CVN Blogger Feed

Syndicate content
Stories of service from Catholic Volunteer Network volunteers.
Updated: 43 min 54 sec ago

Ash Wednesday Reflection: Expect the Unexpected

8 hours 2 min ago
By Katie Mulembe, Catholic Volunteer Network Staff and Franciscan Mission Service Returned Missioner


My mission in Zambia turned out to be nothing like I expected. Before I left, I had spent a lot of time researching the country, learning about the current status of abject poverty and HIV/AIDS in the region, deciding on the best regime for malaria prevention, even carefully choosing the items that I would pack in my suitcase. I thought I knew what I was getting in to, and I truly believed that I was going to make a difference in the lives of the people I was there to serve. My ministry site was an orphanage for young children, and I was put in charge of fifteen 2-3 year olds. All it took was one botched attempt to change a cloth diaper to help me realize that I still had so much to learn. Thankfully, I was surrounded by a welcoming community of fellow caregivers who not only helped me clean up the mess, but also patiently re-explained the correct folds and pin placement. I had many moments like this – where I found myself overestimating my own aptitude and in need of help from the very people I was there to serve. This was a big lesson in humility for me. I began to spend more and more time in prayer – asking God to help me understand why I was called to a job I felt so under-qualified for – and I started to see that it was my pride that kept getting in the way. Only when I learned to slow down and trust that it was not about my own abilities, but rather my openness to God working through me and through those around me, that my mission began to have meaning.  

I think that the Lenten journey is a bit like the experience of starting a volunteer program. You enter the season with lofty aspirations and good intentions. You know there will be some sacrifices involved, but you trust that God is going to show up in your life and that will bring meaning to your work. Daily prayer and reflection can help you become more aware of the presence of the Divine surrounding you every day. Take these next forty days to hear how God is speaking to you in unexpected ways.

Introducing the 2017 Lenten Reflection Guide

Catholic Volunteer Network, in partnership with the Catholic Apostolate Center, welcome you to journey with us through this season of Lent. We have put together a collection of reflections written by current and former volunteers to help you draw close to the experience of service rooted in faith during this important liturgical season. Download the 2017 Reflection Guide here

Catholic Volunteer Network is comprised of more than 180 different volunteer programs, covering a variety of types of work, service locations, and time  commitments. Each program has a unique ministry to serve the needs of the poor, but they are all united by a common commitment to the four pillars of faith-based service: Simplicity, Social Justice, Community, and Sprituality. These four values explain how and why our volunteers take on this important, but sometimes challenging work. Throughout this Reflection Guide, current and former volunteers will share about their personal experiences with  the four pillars. Here is an overview of what each one means:

Simplicity: Many volunteers receive a small monthly stipend to cover their expenses, but living simply is not only about spending as little money as possible, it is an intentional choice to focus on relationships rather than material goods, and to learn to be better stewards of the gifts that God has given us to enjoy. 

Social Justice: As volunteers work alongside people experiencing some of the most dire forms of poverty, they challenge themselves to learn more about the underlying structural and social factors. For many programs, Catholic Social Teaching is the foundation of their understanding of social justice.

Community: Our volunteers do not take on this work alone, they live in intentional communities where they share meals, household chores, and learn to make decisions together. This daily presence in one another’s lives is a source of support, accountability, and friendship for volunteers. 

Spirituality: For many volunteers, their time of service is also a time of profound spiritual growth. Many programs facilitate regular community spirituality nights, host several retreats throughout the year, and encourage volunteers to seek out a spiritual director.Volunteers often find that their faith comes alive while they are living out these four pillars and engaging in volunteer service.

We are thankful for the opportunity to accompany you during this holy time. May God speak to you through these reflections over the next forty days!


About the Author: After graduating from the University of Dayton, Katie Mulembe journeyed to Zambia, Africa, where she served as a missioner with the Franciscan Mission Service for three years. Soon after completing her mission work in 2007, Katie was drawn to the mission of Catholic Volunteer Network and joined the team. She now serves as the Director of Operations.



