristo
"This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”(Mark 1:12-15)
When I read this proclamation from Christ himself I am struck by the sense of urgency in his words. Jesus does not call us to repent and believe tomorrow, a month from now, or whenever we feel ready; “This is the time,” he tells us. For me, following Christ’s call has often felt so daunting that I have found myself pushing it off for later. Because “belief in the gospel” is no small undertaking. It does not merely encompass accepting Christ’s teachings, but rather following his example of radical love and self-sacrifice – even following him into the desert.
The beautiful part of this, which I often forget, is that repenting and following Christ’s example of love and selflessness is a perpetual journey. When I followed Christ’s call away from my loved ones and my comfortable life to live and work on the margins in Ecuador with Rostro de Cristo, I realized that my initial “yes” was only the beginning of becoming more open to God’s presence and plan for me in each day. After coming out of “the desert,” and returning home from this intense experience of service, I have not always retained this mindfulness. Sometimes I have fallen into the trap of believing that I can’t love and serve as deeply as I did there. This thinking prevents me from being alive to God’s call in the here and now. The truth is that we are called away from sin and towards love in big and small ways every day. Whether that call is to follow him into the desert or share a smile with a stranger, today is always the right time to listen closely and to say “yes.”
Focus on: SimplicityWhen I think about simplifying my life, the first thing that usually comes to mind is stuff - cutting out superfluous material things from my life, curtailing spending on things I don’t need, using less resources such as water, electricity, etc. All of this is essential to simplicity, but we can also eliminate waste in another area: our time. Challenge yourself this Lent to simplify your schedule and cut out activities that prevent you from practicing mindfulness, staying in the moment, and taking quiet time for prayer. We don’t necessarily have to abandon society for the desert in order to find peace and quiet, but in order to hear God, we should cut out some of the noise in our lives. Consider reducing time spent mindlessly using technology (scrolling through social media or watching TV), turning off the radio, and trying to really leave your work at work in order to spend more time being fully present to God and to those around us.
Prayer:Loving Creator,In this noisy world, help me to quiet my heartTo better listen to your call to repentance, faith, and loveIn every moment.Although I do not know where your call will lead,Give me the courage to perpetually trust and to follow,Even when I may lose my wayKnowing that in self-gift, service, and sacrificeYour infinite love awaits me.
Service Suggestion:Where have you been feeling God’s call to service recently? Perhaps you’ve wanted to start volunteering with a certain nonprofit or you’ve been meaning to visit someone that could use support right now. Don’t put it off any longer. This week, find a way to simplify your schedule, listen to Christ, and make time to follow that call.
About the Author: Amy Krach has a heart for service which led her to spend a year volunteering in Ecuador with Rostro de Cristo after graduating from Indiana University. She now spends her days working for a faith-based health organization in her hometown in Indiana, hanging out with moms (including her own) and dogs, and applying to grad school. She loves meeting new people, traveling, being outdoors, and sharing her faith through service.
Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Lenten Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Lenten resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

Create Your Charism: Ada Lee - Vincentian Service Corps West - San Francisco, CA

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 5:11pm

Ada is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Ada and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

When I was young, I spent many weekends attending Sunday school. I learned the biblical stories of the Old Testament- Kind David, Solomon, Joseph. What I imagined as the ideal ‘perfect Christian’ emerged in my mind- someone of faith, good deeds, and someone who puts themselves at service to others. This thought stayed with me throughout my teenage years and I started to believe that only those of Catholic or Christian faith were able to carry out service to others.
But then, I went to college and those thoughts all changed. I attended St. John’s University in Queens, New York- a Catholic, Vincentian university. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people who had the same values and love of service as I did. In turn, I became more empowered to live the values I sought. People from all different faiths and backgrounds were passionate about doing service and helping others, and I realized that service is not limited to one type of person- being a Vincentian simply means having a good heart to serve others before yourself.
I honestly never thought that I would be able to implement the Vincentian charism into my life. I used to think, ‘I grew up Christian...I could never understand a saint and his significance in my life….who is this St. Vincent DePaul anyways?’ St. Vincent DePaul, I soon learned, was a man who gave up fame and fortune to serve the poor with compassion and humility. He believed in the dignity of every human person. ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool. I guess this Saint Vincent guy is pretty awesome. I guess I wouldn’t mind learning more about him….’ I thought to myself one day during my sophomore year. And in the moment I accepted Him into my life, it was like a door was opened in my heart and suddenly knowledge and wisdom from St. Vincent began flooding into my mind. I learned more and more about who St. Vincent was and began to wonder how I could integrate his charism into my life.
I joined the Vincentian Service Corps this year because I thought it would be an opportunity to force the Vincentian charism onto every aspect of my life. But in fact, I have learned that it is all around me. I no longer have to seek, I can find it in every moment and every person of life.
As a volunteer, I am working at a residential rehabilitation center for women and children affected by drug and alcohol abuse. It is tough work, both in the tasks I need to do to support client’s recovery, but also in knowing the traumatic pasts of these women. One day, I was accompanying one of the clients to her appointment. She was quiet the whole time, despite my attempts to make conversation. But towards the end of our trip together, she started to feel more comfortable and open up. She told me, ‘You have a gift to the world with your smile. You’re so optimistic and polite, and that gives me great comfort.’ I saw the face of God in her. God was telling me that my service this year, despite its challenges and nuances, is making subtle differences in the lives of those I am serving. I did not seek this moment. I simply let myself be open to this moment. 