An Oasis Within the Chaos

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 9:59am
By Kassandra Villarreal, Good Shepherd Volunteers
Kassandra and fellow Good Shepherd Volunteer Allie exploring Los AngelesIt’s so great to be back at the Good Shepherd Shelter after the 3-week long holiday vacation. Although it’s been a cold and rainy start to 2017 here in Los Angeles, that only means that we are slowly but surely exiting our 5-year long drought! The rain has never been my favorite thing but I definitely appreciate it at the moment.
I’m about halfway finished with my year of service through Good Shepherd Volunteers at the Good Shepherd Shelter in Los Angeles and I honestly cannot believe how the weeks fly by when you love what you do! The Good Shepherd Shelter is a year-long residential shelter where women with children who are fleeing domestic violence get the chance to physically, spiritually and mentally heal. The shelter has a trauma-informed on-site school for children ages 0-10 and a Learning Center where the mothers receive yoga, cardio, nutrition, parenting, ESL, GED, advanced career prep, typing, math, life skills, DV therapy, and art therapy classes.  I have several different roles at the shelter: I am a toddler classroom teacher with Ms. Sally, I teach ESL, math, typing, life skills to the mothers in addition to translation in the Learning Center with Ms. Lara, I coordinate the afternoon homework club for the children with Ms. Allie (my fellow GSV-er) and lastly, every Thursday I work with DART (Domestic Abuse Response Team) as an advocate at the LAPD West LA division station.
Although at times it can be a bit demanding, I love that I get to work with everyone who we serve at the shelter! The toddlers at the shelter are the cutest and so incredibly bright. At the moment, Ms. Sally and I are pushing them to learn their colors and letters. We have one toddler who we believe is ready to move on to T-K at the school, so that should happen in the next month or so. Another one of our toddlers is almost ready but her mother is still not 100% on board so we are going to have to work on getting her on board because her child is almost ready for the next step. The rest of the little ones have some time to go but they are such a joy to teach. They are guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face!
From the Toddlers’ classroom, I go to the mothers’ classroom in the Learning Center with Ms. Lara who is the Learning Center Coordinator. I started off my year of service in the Learning Center doing something I had never done professionally before; translating for a Codependency class with a therapist. Every Wednesday for about 10 weeks, I would translate this important topic in domestic violence for the mothers. Although it wasn’t an easy task, I am so happy I did it because I have gained so much from it. I got to learn about a different area of domestic violence that I had not learned about before and on top of that, I got to learn a lot about our mothers’ individual DV stories. The women at the Good Shepherd Shelter are such incredible women and I look up to them in terms of strength and resilience. Many of them have experienced homelessness, violence or verbal abuse because of the DV and somehow still had the strength to get up from that and ask for help. Although translating for the Codependency class was probably one of the harder things I’ve done mentally, it was so rewarding for me to understand where our women were coming from.
Another task I have in the Learning Center is to teach basic beginning ESL to some our Spanish-speaking mothers. I currently have two students; one is at the beginner level and the other is in between beginner and intermediate. This semester Ms. Lara and I thought it would be a great idea to start them both on the Rosetta Stone program for English, and so far, it has been going super well. I have been helping them a bit with it, and so far it looks like they have learned a lot through my ESL class which is so exciting! One of my ESL mothers/students, who is at the beginner’s level, said she was on the bus with her sons one day and could understand that they were conspiring to throw trash out of the bus’s window. When she told her sons not to do that, they were so surprised that she could understand them. She was so proud of herself and when she told me I was so proud of her too! It’s the simple stories that put a smile on my face and reassure me that what I am doing is worth it.
In addition to the ESL class I teach, on Fridays Ms. Lara and I teach computers/typing and math to the mothers. I consider this as more of a relaxed day for the moms because we touch up on a lot of skills that the moms really have fun with. In the computers segment, they are currently working on the Mavis Beacon typing program where they learn to correctly and quickly type. Even though some of the mothers came in with no typing/computer background, they have made so much progress from when they first started. In the math segment, we review some basic skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, decimals, fractions, and percentages. The math is great for the mothers because not only is it a way in which we can teach and support them in helping their children with homework but also a great job skill to have. The mothers really enjoy this time and many of them have said that it is therapeutic and helps with their healing process. Since Fridays are more relaxed, we end the day with some fun games with the mothers. Two Fridays ago, we decided to play kickball outside on the lawn and rather than have teams, Ms. Lara and I decided to just have us all rotate from position to position. It turned out to be a great idea because rather than worry about the score, the mothers just had fun playing outside in the beautiful post-rain sunny weather.
So far, my experience as a Good Shepherd Volunteer at the Good Shepherd Shelter has been sublime. I never have the exact words to describe how amazing this place is and how much I love what I do, but what I can say is that this place is an oasis within the chaos. Not only is it an oasis in terms of how it’s hidden within the chaos of the city of Los Angeles, but also because of the meaning it has for the families we serve. For our mothers and their children, the Good Shepherd shelter is their home and refuge. Although the mothers arrive at the Good Shepherd Shelter from domestic violence experiences that have stripped them of who they are, once they finish the program they leave as empowered confident women ready to pursue independent life with their children. I am honored to be part of such a remarkable and empowering program.
Just love,Kassandra VillarrealGood Shepherd ShelterLos Angeles Community 16-17
This blog originally appeared on the Good Shepherd Volunteers blog, and is reposted here with permission.
To find out more about Good Shepherd Volunteers, please visit their website by clicking here.

Bloom Where You're Planted

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 9:58am
By Katherine Maloney, Dominican Volunteer

“Bloom where you’re planted” is a phrase that no teenager with a lot of angst wants to hear. Yet, looking back, my mom was right - as she often is - about the necessity of and the joy that comes from immersing yourself in wherever it is that you are, rather than resenting that place. At age 16, I wanted nothing more than to be far from Long Island and New York. Fast-forward to age 22, and now I can’t imagine where I would rather be. My time in Dominican Volunteers has given me an enriched and renewed appreciation for the amazing city and state that I grew up in.

It’s no secret that I moved the smallest distance for my service year. While some volunteers moved across the country, I did not. On a good day, I can drive across just two counties from my parents’ home to my new community in the Bronx in about 45 minutes. By public transportation, I would cross four counties, take one Long Island Railroad Train, the 1, 2 or 3 subway line up one stop to 42nd St, then the S or the 7 to Grand Central, and then the 6 all the way to the end, and end up in my community in about two hours. At my ministry site, I’m about 21 miles from my parents’ house, and my community is roughly 19 miles from where I grew up. I may be close to home, but the past few months have been a world of difference that I never could have expected.


Katt speaking at the Migration and
Immigration ConferenceGrowing up in New York, one would think that I would have at least visited the United Nations once in my life, yet I had not! I wouldn’t have been able to find the UN if I was walking around Manhattan, and I certainly did not understand even a fraction of the work that goes on there every day. Yet here I am, every day being transported around the world without ever having to leave midtown Manhattan, learning about situations and conflicts that seem so distant yet are inextricably tied to our collective human condition and global narrative. Every day I attempt to be hope for people with whom I may never come in contact, living in conditions that I can hardly imagine. Every day I enter what is often a bulwark of bureaucracy, and every day I leave not having solved all of the world’s problems, but having hopefully provided the tools to both policymakers and ordinary citizens to get more engaged, be more aware, and make changes that reflect the human faces behind the world’s crises.

I am so often reminded of the immense privilege that I have to be from the United States. I would imagine that many of my fellow volunteers are realizing how fortunate they were to grow up in the families or areas that they did, and I am realizing that as well, but the awareness of my privilege as an American has never been so stark. Worldwide, there are roughly one billion people who live on less than $1USD per day. Approximately 800 million people are suffering from lack of food security.  In many countries, girls and women still do not have adequate access to education, and around 15 million girls per year enter into a child marriage. There are people dealing with little to no infrastructure, corrupt regimes, lack of clean water, and tremendous income inequality. Every person, at every corner of the Katt with the President Mahama of Ghanaglobe, is facing the difficult challenge of global warming and climate change, and how to mitigate these risks. However, for some in Small Island Developing States, the reality is that with rising sea levels, thousands of people might very quickly find themselves quite literally stranded on desert islands, without homes and without land to live, farm, or build businesses on. While difficult economic and social problems persist in our own country, we are guaranteed certain securities by our government and are often afforded opportunities that those in other countries do not have access to. Across the globe, there are people coping with realities beyond my wildest imagination, and yet every day I seek to represent them in the Dominican Leadership Conference advocacy space. Every day I “show up” for people who cannot do so for themselves. What a true and immense privilege, honor, and responsibility this is, and how lucky I feel every day that Dominican Volunteers has afforded me it.

Community life has also been an experience unlike any other. First and foremost, I am living in the Bronx. When people mention “the Bronx,” images of the era of the “burning Bronx” in the 1980s are conjured. There is a certain nervousness with which people approach the Bronx. I myself, despite living on Long Island for the majority of my life, had only driven through the Bronx, and never made an effort to explore it. I had been missing out on so much! Not only is the Bronx the largest of the city’s five boroughs, it is also the most diverse, with over 200 cultures represented. There are distinctly Italian sections of the Bronx, there are Caribbean sections, Latin American, Irish – any culture that one can imagine is likely represented here. High in the Northeast corner of the Bronx, a stone’s throw from Westchester County, is my home at Our Lady of Assumption Church, where I have been able to grow in my faith and learn valuable life lessons from women who have seen and done it all. From sharing stories about growing up in the Bronx, to deep and thought-provoking discussions on poverty or the true nature of what it means to be “pro-life,” my community has shown me the beauty of life well lived in pursuit of the truth, and has taught me lessons that I know will stick with me long after the year is over.  