The Vincentian charism challenges me to ask the question, “Where do I see the face of God?” in every person and every moment. By doing so, I am prompted to treat every person with respect, as St. Vincent would. With this client, I could look beyond the exterior of her past and instead treat her with love and humility. It is almost comical to say that treating people in this way should only be limited to those of a certain faith background. Even without a belief in God, the Vincentian charism still calls us to care for those in our community- the community of humanity.   
So, what does the Vincentian charism mean to me? In my experience, the Vincentian charism means to strengthen my spirituality through service to others. We are called by God and we are called by grace to serve. The ability to serve others is all around us. But the Vincentian charism has shown us that it’s not just a single act of charity. It can be an act of love, bringing kindness and happiness to someone’s day, building a loving friendship with another…or even not judging someone for their past and seeing them for the person they are. The ability to be Vincentian lies in each one of us. You don’t have to Catholic or Christian or a believer. We all have the ability to treat each other with kindness, compassion, human dignity, and respect. That is being a Vincentian- being a person of character, good works, and acceptance. By serving others, we are serving God. 

This photo is of a place in San Francisco that I fell in love with: the Sutro Baths at Ocean Beach. I often find myself here reflecting on my year long experience and meditating. This picture is one I took last Tuesday at sunset to mark my 6 month anniversary of moving to California for this program. Often times, I get anxiety about what awaits me this year and what will happen after. But being at a place like this helps calm my mind and soothes me. A prayer that I often like to reflect on while I'm here is one by Thomas Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.Ada, a current volunteer with Vincentian Service Corps West, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Love is in the Air!

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 6:03pm
A Valentines Day Special Pt. 2There are many lifelong benefits to a year of service - job skills, spiritual growth, professional connections, friendships - and love! Here are some stories from couples who met during their year of service with Dominican Volunteers USA

In the middle of my history class, Megan appeared at the door."Oooh, look Mr. D., Ms. Decker is here to see you" said one particularly brazen student. "Oooh" repeated many others. She wasn't there to see me, really. Megan was the music teacher, and had an arrangement where she would come in to the larger classes and take out small groups of kids at a time for piano instruction.  The kids loved to match up the teachers at the school, especially the younger ones. Totally inappropriate behavior, but hey, they got away with it because you picked your battles at San Juan Diego Middle School.  They would make a big deal about us.  It was a self-perpetuating problem, as the more they would point it out, the more embarrassed I would get, giving them validation that their intuitions were true. Pretty soon it became "your girlfriend is here to see you," and we had to find a different way to get the kids to piano.Megan and I did indeed become fast friends in our shared year as Dominican volunteers (her first, my second) at the little San Miguel School in Racine, Wisconsin. We would talk for hours and had lots of fun together. On our off time we would visit local parks and played a mean game of racquetball at the local Y. We were each other’s support in what proved to be a difficult year.  So yes, the kids picked up on something.  Maybe my smile was a bit brighter when I greeted her, I don't know. Kids pick up on a lot of things that adults have trouble seeing. As the volunteer year came to an end, we figured out that there was more than a friendship going on after all. Twelve years later and we're still a team!
-Brian Desmarais, Dominican Volunteer 2004-2006 and Megan (Decker) Desmarais, Dominican Volunteer 2005-2006 

The Dominican charism, one that is loving and one that openly shares through connection is something that breaks down barriers and overcomes obstacles. Ashley found this important piece of her life in high school at Regina Dominican in Wilmette, IL and Chris at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, NY. DVUSA unknowingly brought them together through their passion to serve the refugee population. Their relationship is built on this special Dominican charism. 

Ashley and Chris met during their service year in 2014-2015. Ashley was placed in Atlanta that year working in Catholic Charities Atlanta in Refugee Resettlement while Chris was placed in Chicago at Heartland Alliance: Refugee and Immigrant Communities Services. Ashley thought that Chris was “annoying” at their Orientation. Luckily, first impressions were not everything and after the mid-year retreat, Ashley and Chris started their journey supporting each other, and becoming best friends. They could even credit their relationship starting simply on personal letters that they had shared at this mid-year retreat. They found common ground in diving into the challenges that they were each experiencing, including those they both faced as volunteers of color. 