So, yes, bloom where you are planted. In my case, it could be that I am challenged to consider the plight of migrants and refugees in the morning, and then asked to consider what role women should have in peace negotiations in the afternoon. It has involved helping to plan a forum, volunteering for the International Day of the Girl Child Summit, drafting a proposal for an event on indigenous women in agriculture, writing statements for a social development commission, taking an active role on six NGO committees, collaborating with great people, and being tasked with professional responsibilities that I never thought would be possible as a recent graduate.  It has involved cooking for my community, which I was terrified of doing. It has involved waking up at 5:50AM for prayer, which seemed daunting at first, but has carried many personal rewards as well as strengthened my relationship with my community. It has involved finding a new home in an unexpected place, but still being so close to the home I’ve known since childhood. It’s involved giving a place I was ready to leave a second glance, and definitely not regretting it at all. It has involved traveling around the world without ever leaving New York, and it’s involved being in a center of global diplomacy every day, but returning to my quiet corner of suburbia every night.

It’s been about five months since I formally said “yes” to the Dominican Volunteers journey at our Orientation Retreat. While I don’t know what the rest of the year will hold, or what the future beyond this year of Dominican Volunteers looks like, I have learned that having faith in the fact that all things happen as they are meant to, I will never be disappointed, and will always be in for a new adventure, even if that adventure is just 20 miles away from Long Island.

This post first appeared on Dominican Volunteers USA blog, Disputatio. Reposted here with permission. To learn more about Dominican Volunteers USA, please click here.  



Little Reminders

Wed, 01/11/2017 - 11:35am
By Jenette Vogt, Christian Appalachian Project Volunteer

It's funny how God can work in your life sometimes. Just when you think you are starting to figure things out, he opens up all of these other paths and opportunities. Usually they are good surprises. Most of the time they just make me roll my eyes and laugh. But most importantly they remind me that I am not and can not be in complete control of my life. I think God likes to send these reminders that he is still there and that he has these plans for my life. Great plans that will bring me true happiness as long as I am willing to follow and trust in him.When I first came down to my prospective volunteer interview at CAP, God hit me with one of those reminders. First off, I wasn't sure if I really wanted to give up my first year out of college to serve in this community in Kentucky. Most of my friends were moving on to graduate school or their first job. Was I willing to give all that up? That question was quickly answered. My prospective interviews went great, almost too great!First I interviewed with the Home Repair Program. The only reason I was interested in this program is because I knew nothing about construction and building things. Once, I tried building a night stand and my father ended up taking the entire thing apart because it wasn't square. Apparently only having two of the legs touch the ground at the same time is a problem. I went into my housing interview not expecting much. Boy was I surprised and in a good way! I had the opportunity to go to a job site and work for the day. I LOVED it.When I got back to the volunteer house that evening, I remember calling my mom in a panic. I wasn't supposed to like the Home Repair Program that much! Before the interviews I already had my mind made up that I was going to volunteer with the Summer Camp Program so I could be a camp counselor. I knew I would enjoy working at a summer camp. I interviewed for the Camp AJ position the next morning and that interview was better than I expected it to be as well. I had the chance to eat lunch with a few of CAP's employees, and we ended up singing camp songs while making lunch. I am not a super outgoing person so the fact that I sang a song called "Bessie the Heifer" during lunch was a big deal to me. I knew that I would love camp and that I would be happy working as the Camp AJ volunteer.On my way home, I called my mom to tell her about another great interview. She had me give her a run down of the positives and negatives of both programs. One huge negative for the camp position was the in school work at four of the local schools. I was an elementary education major for a few semesters in college, and I did NOT want to be back in the classroom. I knew that teaching was not my calling, and I could learn so much more in the housing program. Plus, the housing program works longer days so they get Fridays off in the summer!This is when God sent me one of his little reminders. Eventually it hit me that this year of service was not about me. I wasn't going to serve in Kentucky for myself, so why would I pick a program based on what I wanted for myself? The pro/con list had to go. I waited for about a week to see how I would feel and I could not get the Camp program out of my head along with the thought of all of the little kids that I would have the chance to work with. So what if I was going to be in a classroom for most of the year? God had opened up one of these opportunities that would make me happy. I only had to listen.So I did. I have been a Camp AJ volunteer for the past four months. While there are days that it can be rough to be in a classroom with 20 third graders, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else! Working in the schools has been wonderful. The students have brought me more joy and laughter than I could have ever imagined.
Jenette is an AmeriCorps Camp Educator/Summer Camp Counselor living in the Jackson Volunteer House. She is a 2016 graduate of Eastern Illinois University. Christian Appalachian Project’s mission is building hope, transforming lives, and sharing Christ’s love through service in Appalachia. To learn more about the volunteer opportunities they offer, please click here. This post first appeared on CAP's blog.  