Chris did a second year of service in Ashley’s position at Catholic Charities Atlanta. Even though Ashley wasn’t a volunteer for a second year, their relationship grew more in depth with continuing to support each other in different parts of the country. Long distance relationships are not easy, and sometimes they are daunting. But for Ashley and Chris, what continues to be a driving force in their strong commitment to each other is this foundation they had with DVUSA. 

-Chris Bargeron, Dominican Volunteer 2014-2016 and Ashley Murray, Dominican Volunteer 2014-2015

25 years ago now, Tony and I began our friendship thanks to the hospitality and community-building efforts of Sophia House, or as Tony called them “The Reflective Girls.”  Four women, all alumnae of the Apostolic Volunteer Program, created an intentional community in Hyde Park built in the Dominican spirit that had touched each of them so deeply during their years of volunteer service.  Lisa Rademacher, Elise O’Connell, Kris Funk and Kathy Lenny created a home full of prayer and compassion surely, but also a place of great joy and lots of fun.  None of us who hung around Sophia during those years can forget the costume parties, cut-throat card games, delicious food, Frisbee football, belly laughter, and heart-felt hugs that characterized so many of the deepest and most meaningful friendships of our lives. 
Years later, we began to fall in love while walking along the beach in Racine, Wisconsin during an extended break in a Dominican Volunteers Board of Directors meeting.  Various circumstances had opened up the space for us to see one another in a new way.  And again, the Dominican community—full of faith, joy and mission—tilled the soil in which this the seed of love could take root. 
Twelve years of marriage later with two smart, beautiful and happy daughters in tow, we continue to be blessed by the spirit and the fact of Dominican community.  Whether it is the warm greeting our girls receive from the Sisters as we walk through the doors of Rosary Chapel at Dominican University or the hilarious Christmas letters we receive from our fellow program alums or the sterling inspirations to holiness we see in our Dominican Volunteers friends, our love is grown and nurtured by Dominican Family.  And we are so grateful.

-Claire Noonan, Apostolic Volunteer, 1992-93 and AV Co-Director 1993-97 and husband, Anthony Schmitz, Volunteer at Visitation Elementary School, 1990  

My name is Luke Sullivan and I was a volunteer from 2012-2014 in Chicago. I first met Cynthia Velasquez (2012-2014) at our opening retreat in Adrian, MI during our first year of service. We loosely kept in touch over the two years of service and started dating after our second year ended. We both live in Chicago. Having the foundation of the Dominican charism is essential for our relationship. We both have been so influenced and mentored by Dominican sisters and the entire Dominican Family. Indeed, the ideas of study, prayer, community and preaching shape who we are as individuals and who we are as a couple. Cynthia was a volunteer in New York and in Redwood City and so it has been wonderful to connect with so many wonderful people in NY and CA through her. Now Redwood City is our favorite place to visit together! 

Two of the things we really enjoy doing together are seeing plays and musicals and hiking. I think that taking in the arts in whatever form that might be is essential for everyone. And Cynthia and I are so lucky to live in such a great city for the arts! We have seen Hamilton, The Newsies, Les Mis and much more! We love going over our favorite parts of the musical, our favorite songs and our favorite actor/actress! It definitely brings us closer as a couple. 
We also really enjoy Hiking and being in nature. We never feel so grounded in who we are as people and who we are as a couple than when we hike. This is especially true when we face adversity (like being lost on a trail!) and we work through it together to become a stronger couple. One of the more profound quotes someone told me was, “If you can’t find God anywhere, then go climb a mountain.” Nothing brings me closer to God then climbing a mountain with Cynthia. 

Because we met through DVUSA, the program holds a very special place in our hearts. We support the program in any way we can and have learned so much from the people we have met along the way (including each other!). We count ourselves fortunate each and every day for Dominican Volunteers.

-Luke Sullivan and Cynthia Velasquez, Dominican Volunteers 2012-2014

Thanks to all the volunteers who shared their love story for this post!
To learn more about serving with Dominican Volunteers USA, please click here.

Ash Wednesday Reflection by Katrina Buchanan

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 2:51pm

Lenten Reflections to support your spiritual journey over these forty days - brought to you by Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Ash Wednesday Reflection
by Katrina Buchanan, Currently serving with Lutheran Volunteer Corps, Chicago

"Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them;otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father."(Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
Thinking about recompense and repayment for doing righteous deeds and for praying in secret is an odd experience when you’re doing a year of service through a faith-based organization. Am I supposed to keep secret the work that I’m doing during this year? Should I quietly go about it and not share my experience with others? Is it wrong for me to want to tell my stories from my placement? Do I expect recompense from God for this year of service?
To answer those questions, a colleague suggested turning toBrazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Matthew by Stanley Hauerwas. Hauerwas cites Bonhoeffer when questioning how to be the light of the world (Matt. 5:16) while also doing righteous deeds in secret. He writes, “According to Bonhoeffer, the hiddenness that should characterize the disciples’ action applies to the disciple” (p. 74). Hauerwas expands on this idea by saying that we must be apprentices of Jesus and learn to forget ourselves in our actions and act selflessly as Jesus did instead of doing such things for praise and recognition.
There’s a subtle beauty of the Lenten season of fasting and praying beginning with Ash Wednesday falling on St. Valentine’s Day. Instead of worrying about all of those questions, perhaps my prayers and meditations should be on how I can follow in Christ’s way by selflessly loving others just for the sake of loving them and expecting nothing in return from them or from God.
Focus on SpiritualityAs I’ve journeyed in my spirituality this year, I’ve questioned why I believe what I do. In conversations with those who have different beliefs, I’ve learned that there’s truth in everyone’s spirituality and that none is inherently better than others. As I’ve struggled with this reading and with how I express my spirituality, I’ve learned that it’s okay to question what I believe and that growth and strength of conviction come from those conversations and that struggling. This passage confirms that for me as I continue to live out and journey in my spirituality during this faith-based year of service. 
Service Suggestion: During this Lenten season, I challenge myself and others to engage even more deeply with your communities. There is so much to learn about our communities and the work that is being done there. Throughout Lent, I challenge myself to listen more intently to the needs of my organization and my city and to ask of others what I can contribute instead of giving alms without research. 
Prayer: Prayer of St. FrancisLord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
About the Author: Hailing from Erie, PA, Katrina Buchanan is serving as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Justice for Women program assistant in Chicago through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. She is a graduate of Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, PA with a degree in English, a minor in public relations, and a secret minor in theater. A former hockey player and a lifelong hockey fan, she can be heard coaching the Erie Otters from the stands when visiting home or through enthusiastic tweets while she serves in the Windy City. 
Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Lenten Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Lenten resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

Faith + Service + LOVE!

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 2:27pm
A Valentines Day SpecialThere are many lifelong benefits to a year of service - job skills, spiritual growth, professional connections, friendships - and love! Here are some stories from couples who met during their year of service with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry!

Hindsight is twenty-twenty, or so the saying goes. But not for Kathryn and I.For us, hindsight is fifty-fifty.
A comical mix-up of clichés during our year of volunteer service at the St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, through the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry program, brought us together through laughter. But in a certain sense, hindsight is fifty-fifty, too. After all, weren’t there the challenges of living in intentional community with five complete strangers for a year that, at times, tore us apart through anger and tears? No matter how clear the hindsight, it’s the moments that make you look back, whether at the good or the bad, that are more important. For example, it wasn’t until two years after we had finished our volunteer year together that I saw so many past moments come to life again. We were visiting Baltimore for a weekend, and on a beautifully temperate afternoon, went for a long walk through the city and around the harbor. After noon, with the choppy dark blue water illuminated by the late summer sun, a woman walking toward us on the boardwalk asked if we had any change to spare to help her get to a shelter.
Immediately I flashed back to conversations Kathryn and I had sitting around the small dining table at our volunteer house, enthusiastically agreeing about the value of being present to those expressing need. I remembered strategies we had observed from veteran volunteers about distinguishing need from deception. I felt the ache of being conned and sharing in that pain and loss of trust as Kathryn experienced it. I experienced the relief of seeing a need met with a fully loving heart. It was a fuzzy, fifty-fifty memory.So neither of us was surprised when we wanted to talk to the woman, find out about her situation and the shelter. What’s more, we shared our experience, or lack thereof as far as Baltimore was concerned, and were happy to help as much as we could with bus fare.  This was no remarkable service, and truthfully I can no longer remember the woman’s name.  In fact, as the woman walked away, I know Kathryn and I both experienced that unique tug on the heart strings that comes from meeting someone but being unable to fully meet their needs.  It was a fifty-fifty moment.
However, we also experienced a depth of understanding of the meaning of service and relationship.  The words and experiences of the past were alive then and there in Baltimore, with a reality that was indescribable, but also undeniable because it was shared.  In being present to another together, we knew with complete twenty-twenty clarity how present we were to one another.
In a sense, I wish hindsight was twenty-twenty.  But it’s the fuzzy parts of life, like mixing up clichés or living a life of service, that bring us together in beautifully mysterious ways.  Sometimes with laughs, other times with tears, but always, if we stay present, with love.
-Kevin (and Kathryn) Cilano

We are Andrea and Luciano Tellez and we met while serving as Franciscan Volunteers in Wilmington, DE.  We have always talked about how our paths never would have crossed had it not been for our shared desire to give of ourselves in service. Even our experiences with faith and church were vastly different. For Luciano, his faith gave him hope during difficult times, he was a firm believer in church dogma, while I was much more spiritual than concrete in my belief system.

During our yearlong term of service, Luciano and I lived and worked together teaching English as a second language and religious education, we served women in a local jail and we worked in a food pantry among other things. And our experience would have been similar to that of any other couple who met while giving back to their community, except that in addition to our vocations, we also prayed together. We fell in love while we worked and built our faith together. It is really a beautiful way to get to know one another. During our weekly community prayer meetings we were able to explore our faith with our housemates and friends. Privately, we were able to get to know one another in a deep and meaningful way. We went to church together, we prayed with friends together, we discussed how faith is woven into our lives through work and in our free time together; it was as if God was at the center of our relationship right from the start.
Six years after we met, Luciano finally proposed and the following year we were married.  We have two girls, Liliana is 4 and Gabriella is 7 months old. Our older daughter hears about our memories from our time together at FVM. She has learned about how faith, God and love were all present when her parents met.  And that is very important to us, as we believe it is a beautiful foundation for she and her sister to understand about their family. We just shared Gabriella’s first Christmas and Liliana is now old enough to understand the meaning of the holidays. In addition to being gifted many times over by “Santa” and family, Liliana was able to understand the significance of the birth of Christ. She has had so many questions; it is amazing and beautiful.
We have lived blessed lives and have built a home together that is full of love for one another and for God. We look back on our time with FVM and all of the friendships we made, the relationship we built together and the faith that we learned to weave into our daily lives and we are reminded of just how blessed we are.
Happy Valentine’s Day!-Andrea and Luciano

When Patrick and I are in a group of new people and we need to share an “interesting” fact about ourselves, we usually say one of two things: 1) I met my spouse at a soup kitchen or 2) we lived together before we dated. Depending on the setting, either we get a minute to explain what this means, or we don’t. When we don’t, we always wonder what people think. 
Truthfully, our first meeting was on a hot day in August 1999 when the two of us and 4 other young adults moved in to the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry (FVM) volunteer house. This volunteer house was the place where the 6 of us would be sharing our lives over the next 11 months. When Patrick and I met that day, we did not know what was in store for us. We didn’t know that ministering at the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen located in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, would change not only our lives and our career paths but also our hearts. While Patrick and I hit it off very quickly and became fast friends and confidants, I never imagined that we would be married 4 years after we met and would still be in each other’s lives more than 18 years later. 
Patrick, a native of Binghamton, NY, came to Franciscan Volunteer Ministry from Raleigh, NC where he was working and living with friends for the past few years. He came to FVM because he was discerning his next step in life.  A Franciscan friar in Raleigh suggested FVM as a way to discern if a vocation to the priesthood and/or to the Franciscans was where Patrick was headed. He realized early on that Social Work was his calling. 
I grew up in Scranton, PA and had just spent the last four years at St. Bonaventure University, a Catholic, Franciscan college in western New York state. While I always struggled with what to do with my life, during my junior year I decided that upon graduation I would be a full-time volunteer. I grabbed a Reponse book from the Campus Ministry center and began to request applications from a variety of programs. After a visit to the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen in Philadelphia, I knew Franciscan Volunteer Ministry was the perfect fit for me. I had many expectations for that first year of service. \One thing I didn’t expect was to meet the man I would marry.
Now it would have probably been easy if Patrick and I “dated” while living together and ministering together at St. Francis Inn.  But that’s not what happened.  For his second year of service, Patrick moved to Anderson, SC and was a part of the FVM community there.  I stayed in Philadelphia for my second year.  That second year was a shock for us because we didn’t have the person we talked to every day in the next room.  It took about 6 months into that second volunteer year when we realized that our friendship was more than platonic.  While it wasn’t ideal to only see each other 4 times over the next 6 months, we know that we kept AT&T in business with all our long-distance phone calls. 
We learned several lessons while volunteering with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry that nourishes our relationship today.  I think the most significant thing we learned was to be not only a good team player but a kind and understanding one. Although I believe we were good team members before FVM, I know FVM helped both of us to think as a team/community instead of about ourselves most of the time. And it helped us to be charitable to our fellow housemates and those we served. We were constantly thinking about us as a group vs. me as an individual. We talk about our marriage as a team activity because of that and we continue to value our friendship because of our year and a half friendship before dating. We really are all in and we are all in this together. Being surrounded by people that were committed to God, their faith and service to others was also helpful examples when we were growing in love for one another. Not everyone has such a supportive environment for the start of their relationship and we are forever grateful to all our communities for cheering us on then and now. You don’t always meet your spouse when serving, but when you do, your time serving the poor is never far from your mind and heart. 
Patrick and Courtney (Murphy) Hull served with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry (FVM) at their Philadelphia site from 1999-2000. Patrick served a second year with FVM at their Anderson, SC site from 2000-2001 while Courtney stayed in Philadelphia for her second year of service with FVM (2000-2001). Courtney and Patrick were married on the feast day of St. Francis October 4, 2003. They are excited to celebrate their 15th anniversary this year!  