The Mystery of Mission: A Letter to a Future Missioner

Tue, 12/27/2016 - 8:00am
2016 Volunteer Story Contest WinnerBy Teresa Villaruz, Maryknoll Lay Missioner
Dear friend,
Relax. Breathe. Welcome to your new life as an overseas missioner. If you are anything like I am, you may be experiencing heaps of excitement with a dash of panic and a good dose of “Good Lord, what did I just get myself into?” Prepare to be enveloped in a cloud, or perhaps even a storm, of unknowing. Things you thought you knew – what is considered edible, how you cross a street, how you wash a mango – well, friend, those days are gone. Never fear, you will learn because you will have people walking alongside you who will show you how to get the dead gecko out of the water tank and how to negotiate the correct price on a minibus. 
You will see the silky comfort of wealth juxtaposed next to the crushing reality of poverty. In fact, you will probably live in the safety and comfort of this wealth, or at the very least, you will dabble in it from time to time when going to restaurants with exotic fare or on safaris to see living national treasures, but your work will likely be with the 99%, those who do not have running water or electricity in their mud and stick homes. And you will feel guilt. Lots of it.  While as missioners, we’re called to walk with those on the margins, the truth is that we can easily leave those margins whenever we choose.  As a missioner and a teacher, I often ask myself why I have 12 pairs of shoes at home under my bed while my student has only one pair of broken flip-flops; why I can gleefully spend $4 on a Frappuccino when that will pay for three months of my student’s feeding program. If you are like I am, you will toe that thin and almost invisible line between self-care and being part of the machine that imprisons people in poverty. 
Many visitors are impressed by how people can live in such dire circumstances and yet seem so outwardly joyful. But please, dear friend, do not idealize their poverty. Do not deny them their complexity and humanity. If you are able to meet them as they are with all of their contradictions and imperfections, you might be able to start sitting in the midst of the questions and the mystery that connects us all.
This is what mission is all about.  It’s about serving others and wrestling with the questions surfacing that you didn’t even know were inside you. It is the ability to look in the mirror and see yourself with stark and almost terrifying clarity because the truth is, when you pluck yourself from your everyday familiar and intentionally put yourself into what is uncomfortable and foreign, the landscapes of your soul begin to rumble and shift. And you begin to realize that these questions, no matter how painful to hold, are a gift. Your soul, though it may fall into temporary darkness, will bloom and your heart will expand because you had the courage to allow the tragedy around you to shatter it. You had the courage to stand with your hands open and empty, waiting for God to fill them. 
The reality, dear friend, is that you will need God more here. When you’re in a western country, you can rely on the doctor when you’re sick, go to a friend’s house when you need comfort, escape distress with a good movie. Here, hospitals do not have enough blood and people frequently die of preventable diseases. You can go to a friend’s house here, but that friend might not speak English, may have different boundaries about crying or expressing emotions. And watching a movie would be great…if you have electricity that night. These are the adventures, the challenges, and the gifts of everyday mission. You will see just how simply you can live, just what food you can stomach, just how much your culture has shaped your version of reality. And believe it or not, you will be surprised by how a place so foreign to you can feel so much like home. 


So often, we go into mission with plans about how we are going to transform lives, not realizing that in the messy process of learning how to serve, we ourselves will be transformed. You will be evangelized by the tragic beauty of the place you’re in, the struggles and the heartbreaks of the people you are accompanying, and the hope that is held anyway. And you will be evangelized by your own doubt, made to feel the breadth of your humanity and the fear and wonder of your unique journey. By putting yourself in such a vulnerable place, by allowing yourself to be broken and blessed, you nourish not only others, but yourself. So be gentle with yourself; you will learn the language and the culture and the customs with time. But for now, just thank God for the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of another and to draw just a little bit closer to the person you’re meant to be. 
With love, Teresa 
Want to know more? Visit Teresa's blog!Would you like to make a donation to support Teresa's mission? Click here to visit her donation page!

Christmas 2016 - The Gift of Light

Sun, 12/25/2016 - 9:55am

The Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote in WWII Germany, said of Advent: “The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.”Over the past four weeks, we have lit candles on the Advent wreath. This ritual engages us with the darkness of the season, as well as the symbolic darkness of our world. In the circle of night we make a four-point square of light – a burning sign of our hope for the new life promised by God.Today, our Christmas Gospel reveals God’s fulfillment of this promise:What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:3-5)We celebrate anew the birth of Jesus Christ – a gift we can hardly comprehend. In the refuge of the manger (which is located in every heart) we rejoice in the eternal Son of God, who is born for man, by the power of Holy Spirit and the willing service of Mary, his mother.As a community founded in faith and service, we can rejoice doubly, for as God’s Angel told Joseph in the Fourth Week of Advent, “…they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23) As Christ is the light of the world, he is also the light within all who receive him. We are each made little lights in His name. We are each to glow, and as St. Francis of Assisi reassures us, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”  We pray that you have peace and joy on this Christmas Day and beyond. We pray that you will carry your light forward into the world. The new earth has not yet come, but Christ has, illuminating the dark. Rejoice! In joyful spirit, we share now a few lines from author Madeleine L’Engle (herself a little candle of Christ):
First Coming (excerpt)
He came to a world which did not mesh,to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.In the mystery of the Word made Fleshthe Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is saneto raise our songs with joyful voice,for to share our grief, to touch our pain,He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Advent, A Season of Service - When God Turns Your World Upside-Down

Sun, 12/18/2016 - 9:15am

Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center are pleased to bring you this Advent reflection series to support your growth during this important season. We welcome you to journey through these weeks of Advent alongside several of our current and former
volunteers who serve as contributors for this series. We are constantly inspired by their courage to step outside of their comfort zones and their commitment to serving those most in need. They have remarkable stories to share, filled with light and hope. Each week, a different writer reflects on the Sunday Gospel reading through the lens of their volunteer experience. Their insights on the four pillars of faith-based service; Community, Social Justice, Spirituality, and Simple Living, call us back to the true meaning of Advent. Click here to download the complete Advent 2016 Reflection Guide

Fourth Sunday of Advent“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, into your home.For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”Matthew 1:18-24
Reflection by Danielle Goddard, Former Rostro de Cristo volunteer, Current Resident Minister at John Carroll University 
When I was young, I thought there was a script of how my story would unfold. It was combination of the life I had known growing up, along with the expectations others held for me, and the dreams I had for myself. I clung pretty tightly to that plan; that is, until I spent a year in Ecuador with Rostro de Cristo. My world was shaken and turned upside-down as I fell in love and shared life with people who were vulnerable and on the margins. I realized that although the plan I had for my life was very good, God’s call for me to respond to the needs of the world might be even more important.
It is because of these experiences that I resonate with Joseph in today’s gospel reading. He is a righteous yet caring man, determined to make the “right” decisions for his life based on other’s expectations and his plan for his future. Yet through a dream, he has his world turned upside-down by the realization that God is working through his life in ways he had not seen before. In his dream, the angel tells him “do not be afraid” to put God before the “righteous” decision.
This reading challenges us to not be afraid of the ways God is working around us and through us. Joseph gives us an example of trusting God’s will above our own plans or expectations. It urges us to listen to God speaking through those most vulnerable, or through the stirrings of our own heart. And it is a reminder that no matter how lost we feel, God is with us.
Focus on: Simplicity
I think of simplicity as putting God first. To me, this means putting Love before material things, before our own agenda, or before what others think we should do or say. It means listening to God’s voice stirring in our own hearts despite fear, just as Joseph responded to the angel in his dream. God calls us to love others, because all people are made in God’s image. This is what Jesus came to proclaim: “Emmanuel, God is with us.” So by putting God first, we strive to prioritize and choose to celebrate the Love alive in the people surrounding us, and in our own hearts. This is simplicity: letting go of the things, ideas, and distractions that create barriers between us and others, and ultimately between us and God.
Service Suggestion
Our lives are full of distractions, especially in the holiday season. Challenge yourself to embrace simplicity. Intentionally drop the barriers you create between yourself and others: focus on people instead of technology, material things, or expectations you put on yourself. Take time to engage with family and friends, or spend time building relationships with those on the margins in your community. Most of all, don’t be afraid to engage with your own heart in prayer to hear how God is stirring within you. 
Prayer
Dear God, We thank you for the ways you surprise us and challenge our expectations. Help us to simplify our lives in order to draw closer to those around us, and to ultimately grow closer to you. Give us courage to hear your call, spoken through those around us and from our own hearts. Give us peace to know you are with us, through the gift of your son Jesus, Emmanuel. Amen.

To learn more about Rostro de Cristo Volunteer Program, please click here. 

Getting a Head Start on Your Application

Wed, 12/14/2016 - 10:39am
What are you doing after graduation? If you are a college senior, this is sure to be a question you will hear a lot from friends and family during your winter break. Instead of dodging those tough questions, we recommend that you utilize this time to get a head start on your post-grad service applications. Many of the most competitive programs have priority deadlines starting in January, so this is the perfect time to begin the application process. We've put together these tips to help you get started...
Looking for more? Be sure to visit our Facebook page between now and Christmas day to check out CVN's Twelve Days of Christmas series. This will be a great way to learn more about many of the programs in our Network, while also gaining some great advice for the application process. 

Let us know if you have any specific questions about faith-based service in the comments section below! We are here to help, and look forward to answering your questions!