Lisa Jo and Doug Looney
My husband Doug and I met while volunteering with the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry (FVM). Ours is a love story- love of service, love of community, love of celebrating what it means to be “church.”
With Father Bob at the helm of our FVM experience, Doug, Karen, Michael, Lisa, Mandy and I walked the short distance to the T each morning as we headed into Boston. Grateful for the life we shared together, we were ready to be greeted by the guests and staff of St. Francis House each day. I will never forget that sense of belonging, the feeling that everything was right in the world; I was surrounded by soul mates, our small community that would change my life. It was in these moments that I fell in love with these individuals and the countless others that formed us, fell in love with the journey we were on, fell in love with the man with whom I would spend the rest of my life.
During that year, and the many years that followed, we experienced the power of community. Because of our volunteer year with the Franciscans, Doug and I knew from the very beginning of our relationship that nurturing a sense of community, both local and long distance, would be the crucial link that would sustain our marriage.
The desire to serve grew within us as a couple. We took all that we learned from the Franciscans and ventured to St. Joseph’s Indian School in South Dakota, then headed south to graduate school in New Mexico. From there we held hands and followed our calling to Africa with Maryknoll Lay Missioners. About ten years after our arrival in Tanzania, all roads led to Bolivia with our three kids- all under five years old at the time.
Our Franciscan support network was widened to include the Maryknoll world. We quickly found that these global communities are strongly intertwined. Was it a coincidence that we were in Bolivia at the same time as two other former Franciscan Volunteers? I think not. It was incredible being surrounded by Franciscans and Maryknollers while in Africa and South America. As our bonds of community strengthened, so did our marriage. These communities are life-giving and reinforce the values that we share as a couple and as a family.
Over all these years we have been blessed with countless people and experiences that have changed our life. Off the dusty beaten path there is a small cloister situated in the hills of Mwanza, Tanzania. I will never forget the moment when I looked up from prayer and noticed an adaptation of a quote from Dag Hammarskjol painted on the cracked plastered walls of this chapel next to the Swahili translation: The mercies of God I will sing forever. For all that has been, thanks! For all that shall be, yes!”  Each day we say “yes” to our vocation of being husband and wife, mother and father, family. Each day we celebrate the blessings and challenges of our vocation. Marriage is fulfilling but marriage is hard. And it is during the difficult times of questioning as well as during the times of great joy that we gain strength and hope from all the Franciscans, Maryknollers, and beyond-  life-long friends who have accompanied us on the Way.
Our lives are woven together. And we are grateful.

Thanks to all the volunteers who shared their love story for this post!
To learn more about serving with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry, please click here or Maryknoll Lay Missioners, please click here.  

Faith, Service, and Simplicity

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 7:00am
By Christine Convery, Christ the King Service Corps

Six months after my year with Christ the King Service Corps was completed, I met two of my former housemates at a parlor in downtown Detroit and got my first tattoo. Beneath a road map and skyline of Detroit, the artist inked into my skin the core values of our community: Faith, Service, and Simplicity. We walked over to Lafayette’s Coney Island when we were finished, full of adrenaline and hungry for some chili dogs, when we passed a man lying face down on the sidewalk. It was late evening and March in Michigan, so very cold.“Sir?” I asked him, “Excuse me, are you OK?”The man didn’t respond or even move. He wore layers of clothing and from my view he appeared to be homeless. My community mates and I wondered what to do. Was he hurt? Was he dead? Asleep? A small pack of young men were walking towards us on the sidewalk, likely headed to a nearby bar scene and saw us hunched over and cautiously trying to check this man.“Don’t worry about that drunk,” they laughed at us, inviting us to join them instead. When we ignored their calls and crouched lower to the man on the ground, one of the passersby came up and nudged the sleeper with his foot, finally eliciting a response proving that the man was still alive. The crowd of friends continued on laughing to their night of revelry. After a few words and grunts and curses, the man communicated that he’d like us to leave him alone, and we, too, walked away into the cold night.As we walked away I felt keenly aware of how the whole situation called into challenge the words I had just paid to have permanently etched on my skin.

Simplicity reminds us to value people over things, relationships over ownership. The guilt that comes with every meal out or new purchase (or new tattoo) is a recognition that my own excess is a privilege in a world of deadly inequality. Service asks not only for our resources and a sacrifice of wealth but for our time, our hands, and our hearts. There is a removal of the “otherness” of the sick, the poor, and the uneducated when we get to know them by name and recognize a shared humanity.Faith roots it all in place, since it informs us that all that we share is from God who makes all things new. The choice to partake in a volunteer year or a life of service is counter-cultural just as Christ was. Faith gives us strength to persevere, grace to love others, and hope that change will come.