Advent, A Season of Service - Seeing the Face of Christ in Ecuador

Sun, 12/11/2016 - 9:33am

Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center are pleased to bring you this Advent reflection series to support your growth during this important season. We welcome you to journey through these weeks of Advent alongside several of our current and former
volunteers who serve as contributors for this series. We are constantly inspired by their courage to step outside of their comfort zones and their commitment to serving those most in need. They have remarkable stories to share, filled with light and hope. Each week, a different writer reflects on the Sunday Gospel reading through the lens of their volunteer experience. Their insights on the four pillars of faith-based service; Community, Social Justice, Spirituality, and Simple Living, call us back to the true meaning of Advent. Click here to download the complete Advent 2016 Reflection Guide
Third Sunday of Advent“When John the Baptist heard in prison the works of the Christ,he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,'Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?'”Matthew 11:2-11
Reflection by Meghan Dietzer, Former Rostro de Cristo volunteer, Current Coordinator of Local Service Programs for Villanova University Campus Ministry
In this gospel, John questions whether Jesus is truly the one that he and countless others had been waiting for.  In many ways, what John has heard about Jesus does not quite match up with the kind of person he had expected Christ to be.  I look back to my year of service and remember thinking similar thoughts while living among the poverty and great suffering that so many of our neighbors faced.  
I went to Ecuador in hope to always see the face of Christ in others and to do my utmost to be the face of Christ to all those I encountered.  In many ways, I had started my year thinking that recognizing and encountering Christ meant finding joy and goodness, no matter how difficult the situation. However, as we journeyed through our year, my community and I experienced many situations when Jesus seemed unrecognizable and completely hidden.  We came to know so much injustice, hurt, and suffering in the lives of our friends there that at points I, like John, also questioned who Jesus was.  
After some time passed, much prayer, and many discussions with my community, I came to understand that Christ was in fact looking at me, straight in the eye, each day.   For the first time, I recognized that He was Jesus Christ on the cross.  That Face of Christ that suffers with us, that knows pain and sorrow, but also that face that rises from the dead and brings us unimaginable hope of the kingdom of heaven and eternal life with Him.  

Focus on: Community
Living in community can be hard and so challenging at times (generally, most of the time!) Unfortunately, if we are struggling with our faith or other such things, we, unlike John, cannot simply send a member of our community out to go ask Jesus the big questions and return with answers. However, we must remember that by praying together and journeying with one another, Christ is in fact there guiding us along each step of the way.  For, He told us, “Where two or three are gathered, there am I in their midst.” Living in community with an openness to be vulnerable, to lean into discomfort, and to pray together holds so much potential for encountering some of Christ’s purest love.

Service Suggestion
Think about John the Baptist in this Gospel.  He was in prison and unable to go out and find Jesus himself.  Without the gift of his friends, he may not have been able to know if Jesus truly was the Christ.  This week, let us recognize those in our community who don’t seem to have anyone to bring them Christ’s love and peace.  Do your best to be like those friends of John and bring that person the good news of Christ.  Whether that means visiting the sick or imprisoned or sitting down with a co-worker who is having a hard day, there are countless people who need the gift of a friend that can share with them the love of God.

PrayerDear Jesus,
As I anticipate your humble birth in that small stable in Bethlehem, Help me to further humble myself and to give with a selfless heart.Grant me the openness to receive you into my heart in a new way this Christmas that truly transforms me.Guide me as I continue on my journey in community with others, grounded in love.Help me to recognize you in those that I serve, even when it is most difficult.Let me truly hear your words of healing and hope, and enable me to spread your message to those who need to hear it most.Amen.
To learn more about Rostro de Cristo Volunteer Program, please click here. 

Advent, A Season of Service - Fire and Water

Sun, 12/04/2016 - 9:19am

Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center are pleased to bring you this Advent reflection series to support your growth during this important season. We welcome you to journey through these weeks of Advent alongside several of our current and former
volunteers who serve as contributors for this series. We are constantly inspired by their courage to step outside of their comfort zones and their commitment to serving those most in need. They have remarkable stories to share, filled with light and hope. Each week, a different writer reflects on the Sunday Gospel reading through the lens of their volunteer experience. Their insights on the four pillars of faith-based service; Community, Social Justice, Spirituality, and Simple Living, call us back to the true meaning of Advent. Click here to download the complete Advent 2016 Reflection Guide
Second Sunday of Advent“I am baptizing you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.”Matthew 3:1-12
Reflection by MIchael McCormick, former Augustinian Volunteer, current Resources Coordinator at Catholic Volunteer Network
Today we meet John the Baptist, the voice in the wild. For me, John represents the totality of an individual living in accordance with God’s will. Through self-denial, John becomes a healer of sinners. Through self-abandonment, John becomes whole. How can anyone follow such a path?
I find direction in the two baptisms John describes. First, he says, “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance.” Then he says Jesus, the one who comes after, “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  John washes, Jesus burns. Both will cleanse me and remove my excesses.
Water and fire were two shaping forces during my service year in Southern California, where there is still a severe drought.  The unforgiving dry heat in the desert town where I worked exhausted everyone. The simple words, “Would you like a glass of water?” became a life-affirming phrase of hospitality. Rainfall, though rare, quenched our spirits.
Fire also formed us. In the dry hills, wildfires often threatened homes. In our community house, the small flame of our prayer candle was like my Pentecost, igniting a love for my three community members that mostly surpassed my self-love.
A lack of spirit, like a lack of water, leaves me dry and thirsting for God. A fire of purpose, kindled by the Augustinians, gives me the courage to proceed. I know I am chaff and dirt, yet God will find my grain and burn the rest – sin and sorrow and all that holds me captive.

Focus on: Social Justice
What strikes me is John’s offer of baptism not only to the meek, but also to the righteous Sadducees and Pharisees. Yes, John harshly rebukes them and commands repentance, but the offer is still there if they shall be humble. As Catholics, we pray that God will protect the poor, which he does. We also pray that God will forgive all sinners – including even the mighty.  I cannot help but think of our political climate, and how often we root for leaders to fail, when we should hope for their redemption and our own.
Service Suggestion
During my volunteer year, program staff would visit our communities as a way of checking in. They would also have one-on-one sessions with each volunteer, usually off-site, always over a coffee or tea. These unhurried talks were a form of service by the staff, giving their full presence to become a witness to each volunteer’s experience, struggles included.
This season, who can you check in on? To whom can you be present to? Make time and be a Christian witness to ONE person’s life, especially in this season when so much time is claimed by trivial affairs and festivities. 

PrayerGod, help me to eat the locusts. Help me find the nighttime path. Help me bend this proud back, help me kneel by the river. Mend my cuts with honey and leaves, wipe the grime out of my eye, paste my tongue to the roof of my mouth and help me remember your silence. Your Voice fills the desert night, your Word kicks against the stomach, your fiery breath scorches me and renews me, you rip me from the dirt and for this I give thanks. 

To learn more about Augustinian Volunteers, please click here. 

Advent, A Season of Service - Focus on Spiritual Growth

Sun, 11/27/2016 - 9:53am

Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center are pleased to bring you this Advent reflection series to support your growth during this important season. We welcome you to journey through these weeks of Advent alongside several of our current and former volunteers who serve as contributors for this series. We are constantly inspired by their courage to step outside of their comfort zones and their commitment to serving those most in need. They have remarkable stories to share, filled with light and hope. Each week, a different writer reflects on the Sunday Gospel reading through the lens of their volunteer experience. Their insights on the four pillars of faith-based service; Community, Social Justice, Spirituality, and Simple Living, call us back to the true meaning of Advent. Click here to download the complete Advent 2016 Reflection Guide
First Sunday of Advent“So too, you also must be prepared,for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”Matthew 24:37-44
Reflection by Madonna Enwe, current Franciscan Mission Service volunteer
I remember sitting in class during my last semester of college, thinking about the image I had seen the previous night: a dead Syrian boy whose body had been washed to shore. I was deeply hurt by that scene and wondered why people, especially refugees, had to suffer so much to find a peaceful home on earth. As someone who had arrived in the United States as an asylee, I was drawn to helping in any way I could to make the lives of refugees and asylees better. 
I had decided to take a gap year between college and medical school, planning to do something health-related. However, I changed my mind when I discovered the opportunity to serve for a year at the Refugee Service Center for Catholic Charities through the Franciscan Mission Service program. I did not want to wait until I became a doctor before I could help people. This opportunity had presented itself to me, and I knew that God wants me to take advantage of it right now, especially when there is a current refugee crisis in the world. Without knowing when our Lord will come back, I cannot push back a call that He has placed in my heart. To better prepare my heart for His second coming, I am called - just as we all are - to  minister to the suffering and needs of the people around me, listening to the Lord’s voice when He calls me to serve, even when I don’t feel qualified.  
Focus on: Spiritual Growth
There are always times when I go for days, weeks, and even months without creating concrete time for the Lord. These moments always make me feel dry and withdrawn from Him, and I feel a sense of peace taken away from me. This passage tells us that we should not let our limitations lead us far away from God, but to strive more often to desire to find peace again and turn to Him. Being alert to serving the needs of others also challenges us spiritually to always be looking for and serving Jesus in those around us. 
Service Suggestion
During this time of thanksgiving and waiting for the birth of Christ, let us daily strive to open our hearts and homes to those who are lonely, living alone or away from home, and suffering in one way or another. Find some way to engage your talents or resources to serve those around you: sing at a hospital or nursing home, donate gifts to refugee centers or crisis pregnancy centers near you, or become involved with young people in your parish to give them more opportunities to  grow in their faith.
PrayerLord, please create in me a clean heart and a quiet spirit that is ready to listen to your call and answer it quickly. Help me not to be blinded to the sufferings of your people around me; rather, let me be an example of your goodness and mercy to those I serve. Even when I hide or run away from your call, draw me back close to you so that I can dwell in your presence and be an instrument of your peace and love in the world. 


To learn more about Franciscan Mission Service, please click here