Now several years have passed since I moved out of Christ the King Service Corps and I am grateful for the continued friendship of my 5 housemates from that year of my life. Our community no longer lives under one roof, and we have grown in number as new friends and significant others join our journey. Among my larger community of service corps alumni and lovers of service I have friends who work daily in service to the homeless, who teach in Detroit’s infamous public schools, people who visit seniors in their homes and who organize for better transit and tenant rights. I hope that the next time I encounter a person alone in the street in need, I’ll do more than make sure he is alive, and even more I am determined that my own actions and inaction will not contribute to the systems which allow poverty to flourish and create inequality.There are more comfortable ways to live than in faith, service, and simplicity. It can be frightening to encounter people living in poverty or in need, and it is humbling to accept that there are limits to the change we can enact. It is in shedding our egos and our barriers and in encounter with each other, though, that we find ourselves and experience the joy which is so characteristic of Catholic Volunteer Network programs. We laugh and celebrate and grow in love in defiance of what marketing and advertising tell us. As Pope Emeritus Benedict reminds us, “the world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”
To learn more about service opportunities through Christ the King Service Corps, please click here.

Moving Closer to God by Drawing Closer to Each Other

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 7:00am

By Zach Wiley, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry

In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis paints a picture of purgatory as a dreary, sprawling, abandoned town in which no one can stand being around each other, so they keep moving away and out, further and further away from contact with others. They do not move away from each other out of fear, but rather out of a profound inability to coexist and understand the emotions and needs of others. This applies startlingly well to our daily lives. I think of all the times I have automatically avoided eye contact with the man asking for money on the corner, or remained oblivious to the needs of neighbors, friends, and even family. The conscious decision to develop community is the opposite of this; it is the decision to live closely with others, accepting the occasional frustration and discomfort that this causes for the joy and sense of belonging that living in community brings.
Community is a necessary part of the human condition. For most, the first community we know is family, which then extends gradually outward to extended family, neighborhood, church or parish, town, city, state, and nation. Many senses of community extend even beyond the nation, an example being the international and worldwide community of the Church. Members of a community are tied together by shared history, experience, place, belief, and often all of the above at once. Seeing as community is so essential to all of us, it is no wonder that it plays a large role in our religious ceremonies and beliefs. For example, as Christians we worship together, and we celebrate important events such as marriage and baptism not solitarily, but surrounded by members of our community. Therefore, one could say that community has an important interaction with religious belief, both supporting it and being supported by it.             In modern America many communities are hurting and broken. We see this most visibly in our neighborhood in West Baltimore. Abandoned houses and churches stand as testament to families and faith communities that used to be here, but no longer are. This is not to say that no one lives or goes to church here, because people still do, but simply to show that these community ties have weakened.  And this is not constrained to inner city neighborhoods: communities across the country, rich and poor, are suffering from poverties and addictions. From what I have seen, I believe that these maladies are all intricately connected to the health, or lack thereof, of community ties and support. That is, communities are weakened when members, through no fault of their own, are struggling to survive financially, emotionally, or spiritually, and weakened communities are then less able to respond to the demands caused by these challenges. Additionally, becoming a part of a strong community offers more than just material and emotional support: learning to live and empathize with others is instrumental in one’s spiritual growth and relationship with God. Drawing closer to community draws one closer to God, and therefore a rightly ordered community is a glimpse of Heaven on Earth.  Reflecting on the Lenten season that recently ended, I realized that there is a commonality between Lent and community life: both involve challenging the self in order to become closer to God.             When I applied to Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry I was excited about developing community, for its importance in sharing experiences and creating a support network. In the months since I arrived in Baltimore, my understanding of what developing community really means has been broadened and deepened substantially. I have had to adjust some of my own habits and ways of thinking, as have all members of our community. This adjustment to community life, and the discomfort that goes along with it, allows one to arise to new life in community. I have learned that challenges are an inherent part of a community, but that divisiveness is not. I have learned that being nice is shallow and that it is preferable to be kind and direct. Most importantly, community living has given me the space to learn these lessons on a small, personal scale and prepared me to bring these lessons to service in our neighborhood.
Consider an analogy: God’s love sustains a small flame in us. When we do service, we are trying to share the light from the candle with others and to brighten up the darkness in the world. We want to share this light as much as we can, but the world is windy and makes the flame flicker. This is especially true when a person or situation makes it difficult for me to feel empathy. My service site in the Emergency Department of the Bon Secours Baltimore Hospital presents experiences on a daily basis thatmake empathy difficult. The challenging nature of the cases we see, (drug overdoses, assault victims, and patients with chronic disease) creates an environment in which the presence of God at times feels weak. Living in intentional community provides practice in sharing empathy, which prepares us to better extend this empathy to patients. To return to our analogy, the flame becomes brighter and stronger through practice. This means that we become closer to God, in that He dwells in us more strongly, the more we share this light. As each community member individually draws strength and peace from God, the love that we share provides the presence of God to each other. In learning to see God in the members of our intentional community, we practice and strengthen our ability to see the presence of God in the people that we serve. When we ground ourselves in small scale community we are better able to participate in our broader community, especially our neighborhood, but also our cities, states, and country. My community has been an important part of my volunteer experience, serving as an expression of God’s love for me, and as a source from which I draw love and light.
To learn more about service opportunities through Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry, please click here.

Create Your Charism: Jessica Vozella - St. Joseph Worker Program - Los Angeles, CA

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 10:00am
Jessica is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Jessica and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year!
The logo of my service site with
St. Joseph Worker Program.Before beginning the St. Joseph Worker Program, I didn’t know the first thing about what distinguished the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet from any other order of women religious, and I definitely didn’t realize how much I would identify with the passion of their charism. The sisters’ spirits and charism can be encapsulated by the words “unifying love.” This is the spirit that drives their heralded phrase, “to serve the dear neighbor without distinction.” It also directs the ministries that the sisters run, including this program, where I get to serve my neighbor in the spirit of love that works to erase division between “me and them.”
In my work at St. Joseph Center and with my community, I see my program’s charism acted out in a few specific areas that I would love to explore.   

Changing world view: With the theme of unifying love behind all of my actions, I begin to see the issue of homelessness in a different light. It seems rather basic to imagine that I would begin truly seeing people who may often seem invisible, but the charism drives me to realize the true humanity and the seemingly small differences that ultimately separate my clients and myself. I’ve also learned the difficulties of “solving” the issue of homelessness because, though all people are linked, it is precisely that interdependence that ensures any efforts to solve this issue impacts all people. Realizing the connection between social justice and each individual person highlights the difficulty in approaching these issues, as well as the intense need for these changes to be brought about.
LOVE statue in Scottsdale, AZ, taken
when I spent a week in my roommate
Anh’s home state after Christmas.
Living in solidarity: Because this love unites us all, the sisters’ charism teaches me to ask questions about our interdependence between people and the earth and to recognize the impact we make. For me this means thinking about how we live in our community, where we are getting our food and products from, and considering what must change in my life to help me better live for justice and the unification of all, even when the connections may be harder to see. Reflecting on low-harm foods, the free-trade movement, and workers justice, among other issues, has been fueled by my desire for social justice through the charism of the CSJ (Sisters of St. Joseph).
My community members Michaella and Angelica
on either side of the US- Mexican border.
One specific example of the program’s charism that came to life in a tangible way was when I got the opportunity to travel to Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico for a Border/School of the Americas protest. Below is a video detailing our experience. Going to the border and walking straight into Mexico only to see the enormous border wall that separates these two countries was powerful. It made me question why, where God sees unity and similarities, we humans see division and difference. It was heartbreaking to understand the hardships of those affected by this wall. (See more at:
: The phrase “that all may be one” is what the Sisters of St. Joseph understand Jesus’ mission to be, and they try to continue this mission today. It underscores the connection each of our services and work has with each other, especially the work of the other volunteers in my community. Together, we are learning to live in an interdependent community where we are all responsible for each other, a concept that I didn’t understand as tying in to our work for justice. However, this unifying love extends beyond “service” and into life with those we interact with always.
We are lucky to have the St Joseph Worker program
community but also the larger CSJ community
 at large! Here we are at Sr. Dorothy
and Barbara’s home in Tuscon, AZ.
My faith: My faith has been informed and shaped by the sister’s charism in a way that comes at a perfect time in this political climate we live in. I think it is a unique privilege to do a year of service at a time when tensions are high and hard issues are coming up more frequently. However, I’ve found that this is also a challenging time to have faith, especially when dealing with the intense suffering of those experiencing homelessness in LA. Unifying love is the opposite of what we hear continuously on the news and from each other, and is often opposite of what my clients are experiencing. However, this charism changes my perspective of God; I see my role in continuing Jesus’ mission as opposed to waiting for God to solve all the problems. Furthermore, I think this charism urges me to focus my faith on the world and the larger population rather than on myself.
“Our charism...sends us into the world as continuous acts of love, a love that is active and inclusive, patient and enduring, fearless and tender, forgiving and giving, steady and steadfast. It forms bridges, makes connections easier and facilitates life for others, enabling them also to stir up love in our world.”
~Marcia Allen, CSJ.
 My vocation: The quote above is an incredible statement about the charism of the sisters and of the St. Joseph Worker program. It helps me when I consider my journey of discernment. I have moved past an idea of vocation as a job or a position, or even the choice between married or religious life. I have started to imagine my vocation as what I am called to be in all areas of my life, and this love that is fearless and inclusive has driven me to consider how I am like that in my relationships, my job, and with myself. I have seen this love when I am working at St. Joseph Center and it urges me to consider where I can more aptly display it in a way that feels comfortable for me in the future. I wonder if social work is the career where this can happen for me, leading me on a path of discerning my career as part of my vocation. I am grateful that through each step of this program, the charism of unifying love in serving the neighbor is there to guide me.

Jessica, a current St. Joseph Worker, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.